First and foremost, let me just state that there is no perfect place in the world – not to visit, not to make your home. You just have to decide what you are willing to deal with in order to have the life that you want. Tornadoes, floods, droughts, earthquakes, deserts, snow and ice. These are just some of the things to consider.
I loved living in New York. Grew up there, lived there all my life, but as retirement approached, I decided that I would buy a house somewhere else. For years, I had no idea where, but it had to be someplace where I would never see snow again, except, perhaps, on top of faraway mountains. And here I am in Colima, Mexico with my preferred “what I’m willing to deal with” things being earthquakes and volcanoes.
The first half of this month I was on a long-planned trip to Puebla, to see a friend, and to the U.S. to visit my family. The first stop was the state of Puebla, the city of Atlixco, in the foothills of the volcano Popocatépetl. Fittingly, its name in the Nahuatl language means “smoking mountain,” and smoke it did every day that I was there.
Map showing the locations of Mexico City, Puebla and Popocatépetl.
I had picked the first half of May to visit Puebla because Puebla is where the battles of May 3rd, 4th and 5th (Cinco de Mayo) took place, and therefore I could witness any celebrations. The first half of May was also a convenient time for my family.
Every day, my friend Martha and I hoped that the ash level would be low enough so that flights out would not be affected. I recall when I was still working, one of my co-workers visited family in Ireland. The volcano in Iceland erupted before his return flight and so he had an extended stay with his family.
My flight was scheduled to leave Mexico City Airport on May 6th. After a half-hour ride to the bus station and a two-hour bus ride to the airport, I was finally waiting to board when the announcement came – flight delayed – flight delayed – then flight cancelled. There were various reasons given for the delays and then the cancellations – first they said that weather in Houston was bad, but other people were going to other cities, so that didn’t make sense. Finally, they said it was because Popo was spewing ash into the air and the planes could not fly.
We were then directed to go to another part of the airport to have our flights re-booked. The next flight they gave me was for 4:40 am in two days – on May 8th. OK – so one problem solved and two more to go. I sought out people to try to find a place to stay for two days. My friend lived 2½ hours away, and already had other guests staying with her. I was finally told to find “Manuel the supervisor” and so I went back to the United Airlines area and found Manuel.
He explained that since it was not the airline’s fault, I would have to pay for a room. I explained that I didn’t care, but just needed a place to stay for two nights, and even joked around that I COULD hang out at the airport, but after two days with no shower, the passengers next to me on the flight probably would pass out from the smell from my unwashed self.
God Bless Manuel – he made some calls and got me a room at the Camino Real hotel, attached to the airport, for two nights at the employee discount.
Final problem – my hotel in Houston. In order to not stress about missing connections on an international flight, I like to stay in a hotel at the port of entry and continue my journey the following day. I had made a reservation at the hotel at the Houston Airport, and it was pre-paid, non-refundable. Two considerations regarding this reservation:
- Because my son worked in hospitality years ago, I knew that the employees at hotels want to be informed if you will be arriving after midnight for your reservation. This will save them a major headache, as I believe they close their books at midnight and then start a new day with their bookkeeping. Another tip from my son – when at a restaurant, it is better to tip the waitstaff in cash.
- Because it was a volcano and not a whim that I would not be arriving in Houston, I would throw myself on their mercy while explaining why I would not be there. The worst they could say is “No refund.” So, when I finally arrived in my beautiful hotel room in Mexico City, I immediately called the Houston hotel and explained the situation. I even tried to soften the blow by saying I would agree to a credit for a future stay if they couldn’t refund my money. The woman discussed it with her supervisor, and they agreed to give me a full refund. Yaaaaayyyyy!!!!!
Problems solved, I had a nice dinner and a good night’s sleep, and a full day to relax the next day.
THIS happened after I left Mexico. I have not heard of any injuries from the lava, but people need to wear masks when outdoors. While I was there, it was just ash falling from the sky, no flying, glowing hot rocks nor any lava.
Monday morning comes, and I board my plane for the flight to Houston knowing that I have to make a connecting flight a little less than two hours after landing. Now, when you enter the United States from a flight from a foreign country, you pass through immigration, then collect your checked bags, re-check your bags and go through security again to reach your connecting flight.
OK, no problem. Until after I had checked my large suitcase and went through security with my carry-on suitcase. I already knew my back brace would set off the alarm in the walk-through metal detector. Familiar with the drill, I let them know what I was wearing and that it would set off the alarm. When the alarm went off, they called over a female officer who patted me down, and I did lift my shirt a bit to show it to them (I wear double layers of clothing, one under the brace and one covering it).
Then – they decided to check my carry-on bag, which had 14 bags of my home-grown coffee complete with my own label.
They swiped a bag with some kind of cloth, stuck the cloth in a machine and BINGO ! – it came back positive for explosive residue. Huh??? What??? Immediately I thought, that just can’t be. Second thought – Oh, NO – they are NOT confiscating my coffee that I spent months growing, de-pulping, drying in the sun and then having it roasted.
Visions of spices that were confiscated from my son’s luggage at an airport in Cameroon, and a tiny violin-shaped glass bottle of blackberry brandy ALMOST confiscated at an airport in Vienna (at which time I swore I would drink every drop of the contents before allowing them to take the bottle) swirled through my brain. PS – they took pity on me and let me keep the bottle AND the brandy.
Anyhow, back to Houston. They called over a female agent, and I explained that there shouldn’t even be a hint of fertilizer on the bags. She was very nice, explained what they would do, and then swiped every one of the 14 bags individually, then my suitcase, then me and everything came back negative. Yaaaaayyyyy!!!!! Oh, and they did open ONE bag just to make sure it actually contained coffee.
Fortunately, it did not take much time, I did not miss my connection, and landed on time at the BWI airport where my sister collected me and my luggage.
I was so fortunate in many ways that, for me, while a bit stressed from straightening things out, I could still consider it an interesting adventure. I didn’t have a boss waiting for me to return to my job, I didn’t have young children with me who might not understand what was going on, and I speak English and Spanish, so I wasn’t stranded in a place where I didn’t know the language. I was able to turn lemons into lemonade and have a pleasant and interesting experience that I certainly wasn’t expecting.
All I can say right now is – Wow. Just the traveling part of my 16 days away from home took up a whole blog post. Soon I will write about my stay in Atlixco, Puebla, including Cinco de Mayo celebrations, climbing into the world’s smallest extinct volcano and a visit to a Talavera factory.
So take care, stay safe and I hope that in your life, you will also be able to turn lemons into a delightful lemonade. ¡ Nos vemos !