As a child, I was fascinated by that show ‘Legends of the Hidden Temple’. The one where the Silver Snakes battled the Blue Barracudas in super cool obstacle courses to uncover treasures while being hunted by hidden bloodthirsty native warriors. You know it if you are a kid of the 80’s. I’d hold my breath the whole time in anticipation of the feathered barbarian to pop his head out and take one of the kids’ three chances to get through the course. I wanted to be Kirk Fogg, the explorer, guide and/or host of the show costumed in tucked-in dad jeans and a fanny pack, to the point that I had my mom buy me a cargo pack so I could run around in my back woods being chased in my imagination by those Olmec warriors (this may also explain why I was so late in life to develop friends).

A poor American child about to be slain by an Olmec warrior

What am I getting at, you may ask? An autobiographical sketch of my early childhood? Maybe in part, but moreso: this, similar to many Americans of my generation, was my introduction to Mexico. Exotic. Dangerous. Ethnic. Full of native warriors and large stone heads in the jungle. This was the land that lay to the south, scorched by the sun (which many of them they still worship, I think) and full of mystery and adventure. This caricature of a vast land began to be engrained in my mind to the point where it became my reality. I’d seen that show, read that book. I got Mexico. 

High school classes taught me of the Gadsen purchase, the noble financial exchange in which diplomats of the United States of America met with Mexican gentleman to purchase the lower half of what is now New Mexico and Arizona. We learned of the Zimmerman telegram, when the Germans scandalously reached out to Mexico in an effort to have her betray our allegiance at the onset of The Great War. But she didn’t. We were pals after all.

Then in college, the time when good wholesome young minds become corrupted and indoctrinated, I began to learn more of this ever increasingly complicated relationship between our two countries. I learned of the principle of Manifest Destiny, that midcentury 1800’s American politicians decided the territory of the USA should reach to the Pacific from the Puget Sound to Baja Mexico, regardless of who laid claims there. How we systematically went about taking it for no apparent reason other than that we were able to. College is all about critical thinking, so I suppose all of this I took in with a healthy skepticism that my professor probably just hated America. 

Mexico was so simple when it was about the Olmecs and Kirk Fogg guiding excited children through ancient shrines and tombs. Little did I know that behind those Olmec Warriors were murderers and rapists also laying in wait to kill those innocent American children*. Thank goodness this was on Nickelodeon who I presume dutifully censored all of this from view. 

Let me pivot. Why is he talking about kids shows and murderers? My goodness. This is a travel blog! And yes, I traveled to Mexico. So I’ll tell you a little about my experience. 

Mexico was serene. We arrived in the airport in Cabo on a Southwest flight with a mom and baby who were happy to be on the ground and to see Nanna and Papa. They greeted us with a big car, sunglasses and smiling faces. We drove through the dusty landscape for several miles making our way down toward Cabo – it’s a journey that many American tourists have made, with visions of Cabo Wabo, body shots and late night hookups on their mind. The bar full of bros at the airport who could not wait to pregame before their drive down confirmed this stereotype. But this was not the Cabo we were to have. 

Mr. Jacob liked the pool, especially the short one where he could practice standing up, and I was proud that he slept so well in the bathroom away from all that he was familiar with. The beachside condo we were in was bright, comfortable and full of family that made the trip in want of nothing. Jacob was a little offset by the ocean, its waves and sand offending his baby sensibilities. But other than that, this version of Mexico seemed to totally suit the Grimes family. No Olmecs warriors laying in wait, not a rapist or a murderor in sight. 

Mexico passed quickly for us. And never did we leave sight of a fully Americanized version of it. But the exotic picture engrained in my head of this place made me feel a little different here than if I were in Key West or Laguna Beach. It gave me the feel of being on a little American island in the middle of an exotic and dangerous wasteland. That those Olmecs were still out there lurking; that to leave this oasis may cost you one of your three runs through the temple. Some illusions never die. 

*On the off chance that this post outlives the reference here (Donald Trump, Announcement Speech 2015); I should comment that it is of dubious factual merit that Mexicans actually rape, murder or otherwise perpetrate violent crimes at a higher rate than their northern neighbors. 

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