Part 1: The Trip: Phoenix to Merida, MX

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Merida, Yucatan, Mexico

I was beyond exhausted when I headed to the airport early Thursday morning. I had injured my leg Tuesday night and it continued to swell and I had had only an hour’s nap since getting up Monday morning. I don’t even remember driving. Luckily, there is little traffic at 3:30 AM. I was actually on my way, with first stop being a house-sitting gig in Merida, MX!

By the time I left, the house was almost empty and my friends were taking care of that later that morning. I was now officially homeless! Now I could just concentrate on getting to Merida in one piece.

First stop, curbside check-in at the airport for the short trip to LA. It was early, even for the first flight (mine was 2nd) so only a couple people were in line. Good thing because my leg was screaming at me – definitely time for more Tylenol. The Southwest skycap was a sweetie. He saw my cane and told me to just get in the car and sit. He took care of checking in the 4 bags, brought me the bill for the extra baggage, put my carry-ons in the front seat to make it easier and set me up with a boarding pass for pre-boarding and noted I’d need a wheelchair.

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Phoenix Car Rental

Now I headed to the off-site rental car complex (I’d rented a car when mine sold). Again, no line and they immediately got me a wheelchair and were able to just roll me and my 2 bags onto the shuttle. At the airport, someone from Southwest Air helped me transfer to their wheelchair.

Phoenix airport is huge, especially Terminal 4. Even without the banged up leg and being exhausted, I use a wheelchair in airports. No sense being totally exhausted by the time I get to the plane. You get to your gate in record time, are first to board, and have a wheelchair waiting when you land. Your companion gets all the shortcuts, too! Be sure to give the attendants a big tip!

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PHL Car Rental, 2 miles from Terminal, 4 miles to the Car Rental Center.

Save Energy! Save Time!

For the cost of a healthy tip, get a wheelchair! For those of us who are not in the best of shape or have breathing or heart problems, don’t let that discourage you from travel! Not only do you save the endless walking, airline counters, TSA, immigration, and customs are set up to allow employees a shortcut with their charges. Once you are brought to your gate, they get you checked in and park you right at the gate for pre-boarding.

You are rolled to the airplane door, then the attendants take care of stowing your carry-on while you take your time to walk to your seat. When you arrive, you are helped off the plane with your bag and a wheelchair is waiting for you. Especially nice when changing planes and time is tight! If this is your final stop, they will bring you to baggage claim, get your bags, and roll you out to the curb for private pickup or the out to the shuttle spot you need. And, if you have a companion traveling with you, they get the shortcuts, too! Be sure to give them a big tip! They earned every penny!

My 7AM flight from PHX to LAX was delayed for equipment problems. No worries. My plane to Mexico was not leaving until late that night. I had originally planned to do a bit of sightseeing in LA (scratch that!) Instead, I rented a Day Hotel Room. Some of the hotels close to the airport have rooms specifically available for long daytime layovers and have shuttles, too. This one had an adjacent restaurant (less expensive than at the terminal) and I didn’t need to be out of my room until 8PM. I thought about sleeping (boy, did I!) but figured I needed to eliminate at least one suitcase instead and get a clue what was packed. Everything had been just shoved into the cases wherever there was space. Because I was too tired to think straight, it took the whole time to sort it all out. (I should have taken an hour nap first to refresh.) I did eliminate one suitcase (partly by leaving a stack of clothes in the room with a note that they were for charity). And I even had time for a much needed shower! I checked out at 8PM, had them hold my bags at the desk, had a relaxed meal, then took the shuttle to my new terminal.

The shuttle driver took care of finding a wheelchair and someone to handle my bags. I was so exhausted, the rest is a blur. It was to be an 11:30PM flight with a plane change in Guadalajara, but the plane was late getting into LAX because of weather. I didn’t care. Since I purchased the two segments as one flight, Aero México would be responsible for getting me an alternate flight if we were too late. My bags were checked, I was in my wheelchair, someone was ushering me through TSA, etc., and they knew where I needed to be. I could just relax. Once we got to the gate, I even fell asleep in the chair! I vaguely remember boarding and I was back asleep before we were even in the air.

When we landed in Guadalajara, it was time for another new experience. The planes park nowhere near the terminal! There was a huge tarmac with planes spread out and busses speeding around here & there. Some planes were boarding, some, like us, had people coming off down a very steep, narrow stairway onto the tarmac to huddle together until a bus arrived. Off in the distance you could see the terminal. I took a long time coming down the stairs. Luckily, there was an employee in front of and behind me to be sure I did not fall. Someone else took care of my carry-ons. And, yes, there was a wheelchair. The first bus had already left, but by the time everyone was off the plane, another pulled up. It was equipped so the wheelchair could roll right on. Soon we were let off near the terminal door. Luckily my attendant, Alejandro, spoke fair English and was very personable, because we were to spend a lot of time together. It was to have been a 2-hour plane change, but by the time I got through Immigration and Customs, I was told my plane was at least 3 hours late because of weather.

Meanwhile, the whole time with Alejandro I was having him help me with my Espanol and I was correcting his English. Win-win. I had fun! So much so, I got his name and email so when I return to Guadalajara (which was already in my plans) I can take his wife & him out to dinner and they can help me find my way around.

Once the bags were checked back in, I had him stop at the Exchange counter so I could change $100 into some Mexican cash for tips, meals, etc. Since it was going to be a long wait for the plane, after a while, I had Alejandro bring me (and my carry-ons) to a restaurant so I could wait in a booth and someone would come get me in time for the plane. I struggled thru the menu with the help of my phone translator, but I did know one thing for sure the minute I sat down. CAFÉ! Con crema, por favor. I managed to stay awake to eat, but at one point, while drinking my 4th cup, I fell asleep and spilled it all over. Once it was cleaned up, I fell back asleep again until someone came for me.

I began to wonder if I really was in Mexico. Elton John, REM, AC/DC, etc, were playing throughout the terminal. No mariachi or Latino music. Starbucks, Chili’s, Burger King, Subway, and California Pizza Kitchen to choose from. American businessmen talking loudly at the next table. Signs were in both Spanish and English, just like the last 2 airports. Only a little more Spanish than I was used to hearing in Phoenix or LA. As tired as I was, I wasn’t sure if I was hallucinating.

Predictably, when I finally bussed out to the tarmac and boarded, I was asleep again immediately. I woke up as we landed in Merida. I had not been in an airport that small in decades. Two gates. Two tiny baggage carousels. Of course, Starbucks and the other usual shops in every airport (and again, only English pop/rock music – I don’t get it!)

Susan (the woman I was to house-sit for) was not there because with all the delays, she had no idea when I would actually arrive, but once I called, was there in 15 minutes. While the luggage was being loaded in the car, she saw what I was going to tip & stopped me. No wonder all the help I’d had throughout the trip were delighted! Getting to her house was yet another challenge. She had just moved to Merida a few weeks before & her GPS was sending us all sorts of fascinating places, but not her house! I did get a good tour of some interesting backroads and industrial areas, though! Finally, we did make it. Home (for the moment) safe and sound!

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Merida Airport
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Guadalajara Tarmac
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Susan’s House in Merida

NEXT: Merida, Yucatan, Mexico Part 2: First Things First.

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