And then suddenly: Mexico

On Tuesday I realized I had an empty week. My next gig-job doesn’t start for a bit, the other one I applied for hasn’t gotten back to me yet, and real work has nothing to ask of me until the last ten days of the month. So I looked at flights. Just in case, you know? One stood out as cheaper, to a name I’d heard, but barely. A quick internet search. Si.


Zacatecas is in north-central Mexico, basically the highlands, most of it in the Sierra Madre Occidental, a couple thousand meters above sea level. It has hiking, museums, archaeological sites. And is Elsewhere. So Wednesday I got to say a beautiful sentence. “Yesterday I decided to go to Mexico tomorrow.” Wonderful.


I was the only gringo on the plane (flight crew included) which is always fun, but a quiet thought snuck around in my cerebral background. “What if there’s a good reason no other tourists want to go there?”


What if it sucked?


Well, at least I’d get to practice my Spanish for the first time in years. How much remained in me? I didn’t have long to wait, but my first conversational partner didn’t make it easier. I have a hard enough time understanding children in English, and when it’s another language my brain gets overtaxed with lowering the pitch, separating the words, adding any missing consonants, and then translating it. But his first two words in a high piping voice were clear. “Estamos volando?” Are we flying? We had just rolled away from the gate.


Little buddy from the train, China

This is a completely different buddy, this one in China, but they had similar energy and grins.

I travel just enough that there’s a danger of getting used to it. Sitting next to a soul so eager and new to it all was a gift and a treat. Once we were airborne he turned to me with another question. “Are you going to Mexico too?”


He showed me a couple games on his dad’s phone, assemble the monkey, navigate the maze, and color the fish, but then he came out with a longer sentence that I missed at first. Once I realized it was an unfamiliar verb for eating, I realized he was offering me his Pringles. A moment later he offered to share his box of apple juice. I wondered if I could tell his dad how much I adored him without sounding creepy. We came down through the clouds in that moment that always renews my awe at living in such an age of casual miracles, and I got my first view of The Free and Sovereign State of Zacatecas.


Zacatecas from the planeFlat. Very flat. Red soil in the slightly scattered quadrilaterals of endless agriculture to the horizon. Crap. Had I booked myself a week in a Mexican Fresno? Then I felt something on my arm. My tiny amigo had leaned over and given me a quick cuddle. I smiled at him and his grin made everything glow. He gave me two more before we landed.


In the modest concrete airport, even the immigration officials were likable. That’s rare. I still didn’t know if I’d made a destination mistake, but as I bypassed luggage claim and waved goodbye to my pint-size buddy, I knew I’d at least landed in a place of good people. Now what would Zacatecas be like?