Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Mexico recap...finally!

Sorry for being so slow with are a few entries below and over at flickr.

Well, some people thought I went missing, but really, I went to Mexico! I’m so sorry that I didn’t keep my girls in loop (I really, honestly thought that I’d said something). But, yeah. My big sister V has been going on missions with her alma mater optometry school for 10 years now, but this time there was a very small person who had to go along with her! I leapt at the chance to take care of my adorable, wonderful, 5 month old nephew Jerry for the week. And let me add, as a side note, that despite everything that’s happened in my life, having a wonderful new family has made it so much easier. I don’t ever feel alone AND I get to be Aunt Joyce to some of the cutest kids on the planet. Not something I thought would ever happen to this only child. Plus, I have a sister. Which is something I think I totally missed out on for 20-some years.

I left London early last Saturday morning and flew to Dallas with an…interesting seatmate. Why do Americans (and really, just the men) think you want to talk on planes? Really, I’m not a fan. So when I pulled out my fairly hefty paperback book on genocide he said: “You like readin’?” Me: “Yes.” Him: “Yeah, I never got inna that.” After this follows an admiration of the thickness of the book and inquiries into how long it’d taken me to tackle such a behemoth. What do you say? Talk about a conversation stopper! Still, the movies were a HUGE improvement over USAir and the airline was better, too.

I had a bit of time in Dallas on my own (most of which I’d use talking on the phone, on both ends of the trip) and V&J got in an hour and a half later. I saw Jerry at Christmas, but OMG is he even cuter now! Especially as he’s learned some amazing new tricks. He’d discovered that he had a voice and could use it to make comments about the world (us walking down the terminal…Jerry: “Eeeee!”) AND (even better) he’d gained some motor control, which allowed him to grab things (beware the dining table) and stick out his little pink tongue. Ush! We were joined on our flight to Guanajuato by a whole bunch of students from the optometry school and even held the plane for them a little (Airline: “We, uh, don’t have a pilot…but we PROMISE they’ll be one soon!”). Customs was fine (new stamp!) and we got to the hotel pretty late.

We had long days all week, since the buses loaded to go to the clinic at 7am and, even though we left earlier than everyone else with the baby, there was an awful lot of exploring that needed to be done. Oh, and jet lag, which actually passed relatively quickly. For the most part, Jerry and I hung out in the director of the eye clinic’s office while the 40-some students and doctors sorted through 4000 patients in five days. Amazing! We’d have some tummy time, some playing on our backs time, some bouncing, some reading (Jerry’s an expert on genocide now), lots of diaper changes, a fair amount of singing, rocking and sleeping, have food, and go for walks. Jerry got cooed over every time he left the room and rather often when people popped by to get things. Can’t blame them, but my “he’s beautiful!” Spanish isn’t bad. (The rest of my Spanish, I assure you, is horrific.) I did spend a couple of hours pretending I knew how to dispense glasses, though, one day. OMG, totally made it up, but learned some, too, about glasses and prescriptions. It was fun and the rest of the students and doctors (may of whom were V’s good friends) were quite awesome. And I am now capable of fixing my crooked-feeling sunglasses.

There was a lot of talk before we went about ‘taking the baby the a third world country.’ Having been there and back, Guanajuato (the city, not the state) itself was hardly ‘developing’ (if you ignore the part about not drinking the water). The city was founded by the Spanish during the colonial era and is built in a bowl, surrounded by mountains. Or, rather, the ‘downtown’ is in the valley and a lot of the residential area (including where we were staying) was above it on the side of the hills. It made for a pretty spectacular view and I fell in love with the city itself, which unsurprisingly reminded me of Spain (um, dur, Joyce!). One interesting feature were the tunnels, built to save the World Heritage downtown from the scourge of too much traffic, which seemed to involve no lights and lots of blind turns. Wheeee! They were creepy.

The centre of Guanajuato revolves, more or less, around two adjacent plazas. The Jardin is a triangular pedestrian area with a garden in the middle that’s surrounded by outdoor cafes, the theatre and churches and flooded with mariachi bands (V noted at one point that it was a good thing I wasn’t a guy or we’d have been serenaded for sure). The other is Plaza de la Paz and is in front of the Cathedral. I did a quite stop in many of the downtown churches and they were fantastic. The Cathedral was especially nice and all were in fairly heavy use (thus, I don’t have interior photos because I think it’s rude to interrupt people’s prayers with a flash). I was creeped out by the massive wax statutes that serve as the main form of decoration (as opposed to dark paintings that you can’t actually make out), because they were so lifelike and surprising. Since the vast, vast majority of my church visits have been in Europe or North America, this was interesting in its newness (although it’s apparently fairly standard throughout Latin and South America).

Guanajuato is just a cool place to explore. They’ve done a great job preserving the city and it was amazing to wander around these tiny, squirmy streets that are still lined with 3-4 story buildings, painted different colors and decorated with the balconies and metal work that you think as traditionally Spanish. We’d go downtown for dinner most days and had some decent, if not amazing or remarkable, food. I didn’t get sick and also discovered that the Mexicans may give the Austrians a serious run for their money in the hot chocolate sweepstakes. Mmmmm, cinnamon!

On the free day, V, Jerry, two other doctors and I went to San Miguel, a town that’s known for its enormous American retiree population and artists markets about an hour away. San Miguel’s main plaza is huge and also bounded by markets and churches. Generally, though, the city didn’t feel as ‘undiscovered’ as Guanajuato; the streets were wide and there were older Americans everywhere! The markets, though, were fabulous. There were lots of rugs, paintings, and silver work. Plus, we stumbled across the shop where a family from Oaxaca were selling their wares; their son had come to the clinic the day before. Jerry really didn’t mind all the shopping. It was his five-month birthday AND he got to sit in the snuggley harness and ‘walk’ around all day. You could just see his huge eyes trying to take everything in! On the way home, we were forced by the schedule to take the ‘nice’ bus, which was INCREDIBLE. Think business class on the airplane and you’re probably picturing the right thing. I really wouldn’t have minded the 14-hour bus ride across Niger, if we’d been in one of these buses. And all for only USD $10 (the cheap bus was $6 and perfectly adequate, even equipped with a sign that lit up and buzzed if the driver decided to speed).

We left really early the next morning, which was sad. I would have loved to stay longer and I’m a whole lot more interested in going back to Mexico and other parts of South & Central America now. The worst part was saying goodbye to V & Jerry at the Dallas airport; he made me cry! Silly Jerry! I can’t believe that I might not see him again until I’m out of the Peace Corps, when he’ll be walking, talking, and almost 3 years old! It was a wonderful week, partially because of the setting, but mostly because I got to spend so much time with part of my new family. And because now I’ve got the most adorable photo of Jerry on my phone that I can proudly flash to anyone and everyone who doesn’t care, but is forced to admit how cute he is!

I spent the rest of my long lay-over taking a taxi to the nearest mall, loading up a bit at Old Navy and making extra sure that I consumed both barbeque and root beer at the airport. Heh. Oh, and the flight back was unremarkable, mostly because I didn’t get to give up my seat (and, yes, I sat in line to make sure I was the first one on the list!).