ISSUE 04-09-22 TRAVELER’S NOTEBOOK

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Mexico,  2022

As everywhere in the world these days, Covid is having a huge impact on life in Mexico. Especially as many of the country’s close-knit families lost beloved relatives in last summer’s pandemic surge, today most mexicanos appear to be taking COVID seriously. They’re wearing masks, even in traffic and in public markets, with N-95 ones ubiquitous. As in the United States, however, many wear their masks at half-mast, leaving their noses uncovered. Doesn’t COVID come into your body via your nose, and exit the same way, with the potential of infecting others?

Hanging a mask off your chin or dangling one by its strings from your ear may be a fashion statement, a token display of conformity, but it’s not going to do you or anyone else any good. In a country non-Mexicans often dismiss as being even more disorderly than the USA, mexicanos patiently wait in line a few feet apart for their turn to be allowed onto a bus. At the entrance to a store or museum, a guard checks your temperature with a no-touch zapper, squirts a sanitizer gel into your palms, and sometimes has you twirl around in a spray of something that smells of alcohol. It could be mezcal, but it’s more likely to be an even more toxic substance. Anti-bacterial gel dispensers are everywhere: beside elevator doors, at the bottom of stairways, in taxis, in public bathrooms and outside them.

Ubiquitous signage and drawings suggest effective behavior vis-à-vis COVID. In restaurants, waiters spray down tables before seating you, as well as after you leave. In a land where people are usually huggy, even when meeting for the first time, the protocol now is knuckle-knocking or elbow-touching, usually with a laugh and a shrug. Nevertheless, refuseniks proffer selfish and ridiculous excuses for not getting vaccinated, splitting families and close friendships. Hospital beds and corridors are filled with the unvaccinated, often to the extent that patients in crisis are not getting the attention they need. It’s no different here.

American Airlines only notified me the day before my return flight that I needed a certified COVID test —negative— to get back into the United States. The options were to lug my considerable luggage to the airport several hours early, join a long, slow line of many half-masked would-be fliers, and hope for a negative test. If it was positive, where would I go?

The better idea was to pay $70 to have med techs come to my hotel the night before flying, give me a test, tell me in five minutes if I had COVID or not, and within an hour, email me an official document attesting to negative results. Guess which method got my vote. With my negative diagnosis in hand, I was tempted to go out to a grungy, crowded bar to celebrate. Hey, all drinks on me!

The Dallas airport was another story. No temperature-taking, no antibacterial gels in evidence anywhere, not even in the bathrooms. Grumpy guards herded passengers, many half-masked, into slow-moving crowded lines to be paraded past a drug dog. The process took an hour-plus, requiring me to hustle onto a crowded train to make my connection to Albuquerque. No wonder few grey-hairs like me were traveling, and then, often in wheelchairs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now advises Americans against visiting Mexico. Huh? Does strolling along a wide-open Mexican beach really present a greater threat to your health than joining tens of thousands of fans at the Super Bowl, including many anti-vaccers, with maybe five percent of them wearing a mask?

We’re all a little cranky here in the USA, shut up for too long, too myopic about our own conundrums and fears. Rudeness in public is rampant, especially in airplanes and in traffic, often with dangerous consequences. Mexico these days is much more polite.

With many staying home from work, traffic is far less chaotic, the skies over Mexico City were actually blue, and the air was breathable. OK, so drug dealers are shooting each other down in Cancún, but how about the guy who went on a mile-long rampage in Albuquerque this past week, stabbing 11 people? I suggest that if you want to go to Mexico, grab your hat and your hand sanitizer and go! Send me a postcard.

—Martha Egan

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