Today was an odd tour filled with 10 folks all from all over Africa and a smattering from England. I’ve never had a tour with nary a US or Canada person lingering about other than a tour last year with those fifty Mexican high school seniors I’ve written about before as they were such a great crowd. Sure, Mexicans come on tours but it is normally folks that have moved north and married a Northerner and they want to expose their children to their culture.
One group was the London-based parents and their adult son now living in Mexico City. The father was born in Mexico City to Indian parents and was raised in England. The mother was born and raised in Kenya before venturing to London. The son intimidated me as be went to college for Mexican History in London stating “I know the 16th and 17th century stuff but it’s really the more 19th century events that interest me like the Women’s Movement.” Thinking, if I were so inclined, I could tell folks from Canada and the US Mexico was once ruled by Chinese emperors and their pug dogs and no one would question me as we, as a general rule, learn nothing of Mexican history while in school. This lad had obviously been swimming in the deep end of Mexican history and culture pool.
Luckily my fears were completely unfounded as he was fascinated by the tour though it was his mother that fascinated me as she had some of the best eye contact of anyone I’ve had on a tour. (I’m a big eye watcher as they indicate what stories strike a chord and when I need to venture away from Virgin territory to talk about dolls, sports or economics more.)
Then there were a folks from South Africa which other than being the birthplace of Charlize Theron (currently starring in the movie, Gringo), I’m woefully ignorant of. Luckily one of the big perks of giving tours and meeting folks from all over the world I also learn new stuff on every tour. Questioning why the one gal has come to Mexico for vacation each year for 30 plus years I learned how similar the two countries are.
According to her, enjoying the drive from the Mexico City airport to here, features the same type of flora, culture and economics. I never thought of bougainvillea and jacaranda as being bountiful in Africa and learned like my countrymen here, South Africans are renowned for their generosity and friendliness towards strangers. Also, like here, there is small and very wealthy class followed by an even tinier middle class and vast levels of poverty.
At the end of tour, as folks tend to do, they lingered about getting to know me and each other better based on the one topic folks seem to enjoy even more than discussing sex, food. I learned there is a type of dried beef featured in Africa Mexicans try to mimic but it pales in comparison. However, there is a bar in Houston that sells the special meat that several had driven hours to purchase only to learn that only one person in Houston that knows how to cut the meat and if he’s not at the bar that day you can’t buy the meat. The disappointment of those with poor timing was genuinely felt through the group. I was baffled as allure of dried meat is right up there with the eggnog the cloistered nuns in town make whose appeal has also always escaped me.
The most fascinating thing to me about this particularly group was that all spoke English as their native language. Despite this fact I understood nobody’s name when they introduced themselves. For several, the English accent completely threw off my comprehension and I knew I couldn’t ask thrice for someone to repeat their name. Consequently I was unable to incorporate names into my humor.
I was also reminded, like I was by the Mexican high school seniors, my humor is totally reflective of being from the US. Like the high school seniors, this group would smile and nod while I warbled on but guffaw out loud? Never!
I was more than a tad concerned I was off my game as a tour without laughter is unheard of in my world. So I was quite surprised later that day to get an unsolicited email from one of the gals thanking me again for the tour. It was followed my two more emails from others on the tour! That’s unheard of. As was seeing their names in writing. Small wonder I didn’t understand a single name, as I’ve never seen names with so many contiguous consonants and umlauted vowels. Still, even after seeing the names written out, I’ve no clue how to pronounce them!
Article and photos by Joseph Toone.
Joseph Toone is the Historical Society’s short-story award winning author of the SMA Secrets book series. All books in the series are Amazon bestsellers in Mexican Travel and Holidays. Toone is SMA’s expert and TripAdvisor’s top ranked historical tour guide telling the stories behind what we do in today’s SMA. Visit HistoryAndCultureWalkin