When I was 16 years old, I shook Karl Malone's hand when he visited my high school. Little did I suspect one day I would discuss that experience with a Mexican shuttle bus driver in my first "real" Spanish conversation. "¡Karl Malone tiene manos MUY GRANDES!" I said, using one hand to point to the place on my forearm where the tips of Karl's huge fingers reached. We happened to be talking about Karl Malone because the driver knew he played for the Utah Jazz when I mentioned I was from Salt Lake City. The driver was a really nice guy, even telling me how I could ride public transportation to save money on my way back to the airport.
In one of my next Spanish conversations, I tried to order a Diet Sprite at the little hole-in-the-wall cafe that offered a complete dinner for $40 pesos (about $3 U.S.), but couldn't communicate the "Diet" part very well...."without sugar?" "light?" "zero?" I tried but the waitress continued to look puzzled. I ended up with a sugared Coke instead, so I reminded myself that Coke is good for medicinal purposes while traveling. Note to self: look that up! Or figure out how to pronounce it correctly! The rest of the dinner (which I ordered off the single copy of a hand-written menu they had) was delicious. I ordered "Pollo Ranchero", even though I wasn't quite sure what that was, and it was delicioso!
My new adventure started today! I'm in Cancun for a few days, en route to Costa Rica to attend Spanish school in advance of my March Peace Corps assignment as an economic development facilitator.
Top Ten List for Day 1 (and the prep days that came before):
10. The airport scale teetered between 50 and 51 pounds, but finally settled on 50 pounds for my checked luggage. Yay! No additional baggage fees! All that time I spent standing on my sister's bathroom scale the night before, with my bag in hand, pulling out stuff I had packed, PAID OFF! (Who needs shampoo anyway? Or more than 5 bobby pins? Or the duplicate binoculars, rain ponchos, tweezers, and fingernail clippers I had accidentally packed in the chaos of moving out of my house this week?)
9. Hair dye. Yes, part of that 50-pound baggage allowance was used on a 2-year supply of hair dye. People laugh, but I just like to have dark hair to fit in better when I travel to places where blondes are rare. And, I like to cover my gray. And, I barely know what I'm doing when I buy hair dye in the U.S., let alone buying it in Spanish in another country, so I figured I'd better pack it.
8. Mentors. Hair dying practices and the advisability of wearing pantyhose in a tropical climate are just a few of the questions I asked Christine, the current Peace Corps volunteer assigned as my mentor. Christine is from New York City (a place I love) and got engaged while she was visiting home over Christmas...hooray Christine! She gave me the great advice of buying the dressy-looking Crocs for comfortable and easy-to-clean shoes, and wearing skorts (looks like a skirt, but shorts underneath) for comfortable business casual dressing in a tropical climate.
7. Jet travel. From my window seat, I watched as the wings were sprayed with de-icing fluid in the Salt Lake City snowstorm this morning. The gorgeous red rocks and rivers of Canyonlands National Parks appeared a few minutes later, and then Cancun's dense green jungle appeared out that same window after only 4 hours 10 minutes. We live in wonderful times!
6.5 Darth Vader toys in the airport security line. I packed some Chocolate and Vanilla protein powder, and was worried that airport security would confront me about the white powder, so I left it in the mostly-empty original bags. I needn't have worried, because the person in front of me sent a very large Darth Vader toy through the x-ray machine, and the TSA screeners were so focused on deconstructing Darth that they didn't comment on my bag. (Or maybe, they wouldn't have commented anyway....who knows? But I'm grateful regardless.)
6. Dressing in layers. I shed a heavy winter coat at the SLC airport, shed my jacket on the airplane, shed my sweater in Cancun's 85 degree humidity, and enjoyed spending the evening in my tee shirt!
5. eReaders. You can bring a library without exceeding the baggage weight limit! I've loaded a medical reference book, a first aid book, and some fun reads on it. I suspect I'll probably add a Spanish dictionary, a Costa Rica bird book, and other reference books over time.
4. "What Happy People Know", by Dan Baker. Re-reading this book on the flight reminded me why I love it so much. With all the self-doubt and vulnerability that comes with starting new adventures, I needed the reminder that even though our brains are hard-wired with the fear that we are not enough, we don't need to believe it. We just need to move forward with courage, optimism, and love. Since we're all going to die eventually anyway, we must make the most of the time we have...the real tragedy would be to not live because we're held hostage by our fears.
3. Christmas in the tropics. As we stopped at the massive white beachfront hotels to drop off the shuttle passengers, I was delighted to see large nativity scenes and brightly lit evergreen Christmas trees among the palm trees and flowering bushes. Some of the evergreens were even flocked with white. When we finally made it to my cheap (but safe and clean) motel, it had twinkling Christmas lights entwined in its flowering greenery.
2. Friends. Driving along Cancun's lush green highways, I thought of a wonderful former coworker who loves this place and whose vacation pictures motivated me to come here. Paul Terry's example of loving kindness to the poor was also a major contributor in my decision to serve in the Peace Corps.
I'm also grateful for my great neighbors Brock and Kristin Kassing, who helped me load boxes destined for storage into the huge suburban my parents lent me. They mowed my lawn during the summer and will be taking my trash to the curb this week, the last thing to be done to prepare my house for the buyer who moves in Saturday. My realtor and friend, Sara Beck, who helped me sell 2 houses this year (and saved me $18,000 in fees in the process), has been encouraging and helpful. I appreciate Reverend Patty Willis' efforts to include me in her Unitarian Universalist congregation's women's group via videoconferencing while I'm in Costa Rica, as well as her other encouragement and support.
And I appreciate all the others who have given me encouragement and expressed interest in hearing about my experiences. I've appreciated your support, and will do my best to share the experience with you.
Finally (drum roll please).....number 1, my awesome family!!
My Dad literally got out of his sick-bed to help me unload my things into his storage room (hope you feel better soon Dad!) and gave me a beautiful father's blessing full of love and wisdom last night. My Mom helped me clean the house I just sold, hemmed my dress pants, and also helped me pack and move. My sister Tracy is dealing with all my mail, shared her Christmas dinner with me, gave me a place to stay last night, and also helped me clean and pack and move. My other siblings have been kind and supportive too. ¡MUCHISIMAS Gracias! (REALLY BIG Thanks!)
Coming up next: visiting the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, Tulum, and Coba over the next few days.