Lessons Learned South of the Border

By Jeffery Cohen

Lessons Learned South of the Border

I’ve always been fascinated with the lure of exotic lands and the mystery of foreign cultures. – the foods, the customs, the history. When I plan a vacation, instead of being satisfied with sunning on a beach or lying around the pool, I search for special places that I can learn something from. That’s what I had in mind when I planned our first trip to Mexico. My wife and I would head south of the border to the land of sombreros, tortillas, burros and mariachis.

“Just think of how much we’ll learn about Mexican culture, senorita,” I whispered to my wife as our plane landed in Mexico City.

I couldn’t wait to discover the old world charm of rustic adobe huts and palatial Haciendas. What I found were mountains of glass and steel skyscrapers. Instead of quaint cantinas and make shift taco stands, hombres tossed dough in the windows of pizzerias, Chinese restaurants decorated with red paper lanterns lined the streets, and there was even a kosher bagel shop. I learned that somehow east had traveled west.

We decided to take a little stroll and learned a quick lesson about walking in the city. Mexican drivers follow traffic laws to the letter. When a traffic light turns green, they go. If you happen to be in the crosswalk when the light changes, they go anyway, right over you. The way they see it, you are the one breaking the law, not them. They have a green light.

I was desperate to find something authentically Mexican, so we got tickets to the bull fights. Exhausted from dodging traffic, we decided to take a tourist bus to the arena. I had just finished Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway’s book on the beauty of bull fighting. I was taken by the drama of the matador, alone and facing death in the ring with honor, bravery and skill. 

We were as excited as the other thirty tourists who filed from the bus into the stadium. “Ole!” they shouted as they slid into their seats. “Ole!” They grinned as they handed over pesos to a vendor and passed cold bottles of beer all around. “Ole!” They laughed as the matador appeared in his tight-sequined outfit. “Ole!” they cried with joy as the red cape taunted the bull. Then the matador took out his sword and aimed it at the charging animal. “O…noooooo!” they whined, cringing in horror. Some turned their heads, and then got up to leave. Others followed. By the end of the third fight, we were the only ones not on the bus. When we finally did return, we squeezed our way up the aisle. The tourists on board turned away whispering “sadist,” “cow killers,” and even a couple of “Yankee go homes.” I learned that bullfighting is a lot like Mexican for some Americans. They just don’t have the stomach for it.

We eventually found a brightly decorated restaurant and pulled up a couple of chairs at the tables that were set out on the sidewalk. After scanning the menu, we ordered plates of Mexican delights. I chose to spice mine up with the green chili salsa on our table, avoiding the red, which I assumed would be far too hot. Four glasses of water later, I learned that you can’t judge the food by its color. You judge by the amount of smoke coming from your ears! I had a four-alarmer going.

We wandered into a lovely little park where women were selling trinkets laid out on woven blankets. I took a picture of one as she held up a string of beads. She turned on me and chased me for almost two blocks screaming Spanish words that my wife later translated. 

“Well, she did a lot of swearing. Something about you stealing her soul.”

I breathed a sigh of relief as I tried to catch my breath. “I’m sure glad that’s over.” I shook my head. 

“Did I mention the curse she put on you?” my wife asked.

Now I don’t believe in curses or voodoo or black magic. But I got sicker than I have ever been in my entire life. My wife reminded me of the four glasses of water I had guzzled down earlier and suggested that maybe it was a case of Montezuma’s Revenge.

“Montezuma at his angriest wouldn’t have the heart to wish this on a dog, not even a gringo dog like me,” I whimpered, then collapsed on the bed where I stayed for the last few days of the vacation. And so I learned a final lesson about taking pictures in Mexico. Don’t even bring a camera.

About this writer

  • Jeffery Cohen Freelance writer and newspaper humor columnist, Jeffery Cohen, has written for Sasee, Lifetime and Read, Learn, Write. He’s won awards in Women-On-Writing Contest, Vocabula’s Well Written Contest, National League of American Pen Womens’ Competition, Southern California Genealogy Competition, and Writer’s Weekly writing contest.

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