Saturday, April 20, 2013

Getting Soaked in Mexico

We had the opportunity last summer to visit Puerto Vallarta, Mexico as a family. It was one of the funnest vacations we've ever had. We stayed in a hotel on the beach, swam with dolphins, rode horses through the jungle, sailed on a pirate ship, met a sea turtle laying her eggs in the sand, and a bunch of other fun things.

One day, we went up into the jungle to try out the zip lines. Our youngest son, Tian Tian, has Down Syndrome and was eleven years old at the time. We really worried he wouldn't be able to do it. The first zip line was purposefully designed to be easy and slow, to help prepare people for some of the others that can go at speeds nearing forty-five miles an hour (over 70 kph). We hoped that by starting out with that line, Tian Tian wouldn't be too frightened to continue to the others.

One of the zip guys got into the harness and helped Tian Tian in with him. It was raining a bit and he really doesn't like to get wet. He looked at us like we were sending him to his death. Everyone thought he'd cry or panic. But as soon as he was out in the air and zipped across the canyon, he cheered and yelled with delight. Once we joined him on the opposite side, he immediately told us he didn't want our help on any other lines—he wanted to ride with the zip guys who'd just become his best friends.

Tian Tian & his zip line buddies
We rode fifteen or so very steep zip lines back and forth across a deep canyon. It was a blast and the zip guys were great. They helped Tian Tian with each line and made sure he had just as much fun as everyone else. By the time we finished, we were all soaking wet from the tropical heat and the rain. But everyone was happy and had a great time.

After riding all the zips, the guide steered our group toward the tequila tasting bar. My wife and I have never been drinkers, mostly because our religion frowns on it. But more than that, we had four children with us, none of whom were drinking age.

Ro Ro swings over the jungle river
So while everyone else went to the bar, our family went down to the river and found some big rope and vine swings. For the next hour, we hurled ourselves out over the river and dropped into the warm water. Even Tian Tian had fun sitting under a short waterfall and riding the swings.

Eventually, it was time to head back down to the city and we boarded an open-air bus that had a tarp suspended above the seats. It was raining even harder at that point—the warm rain of the tropics—and everyone was soaked. And our kids got an instant education in what it's like to be around a bunch of people who'd gotten soaked in a different way. The whole crowd on the bus was quite tipsy from the tequila, and they laughed, sang, joked, and had a ball all the way down the winding mountain road. Every corner we rounded brought down a torrent of water from the tarp onto everyone sitting near the sides, and roars of laughter from everyone in the middle. They never seemed to tire of it, even though the same thing happened at every turn.

We were all pretty tired when we returned to the hotel. But it was a great day, where we'd once again met a bunch of strangers who were willing to go out of their way to assist a young child with a disability. And of course, we also got entertained by all the tequila, even though none of us drank even a drop.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Junkyard Amigos

I'm not always a sociable person, and often prefer sitting around writing or watching a show to hanging out with people. Even with exercising, I prefer individual sports rather than team sports. (Plus, I'm pretty bad at most team sports.)

Despite that, I still enjoy the small interactions we all have with other people. I'm referring to the talk-with-someone-in-the-checkout-line type of interactions. The kind where you meet someone, have a short social dialog, then you're on your way, probably to never meet again.

I used to own an old Saturn car that we kept for about eighteen years before finally trading it in. It had those strange automatic seat belts that most people hated, and one day, a seatbelt motor broke. So I headed to the junkyard to find a used one.

The boneyard I went to wasn't the type I used to buy parts at when I was in high school. You know the kind—where rusting heaps of vehicles are piled all over in the mud and you're pretty much on your own. No, this one was lined up in neat rows. Each car was propped up on bare rims. Each type of car had its own section. It was like a Walmart, but with better quality merchandise. Even the "aisles" were lined with packed gravel.

I made my way to the Saturn department and immediately found a car with a working seatbelt. I'd brought screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, and a hammer. But I didn't have a star-drive socket. I noticed another man nearby who seemed to be browsing, rather than looking for any particular parts. And I also noticed he had a big tool case with him.

I asked if he had a star-drive socket. He appeared to be from Mexico and didn't speak much English, but he was happy to let me borrow his tools. In fact, he set down his expensive tool set—probably worth several hundred dollars—and walked away looking for other things while I took the seat belt motor out. I was amazed he'd trust a complete stranger with his valuable tools.

He soon came back and found a truck right next to the Saturn with some parts he wanted, so he started removing them. Another guy came by and needed to get to a car on the opposite side of a nearby trench, and he asked us how to get over the trench. Me and my new best friend looked at each other with "This guy is obviously a newbie" looks. My amigo pointed out the end of the trench where you could walk over it, and the other man made his way across.

I got the seatbelt motor and thanked my amigo for his help, then went on my way. I don't know that I really learned anything from this brief experience, or even what I'm trying to convey in this posting. But as I left, I can say my memory of the junkyard was definitely made more positive because of help from a stranger.
Fixing the seatbelt turned into a whole-family project