Not Knowing the Lingo, Bad for the Gringo

The flight from Auckland to Mexico City was fraught with problems. I had trouble processing my Esta (US security check). It was sorted in the nick of time, but when I landed in LA, security carted me off for an interview about my being in the US before. Apparently I had overstayed my welcome. Added to this, I was suffering from a mild case of Delirium Tremens due to a few days excessive drinking prior to our departure. Andreas, a Norwegian who I’d met in a Wellington backpackers a month earlier, was too by the look of him. When we finally arrived in Mexico City Airport, almost missing another connection in Dallas, we were both in ill temper.


To our mutual amazement, we discovered that apart from border control, no one spoke English with a fitting degree of adequacy for our pickled brains. After much gesturing and pidgin English, I purchased two bus tickets for what I hoped was Mexico City center. I wasn’t convinced: the young Mexican lady looked bewildered. After zealous security checks we got on a nice air conditioned coach. I had just relaxed into my seat when a security guard began going around taking everyone’s picture with a digital camera. A little disconcerting, but no matter. Off we went.


Not long into the journey we both fell asleep. I awoke first. There was barren scrubland on either side, not a building to be seen. Not Mexico City then. Still, we were playing it by ear anyway so it hardly mattered. As good a way as any to explore the country, I thought. I let Andreas sleep on, but when I heard him stir I kept an eye on him to watch his reaction. He looked around sleepily, eyes widened. “What the…?” Then something incomprehensible…. Norwegian, I suspected. I laughed for some time. He joined me eventually. Good humour restored, we agreed it was probably a good thing.


Puebla, the town where we ended up some hours later, is a town of some character. I was struck by several things, the traffic being one. Not literally, though I came close. The noise and density of said traffic was something else. Particularly impressive was the sheer volume, in both senses of the word, of horn blowing, which was so loud and incessant that it sounded like a pneumatic siren.


The architecture was beautiful, and like nothing I had seen before, many buildings having mosaic or patterned tiles adorning their facades. The cathedrals too, of which there were many, were very lovely. But, more interesting, was the inexplicable abundance of shoe shops. Shoe shops were everywhere. We were tripping over them. Puebla is not a tourist town, at least not for international travellers; our pale complexions garnered no little interest, particularly Andreas, who looks as Nordic as the fabled Thor. We assumed, therefore, that the shoe shops were serving the local populace. Try as we might, we couldn’t find a logical explanation.


“Maybe they just love shoes?”, I suggested, giving up.

“My ex must be Mexican”, Andreas countered.

“Haha… She liked shoes, did she?”


“Nah. Couldn’t understand her… Hahahaha..”


Idiots abroad.


– Hugh Hamilton:

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