In 1988 I had never left the state of Texas, nor had I ever been on a plane. My father was an assistant scuba diving instructor and he traveled often to Belize, Honduras. and Mexico. In fact, my father traveled so frequently that I thought it was his job (and in some ways it was).
It came as an enormous surprise when my father approached me that summer and told me my step-mother accepted a summer teaching position and could not go on their planned trip to Cozumel. He then asked me if I would like to go. I was overwhelmed and I remember calling my Mom to ask for permission (even though I did not need permission to travel with my Dad).
I was really jazzed when I sat down on that 727 Stretch from DFW to Cozumel. I was 17 years old and about to start my senior year in high school. I couldn't really keep summer jobs and was penniless as I had blown all my cash on fireworks earlier that month. The chance to go somewhere and do something other than drive up and down Ennis Avenue with my equally slothful buddy Dave was scintillating. I had no idea what to expect I just knew my Dad's friends had brought several coolers full of beer, snacks, and liquor which were duct-tape sealed and ready for flight. I could only surmise the intention of this group was total debauchery, and thank God I was right!
The plane touched down and as we filed out of the fuselage down the ramp it was immediate we were not in Kansas anymore. This was Cozumel 23 years ago. There was no AC in the airport, no order of any kind, and the runway appeared to be cut right out of the jungle. I remember feeling much hotter than I had expected to be. I had always heard of cool ocean breezes and this was anything but that. It must have been 80% humidity, mostly cloudy, and 90 degrees.
We jumped in a cab and motored towards town. There were a few other kids near my age on the trip, but within minutes I could tell they were a bit too goody-goody for my taste, and I allied myself with my father's cooler-toting buddies instead. As soon as we reached the hotel (a total shit dive in the center of town) my new partners in crime, M and B tore at the duct tape on the coolers and started screaming Viva Mexico! and of all things, the word, dónde. (where)
Apparently they had overheard me ask the cab driver, ¿dónde podemos comprar el agua? (I had taken 4 years of Spanish at the time and had absolutely no fear of trying to speak..wish I could remember any of it now). Clearly, the only word that these clowns remembered from my question was dónde. It was going to be that kind of week. Every time I turned around some poor Mexican was looking up at the sky because M or B would be shouting dónde! to the heavens. I kind of wanted to kill them and even more so, I wanted to join them.
I was on my first ever trip abroad and by 4pm on our first day in Mexico my Dad had excused himself for a nap and I was left to the careful guardianship of Los hombres que gritan, donde! (The Men Who Shout Where). Donde is the bar? Donde is the bathroom? Donde is my wallet? Eventually it just became donde donde donde! shouted out like TORA TORA TORA!
Of course being 17 I was not supposed to drink, but that did not stop M&B from offering at every possible moment. I was their teenage translator and they were my chaperons. I was amazed I had been able to turn the other cheek on booze for the whole 2 hours prior to dinner. I felt a bit like The Coward of the County, but the fear of disappointing my father (whom I did not know all that well) was very intimidating.
I remember dinner on this first night was in a place that looked like a Mexican Palace from a Western movie. I do not remember the name; however, I do remember my Dad's buddy, who owned the dive shop sponsoring the trip, sitting with us when they brought out chips, pico de gallo and a bowl of brown peppers in a brown sauce. I discovered Chipotle peppers the way in which they should be discovered; by putting a whole pepper on a chip and shoving it in my mouth on the sage advice of my Dad's buddy (that bastard was supposed to be looking out for us). The initial smoky, salty, vinegar flavor of the pepper was sublime; the ensuing capsaicin H-Bomb that went off in my mouth sent me scrambling for my bottle of Mexi-Coke. Since we were not allowed to drink the water that was sat before us I sat there in tears while the gang of experienced scuba dudes laughed their asses off at my expense.
I learned a valuable lesson that night: do not ever put the whole thing in your mouth! ...to be continued