Mexican Diary, Part 1: Goodbye Nemo, Hello Cancun

I’m not a good flier.  In fact, I’m a horrible flier, jumpy and easily spooked.  So when the weather map showed a huge blizzard arriving the morning we were leaving for Mexico, I panicked.  Would our plane take off?  And if so, would the ride be rough and choppy?  And how would we get to the airport?  And once there, could we get stranded?  All I could do was hope Storm Nemo would be a dud.

No such luck.  Nemo barreled into Connecticut as predicted with gusty winds, two feet of snow, and everything cancelled – including our flight.   We talked among our group.  Should we go some other month?  Should we bag the whole thing?  The more intrepid among us suggested we leave the next morning, Sunday, from Newark airport at 9:00 a.m.  I looked out the window.  The wind still raged.  Our driveway was barely plowed.  Major roads were closed.

The next morning skies were dark and the air frigid at 5:00 a.m.  Back roads were slippery but our brave limo driver picked up all his passengers — Randy and I in Easton, Neil and Lisa in Weston and Cynthia in Wilton.  Thank God highways were fine.  We arrived at the airport, boarded the plane and in a few hours touched down in Cancun.  And then the miracle began.

No gate was available so our plane landed on the tarmac and passengers walked down stairs to waiting buses for the terminal.  Like Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz” when her house sets down in Munchkin Land, I found myself blinking into this world of bright sun, balmy breezes, and jabbering birds.  It felt unreal.

In the airport, we sailed through immigration, customs, and exchanged our dollars for pesos.  We rented a mini-van with Lisa as our driver, making her way down the highway for the hour long drive.   This byway was more modern than I remember five years ago.  Instead of sleepy bodegas and modest huts on the side, there are overpasses, multi lanes and the occasional police checkpoint.   The temperature is 87 degrees outside.

Finally we arrive in Akumal with its shops, seaside restaurants and gorgeous houses on the beach.  Neil and Lisa own one of them, a beautiful home called Casa Cascadas.  In back, the Caribbean Sea looks impossibly blue.  Pelicans glide.  An iguana sits on a wall as if in greeting.   Two hammocks beckon.  We’re in paradise.   The first thing we do is change into cooler clothes.

Some of my most memorable meals have been after flying.   Maybe it’s because I get so stressed out, I can finally exhale.  This first lunch in Mexico is no exception.  Like most restaurants in Akumal, Buena Vida is open-aired, situated on a beach with a thatched roof overhead for shade.  Stray dogs wander among tables.  Many diners wear only bathing suits or the skimpiest cover up.  I slip off my sandals, feeling the powdery sand between my toes.  It doesn’t seem possible a few hours ago I’d trudged through snow in heavy-soled boots.

We hold up margaritas, toasting our safe arrival.  Guacomole arrives, creamy and delicious with homemade tortilla chips.   Tangy ceviche (seafood salad cured in lime juice), perfectly-grilled fish, and tacos complete this wonderful meal.   Waiters are smiling, friendly and patient with my limited ‘ola’ and ‘gracias.’

After, we come back to Casa Cascadas and unpack, sit by the water, read, talk, and later go out to another great meal.  I lie in bed that night, still reeling from the shock of leaving snow plows to this land of butterflies and hibiscus.  I know I should be blasé, but can’t.  Air travel may be common (and for some of us, hard) but it still feels like a miracle.

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