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RPCV Virginia de Leon travels to Mexico with Baby on board
RPCV Virginia de Leon travels to Mexico with Baby on board
Traveling Mexico with Baby on board
Aug 8, 2004
by Virginia De Leon / Staff Writer
Traveling Mexico with Baby on board
Mexico's Pacific Coast offers almost as much adventure for former Peace Corps volunteers as their 9-month-old son
By Virginia de Leon
/ Staff writer
GUADALAJARA, Mexico - The baby has puked again - on my left shoulder, down my back and all over the white sheets of the hotel bed. It's 3 a.m. and he has a slight fever. He's teething. He's wailing. And we are a long, long way from home.
My husband and I didn't think twice about getting on a plane and traveling outside the country with our 9-month-old son, Zane. Generally mellow and easy-going, our son has accompanied us nearly everywhere - from restaurants and occasional late-night parties to camping trips and 10-mile jogs.
As former Peace Corps volunteers who relish overseas travel, we didn't want to completely give up our adventures and spend vacations visiting the grandparents. At the same time, we were conscious of our limitations as new parents still learning how to care for a little one.
So we settled on Mexico's Pacific Coast - only 5 1/2 hours or so of airplane travel from Spokane, relatively affordable, clean and safe, not too exotic but enough off the beaten track for a family to experience a different culture.
We heard all the warnings: too much of a hassle, too much money, not enough fun when you have to worry about a baby.
Looking back, it certainly wasn't easy. There were times during the trip when I wished we could have been beamed back to Spokane by a "Star Trek"-like transporter. But I can't remember a time since Zane was born when our life has been smooth and comfortable, even when we stayed at home.
The challenges were outweighed by many unforgettable moments - like our walks along the beach and the affection showered upon Zane by strangers. I would do it all over again just for the satisfaction of knowing that we can be parents without having to give up a part of ourselves.
Pummeled by the constant blare of horns while driving on crowded, one-way streets, we can't find our hotel in Guadalajara. So we park the car in a dark garage and search on foot, with Zane tucked into his sling. After dodging the cars in the intersections and wading through the serried sidewalks, we find the Hotel San Francisco Plaza a few blocks south of the Cathedral.
While Ted goes back to pick up the car and our luggage, I stay in the hotel room with Zane.
He starts puking again, for the fourth day in a row. Then he poops. As I reach inside the diaper bag, I quickly realize we're in more trouble: I left the diapers in the car.
Meanwhile, Ted is back behind the wheel, lost again in guerilla traffic. He returns 45 minutes later, looking more exasperated than me. And Zane - poor Zane - is still wearing the offending diaper.
I've often wondered why people spend their entire vacation in all- inclusive resorts without venturing too far from the premises. Now, I know. Moving around can be downright exhausting, especially when you're sleep-deprived and hauling all that baby gear.
We started our 11-day trip in Manzanillo, Mexico's largest port on the Pacific Ocean; headed north to Colima and the charming town of Comala near Mexico's most active volcano, Volcan de Fuego; trudged on to Guadalajara, a lively city with elegant historical churches and buildings; stopped for an afternoon in Tequila, the home of the liquor with the same name; relaxed on the sandy beach of a fishing village called Sayulita; then spent our last night enjoying the views from the malecon of Barra de Navidad.
We drove a total of nearly 700 miles, stayed at five different bungalows/villas or hotels and used up about 65 disposable diapers. We brought along a large duffel bag filled with onesies, sunblock, baby wipes and other items for Zane, another bag for our own clothing, Zane's car seat and Zane's backpack.
With a baby along, we certainly didn't want to travel on a shoestring, like we often did before he was born. At the same time, we weren't quite ready to check into one of those expensive, monolithic hotels with satellite TV and wall-to-wall carpeting.
Fortunately for us, Mexico's Pacific Coast offers an array of accommodations, many with kitchenettes and also more affordable during the low season (May through November). The most we spent for a night's stay was $77 for a villa next to a gorgeous pool area in Manzanillo. The least expensive place was a spacious but dingy hotel room in Barra de Navidad for the budget price of $28.
Although we made reservations for our first two nights, we winged it for the rest of the trip, not knowing where we would sleep when we pulled into town. That might seem a little disconcerting for some people, but we found that it's a good way to find baby-friendly accommodations. Also, we were able to inspect the potential digs before making a commitment.
