When Paradise Calls
It was May 1996. I was twenty-four going on twenty-five years of age. John Major was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and I felt like I had my whole life ahead of me. I had spent half of January and pretty much all of February in Australia. That was an epic experience and I assumed that I would come home and settle back down into a pretty uneventful year. How wrong I was!
I was at work one afternoon, I worked in electrical distribution back then. My phone rang and, when I answered it in my usual anticipation of some sort of appliance installation drama, I was pleasantly surprised to hear my dad’s voice. I was even more surprised when he asked me whether I would like to join him for just over two weeks in Mexico! Without any cautious consideration about work, apart from worrying about putting my colleagues under pressure, I agreed to go with him. We were to leave within ten days!
My dad worked in the film and television industry, primarily as a Stunt Choreographer and Stunt Man but he did some acting, camera work and special effects choreography, too. This was his chance to enjoy a break in his filming schedule. He mentioned a place called Cancun. I’d never heard of it, but he said it would be a five-star hotel on a beautiful beach overlooking the stunning Gulf of Mexico. From my drab office in west London, paradise was calling. There was, however, one problem. How could I possibly ask my boss for a holiday at such short notice, when I’d already been granted, and had, a seven-week extended break in Australia?
I supervised not just an administrative team in the office, but a team of delivery drivers and installation engineers. There was surely no possibility that I would get this additional leave authorised. That’s when I knew that I would probably have to quit my job. I couldn’t see myself having another chance to travel to central America and so there was no way that I was going to let any job stand in my way of seeing such an exotic part of the world. You get one life, so you have to seize opportunties. I felt guilty and nervous, but my mind was made up. I would ask and, if necessary, I would have to resign.
What followed was astounding. 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 was won round by my argument and he gave his consent for my extended, unpaid leave.
The Adventure Had Started.
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. There are the sounds of excited chatter, the announcements of flights departing and arriving, the excited gazes of those newly landed and the variety of languages you hear. There’s the range of people, the sight of planes taking off and landing, through the windows, and the joy of seeing people making sad goodbyes and joyful welcomes.
I am nervous about flying. I was less so, back in those days. I generally found flying boring and still do. The part I have always loved 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. Then comes the part I hate, the plane ascends into the air but, as it climbs, it 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. Once at the desired altitude, I ridicule myself for being nervous. Once I have a gin and tonic in my hand, I relax. Well, I slightly relax.
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 the terrible news, on the radio, that ‘ValuJet Flight 592’ had crashed in the Florida Everglades. It was later rumoured that survivors had been attacked and killed by alligators in the swamps, but I am unsure if this was proven. How unlucky would you have to be to survive a plane crash, only to be eaten alive by an alligator? My heart went out to those poor people and their loved ones.
We finally arrived in Mexico. My dad and I both rather grumpy from tiredness. It had been a turbulent descent onto the airport runway. Eventually, the doors were opened and we clambered out of the claustrophobic plane. I noted to myself, with glee, that I was standing on the ground of a country I had never been to before. I always love that moment. I just have to stop and take it all in. That said, I was exhausted and just wanted to get to the hotel.
The airport in Mexico reminded me of cheap local authority offices in the most run-down parts of London. It all looked rather shabby and in need of investment. There was no air conditioning in the intense heat, nowhere to sit and no refreshments to satisfy a now very dry mouth. I wasn’t impressed and I felt a little anxious about what to expect from this holiday. This is the moment when excitement and nervousness became confused. I decided to simply look around and soak up the experience.
There were a few ceiling fans, loose ceiling tiles that revealed very dodgy looking electric cables. The paintwork was peeling and dirty. The airport staff wore khaki uniforms and these were all soaked in vast sweat stains. The scent of stale sweat was everywhere. The check-in staff literally all smoked cigars and these were either hanging from their mouths or were sat in enormous glass ashtrays. The ashtrays were located on each desk, each piled high with the ash that had been flicked there with every passport check of the last week, it seemed. Despite the grubbiness of this scene, I rather enjoyed it. I loved the smell of cigars and I was amused by the apparent lack of any sense of fire risk. I imagined that perhaps I had landed in the 1940’s.
As we finally made our way out of the airport, we were met by a dozen or so sweaty and eager taxi drivers. Each promised us the most comfortable journey to our hotel, via the most scenic route available. One middle-aged taxi driver, sporting the same handlebar moustache as my dad, leapt forward and announced that he recognised my dad from a movie. He made such a fuss that he managed to shepherd us into his old, fading yellow Volkswagon Beetle. My dad was 6ft 3inches tall and I was 6ft 1. How we crammed ourselves and our luggage in I don’t know, but I am sure it must have looked ridiculously comical to anyone watching.
We arrived, a little while later, at our immaculate hotel. I have never seen so much marble in one place and the chandeliers were vast. This never appealed to me, but I appreciated the contrast to the dilapidated airport. 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.
(c) Deano Parsons. 2021.