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When Traveling in Mexico,
Leave Your Pantyhose At Home

or "Your money's no good in Mexico."

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand
Ever walked into a room crammed full of strangers? Take it from me, it's quite wonderful when the strangers that the room is crammed full of are Mexicans. It's even better when the room itself is in Mexico.

That's what happened to me a few weeks ago, and the fact that they were strangers didn't stop me from embracing each, for they were the unmet relatives of Keiko, my son Jason's beautiful wife. I estimate approximately 10,000-12,000 relatives were in that one room at the same time.

As soon as Mexican Radar got the word out that I was coming for a visit, Keiko's family had sprung into action. At the Mexico City airport, wildly waving welcome, were Keiko's brother (Kenny), sister (Hiroko), brother-in-law (Todd), and baby Matthew. A word to the wise: before such an experience, take a memory course so you can remember everybody's name.

We squished into Kenny's car and headed for Grandmother Felicitas' place in San Cristobal Ecatepec where parents Gaby and Araceli, brothers and sisters, the uncles, aunts, cousins (first, second and third), and their friends, heirs and assigns, had gathered to meet the mother-in-law of their beloved Keiko. Talk about hugs and kisses!

Kenny said, "We are taking you to Teotihuacan, which has the largest pyramid in all of Mexico and South America, and you will climb it."

Another pyramid? I don't think so," I said, "I climbed Monte Alban two years ago and my thighs are still quivering." "You will climb the pyramid," repeated Kenny. I can take a hint, so off we went.

Huffing and puffing along the Calzada de los Muertos, I wheezed, "Are we at the top yet?" "We are still on the road that leads to the pyramid," said Kenny, pointing ahead, "There is Piramide Del Sol." I stared up at the massive structure, the size of a 21-story building, which has been standing since Christ was about three years old. I should've brought an oxygen tank.

It's my experience that pyramids are like Mount Everest, only with a pointier top, but the pyramid at Teotihuacan has a flattened top, which once supported a temple where the Aztecs are said to have torn the living heart out of the poor slobs who got dragged up there. We took the same path that they had taken, and now I know why they wore those little skirts. The climb must have been much easier dressed that way because I am living proof that it's hazardous to climb pyramids while wearing panty hose.

Lesson One: Pantyhose does not stretch as far as one would think. Instead, the crotch slithers south relentlessly. There is no dignified way to yank at your undies while ascending a tourist-filled pyramid. Essentially, I had become a prisoner of my own Spandex.

The waistband tightened to the size of a watchband as it rolled tightly around my knees forcing me to adopt a Geisha girl gait. Why is it called "control top" when you have no control over it whatsoever? Before long, I was not wearing pantyhose but instead was fettered by ankle cuffs, like a condemned killer. I felt like Ted Bundy in drag.

Lesson Two: Unless you have a burro or a Sherpa, the smartest thing to bring with you when climbing a pyramid is a rope and harness. That way, you can lash yourself to the hombre ahead of you and make better time. Also, if you actually get to the top, you can rappel back down to ground level. Easy.

You can learn a lot about a person by the way they handle certain things without cracking, like untangling Christmas tree lights, getting rear-ended in your new car, or climbing a pyramid. I hope to be remembered as one who failed to quit when the going got tough. Either that or the most Geisha-like mother-in-law on record.

As a reward for tenacity, Kenny took us to dinner in a cave restaurant. A real cave, its nooks and crannies filled with candles which cast a dim glow over the meal. I assume that the empanadas I had were filled with a substance other than bat guano. Whatever, they were delicious. I wanted to pay, but every time I took out my wallet, Kenny said "Your money's no good in Mexico." I thought him a most generous person. Little did I know there was another agenda.

We went to Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera's place in Coyoacan, and saw the courtyard replica of Piramide Del Sol; we should've climbed that one instead. When I tried to pay the admission fee for all of us, Kenny again said, "Your money's no good in Mexico." I was beginning to feel guilty at always taking and never giving. At last, the family relented and allowed me to pay for some ice cream in the Coyoacan Zocalo. I should've known something was up as they exchanged knowing looks, smiles, and elbow nudges. When I pushed a 50-peso coin across to the cashier, she pushed it back. "Your money's no good," she said. I thought it was a joke, and again pushed it toward her. She repeated her statement. I looked at Kenny thinking he had somehow phoned ahead to tell everybody not to take my money. It was then that the cashier patiently explained that there are no more 50-peso coins, or 20-peso coins either, and had not been since 2002! Kenny had been serious. The pesos I had saved from my last visit to Mexico were no longer being used!

My newly extended family made me feel so much a part of their life that, like a kid, I can hardly wait till we meet again.

I've learned that people might forget what you said, and people might forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"

April 21, 2004 column

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