The day they closed Mexico's biggest airport
Sitting 500 miles south in the one-room airport of Puerto Escondido, I knew something was wrong.
Sure, this is Mexico. But twenty minutes late for a flight with no explanation, with the plane just sitting there? I looked around. Nobody seemed concerned. Then it was thirty minutes. An hour. An hour and a half.
Finally, I found the single employee of the small airline - he served as the check-in attendant, helped load the bags, and waved the orange sticks. I asked about the delay.
“There’s a big parade for Independence Day in Mexico City,” he said. “Lots of helicopters and festivities. So, they’ve closed the Mexico City airport from 10am - 2pm. We’re waiting to fly until they tell us we’re allowed.”
That day, I was moving from Mexico to Columbia. It was a three-flight, three-country sort of day, with connections in Mexico City and Panama. By the time he finished his sentence, I knew those connections weren’t happening and things were about to go spectacularly wrong.
The single suitcase with everything I owned was on the plane, theoretically checked through across three carriers. Odds were good we would be arriving separately - if we ever saw each other again.
It felt like one of those slow-motion moments when you’ve knocked something over, and can only watch as it tumbles to the ground. Piqant. Calm. Beautiful in a terrible way.
Situations like this are the dreaded “what if” that we worry about in air travel. But a funny thing is true. They’re just like the other big scary monsters.
They’re always worse in our heads than in reality.
Once I was on the first flight, I had time for the feeling to unwind, and came to a realization.
The only thing that made this situation bad was my expectations.
In fact, I could conceive of someone choosing to have an adventure like this. Set off, send your bag separately, and figure everything else along the way.
I let the thought linger in my mind. What if this was the opening of an adventure that I decided to go on? From that frame, there weren’t really ways things could go wrong or right.
Just a set of hours, fascinating people and 2,500 miles to cross, however I wanted.
I’ve written before about how powerfully relative our brains are, and the dangerous untruths that capability can so quickly convince us are true.
But every weakness is also a strength. Here, hidden in a nightmare travel scenario was a chance to flex that relativity to my advantage.
I just had to put myself in the new frame, believe that it was true, and let my brain do the rest. I didn’t have to figure anything out, make new plans, or worry about how this was going to go.
I just had to let myself get into the new story, then let me be me.
I texted my Colombian Airbnb hosts that a Mexican parade turned things sideways, that I wouldn’t be arriving when planned, and that I’d let them know when I knew more.
Then I settled in, watched the ground fall away, the clouds take its place, and felt the earth race by below me.
This was going to be a fine adventure.