Sometimes reentry takes a week. Sometimes it takes just a moment. Sometimes the pendulum swings back and forth between where you’ve been and where you’re headed.
The morning went as it had for the past few days — rise, shower, dress, eat. But even after the dreaded day of Limbo before, our last morning at Maison Couturier was sad. Agustín served us and after we ate (huevos a la mexicana / frijoles / salsa verde / café / jugo de naranja), he asked us to sign the guestbook — “We’ve never had anyone from Colorado before!” We laughed and said that we would — and he then invited us to return as soon as possible. “This place is my home, and you are welcome back any time — we would be so happy to have you.” As he walked away, he turned for a moment and said, “Maybe someday I will visit Colorado — it sounds beautiful.” I almost started crying when I replied, “You’re welcome in our home anytime, too — we’re friends now!” He touched his heart and smiled, and walked away.
We were on the road towards Veracruz by 09:00 — and the drive eastward was just as beautiful as the drive from Puebla. We drove through the jungles, passing tiny brightly-colored villages on our way towards the sea. The views were incredible — and we were the only people on the road, save for a four-foot-long iguana that we swerved to miss as we drove along the ocean. As I drove the stress of the previous day and the hours of driving started to take their toll — my leg started to seize up in searing pain. I saw our trainer, Leandra, in my head — “Foam roll! Foam roll all the time! Your legs are always so, so tight!”
“Shit.” The pain became almost unbearable as we made our way to the airport. My IT bands are always very tight, but the hours of stop-and-go jungle traffic had turned them from rubber into steel. We got gas just outside the gates, and I walked around in circles cursing while the gas attendant looked on quizzically. I worked my legs with my hands until they felt a bit looser and then began the hunt for the Avis rental drop-off.
We pulled into a dusty car lot with a cluster of rental company logos hanging out front, and slowly rolled into the Avis section. There was one man, sitting in a lawn chair next to the tiny office, asleep. He jerked awake and walked over to the car. We handed the rental contract to him, he squinted at it in the sun and nodded. “I drive,” he said. I got in the back seat, obediently — and we sped off for the terminal. Two minutes later, we lurched to a stop and he left us on the curb in front with our bags — “Adios!” he shouted out the passenger window with a smile.
We piled ourselves into a booth at Le Lecherito in the terminal — we ended up getting to the airport two hours earlier than necessary… I ordered tacos dorados and a beer. As we sat there, fiddling with our phones, the emails began to roll in. Client changes, city comments, random questions… The real world was nipping at my feet and I couldn’t handle it. I turned my email off and sat there, poking at the extra shreds of queso blanco on my now-empty plate. This is always my downfall — limbo day, then departure day. Reality sets in and with it comes dread. “…How on earth am I going to get all of this done?” And with nothing to do but sit and wait in an empty airport, those thoughts have plenty of time and space to ricochet around inside my head.
We finally left Veracruz for Mexico City at 17:05 — slightly delayed, and in an ancient plane. (The check-in person at DEN before we left had mentioned it: “Oooh, an ATR42? Good luck with that, boys.”)
We had booked a hotel room at the Courtyard Marriott at the airport, since our flight to Houston the next morning left at 06:00. We had been sitting around the pool making big plans for the evening back at Maison Couturier:
“…Should we go back to Pujol?
“Yes, we definitely should. I’ll book it now.”
But we realized that dinner at Pujol took a minimum of three hours the first time around — which put a 21:00 reservation well into the morning, and then a lack of sleep would destroy the entire next day of travel. So, hotel restaurant it was. We were led up to our very normal, very comfortable American-chain-style hotel room, and then ventured back down for food.
The restaurant looked cozy from afar, but then we turned a corner… Eye-wateringly bright, garishly decorated and chock-full of white people drinking Coors Light. “Lovely.”
I ordered tacos, obviously (two alambre, two al pastor) — and as they were being dropped off at the table, a lounge singer started up just next to our booth. She seemed like a very lovely person, perhaps one that wasn’t entirely pleased that she was singing in a over-lit hotel lobby, but she sang with a clear voice and a smile. I made a point to smile back at her, as the rest of the bar was completely ignoring her. After eating quickly, we paid our bill and retreated upstairs for long, hot showers and bed. We fell asleep at 22:00, on the dot.
The alarm went off at 03:30, and we were in the elevator by 04:15. Delirious with exhaustion, we stumbled through checkout and across the bridge that connected the hotel with our terminal, then made our way to our gate. It was too early to eat, too early for a bottle of water… too early for anything. We vacantly stared at our phones until the boarding announcement was made, then we were herded onto the plane en masse — everyone rushing and bustling to get to their seat first.
The flight was awful, truly. It was United, it was early, it was an ancient 737 — all bad signs for any flight, but this one was particularly terrible. I got shouted at by a flight attendant (the non-reason why I forgot immediately afterwards) and the seats were so close together that Mark’s knee broke a plastic panel on the seat in front of him when we hit a small patch of turbulence.
We landed in Houston irritable and starving — and with an impending 6-hour layover. I am usually the best person for the job when complaining is needed (you’ve been reading this blog, so you can back me up on that), but Mark walked over to the United customer service desk and did it himself, immediately. He returned with upgraded (Economy+, not first — but, again, who’s complaining?) seats on an earlier flight, without putting up much of a fight.
Then, breakfast. The illusion of choice at the Houston airport is deceiving — you theoretically have six or seven different restaurants to choose from, but then you discover that they all serve almost exactly the same thing. So we chose the one with the best ambiance — which was somewhat difficult, as every single seat at every single restaurant in that airport came equipped with an iPad on a stand, eight inches from the edge of the table. I love technology — but I want to order my eggs from a human who gets paid (a living wage if we’re asking for the whole truth) to listen to me. I don’t want to hit buttons and swipe a card, and then be inundated with coupons and ads for the other shops in the terminal — they are ten bloody feet away! I know they exist and what they have already, just from where I’m seated. Luckily, we found that you could remove the iPad from its inconvenient stand and lean them against the condiment basket — where they chirped and glowed and bleeped for the rest of our meal. We paid with United miles — a happy convenience, as the likelihood of us flying on that airline ever again are fairly small.
We headed to our gate and were herded onto the flight once again — and almost, almost had an empty seat next to us. Those butterfly-in-the-stomach moments are narcotic, but alas, it was not to be — and luck was not on our side when our seat mate sat down.
He was white, male, 50s. He was wearing cargo pants and a greasy sweatshirt. He had a wedding band on, and clutched a tactical backpack. He silently shuffled past us after gesturing that indeed our hoped-for second seat was his. Once he sat down, his headphones went in and only were removed to bark at the flight attendant. He listened to super-conservative talk radio and simultaneously read archived articles on Breitbart — “angry white man fuel,” I’ve called it before. He held his head in his hands, seemingly mourning the 1950s — while I honestly considered getting off the flight and staying in Mexico. “We’re going back… to that.”
Once we touched down in Denver, reality had arrived. Reentry had been completed. We had swung from the pristine, quiet jungle into the bright, cacophonous city. Advertising was a shock, the noise was overbearing, the crowds suffocating. We took the train home, unlocked the door, set our bags down and flopped onto the bed. We stared at the ceiling — mourning the end of the trip, relishing the silence, pining for the jungle.