Mexico Part 1: The Journey, Flying and Exposure Therapy

In 1996, when I was twenty-four going on twenty-five years of age, my Dad invited me to join him on a two week holiday to Mexico.  I had never thought I would get to see Central America.  This was such a wonderful opportunity and I was extremely grateful that my Dad wanted to share this holiday with me.  He was taking a break from his filming schedule and so this was quite rare and much prized time that I would have with my Dad.

We would go in May. I had already started my year with an extended holiday to Australia; seven weeks in Sydney visiting family that live there; my wonderful Cousin, Jackie.  I had saved up for a year to be able to afford that spectacular holiday.  My boss, at the time, had agreed to that extended holiday, saying that although I would take some of it as unpaid leave, he wanted to reward me for my achievements at work.  How could I possibly ask for yet more unpaid leave, for an adventurous holiday in Mexico?

Well, those who know me well, know that when I have my mind set on something, I somehow find a way to make it happen.  I am very determined.  I think this comes from losing so many loved ones to illnesses, in my childhood, and recognising that life is short; make the most of it and make things happen, don’t give up.

That was the same in this case; my boss agreed with my view that I could either “…quit my job and go on character building adventures…” or he could “…retain me and my proven skills and benefit from my ongoing personal development upon my return…”.  He gave his consent and on a nice day in May, my Dad and I jetted off to Mexico for two weeks.

I love Airports.  There is something about the noise, the atmosphere and the buzz that arises in me from soaking up the spirit of adventure that oozes from most people there; excited chatter, the gazes of those arriving who look around and soak up all that they see, the variety of languages, people, attire and the love expressed when people are saying meaningful goodbyes or giving vociferous, joyful welcomes into open arms.

I generally find flying boring.  The part I love is the take off; the firing up of the engines as you buckle your seat belts, the manoeuvre of the plane onto the runway, the sounds of the engines getting louder and then the sudden jolt as the plane pushes off for a loud charge down the runway at ever increasing speed and with ever louder engines.  Then comes the part I hate, the plane ascends into the air but as it climbs, it then dips, then it climbs, then it dips and this goes on until the desired altitude has been achieved. Every dip causes me to pray silently, in my head, to whatever Higher Power may be watching over me.  Once at the desired altitude, I scold myself for being nervous during the dips of the ascent.  I start to relax.  Well, that is once I have a gin and tonic in my hand, supplied by Cabin Crew who look as overly made up as Ballroom Dancers, I relax.

I have to admit that the ascent immediately after the plane leaves the runway, is the part of flying that causes me to become quite phobic about flying.  While I am sitting in the airport and waiting to embark, I can really wind myself up and become quite panicked.  One way I have learnt to overcome this, is to try to fly quite frequently.  The more I fly, the easier the fears become to let go of.  In my role as Counsellor and Psychotherapist, this is called Exposure Therapy; routinely exposing yourself to the thing you fear helps to de-sensitise you from a high level of fear.  I often encourage those who fear flying to either take more flights or, prior to flying, spend a few weeks making visits to the Airport so that you start to feel at ease being in that environment.  It can help take away the anxiety that might otherwise be experienced on the day of your flight.

Having flown to Sydney a few months before, I thought this journey of about fourteen hours would be simple.  It would feel quick.  I was wrong.  The journey seemed to go on and on and on.  My boredom was broken by news, on the radio that I was listening to, that ‘ValuJet Flight 592’ had crashed in Florida, in the Everglades just a few miles west of Miami.  It was later rumoured that survivors had been attacked and killed by Alligators in the swamps, but I am unsure if this was proven.  My flight then became one of increasing nervousness and a desire to reach Mexico very quickly and safely.

We finally arrived.  My Dad was in his late fifties and still working as a Stunt Man and Stunt Choreographer in the film and television industry but, despite being incredibly fit physically, he was still a very ‘grumpy old git’ when he was tired and, by this point, he was very tired.  I suspect that the few Rum’s he’d enjoyed alongside me with my Gin and Tonics had finally caught up with him.  We’d talked a great deal during the flight and my Dad was a man who was great at telling stories of his very adventurous life.  He was a good listener, too.  Our talks on that flight are a special memory for me.

We clambered out of the plane and I noted to myself, with glee, that I was standing on the ground of a country I had never been to before.  Mexico.  Such a colourful, vibrant place.  Then we entered the airport.  I had once been to the dull, grim offices of the Department for Social Security (DSS) in my younger years.  I had been looking for my first job and so had to ‘sign on’ to claim Government Benefits until I had work.  The airport in Mexico reminded me of that DSS building; the difference being that there was no air conditioning in this heat of over 90 degrees (Fahrenheit), nowhere to sit and no refreshments to satisfy a now very dry mouth.

There were a few ceiling fans, loose polystyrene ceiling tiles; some of which were just missing and their absence exposed loose cables.  The staff wore khaki uniforms and these were all soaked in sweat; evident in the dank sweat patches in the armpits, down the back, behind the knees, very unpleasantly around the groin and on the chests.  Some of the staff at the arrivals desks were smoking cigars.  They had enormous glass ashtrays on each desk, each piled high with the ash that had been flicked there with every passport check of the last week.  All that was missing were poker tables and a bar from which to claim your tequila.

I had to laugh, even though I’m an Asthma sufferer and knew that before long I would be ‘hacking up’ the stale air and second hand smoke of staff who each sported the same hairstyle as Argentine Footballer Diego Maradona; men and women alike.  I concluded that they must all use the same hair-dresser.  I noted that most people were rather short.  If anyone was more than 5ft 3 tall, I would be surprised.  I only noted that because my Dad and I stood out as we were both over 6ft tall.

As we finally made our way out of the Airport, we were met by a dozen or so eager Taxi Drivers, all promising us the most comfortable journey to our hotel, via the most scenic route available.  One middle-aged Taxi Driver, sporting the same handlebar moustache that my Dad had (my Dad’s was well trimmed but the Taxi Drivers moustache was an enigma; for it seemed to grow up into his nose – or was it all just nasal hair that had decided to set up home on his upper lip?) leapt forward and announced that he recognised my Dad from a movie.  He made such a fuss and managed to shepherd us into his old fading yellow Volkswagon Beetle.

How this chap managed to get us into that small car, with our luggage, I will never know, but he did and we set off to Cancun.  I think it was this man’s terrible driving in his musty, beaten up old VW Beetle that left me scarred for life at the sight of any yellow car.  To this day, I hate yellow cars.  How we survived this man’s driving is beyond me.  That said, he was very nice, courteous and friendly and while my Dad snoozed in the front seat (my Dad could sleep through anything.  I think ‘snooze’ is too gentle a word.  My Dad sat, head lolled back, mouth agape and he was snoring like a Wart Hog), I chatted to the Taxi Driver about his life in Mexico; answering his questions about our Queen, whom he seemed to be fascinated by.  We arrived in Cancun, at our hotel.

These are pictures of my Dad and I at this rather plush hotel:

My adventure in Mexico was just beginning.  I had planned to leave my Dad for a few days and go back packing, on my own, around the Yucatan Peninsular.  I couldn’t wait for that part of my holiday; to experience the real Mexico.  It would, indeed, turn out to be a truly eventful adventure – one that involved gunfights, bandits and ancient pyramids.  An adventure that could have cost me my life.

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