Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Going to the airport? Enjoy your time there and stay a while

I enjoy driving to the airport. More precisely, I enjoy driving people to the airport. And talking to them en route. Either they are about to go off on a journey they are excited about or they are finishing a trip in Mexico and processing what they’ve seen and done. I learn quite a bit about them and the lives they lead. And I get to spend time in the Mexico City airport, one of my favorite places.

Airports in Latin American seem to be a special breed. They’re usually found right on the main highways, not isolated and off by themselves. Unlike U.S. airports where shops ands restaurants are usually on the other side of “security,” in Latin American airports many of the shops and services are available to the non-traveling public as well as airline passengers. On road trips they are marvelous places to stop for clean restrooms, restaurants, and getting cash from an ATM.

The Benito Juaréz International airport in Mexico City, or MEX as I fondly think of it, is one of the grandest of all. In addition to the to-be-expected money exchange booths, newsstands, restaurants, souvenir shops and taxi stands, the Mexico City airport has an array of other services.

Copy shops, pharmacies, cell-phone company customer service offices, and bookstores are all in the public area of Terminal 1’s ground floor and mezzanine. There’s even that increasingly hard-to-find rarity, a post office. You can mail the post cards you needed to send with a Mexican stamp just before boarding your plane. If you’re a resident of Mexico and have utility bills to pay, you can do so in convenience stores between check-in and boarding time.

Massage spas, barber-shops and beauty salons are scattered through the terminals. Digs collaborator Carol Hopkins always allows an extra hour before flights for what she describes as “one of the best foot massages anywhere in the world.”

Not only do banks have ATMs throughout the terminal they also have full service branch offices in which you can cash checks and make deposits. With Mexico’s banks all being nationwide, you can take care of banking business in the airport terminal as if you were at your very own branch office.

For a very small fee the Metrobus – with racks on board for suitcase stowage – connects both terminals to downtown Mexico City. Terminal 1 is accessible to downtown by subway but only allows minimal luggage.

Long distance busses run the routes from MEX to Cuernavaca, Toluca, Queretaro, Tlaxcala, Puebla, Pachuca and Cordoba — all from a much less harried setting than any of Mexico City’s bus stations.

Last week after driving a student to the airport I strolled over to the inauguration of a fabulous crafts exhibit near Gate C in Terminal 1. The governor of Guerrero Angel Aguirre Rivero and First Lady Laura del Rocío Herrera cut the ribbon of the exhibit titled “Guerrero Flor y Color” (Guerrero Flower and Color).

Though everything in the exhibit is worthy of museum display, these works are for sale. You’ll not only be able to buy a wide variety of crafts directly from the craftspeople, you might even be able to watch your item being made. You’ll certainly have a grand time learning about the crafts of this southern state and watching the craftspeople. Perhaps you’ll even get a head start on your Christmas shopping.

Back-strap weavers are there working in the traditional Mesoamerican style with one end of their loom strapped around their waist and the other tied around a pole. Other craft makers are fabricating and selling hand woven hats, ceramic art, children’s necklaces, bracelets, and toys. There’s fine sterling silver jewelry from Taxco. Paintings on amate bark-paper and decorated gourds and flutes represent the Rio Balsas area. You’ll see Guerrero’s amazing carved wooden masks which are not that different from the masks of pre-colonial Mesoamerica. The famous lacquered wooden boxes and trays from Olinalá emit their fabulous cedar aroma. With the exception of the displayed furniture most everything is easily packable in carry-on luggage.

Guerrero Flor y Color is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. through August 15, near Gate C of Terminal 1 at MEX. The Guerrero crafts exhibit is only MEX’s most recent offering. The airport has been host to similar craft shows from other states as well as a number of exceptional exhibits of fine art. Throughout the airport one can also find the fantasy masked man-bird sculptures by Mexico’s preeminent sculptor, Jorge Marín.

I find airports to be wonderful places. Who was it that put the idea in our minds that we should rush through them? Probably those same people who pride themselves on traveling light and not checking luggage. I’m not one of them!

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