Our best deal? For $50 a night, we scored a cozy bungalow right on the golden beaches of Sayulita, complete with kitchen, balcony and spectacular views. (The air-conditioner, however, was broken, but the manager supplied us with a fan and we did have the ocean breeze.)
Getting from one town to the next wasn't too bad since we rented a car - a plus when it comes to convenience, but a definite minus since it diminishes one's opportunity to talk to people and learn more about the culture. Renting a vehicle can also be expensive because of insurance, gas prices and the numerous toll highways (watch out for "cuota") all over Mexico.
Some of the roads we drove on, particularly Highway 54D from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta, literally hugged the mountainside. Coupled by the aggressive driving we often encountered, we made a point to never drive at night. Zane, however, was oblivious to the highway hazards. He's one of those kids who get lulled to sleep by the sound of an engine and the movement of the car.
We knew we couldn't pack in as much as used to into every day of our vacation, but despite the many roadside stops to nurse or change a diaper, we were still able to cover ample ground.
It's about 86 degrees and humid in Sayulita, a small fishing village just north of Puerto Vallarta. Zane's hair is damp from sweat, but the air conditioner is blowing only hot air. Despite the heat, he continues to nap soundly on the bed to the hum of the broken air conditioner and the crash of the waves against the beach.
I check up on him during his nap and notice three black dots on his chest. I peer closely and shudder: Three nasty insects are crawling on my sleeping baby. Without waking him up, I pick them off one by one, squish them between my fingers and flick them out the window.
Truthfully, I was a wreck during the first two days of the trip.
I hardly slept the night before our flight out of Spokane, worried about getting up at 5 a.m. in time to get to the airport, anxious about Zane's first plane ride, freaked out about all the little details, from packing enough baby wipes to the possibility of Zane contracting some strange disease.
When we arrived in Manzanillo, the weather was hot, sticky and humid. Although he was still smiling and behaving normally, Zane started having these vomiting episodes. He kept nursing, but refused to eat any food. Was it too hot? An ear infection? His top teeth coming in?
As we avoided the puke stains on the sheets of the king-size bed that first night, I wondered how much it would cost to get back on a plane for Spokane. "Medico," I said out loud. At least I knew how to say "doctor" in my limited Spanish.
After much research the following day at a nearby Internet cafe, Ted and I concluded that Zane was teething and perhaps a little jet- lagged. Although he continued to throw up at least once a day for the next six days of our trip, Zane laughed and played and maintained his generally sunny demeanor.
As parents, we became more confident as the days went by, venturing farther and spending more time away from our hotel. By Day Five, we felt emboldened enough to travel with other people on a five-hour bus tour of Guadalajara. No throw-up session or atomic poop episode, thank God.
We also lowered our expectations. Instead of checking off all the things we wanted to see and do at every destination, we decided to focus on just one thing at a time and didn't make plans beyond a couple of hours. Getting through lunch at a restaurant followed by a museum trip was enough for an afternoon. Gradually, we understood the importance of siesta for the whole family.
As we grew more comfortable in our surroundings, the more we opened our eyes to the sights, smells and sounds of the cities and towns we visited. Zane also brought us closer to the culture. There were countless times when strangers would smile and approach us, simply because they wanted to say "hola" to the baby in tow. Many were curious about his mixed-race background, others wanted to know how old he was and if he was enjoying his first trip to Mexico.
It's been a month now since we returned from our little adventure. Looking back, all the hassles and stressful moments seem funny and almost a little petty compared to the problems parents in other parts of the world must deal with on a daily basis. Perhaps I am now romanticizing it all, but the hard moments no longer seem all that bad anymore. If anything, my husband and I have become better at solving problems together.
I know that Zane is too young and won't remember this trip to Mexico. But I hope that someday, when he's older and looking at all these photographs of our vacation, he'll understand the value of travel and the significance of learning about the world together as a family. I also hope we'll start a tradition of going away every year or two, venturing to distant places, even though I realize it will only get more complicated as Zane gets older.
No matter what, we'll keep trying. Despite the hassles, the risks and the unpredictability of life away from home, the adventure and lessons you learn are all worth it in the end.