When This Is, That Is

Exploring the world of conditionality

Los Angeles to Mexico City to Oaxaca

imageOur first challenge after landing in LA at 9:00 was to get from Terminal 5 to Terminal 2 and having dinner during our two-hour lay over. After getting directions, we boarded an empty shuttle under the blue sign. We meandered through the maze of LAX, going from one terminal to another, adding passengers at each stop. Finally we squeezed our way off the shuttle at Terminal 2, which appeared dedicated to Aeromexico. Already we had the feeling of being in another country.

Security at LAX is more stringent than at PDX, and both Robin and I got frisked. At PDX we walked through a standard metal detector. LAX offered us the body scanner. You walk into the booth, stop and make a 90 degree turn, place your feet on the yellow footprints, touch your hands together over your head, and hold the pose for at least three seconds. Robin went through first. A TSA agent pulled aside. Another one got me.

“You have an anomaly in your groin area,” he said to me. I told him it was a money belt. He told me I had to take it off. He offered a private area but said I’d have to leave my other things behind—carry on, wallet, phone, iPad, passport, shoes. I untucked my shirt and pulled off the belt. He went through it and gave it back. He said he had to frisk me, presumably to assure himself I had no other anomalies.

For Robin, instead of putting her passport back in the bag she kept it in, she put it in her back pocket. Instant anomaly, according to the scanner.

The four-hour flight to Mexico City was inconsequential but for two things. First, I left my hat aboard. It was a favorite but not irreplaceable. The other just added to the confusion of going through the entry process of immigration and customs.

Sometime during the flight to Mexico City, the attendant handed out some forms. Robin and I were trying to sleep (we didn’t) so neither of us were paying attention when the attendant passed us by.

Once off the plane we learned we had to go through immigration. We ended up in a massive room with a couple hundred other people ahead of us in another of those long snaking lines. At the other end of the room were six or eight circular kiosks, spaced at random. Each had an  agent sitting at a desk inside the kiosk. I noticed that many of the people in front of us, and those coming in behind, had some sort of form in hand along with a passport. I asked an English-speaking person where she got hers. “On the plane,” she said.

Other people, too, were at various counters, filling out forms. I scouted around and found what we needed and got back into line with Robin. It’s difficult to fill out a form while you’re shuffling along with baggage. Eventually we got through immigration with our visas stamped.

Next was customs, with another form. We had to pick up our checked suitcase, which along with our carry-ons, was opened and searched. That done, the suitcase went back to baggage, and we hustled to the gate. When our flight was called, we walked through the door, expecting, as with all other flights, to board a plane. We didn’t. Instead, we boarded a shuttle bus that sat idling at the curb. The bus filled with people and with fumes. After fifteen or so minutes we made it to our plane, parked well away from the terminal.

The sunrise flight to Oaxaca was beautiful, with mucho mountains, including an active volcano. The flight was quick, about half as long as the itinerary said it would be. Around 7:30 a.m. we deplaned onto the the pavement, stepping down an iron stairway. It was cool and partly cloudy. I missed my hat.

A visit to Vaccine-ville

imageAt some point in our preparations for travel the Mexico, I realized we should take precautions against illness. My doctor’s office recommend I go to a “travel clinic,” a term I’d not heard before. There’s one in Vancouver, and I made an appointment for the two of us.

I had no idea what to expect when Robin and I arrived at the tiny office. We sat across from the nurse at her desk. A map of the world covered most of the wall to my right. A bookshelf covered most of the Western Hemisphere. A few smaller shelves and tables lined walls along with a small stainless steel refrigerator. A stack of boxes stood by the door. On a shelf or table behind the desk was a computer. On the screen was information about Oaxaca.

The nurse treated us to a thorough description of what diseases we could encounter—and step-by-step procedures to counter them. We learned that mosquitos may be a problem anywhere below 6,000 feet. Oaxaca is around 5,100 feet, so malaria, mosquito-borne, is a concern. First came the prescription for Malarone, to be taken once a day, beginning two days before leaving and extending seven days after returning. We’ll take that with breakfast. To counter the effect the drug will have on the GI tract we’ll have a friendly dose of probiotic with dinner.

