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Culture Shock: From Third World to First World in One Long Day

Jan 20, 2008
The day begins before dawn; starting the fire and getting some hot water on for baths and coffee. Even though we are staying in our palapas in town, the stars are amazingly bright and the air is amazingly clear. Our town is a Maya village.

Even before the east begins to brighten; the roosters are crowing like crazy. The roosters are crazy of course; all chickens are neurotic messes. The crickets are cricketing and the east slowly begins to brighten. Coffee is made, baths are taken, the car is packed and it's goodbye time to the jungle.

But parting is such sweet sorrow. While the bug bites and dysentery will not be missed, the pristine environment and many Maya friends will. Neighbor's tears abound but alas there is an afternoon fight from Cancun to Phoenix that simply cannot be missed. Besides, the jungle can take care of itself and hopefully another hurricane won't hit. God forbid, we lost so many big trees.

We drive into Felipe Carrillo Puerto and get something to eat. Time is becoming increasingly important as we shift back to the First World. Time may be what the clock says but it is starting to run our lives again. We can't miss the flight.

We order coffee and sabuites and discuss the day's preflight travel agenda. Unfortunately a side trip to Akumal is out and we took enough pictures of Tulum; but it would be nice to stop for lunch in Playa before going to the airport. Big plans.

We head north from Carrillo onto the stretch of notorious highway known by us locals as the 'Tramo de Muerte' or Death Strip. Even veteran Mexico drivers prefer spending the night in Playa or Tulum before heading onto the Death Strip at night. But it's almost 9:00 AM and it's not raining. Death Strip or not, it's pedal to the metal.

We stop in Tulum and buy some bread and hear the German and French Canadian accents. Rotten weather in Germany and Canada and no Maya spoken here. The only Maya we see are those making food and stocking shelves; sweeping floors and picking up trash.

It's off to Playa del Carmen and the fastest growing municipality in Mexico. We have lunch at Cafe Andrade and speak to the waiters who we know well; on prior business trips I set up my office there but not today. We see one Maya cook. After some Coronas and an 'arrachera' steak, it's off to the Cancun Airport.

At the rental car drop off we handle the necessary paperwork and the car has no damage; just a lot of that white, limestone sascab dust that one gets doing backroad jungle day trips. We get a lift to the airport and stand in a very, very long line for over an hour but that's okay as the Phoenix flight is over four hours. At the counter they tell us our flight is delayed just long enough so we won't be able to make our connection in Phoenix. This just simply confirms the fact that Phoenix is one big Twilight Zone for connections. If it happens every single time, is that a trend or a law of physics?

To make matters worse, in Phoenix we were missing a bag. The wife had tied yellow and red ribbons and I happened to see this family with a similar suitcase with said ribbons. I took the liberty of examining the tags and determined it was my bag they were getting ready to carry through customs. And they looked a bit strange...not a good idea, eh? Clueless or diabolical? At this point, there are no Maya.

The Phoenix Airport is modern but about as intuitive as a computer chip. After finding our bag and going through immigration and customs, we of course barely miss our San Jose connection. The good news, the next one was only two hours later.

It is very clear this next flight is the Silicon Valley Techie shuttle run as all are carrying their laptops and look dead tired with that sunken, black eye syndrome. On the flight to San Jose I noticed that almost all were asleep; no pretzels and Bloody Mary mix for this lively bunch.

At San Jose all was new and bright and under construction. The San Jose Airport is in the state of Perpetual Construction. If you drive, you will never take the same path twice. That should remind you to buy stock in Perpetual Construction, Inc. and their never-ending contract.

After a long day it's finally home. The bills have piled up and nothing has gotten better. Washington, D.C. and Hollywood, California are still there and still the same. Things may change but not much. At home the Internet and phones work and Carlos Slim doesn't own them yet...my water bill is thirty times higher and my electric bill twenty times higher. Agrarian Reform does have its advantages. It's raining but there are no trees down...yet.

As I look through my "Official Sample Ballot" for the upcoming Presidential election I see numerous and sundry ways whatever is proposed is going to cost me more money. That's what the future bodes...welcome to reality. No Mayas on the ballot but the Indians that are on the ballot stand to make tens of millions of bucks if I vote for them to open casinos. Why not?

It never ceases to amaze the power of long distance travel and the impact of a good, strong culture shock. Only broken Maya spoken here.
About the Author
Jack Deal is the owner of a jungle ranch and Deal Business Consulting. Related articles may be found at http://www.jddeal.com/blog and http://www.freeandinquiringmind.typepad.com
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