Last fall, I wrote about a trip to Seattle where instead of the usual type of visit my wife and I had with our daughter, son-in-law, and two grandsons, I actually worked on a DIY project tiling the nearly one hundred year-old concrete kitchen countertop in their home. Turns out, it was not the only different kind of trip I took last year.
In March when I was teaching my Analytical Validation course in New Jersey, one of our course participants came up to us on break and asked if we would be interested in coming to their conference in Mexico later in the year to talk on this topic. We both agreed it sounded interesting and were open to the idea.
In July, I received an invitation from that participant to come to their annual Pharmaceutical meeting. After going back and forth via e-mail about the program and logistics, I accepted the invitation to attend with their Congress graciously agreeing to cover all my travel, hotel, and meal expenses. I knew nothing about the organization or the conference but thought it might prove interesting and worthwhile particularly in regards to its location in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Turned out, overcoming my difficulty in correctly pronouncing Vallarta was just the first of many challenges I would encounter during this trip (my wife who studied Spanish ultimately helped me with the pronunciation).
My trials began on my flight down. Because Memphis is no longer a hub-city, I would need to take three flights to arrive at my final destination. My connection in Atlanta was very tight. As soon as we landed and I turned my phone back on, I got a message from my air carrier that my flight to Mexico City was already boarding. Making my way from Terminal B to Terminal E as fast I possibly could, I ended up being the next to last person on the plane (in fact one person had already taken my seat thinking it would be empty). All the overhead bins were closed but a nice flight attendant helped me squeeze my soft-sided suitcase in with some minor rearranging. I was most thankful that I had made my connection, as the next flight to Mexico City was not until four hours later. It was nice to get my first glimpses of Mexico once I deplaned.
Thankfully I had a much longer layover there so had no trouble getting through Customs and Immigration. Coming back into the terminal, I was asked for my boarding pass. When I checked in the day before on my phone, I received a message that my last boarding pass was not available since an air partner was flying it. I had checked the airport map and found the transfer desk where I would need to get my last boarding pass but had not gotten there yet. When I tried to ascend the escalator, I was stopped. Fortunately, the person spoke English and was able to find my last boarding pass on my phone (my phone must have updated in Atlanta after I landed but I did not know it). Once through, I checked for my next gate but found that the flight times that late in the day still had not yet posted.
So I sat down and tried to relax from the stress that I had felt throughout the day. As I sat there, I realized that not only was this the first time for me to travel to Mexico, but it was the first time I had traveled to a new country by myself in over 20 years. My personality type prefers doing things I am familiar with and have often been anxious whenever traveling to a new place. Whenever traveling somewhere I have not been to before, I prefer to go with my wife who is always ready for a new adventure and helps me quell my anxiety.
My flight to Puerto Vallarta went well but once I came out from security, I did not see someone holding a sign with my name on it, as I had understood the arrangements. Rather I was accosted first by aggressive tour coordinators trying to sell me a tour and then by taxi drivers trusting yellow taxi signs in my face wanting to take me for a ride. After scanning the people for a moment, I saw someone holding a clipboard and recognized the Congress emblem on the back of it. I approached him and he asked if I was “Mr. David?” I was most relieved to say yes.
I enjoyed seeing the city on our short ride to the hotel and walking inside, was impressed to see that the lobby and ground floor was one of those tropical-destination hotels permanently open to the outside, even with peacocks graciously strutting around. Once inside, I discovered that the Congress representative greeting me did not speak English. Fortunately, the front desk personnel did and I was able to check in.
I received a wristband, which I was told allowed me to partake in any of these activities and restaurants. I had wondered how I would be reimbursed for my meals since no mention had been made about submitting an expense report. This wristband was my meal ticket, a concept I was familiar with having been to Disney World.
When I got to my room, I indeed felt welcome and was most pleased with the view from my hotel balcony.
After a quick FaceTime with my wife, I went down for a nice Mexican dinner overlooking the ocean and a well-deserved, cold cerveza. When I saw there were no prices on the menu, it finally dawned on me that I was at an all-inclusive resort hotel. I don’t recall if I have stayed at one before but this must have been how my wife ordered dinner on her cruise.
The next morning after a delicious breakfast, I made my way to the Congress registration desk. I discovered that almost no one spoke English. Fortunately, one person did and gave me my badge and souvenir backpack.
Inside was the conference program with everything in Spanish—except for my lecture abstract. It was the only English words in the entire book. There were three concurrent talks starting at 9:00 AM but as I wandered from room to room to check out the layout, realized none had started even at 9:10 and few participants were seated inside. It reminded me of the time when I was in Puerto Rico many years ago giving a talk in a 100-seat hall and 5 minutes before my talk, there were only a handful of people in attendance. The session moderator told me not to worry, mañana, they never started on time.
I did eventually sit down in one of the halls that had seating for 100 but with only about 10 people present. Over the next 20 minutes, another 20 or so participants came in late. After listening to a micro filtration talk in Spanish for that 20 minutes and not hearing a single word I understood, decided I was not going to get anything out of this talk and left.
So my next thought was what do I do now?
To be continued…