Sabbatical [Day 0] The Great Voyage

If  I had to pick one question to never hear again in my life, I think it would be “So, are you all packed?” The only time that somebody could ask me this question and hear an affirmation is if you are in the car with me on the way to the airport.

As anybody who’s traveled with me (or been unfortunate enough to be near me before traveling) may know, packing stresses me the hell out and tends to bring out The Hulk in me. Over the last few years, I have slowly created and added to a huge packing checklist in Google Tasks to try to eliminate some of the confusion and worrying that I may miss something. It helps to a point, but at the same time the mere site of the list can be daunting. Regardless, having to get all of my digital life in order on top of physical things ads an entire new level of bit-packing that seems to just take longer and longer. Did I copy all of the movies I want to watch on the plane? How about music I may want to listen to? Did I unlock my cell phone? Download offline maps? Get a translation app? Dictionary? Ebooks? Spotify sync? Windows updates? GAAAAAH!

After a night of drinking some beers and getting late night food with some close friends, I finally calmed down a bit and could do my general packing. Literally, by bags weren’t packed to satisfaction until about 5 minutes before my ride to the airport arrived.

Alex and I had a flight that left Austin at 7pm on a Saturday. I realized this may be my favorite time to travel. The airport was nearly desolate – no lines at security or anywhere, really. We grabbed a nasty veggie burger for dinner, walked over to the terminal and right onto the plane – despite us not being late at all the plane had almost entirely boarded and was quite empty. Off to Dallas. Insert indifference sound here.

The next flight to Santiago would be 9 hours long. It was in a very outdated 1970’s American Airlines tin can edition 767. Entertainment features included 5 15″ CRT televisions, and we were lucky enough to have power in our seats – except the power was a cigarette lighter plug.

The plane did not experience sudden depressurization or faulty engines on takeoff, cruising, or landing. This may have been a small miracle in and of itself.

American Airlines provided several actually delicious airplane meals. Most importantly, they give you free wine and beer on international flights now. The flight attendants and I had a conversation that went something like this:

Attendant 1: “What would you like to drink?”

Me: “I think I would like a wine. What kind do you have?”

Attendant 1: “White or red.”

Me: “Oh, I mean what type of grapes?”

Attendant 2: “I don’t know, red grapes or white grapes. Its free”

Me: “Oh, I know, I just don’t know what kind of white it is”

Attendant 2: “Sir, its free. You don’t get to choose the kind of grape”

Me: “I know that, I just want to know what kind”

Attendant 1 to Attendant 2: “I think he wants a red”

At which point they hand me a decently sized bottle of delicious Merlot Cabernet blend from France. Why couldn’t they just read me the bottle? Or show me the bottle? The fact is, I actually did have the choice between grape types. I guess I must be the only person to ever fly on an airplane that would pick a wine based on the varietal, and not the color. I wanted to know what would pair with my 5 forms of cheese and carbs that were on my plate.

The wine was way too good for an airplane. I got the white too. So, lesson learned, when they offer you choices of free wine on an American Airlines flight, the correct answer is “both, please”.

American Airline Wine Selection

Two delicious options aboard American Airlines Coach

Some 9 hours after taking off , we had breakfast of cheese and carbs, and quickly found ourselves landing in Santiago de Chile.

Finally, we are here. Alive.

Upon de-boarding, we were shocked to not see any guys in berets holding fully automatic weapons to greet us. Are we in Latin America? Concerned.

Baggage took about 45 minutes to show up on the belt after we had already spent 45 minutes getting off the plane and going through customs. Confirmed: we are in Latin America.  Just a bus ride and a bus ride and a traffic-jammed then rollercoaster cobblestone taxi ride away from our hostel in Valparaiso.

Por fin, llegamos!

Mexico [Sinking] City

I realized during what was my fourth trip to Mexico since moving to Texas that I had not written even a word regarding my visits and adventures. That is a shame, really, as there is really quite a bit that I should have shared about my travels to Monterrey, Playa del Carmen, and Akumal. This post, however, is about my most recent trip to Mexico City, DF.

Ciudad De Mexico [Distrito Federal]

After being forced to take vacation for the entire week of Thanksgiving, I made a somewhat quick and spontaneous decision to travel to Mexico City to see what it was about. The enticing airfare from Austin to DF made the decision even easier, as AeroMexico was offering a promotional rate for their new direct flight. It actually cost less for me to fly internationally to Mexico for the week that to fly back home to Ohio. And, to seal the deal, my friend, Gaby, who I had met in Barcelona last year, is a native-born Chilango from Mexico City, and had invited me to visit.

The People

Next step was to get some friends involved. Of course I would be visiting Gaby, but it took a bit of convincing to get my Mexico travel buddy, Alex, to come along. Eventually, he, as well as his friend, Chris, agreed to come. All of us had studied in Spain and at least have some basic levels of Spanish, with (according to them) mine being the best.

Day 1 [The Arrival]

My eyes open. I am on a plane. I look out of the window for a sense of orientation, and there lies the vast expanse of seemingly infinite housing that is Mexico City. My jaw dropped- partially out of awe, and partially to equalize the pressure in my ears. We certainly didn’t have to descend as much as I am accustomed to, as Mexico City’s altitude is nearly 7350ft. After landing a bit late, the passengers were forced to sit on the plane for what felt like twenty five minutes as we waited for a bus to pick us up. Really, it felt quite unorganized and unprofessional. There is no reason they shouldn’t have expected us and had a bus there ready to go. I’m going to give them slack, though, solely because the airport was under heavy construction and the clearly new terminal was vacant of any docked airplanes. Certainly they were running low on resources until the new terminal was ready.

After going through immigration and grabbing my backpack, I waited in line to pass through customs. Over the crowd I saw a smiling face accompanied by a waving hand. Gaby. It was so good to see her smile again, and after customs was sure that I was not trafficking any illegal materials, I ran out and gave her a hug. The smell of the airport reminded me of Venezuela, the site of Gaby reminded me of Spain, and yet I was in a new place all together.

Gaby was kind enough to offer to pick me up at the airport and take her to her family’s home in northern Mexico City. I had been in cars in Mexico before. Nothing, though, had prepared me for the chaos that is driving in Mexico City. Luckily, I was not the one doing it, or I certainly would have crashed Gaby’s brand-new Renault Clio within minutes of starting it. I was amazed at how simply unorganized the driving was, yet how, beneath the surface, it all worked out and people got to their destinations anyways. It is simply a different mindset than what I am accustomed to, and even what I had seen in Venezuela, Europe, and the rest of Mexico.

We arrived at her home, where I was greeted by her mother and shown to their guest room which was in a separate building in the back of their house.

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It reminded me of the house that Emily had lived in in Venezuela, which had a completely separate house containing the guest bedroom, bathroom, etc. I left my bags and talked for a bit with my hosts, after which we left to grab dinner at a vegetarian-friendly restaurant back towards downtown, called Buena Tierra [good land]. It just so happens that this was exactly the same restaurant chain that Natalie, my cousin, had taken me to when I first arrived to Playa del Carmen. Apparently this is the best place to take vegetarians on their first day in Mexico.

We then went out to a bar/club called SkyBar, which was quite fun. They played some of the good old dance songs that she and I had danced to in Barcelona, and it brought back some fun memories. My Spanish, by this point, was nearly back up to full speed as if I had never stopped speaking it for over a year.

A ride home, a jump in the cold shower water to get the smoke smell off, and a bit of arranging of my luggage, I was asleep.

Day 2 [Exploration and Reunion]

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