But why take chances getting bit by mosquitos at all? The nurse advised we use one of two mosquito repellents. The first was Ultrathon, which is 34% DEET. Did you know DEET has a safe zone of 20–35%? This will last 12 hours, great for those who party to dawn. The second was oil of lemon eucalyptus, with 30% oil. This will last six hours, plenty long for our needs. Anyway, we went to REI in Portland and got a container of each.

Next came information on food- and water-borne illness. No water (including ice) unless it’s bottled. Here Robin told a story of a years-ago trip to Mexico where she made the massive mistake of putting tap water on her toothbrush. The nurse nodded in sympathy. Carbonated drinks are ok, too (but remember, no ice). The nurse instructed us to eat only cooked food, served hot. Nothing fresh except fruits that have a skin, which we must peel ourselves. As a precaution we received a prescription for ciprofloxacin, a powerful antibiotic. And, did you know that probiotics are 65% effective against diarrhea? But we’ll be taking that anyway, right?

Finally came the immunizations. I was verifiably up to date on my TDAP, but Robin wasn’t sure. In addition, we each got inoculated against hepatitis A and typhoid VI. That’s when the purpose of the refrigerator became apparent. It’s home to all those tiny vials of vaccines.

The whole thing took about an hour. The presentation was organized and informative. I’m still a bit stunned at the cost: about $850. Insurance will cover most of it, I hope. But if the benefit is staying healthy, it’s worth the cost. I’ve paid more just to get one tooth fixed.

Going to Oaxaca

From passport issued in Paris, 1966

From passport issued in Paris, 1966

I’m not so interested in travel anymore, especially just for the sake of it. I lived three of my four allotted high school years in Europe, have made several trips by car and plane across and around the United States, and attended three high schools, three middle schools and two elementary schools. Although I’m curious about other cultures and places, I’m content just to stay home. Yet, in three days’ time, as I begin this account, Robin and I will be heading for Oaxaca, Mexico.

In the summer of 2013 Daniel loaded up his van and drove from Southern California—where he was working at the time—to Oaxaca. He’s always been one to set a course and follow it, and years earlier he had begun planning to spend a few years living and working in Mexico. Anyway, we thought his being in Oaxaca would give us a reason to go there. But for the longest time it was little more than a someday-kind of possibility. There was so much going on with us work and health-wise, we just couldn’t focus any attention on travel plans.

Daniel flew up to visit during Christmas of 2014, and once again we began to say things like “we should” but several months months went by before we agreed “we will.” We started with an approximate time frame based on when the weather would ideal: neither too hot nor too rainy. Christmas was out, first, because we wanted to be home for the holidays, and, second, airfare was more expensive. Spring break was out, first, because it was into the hot season, and, second, airfare was more expensive. We initially planned for the first week of February and used those dates on our passport applications.

We applied for our passports in late October. We went early to the main post office in Vancouver so we could get a spot at the head of the line when the doors opened at 9:00. When we arrived at 8:45, a line was already forming in the lobby, both for the passport desk and for regular counter business. Although there were plenty of postal workers in the warehouse and in the counter area, the door to the business counter was locked.


Waiting for someone with the key

At 9:00 someone came to the door, tried a key, then went away. Someone else came with several keys, none of which worked. A couple more times this happened, with different people and different sets of keys. We heard that the person who usually unlocked the door had the day off. At 9:20, someone who, apparently, didn’t know he had the magic key in his collection opened the door.

We were second in line at the passport desk, behind a group of three who, sadly for them, didn’t know they had to bring their own photographs with their applications. We stepped right up and handed over our applications and identifying documents. As it turned out, I didn’t need my birth certificate. I had with me my original passport, issued in 1966, and that was enough. We paid our fees, and with right hands raised, swore that everything on our applications was true, and were on our way.

I received my new passport about a week and a half later. Robin, however, received a letter requesting proof she was who she purported to be. When we got married, Robin kept her last name, that of her first husband and the name she was known by to the rest of her world. Her application had me as her spouse, and, of course, her birth certificate showed her maiden name. There were three last names without verifiable links among them. The State Department needed more documentation, which we bundled up and sent.

Days and weeks went by, and I was beginning to worry. For a while I put off buying tickets, which turned out to be a good thing. Daniel had a late change in his work schedule, so now had the last week in January off. Finally, two months after we applied, Robin received her passport. Only then did it feel like we really were going.

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