Arriving in ¡Mexico!

Saturday January 2

I told myself this time around I wasn’t going to leave packing to the last minute but that’s exactly what I did. Leaving the day after New Year’s was a bit hectic; I spent most of Jan 1 recuperating and saying bye to friends, napping instead of packing. My flight was leaving at 7 am from National so I decided to wake up at 3 to make sure I had enough time to pack and shower before leaving around 530 for the airport.

At 330 I received an email from United saying my flight was delayed until 930. Which meant I would miss my 10 am connection in Chicago. Great. Well, now at least I can stop to eat breakfast (Chinese food from the previous night’s take out). My dad offers to call United to figure out a new connecting flight. He gets me on a different 7 am flight connecting through Newark and the agent tells him I should be there 2 hours in advance. It’s already 5 am. Okay skip the shower, frantically finish packing and out the door by 530 AM, our original ETD.

Because of the dive/snorkel gear I’m bringing, I had to pack two suitcases, but the two combined only weigh 50 pounds and I silently congratulate myself on becoming a more shrewd packer. I’m through security quickly and have time to get a bagel.

View of NYC into Newark

Rainbow circle from the…cockpit reflection?

When we land in Newark an hour later I stop to ask the desk agent a question and she tells me, “You better hurry if you want to make your connection.” I race to the shuttle and take off walk-running when I get to the terminal. I’m weaving in and out of people and accidentally bump into someone who bumps me into a passing trolley. My backpack knocks over a box and out fall baguettes. I pick up the box, hand it to the guy and stand there awkwardly while I decide whether I should touch the three that fell on the floor with my hands (a dumb debate because they’re already on the FLOOR). Then I remember I’m going to miss my connection so I leave the floor baguettes there and race off again. I get to the gate just as boarding starts, but I wait anticlimactically for 10 minutes in the boarding group 3 line, still thinking about the baguettes I left lying on the floor.

I’m in the window seat and my seat mates are already there. The look I get from the woman when she gets up makes me think I personally asked her to carry me piggyback to Mexico. She gives me the look again when I have to use bathroom, and once more for good measure when I inform her she’s buckled my strap into her belt.

First glimpse of Baja

What kind of 6-hour international flight doesn’t serve you a meal and makes you pay for the movies? United. Pfft. I’m tired and starting to feel hangry, but it’s looking sunny and warm out as we are about to land at Los Cabos International Airport. As I filter through passport control I notice a few of ‘those tourists’ that look like a Tommy Bahama store threw up on them.

I’m here!

Once I exit customs it’s a mad house. Absolutely nothing is marked and people are coming at you from all directions asking if you need a taxi. There’s music blaring from speakers and pretty much everyone I just flew in with stops at the outdoor bar for a margarita before heading to Cabo, where they’ll undoubtedly have more margaritas.

After asking 3 different people about my bus to La Paz, one guy leads me to a man in a plain white shirt with his name, Constantino, embroidered in the corner. No sign, no nothing – he doesn’t even have a list with my name on it to know if I’m on his bus or not. But he was nice and when he looks at my lonesome bag of Cheetos he tells me that if we have time we’ll stop along the way at a place with good burritos and empanadas.

We stop at the much quieter domestic terminal (no margaritas or loud music there) to pick up more passengers and for Constantino to verify his list (I’m on it). The 3-hour bus ride takes us through flat expanses of road, fields of cacti and the occasional town perched in a muffled valley. As promised we stop at the roadside empanada place and, as promised, they were good.

The extent of my Spanish skills are one semester of college and using Duolingo on and off for the past four months. My Spanish is halting, but I get my point across. I order the empanada easily, and yes thank you I would like it warmed up, but when the man directs to the caja (cashier) the conversation was something like (translated from Spanish to English):

Me: Empanada

Woman: (smiles) Yes, one.

Me: Yes. How many? (I mixed up the word for how much).

Woman: 18 pesos.

Me: Eight…teen. Got it! Thank you. Hello! (I meant bye, in French you can use the same for hi and bye)

Roadside empanadas are the best empanadas

The outskirts of La Paz start well beyond the city center and much of it is big chain stores and dilapidated buildings. When I arrive at the bus station at 530 PM local time (I’d been in transit for 14 hours at that point), Darren, the program head, is waiting for me and drives me to the house. There are two other girls, Becky and Jess, who help me settle in and assure me that La Paz is not dilapidated, but quite cute and very safe.

The four of us head out to dinner to celebrate my arrival and Becky & Jess’ departure. We go for sushi. My first meal (discounting the empanada..and the Cheetos) in Mexico was sushi. It’s a little stand that sets up shop after 7 pm in a parking lot. The 15 or so tables fill up quickly and since the kitchen (aka stand) is small, it’s a bit of a wait, but the sushi is good and I’m content.

Our volunteer house/office

Back courtyard area where I’m currently writing this post (Darren’s built stairs out of pallets to climb on the roof)

I’m sad that Becky & Jess are leaving just as I’m arriving since they were nice and the next volunteers won’t arrive for two weeks. I guess that means more water time for me (yay) and time exploring La Paz on my own (I should be used to that by now). Darren assures me the next couple days are going to be great weather = great whale sharking.

My head hits the pillow at 10 PM and I’m out. Off to whale sharking tomorrow!

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