Today, the 6th of January, is the Feast of the Epiphany or the Feast of the Three Kings. On this day I have been living in Mexico for exactly ten years. It is the tenth anniversary of my arrival but it is also the tenth anniversary of my own personal epiphany. Mexico has changed my life in ways that I never dreamed it would and the decision to make my home here has turned out to be one of the best decisions that I have ever made. I owe a great deal of thanks to the people of this great nation for making me feel welcome and treating me so kindly. There have been quite a few changes taking place in this country during the time that I have been here and as far as I am concerned most of those changes are for the better. I am very proud of the Mexican people and am excited for them over the prospect of even better things to come. I went back to my journal to see what I had written on that first day and I remember that even getting here was quite an adventure. Looking back on it I get the feeling that fate was on my side and even the fiercest winter storm couldn't keep me from my destiny.
My adventure began on the evening of January 5th at the beginning of the end of the last century. I had been planning an extended trip to the Monterrey, Mexico area for several months. By the time the Christmas holidays came around I was really pumped up and ready to go. For several weeks I had been cramming my head full of Spanish vocabulary (much of it wrong as it turned out) and I was good and ready to fly. The holiday season seemed to drag on interminably. When New Year's Eve finally rolled around I could only think, "Come on, let's get on with it!" Then "it" happened. "It" turned out to be what would later be called the "Blizzard of 99". A powerful winter storm blasted the Chicago area on the first two days of 1999. All across Northern Illinois the storm raged, dumping anywhere from nine to twenty-two inches of snow on the holiday traffic. The wind blew out of the northeast and it gusted well over thirty miles per hour causing considerable blowing and drifting. In Chicagoland, the northeast winter wind has a name. It is known as the "Hawk" and everyone who has spent a winter in Chicago at one time or another has felt its claws. On this occasion the claws of the Hawk clamped down hard.
The New Year's storm set a Chicago record for the most snowfall in a single calendar day. Almost nineteen inches were recorded by the official weather reporting station at O'Hare Airport on Saturday, January second. As if the snow and the wind weren't bad enough the temperature began to fall steadily. By Tuesday the fifth, the day I was hoping to leave for sunny Mexico, the temperature fell to more than ten below zero (Fahrenheit). It felt even colder because of the wind chill. My flight wasn't scheduled to leave until six thirty in the evening. When I arrived at the airport conditions looked grim. It had been shut down during the height of the storm which is rather unusual for O'Hare. Chicago prided itself in having "the world's busiest airport" and O'Hare has to be open around the clock day in and day out to handle the 2500 or more scheduled flights on any given day. During this blizzard, however, everything came to a halt and many travelers had been stranded at the airport over the weekend. By noon on Tuesday some semblance of order had been restored but there was still the Hawk to deal with. My departure was touch and go for several hours.
The main problems were the cold and the wind. The unfortunate but valiant men and women of American Airlines, whose job it was to service the planes, were suffering terribly and could only remain outdoors for short periods. The airplanes had to be sprayed with de-icing solution before they could take off and the people who had to spray them with de-icer must have been super human. I felt pangs of guilt about what they had to go through so that we could fly. I really appreciate the efforts of the people behind the scenes who suffered physically so that my journey that day could be possible. The fact that I left Chicago on one of the coldest and windiest days of the year only heightened my sense of adventure. Once we finally took off about ten thirty in the evening, the three hour flight to Monterrey was relatively uneventful. I alternately read and dozed my way through the flight and as we made our approach to the Monterrey airport our pilot announced that the outside temperature was in the mid sixties. What a relief! I realized how miraculous it was that in just three hours I had been able to change my environment by going to a place where the air temperature was seventy five degrees higher than at the place I had left. It was a vivid reminder of the technology that we sometimes take for granted. I never appreciated technology more than I did that night.
Monterrey, Mexico is a very cosmopolitan city and it has a modern, gleaming airport. For those who have never been to Monterrey it is a nice surprise. For those who have been there before it is a nice welcome. I had brought a great deal of luggage with me and I was dreading the thought of a tedious customs search at one thirty in the morning. Fortunately for me the Mexican customs officials must have thought the same thing and they kindly waved me by. It wasn't long before I was whisked away through the streets of Monterrey and promptly deposited with my bags at the front desk of the Radisson Ancira Hotel in the heart of the downtown area. It is one of the oldest and most comfortable hotels in Monterrey. I wasted no time in getting to bed and there was no time for dreaming either. The last thing I remember was my head hitting the pillow and the next thing I knew, it was the morning of the Epiphany...and my epiphany as well.
As it turned out I was totally prepared for what would be required of me in terms of technical assistance to the people who hired me but what I was unprepared for was the capture of my heart by Mexico and her people. From the very beginning I went through a change in my outlook on life and by now I am a totally a different person, and I hope a better person. Mexico is a land of contrasts; ancient and new, crowded and empty, wet and dry, hot and cold, fertile and barren, colorful and drab, rich and poor. There is one thing that Mexico is not, however, and that is the stereotype that most Americans have about Mexico and her people. One of the reoccurring themes in my conversations with the people of Mexico was how little the average American actually knows about their country and it is evident by the reaction of many Americans who visit for the first time. Mexicans seem very anxious that the people of the United States get to know them better and respect them for who they really are and not some image gathered from old movies. It is an old joke in Mexico that when Americans come for a visit they are expecting to see people wearing sombreros and colorful capes who either ride around on donkeys or carry clay water jars on their heads. To be sure, there is a definite Mexican flavor to life in this country but it is nowhere near the exaggerated concept that exists in the minds of many Americans. One of the reasons that I write this blog is to introduce Mexico to Americans who would like to know a bit more and who might like to come and see for themselves what a really nice place this is.
¡Como México, No Hay Dos!
There is no other place like Mexico!
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