Thursday, July 2, 2009



Beth at museum in Mexico City

The second Sunflower Journey was to Mexico and its pyramids with my granddaughter, Beth. We named this trip Hasta La Bye Bye Mexico. The trip started on an ominous note when the people at the airport wouldn’t let us board the plane because I didn’t have a signed letter from Beth’s parents giving me permission to take her out of the U.S. and into Mexico. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would think I’d be trying to smuggle a bouncy twelve-year-old girl out of the country, but Mexico required proof that this wasn’t the case. I’ve never needed a letter like this to take my grandchildren anywhere else in the world, but Mexico demanded it. (A friend of mine later told me that he had encountered a mobile prostitution ring in southern California while he was hitchhiking around the country in 1977. He said the girls, many of them underage, were, in every sense, slaves. I now think this is why the Mexican authorities required proof that I was not smuggling Beth across the border. They deserve a lot of credit for trying to stop this kind of activity. The veneer of civil society is sometimes thin indeed.)

The long wait for the "letter of approval"

The AAA agent who made our travel arrangements came to the rescue by getting the letter signed by Beth’s parents and then making the four hour drive to deliver it to us at Dulles airport. But it was early the next morning before we arrived in Mexico since we had missed our original flight. After only 2 hours of sleep, we joined our tour group and spent our first full day in Mexico battling overwhelming fatigue. The trip improved rapidly, however, after this rocky start.

Beth fighting jetlag at Teotihuacan

Even though Beth had always been a very sociable person, she surprised me by taking an extraordinary interest in the members of our tour group. Many were older people who often struggled to get their baggage and souvenirs on the bus. Every day of our eleven-day tour, Beth helped them and brought them water from the cooler at the front of the bus. Within two days, she knew every person’s name, where they were from and what they did for a living. Beth lived the “Sunflower Journeys” rule to “be kind to everyone you meet along the way” with as much enthusiasm as anyone possibly could.

Resident parrot at hotel in Palenque

Palenque was probably the most interesting place we visited in Mexico. We stayed at a “jungle hotel” where all dining was outdoors and the parrots outnumbered the guests. The parrots mimicked bits of human conversation and readily sat on our shoulders. The hotel also had a famous mud bath that Beth and I decided to try.

Cable bridge to the mysterious mud bath

To reach the bath, we had to cross cable bridges made of jungle vegetation like those you see in movies. We eased ourselves into the mud (I shudder now to think what might have been in it) as the aptly named howler monkeys screamed at us from their perches in the trees all around us. The monkeys were joined in their serenade by sounds of myriad birds and insects hidden in the jungle. Our mud immersion was followed by a visit to the sweat house where I had the best steam bath I’ve ever had.

Getting ready to enter the sweat lodge-steam room.

The Mayan pyramids of Palenque were impressive, and we walked to the top of every one. But I found the carving of the ancient Mayan leader Pacal on his tomb to be even more fascinating. I had only seen it in books and on television before our visit. It is purported to show a vehicle Pacal took to the underworld after his death. Writer Eric Von Daniken has argued that this vehicle is actually a spaceship. After examining the carving, I found the spaceship theory to be plausible. One of Pacal's feet seems to placed on a gear of some kind. His hands look as though they might be maneuvering more gears and the shape of the vehicle is reminiscent of a spaceship. I have long believed that there is life on other planets. Could Pacal have been a “god” who swooped down to govern the people of Mexico?

Chich'en Itz'a

At Oaxaca, Beth decided to try another native cuisine – dried red ants. Shortly thereafter, she was realllly sick. We were never sure whether it was the ants, the mountain roads or the combination that did it, but I’d bet she’ll pass up this delicacy if ever offered it again.

Beth spots red ants being sold at Oaxaca market

Beth eats Mexican delicacy of red ants

At one of our stops, we were treated to some unintended humor at the cost of one of our group’s members. The woman decided to sit by the sea on the sand of a small peninsula one afternoon. Suddenly, the tide came in and threatened her purse, which she had placed just out of reach from where she sat. She tried to stand up to get it, but found her bathing suit, a bikini, was so full of sand that the bottom tried to come down every time she tried to get up. Every time she reached up, the suit would come down a little further. To further complicate the situation, a wedding party had suddenly appeared on the beach with a photographer. He was videotaping the wedding and she was right in the line of fire. She knew if she didn’t move quickly, the sea would take her purse and with it, all her money, her passport, and other important items. Finally, she just had to “go for it.” She jumped up and the suit came down. She grabbed the purse, scooped as much sand out of the suit as she could, yanked it back up, and made a run for it. I’d like to have seen that portion of the wedding video. The bride and groom will always have a memento of the “little mermaid” who was at their wedding. We laughed at her story the rest of the trip.

Pennisula where story of "little mermaid" took place

We concluded this journey with a visit to Cancun. I had promised Beth we would go to AquaWorld there and take a trip out onto the ocean on a Jet Ski. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. As we jetted out to sea with our group, we promptly began lagging behind. The Jet Ski just wasn’t big enough to carry both of us without bogging down in the swells. Before long, we hit a huge fish, causing the Jet Ski to flip over and dump us in the water. By the time we righted ourselves, we had lost sight of our group. Being lost on the open sea is a very scary thing. We saw no signs of people anywhere – just water, sky and emptiness. Quite frankly, I wasn't sure if anyone would even know we were missing since the guide had not made a head count before we started. We had little idea whether or not we were pointed in the right direction as we tried to find the group. Fortunately, we finally saw the others moored in a circle with everyone preparing to go snorkeling.

Amazing jet ski adventure

On the way back to shore, our guide suggested that Beth ride with him since his ski was more powerful than ours. They took the lead with the other members of our caravan following. However, my now-lightened ski was zipping along the water at breakneck speed and I was having trouble getting it throttled down properly. Before long, I was out of control, passing everyone in the group while bouncing up and down on the water. Everyone was screaming for me to slow down but I just couldn't get that throttle to work. I made it back to shore in record time, looking like some smart-aleck kid showing off for the group. But I suppose everyone realized my performance was unintentional when I kissed the ground after getting off the ski. I vowed never to get on one of those things again. It will be a sight Beth will never forget; that's for sure!

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