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Sternies Abroad: Thanksgiving Mexico Edition

“Ocean fire,” as described by my partner (pictured)

Every year around October I can expect a massive group text from my family inviting me to the annual thanksgiving dinner at Aunt Amany’s house. Though my generation is the first born in America, our Thanksgiving is mostly similar to a conventional one – lots of family, lots of food, football on TV, kids on their cellphones and mother-in-laws critiquing their son’s wives, discussing how the season feels uncharacteristically warm again (trend anyone?).

This year, my partner and I decided to do something different – go to Mexico and avoid the whole thing. It was also different in that my partner and I hadn’t left the country in about 2 years, because, you know, pandemic and what not. At this point we had been fully vaccinated for some time, and my partner recently had received her booster, so off we went.

And let me tell you, this was one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time. I had been caught in a funk lately – work, school, the puppy’s health and other life stressors had started to compound. I knew I wasn’t quite happy in my headspace (Succession, Season 3 anyone?) but, really, it hasn’t been the best time for the whole world lately and I was thinking to myself, ‘Who am I to complain?’

The “it could be worse” rebuttal is usually a good one for me and can help put things in perspective. But, at some point, you have to stop comparing yourself to others (I know, very hard for MBAs) and just do what you want to do, regardless of time spent, relative efficiency or anticipated yield. Stop thinking about the future – enjoy your damn self.  I realized the importance of this on our third day into the trip, when I finally got to do my personal “therapy” on the beach in Oaxaca.

Mazunte, a neighboring blissful beach in Oaxaca 

You see, I also grew up on the beach, albeit in South Jersey where the water is not see-through blue nor the beach enclosed by tree-lined mountain tops. It is the beach nonetheless and my therapy is what you might see kids doing in the ocean – except it’s a 34-year-old dysfunctional adult. I go to about one foot of water (yes, I can swim), dig my hands in the sand and take pleasure in letting the waves crash into my body, temporarily displace and spin me around, dig in once more and recycle.

I had originally done this 20 years prior as a successful tactic to avoid going home after our family went to the beach for the day. The Atlantic is cold, perhaps not Bay Area Pacific Ocean cold where you need a wetsuit, but cold enough for your parents to yell at you to come in and get so angry they curse at you in Arabic; however, rarely if ever angry enough to actually get in the water and drag your butt back to the car. This was my time to enjoy – from childhood to adulthood – my time in the ocean. As a child, hearing my mom yell and knowing she couldn’t catch me; as an adult, I could freely lay in the water and forget my northeast trifles that I had fabricated into importance. 

There is a certain freedom in the whitewater, in fearing those crashing waves and instead of running away, just letting them splash directly onto your skin. Especially the infrequent large swell that surprises you with a little pain or the taste of saltwater. The mild discomfort quickly subsides as the sun shines around you – I laugh like a child again – now with adult admiration to be able to experience again the natural fun the earth can provide. So much of school and work can be about anticipation – what are the best events? What pitfalls must I avoid? Who are the most important people?

Sitting there in the water, feeling that same anticipation from the strength of the ocean  waves approaching, then emerging seconds later effectively unharmed helps me realize:

Dave, it’s gonna be ok.

It took three days to get that feeling because it took us three days to get to the beach once we were in Mexico. The Huatulco airport doesn’t have any direct flights from the states, so we stayed a night in Mexico City first in the beautiful neighborhood of Condesa (like every other tourist). The airport in Huatulco is small as expected, and renting a car was also horrible – as expected – and noticeably worse than in the States. We made a reservation for $250 with a company there beforehand, then they claimed they wouldn’t give us the car without another $330 for insurance. Yes, we showed them both our credit cards and how it provides that same necessary car insurance, but he wouldn’t accept it without “an email directly from the card defining the same.” We got on the phone and, to Chase’s credit, they did send an email in real time providing the specific disclosure that we have international car insurance. Then the guy said Chase is not registered as an insurance provider in Mexico. At that point, I told him we were filing a fraud claim as he was clearly playing games and we went to the company next to it, Hertz.

I could tell the Hertz guy was also middle-eastern, so I did my best impression of my dad and tried to get a discount explaining what had just happened to us. I got him down from $410 to $330 all-in, which we saw as a win given our alternative was no car and only $80 more than we had originally anticipated. And yes, Hertz accepted Chase for insurance.  It was nice driving a stick again too, especially through the small mountains of Oaxaca. That little Renualt only had about 17 horsepower, but it still got us there.

Me in our infinity pool at Casa Kalmar overlooking the beach

Zipolite is beautiful, the food is delicious and cheap and the people are abundantly nice –  all the things we love about Mexico. However, the power did go out for about a day on our side of the mountain; it wasn’t just our small boutique hotel. The internet was also out in the entire city for about 12 hours the first day (cell phone towers still worked though). In America, I could envision the visceral reactions from even the notion of no internet. Specifically, I recalled the livid patron I encountered a few weeks prior – let’s call her Karen – who exploded about customer service and exclaimed that the coffee shop not providing wifi was actually hurting their own profits since people wouldn’t go there. I contemplated advising her that the policy was actually more profitable – with no wifi the seats turn over quicker – meaning more coffee/ bakery products sold, and that basically everyone in America has mobile data anyway so it wasn’t going to affect demand. I decided to avoid Karen, as one generally should.

This is how people react without free internet in America. But what about when all the power goes out in a whole city, just because this tends to happen in this part of Mexico? When it happened on my trip, I noticed people were concerned, but even the locals just focused on other work and when that was done they went to the beach. I was initially dumbfounded.

Then I realized something else, when something goes wrong and everyone experiencing the same thing is fine except you,

it’s might not be the problem that needs attention,

It’s you.

There I was off to enjoy the rest of my Mexican vacation. And when my plane was delayed coming back to the States, and the only restaurant open in the Charlotte Airport was the overworked Bojangles that resulted in abominable diarrhea later that week, I didn’t think to myself “it could be worse” to get better.

I instead thought – it’s not the fried chicken from the airport I need to address – it’s me.

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