My wife and I went to a destination wedding recently in Puerto Escondido, “hidden port,” on Mexico’s Pacific coast. This was my third time in Mexico, the second another wedding, that one on the Caribbean Riviera Maya (a shorter trip from the U.S. Eastern Seaboard and logistically easier to get to and from than Puerto Escondido). My first time in Mexico was in late-1975, at 10, in a family vacation combined with a business trip for my father’s import-export dealings in the bean industry.
I’d rebelled against that first trip when I learned it meant missing a chess tournament. My father offered to cancel the trip, which I declined, and which in retrospect was surely a bluff. He’d been traveling to Mexico for decades, met my mother on a plane there (she and a female friend were squabbling over who’d get the window seat, and my father suavely offered his own), and they got married at a friend’s house in Mexico City in 1959. My father’s first marriage had ended with a Mexican divorce, then a streamlined way to circumvent U.S. divorce requirements, but this made a Mexican wedding desirable to avoid any legal tangle on whether the divorce was real; later, New York state judges established that a Mexican divorce, as long as both parties participated, was valid back home.
In 1975, we first visited Guatemala, including the coffee plantation and sugar mill of my father’s main business contact there, whom Dad estimated as one of the two wealthiest men he knew. (The other was a Venezuelan.) From there we flew to Mexico City, where my father’s firm dealt with CONASUPO, a government-run entity that bought food on a massive scale. We traveled by car to San Miguel de Allende, an artist colony, and Guanajuato, where I saw the “mummies of Guanajuato,” desiccated corpses on display, their decay slowed by the dry environment. I put some postcards of these in a journal I kept for my fifth grade class, and Mrs. Ficalora, a wonderful teacher who reads Splice Today in her retirement, was charmed by the journal until she turned to the mummy pictures and was horrified.
It was a long time before I went back to Mexico, for a cousin’s wedding in 2017. That trip included a visit to Xcaret, an impressive water park with an emphasis on nature; the staff would hold your sunscreen if it contained ingredients judged harmful to the environment, offering you an eco-friendly replacement. Since my teen years, I’ve been conversant in Spanish, albeit not fluent, but there wasn’t much need for it on the Riviera Maya, with tourism mostly catering to Americans. Spanish came in far handier on the latest trip, as Puerto Escondido, though a tourist destination, is remote enough that the international airport has just one small terminal, and staffers at airlines and hotels often don’t speak much English.
Mexico has high levels of crime and violence, with a years-long drug-trafficking war that lately has inspired ill-considered threats by Republican presidential candidates to send U.S. forces into the fray. However, such problems seem far-away in Puerto Escondido, a tranquil town known for its surfing. The wedding couple were students who’d studied architectural lighting in a grad-school course taught by my wife, who was honored to give a speech describing the couple’s complementary nature: Mingyu’s like a tower’s pinnacle, ambitious and visionary, while Ben’s the tower’s foundation, hardworking and reliable. The wedding was outside of town, at Casa Wabi, a striking art center designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando. We stayed nearby at Punta Pájaros, a sustainable project of splendid villas with secluded pools. The beach was beautiful, though riptides along this stretch make ocean swimming risky.
This wonderful trip bogged down in a logistical quagmire as we tried to get home to New Jersey. We’d flown in through Mexico City on Delta and Aeromexico, but booked return flights through Guadalajara on Volaris, a discount airline. But an email that Sunday morning informed us our first flight was demorado, delayed, and at the airport we confirmed we wouldn’t make the second flight, and wouldn’t have another flight out of Guadalajara until Tuesday. Various obligations made that undesirable.
We managed to get an Aeromexico flight to Mexico City that evening, stay overnight at an airport hotel, and get a flight the next morning that would get us to New York Monday afternoon. In Puerto Escondido, we were fortunate in our excellent taxi driver, Armondo, who ferried us between airport, bank and restaurant as needed; and also Isabel, the astute concierge at Punta Pájaros, who helped coordinate between us and Armondo. While delayed, I made light of the situation on Facebook, saying we were toughing it out as I showed a picture of myself with a drink in an idyllic beach-bar setting.
Even so, mishaps multiplied: a refund for the original flights first offered, then denied (because the customer-service center hadn’t yet received info from the desk agent), then reaffirmed in a phone call received once back in the U.S.; attempts to purchase alternative tickets disappearing into the ether, though potentially still showing up on a credit card; paying extra for better seats on a flight we did get but on which a change of plane types then made the seat swap impossible. The trip’s aftermath has involved travel-insurance claims and requests for refunds, a process that will take some time to resolve.
Still: a beautiful wedding and vacation in a fantastic locale; an unfailingly friendly local populace; and the interesting challenge of dealing with problems in Spanish. I also spoke some of my few words of Mandarin at the wedding (the bride’s from China) and continued my Duolingo studies of German. When you’re active in one foreign language, it’s like your brain kicks into gear for others.
—Kenneth Silber is author of In DeWitt’s Footsteps: Seeing History on the Erie Canal, and posts at Post.News.