It’s humid. This air is not simply for breathing but drinking. Those were my first thoughts when exiting the airport in Cancun, Mexico in the summer of 2007. This was my first vacation, first time on a plane, in a hotel, out of the country and away from my home. When I had decided to join my friend Emily and her family on their vacation I was ecstatic. Finally I would be released from bland suburban Ohio and be vaulted into a cultural epicenter of parties, city lights, and hot Spanish speaking men. But those were the fanciful thoughts of a fifteen year old girl boarding a plane excited to have a real Mexican taco that wasn’t from Chipotle.
Our first night was spent settling into the hotel and enjoying an American style meal at Senior Frogs. I honestly just wanted an authentic Mexican taco but only burgers and fries seemed to be within my grasp.
The still taco-less next morning was an early one, five AM to be exact. We were off to visit Chichen Itza, the Mayan ruins two hours away. Puttering off in our tiny rental car, culture shock was only beginning to settle in. Arriving early was a great idea because even at seven AM the heat and humidity was stifling. After walking through gates we followed uneven dirt roads to the ruins. At first glance the fields seemed empty but then your eyes have time to absorb the gigantic stone monoliths raised before you. The sheer size alone takes ones breath away, but up close the carvings and details are true examples of the Mayans craftsmanship. I could almost count the hairs on the stone jaguars back.
Ever so enchanted I began to recognize the structures and I proudly trotted about in my fifteen year old way pointing and saying “I saw that on discovery channel” and “that was on the travel channel.” It soon seemed as the mercury in the thermometers raised so did the population level. Pasty faced tour groups gathered around, children cried in the heat and young couple’s cameras flashed incessantly.
Other than frantic tourists, local vendors were also present. When I think of vendors in America I always imagine the veterans of New York City selling goods from carts on busy streets. That was certainly not the case here. Half starved children gazed up at me with overly large eyes, a crippled man was bartering prices and a toothless woman and her small granddaughter were selling embroidered handkerchiefs for 50 cents each. These people had descended from the mighty Mayans who built these great structures I had come so far to see. Their poverty seemed far worse than anything I had ever seen. I left Mexico a week later with the weight of their world still heavy on my heart, knowing that I had so much, when they had so very little.
Three years later I met a girl back home named Lauren Ellis. She was going on a church mission to Mexico to help homeless orphans. She was struggling to raise $4,000 by herself. The people of Chichen Itza came to mind so I helped her do everything to get there. We spent hours at bake sales and many fundraisers and I am proud to say that Lauren made it to Mexico. What began as an exciting vacation for me ended up being a life changing experience as eighteen year old. Even though I never got that authentic taco I received an authentic life lesson that will be with me always.
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