After an uneventful flight, my plane touched down at the airport in Leon, Mexico, and I made my way down the steep stairs into pouring rain. I rushed down the runway, lifting the legs of my pants so as not to get them drenched, and entered the tiny baggage claim/customs area. This was not the large, almost unnavigable airport that I was accustomed to when arriving at locations like LAX or Charles de Gaulle in Paris — this was a much more manageable area that immediately lowered my stress level.
As I waited for my luggage to make its way down the carousel, I took a look around at my fellow passengers who had made the short three hour flight to this destination. Many of them appeared to be Americans, as I could make out a sprinkling of English mixed with Spanish here and there. I watched an officer parade his black Lab around the area, the dog sniffing the passengers’ bags with an attitude of curiosity and, strangely, playfulness. When the officer and his dog lingered near me, the Lab (who I later discovered was named Hunter), began pawing at my bag with urgency. I was confused as the officer asked me to open my bag and a sudden irrational thought that illegal drug paraphanalia had somehow been planted on me was replaced with relief as I located the culprit: an underripe banana.
The banana was immediately confiscated and I was asked to hand over my passport. I noticed the other passengers looking on with curiosity as he wrote my information onto what looked like a ticket of some kind, but I was reassured by the officer that it was just “for my information.” I then collected my luggage and made my way through customs without another hitch. I quickly located my driver, Omar — a young man who looked to be no older than 20. Omar led me through the maze of cars as I tried to make small talk with him in my limited Spanish. He seemed to only be interested in getting me to my destination, so I was resigned to settle into the backseat and make out what scenery I could in the pitch-black evening.
We first rolled through a small town outside of Guanajuato, and I observed the roadside taco stands and young couples clinging together on silent street corners, stealing kisses. I could almost inhale the smoke of carnitas roasting on the spit, and I watched clusters of men sitting together on makeshift tables, nursing their Coronas. As we passed through this town and into a more sparse countryside, I could see a veil of fog sitting low on the hills. Omar made his way expertly around the curves of the road, slowing every now and then to maneuver an especially steep curve. As we got closer to San Miguel I could feel my anticipation increasing. This was the town that I had read so much about, and I wondered if it would live up to my expectations. I had heard about the cobblestone streets, the town that had neither stop signs nor streetlights. We climbed the hill toward the apartment I had rented, and when we stopped at Calle Hidalgo 72 I looked up at the residence and noticed the terracotta color of the building, one that seemed as nondescript as the others on the street.
But as I stepped inside I realized that its appearance from the outside had betrayed me. Josefina, the owner’s housekeeper, greeted me with a smile and a “Buenas noches.” I towered over her slight frame, and followed her around like an obedient child as she explained each of the amenities of the apartment in her native language. Her lilting voice flowed from one word to the next and I struggled to keep up, but nonetheless was able to grasp most of what she explained and also make myself understood.
That hurdle overcome, I climbed the spiral staircase to the bedroom and began unpacking my things. I was soon surrounded by the sounds of San Miguel. I heard the bus straining to make its way up the hill, its brakes screeching as it suddenly stopped outside my window. I listened to the amused giggles of women walking with their children – every now and then the child’s words punctuating the laughter. But above all of these sounds the loudest was the piercing bark of a dog who was clearly not happy being outside. I could sense its anxiety and desire for some kind of attention as I imagined it scratching at a closed door, longing to be let in. I wondered if this constant barking, with a pitch so loud that it was coming from inside my apartment, was going to become a constant during my stay. Unfortunately, I didn’t have to wait too long to find out.
After unpacking my things, I gratefully tucked myself into the queen-sized bed and pulled the down comforter over me. I tossed and turned that night, dreaming all kinds of surreal dreams about people who had long since left my life due to death or an unspeakable falling out. Even in my dreams I was sweating these reunions, and wasn’t surprised when I woke up covered in a thin dew of perspiration. Throughout the night I had been startled awake periodically by the barking of that desperate dog, and his anxiety mingled with my own as I began to regret this decision to rent the apartment. I had fantasies of setting this dog free, allowing him to roam through the streets of San Miguel. But after indulging myself with these fantasies, I then began to feel compassion for this dog, and I told myself that I was being a spoiled American, accustomed to the routines of my everyday life and unwilling to tolerate disruptions. Compassion was replaced with guilt as I vowed to myself to approach my first day in San Miguel with a sense of of wonder and curiosity that had accompanied me on my previous forays into foreign travel.