Monday, November 29, 2010

Travel story from Mexico

The World is Small

It’s always nice if in country you are going to visit for the first time you’ll be spending time with somebody who can introduce you to the local habits. I was lucky enough to have my scientist colleague from Slovakia in Mexico City; and unlucky in the same time, as all my attempts to contact him seemed in vain. He didn’t answer a single one of my fax messages. Later, it became clear why. Someone had stolen the fax machine from his office. My telegram, which took my laboratory’s quarterly postal budget, was never received. The letter that I sent after more modern forms of communication had failed was almost certainly going to arrive too late. But against all odds, the letter arrived a day before my departure from Slovakia. Thanks to this, my colleague and I had a last-minute chance to arrange our meeting at the airport.

My colleague kept his promise of providing a temporary respite on my trip to the unknown. He invited me to sample many Mexican local beers including one with familiar name for us - Bohemia. It was accompanied with Mexican soup called Pozole. One began to feel at home. My colleague also warned me in detail what should or should not be done when traveling alone, and in the evening he escorted me to the bus headed for Guadalajara and dispatched me into the night. Those who have traveled on overnight Mexican bus lines know that it is a luxury that we don’t have in central Europe. Therefore, I should felt comfortable, but I didn’t. In the highway tollbooths, I saw armed soldiers and wild-looking civilians in ponchos with guns in their hands. It was as though we were passing through the frontlines of local wars. So, I didn’t sleep at all en route to Guadalajara.

It was about five in the morning when I arrived, dishevelled and weary at Guadalajara bus station. My first twelve hours in Mexico had been spent mostly in the interior of a dark bus living down the after-effects of Bohemia beer and Pozole soup. Now, I waited nervously at the uncharming stand of pre-paid taxi service. My colleague had warned me vigorously that at this stage of a journey a foreigner has two problems: not to be robbed before you get into the taxi and, more importantly, not to be robbed while you are in the taxi. Thankfully, the first didn’t happen and the second I awaited apprehensively in the back seat of the old taxi. My Danish colleagues were robbed in the center of Mexico City on their way back to their hotel from night raid to the cantinas. A small green taxi with a state license took them to a dark street where the driver’s accomplices waiting. I was dwelling on this issue and my potential response and so I didn’t realize that in a moment I would be dealing with a completely different problem. I had told the taxi driver the name of the hotel, Plaza del Sol, and I that good man really took me there, but to a square and park called Plaza del Sol. At 5:30 a.m. he stopped and, with a sweeping international gesture, showed me that we had arrived. I knew that I was in trouble. I had no other point of orientation in the sprawling city of Guadalajara, with its millions of people -- only the name of the Hotel Plaza del Sol, which was unfortunately the same as that of the deserted square. The taxi driver greeted my explanation in English that I was going to a writers’ conference with good-natured incomprehension. I had nothing else up my sleeve. I had no desire to get out of the taxi with my luggage either but what could I do except feebly repeat the name Plaza del Sol, to which he nodded agreeably and offered to help me out of the taxi. In chess we call it a stalemate.

In the grey, early morning light I looked around in this unknown country, in this unknown city, about 10,000 kilometers from home, for some sign of encouragement, something to light my way. And I found it. The taxi had stopped near row of small buildings that formed part of the square. All the buildings were shops or restaurants, and all were closed and dark. Only one, right where we were parked, had a shining neon sign with one word on it -- ‘Slovensko’. At first I thought it was hallucination caused by my lack of sleep. This sign was not from this part of the world. It was really written in Slovak. It wasn’t in English, ‘Slovakia’, or Spanish, ‘Eslovaqia’ , but our domestic ´Slovensko´. It could only have been written by some Slovak who had lost his way here long before me. Someone who has survived here and built a homage to our native land. Looking at this message I realized that from now on I just couldn’t go wrong.

The hotel with the unfortunate name ‘Plaza del Sol’ was of course just around the corner.

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1 comment:

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