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My eyes and heart open after Mexico trip

Though my parents were both teachers and worked second jobs to give my sister and me all we needed, they never put travel on the back burner. Their mentality was “less stuff, more experiences.” We always had a used station wagon and a modest home but we never sat still very long, and for that I’m forever grateful. 

As a girl, we took three weeks one summer to drive cross-country, stopping at landmarks such as the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. We went to New York City multiple times, traveled up and down the East Coast, visited Hawaii and more. We found ways to travel less expensively. The transportation varied but we always made it to our destination, sometimes via car or borrowed RV, sometimes train or plane. 

In high school we traveled to Europe and Mexico. These adventures instilled a desire to see the world and taught me the ins and outs of foreign travel. They also showed me, at an early age, that we’re all human beings. All that separates us are skin color, territory borders and luck. 

And as you’ve probably figured out, Americans are most often the lucky ones. 

In college and early adulthood, when I was on my own, I continued this pattern and visited Montana, Canada, Boston, and backpacked in the Pacific Northwest and Europe. 

Once I became a mom, the traveling slowed down but didn’t stop. Whether it be the Outer Banks, Washington, D.C., Disney World, Charleston, the Riviera Maya or somewhere else, I’ve continued to travel with my two boys. They are already quite savvy with airports, train stations, subways and Ubers. 

Since my marital separation, I’ve decided to continue traveling with the boys but to also use my time away from them to make longer, more “advanced” trips. Last week, a friend and I spent five full days in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. While we utilized a vacation package for our meals and lodging, we were determined to get into the city and experience the culture of Cabo. Because really, how much can you learn by staying within the confines of a resort? 

Our first experience in the city was at night. We’d been at the pool all day, enjoyed a great dinner and on a whim, decided to go dancing in downtown Cabo. Chatter around the resort was there was a very fun nightlight and places stayed open until 4 a.m. This is about as opposite from Western North Carolina as one can get. While our region is proud to tout live music and great craft beer, we’re not much of a late-night area. 

Along those lines, neither of us is a clubbing person per se, but we wanted to experience the true culture of Cabo. First, we visited a dance club someone had recommended. It was directly across from the resort and was so commercialized and full of all-inclusivers, it felt like an American establishment. This wasn’t what we were looking for. 

We went further into the heart of town and found the true Mexican vibe. From then until 3:30 a.m., we danced, laughed and enjoyed the scene. 

But, we also observed. We watched the locals and made note of how very similar they were to us. 

The next day we went shopping in the same area. There were plenty of hagglers trying to get us to buy everything one could imagine. I was continually drawn to the women who were trying to sell. I really enjoyed talking to the Mexican women and engaging with the children. 

Our shopping experience reminded me of the times I visited Tijuana when my sister lived in San Diego. While the haggling can be annoying to some, it makes shopping a game of talk and negotiation, which is kind of fun and rewarding in a weird way. 

We came upon an elderly lady; her face brown and weathered from years of sitting on stoops selling handmade dolls and bracelets. We bought several items from her. She loved pointing out the straight stitches and lace accents on her dolls. Something about her stole my heart. Shopping continued that day and a little the next. We worked hard to only purchase locally-made items and not fall into the trap of buying cheap souvenirs made far, far away. 

The crew at the resort was also outstanding. All of them were Mexican and full of smiles, made a point to converse with us, and clearly appeared to enjoy their jobs. They embodied a spirit of gratitude. 

The more we interacted with the Mexican people, the more our hearts ached for those in strife. While there is clearly conflict going on between Mexico and America, this isn’t a political column. This is a column about people and the connection between all beings, a similarity that can’t be denied. Something I found in paramount form last week as I interacted with Mexicans, young and old. 

We weren’t put on this earth to simply ho-hum through each day and ignore the pain and suffering of others. It’s so important to teach our children and youth tolerance and compassion and to instill in them a confidence to travel. Through my own actions and choices, I hope my boys learn these lessons. As their mom, it’s the greatest gift I can offer.

(Susanna Barbee writes this column and wears many hats at The Smoky Mountain News, Smoky Mountain Living, and Mountain South Media. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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