When my kids were young, I liked spending Christmas at home. I liked Santa coming down my chimney and leaving gifts under my tree. I liked my children having memories of waking up surrounded by Christmas magic in their own beds.
But one year we made an exception. My husband's youngest brother (he has eight) was getting married in Huatabampo, Sonora, Mexico on December 23. We couldn't resist - how could we NOT go? It would be such a great cultural experience for our kids to travel through Mexico...to experience a Mexican wedding!
It took quite a bit of preparation...and that's when I remembered the other reason why we never traveled on Christmas. I am one of those procrastinators who waits until the week before Christmas to do my shopping, and my cards arrive closer to New Year's Day than Christmas Day.
But this time I had to have everything ready way in advance, and I came through with flying colors, down to every detail. We borrowed a large cooler for food; I bought books about traveling in Northern Mexico and a laminated, easy-to-fold map. We even let Santa know we'd be traveling, but gave him permission to come on inside the house and leave most of his presents under the tree (wink, wink!) because we wouldn't have room in the van for anything extra on the return trip.
Tom's parents traveled from Florida to our house. We would minivan-caravan to the wedding. The night before our departure, we spread a map on the dining room table and plotted our route: - west on I-10 to Arizona and then turn left. From there it was a straight shot south to Huatabampo. Easy!
But sometime between "Easy!" and the next morning, Tom and his dad had changed the route, to my and my mother-in-law's grumbling dismay.
"It'll take hours off our trip!" Tom claimed, pointing to a narrow line on the map that twisted and turned across the middle of the Sierra Madre Mountains. The Sierra Madre Mountains!
"Are you sure that's even a road? Look how thin that line is!" But our protests fell on deaf ears.
I could have said "I told you so" two nights later when we were crawling at 20 miles per hour through the mountains along that thin line, but I was too busy praying and watching out for potholes...
"Hail Mary, full of grace...POTHOLE!...the Lord is with thee...POTHOLE!...", translating the many "Curvo Peligroso!" (Dangerous Curve!) signs, and vowing to never take another trip with this man again. (I found out later my mother-in-law was making an identical vow.)
I was grateful for the pitch darkness of night in those mountains - I suspected there were sheer drop-offs on the edge of the road, but I preferred not knowing.
When the sun rose, it revealed a valley spreading out before us dotted with Saguaro cactus - we had made it through the mountains alive! Soon we entered civilization - Ciudad Obregon - and almost wept at the sight of a gleaming, modern Holiday Inn. We straggled in to the breakfast buffet like a group of parched, ravenous wanderers discovering an oasis.
Fortified with bacon, eggs, and hot coffee, we continued on our way, back on our original route - a highway that took us straight to Huatabampo. Our hotel was in the center of town, overlooking a busy street.
The next few days were as wonderful as we had expected...we met Tom's brother John's fiance, Yadira, and her family. None of them spoke English, so I finally put my high school Spanish to good use!
We took a side trip to Huatabampito on the west coast of Mexico...on the Sea of Cortez, I believe...where we collected armfuls of delicate spiral shells.
The wedding itself was beautiful, even though because of the communication thing and John's pre-wedding jitters we didn't realize dinner wouldn't be served until late in the evening. We would have starved but the reception hall staff had pity on us and brought us mounds of saltine crackers.
The next day we traveled back into the mountains to Los Alamos, a colonial Mexico town, all decked out for the holidays. We toured the cathedral, explored some shops and enjoyed our Christmas Eve dinner at a restaurant there before heading back into Huatabampo for Christmas Eve Mass.
Christmas morning we arose before dawn to head home to the states, and what do you know? Santa had actually dropped a gift off for each of the kids!
It had been a memorable trip - it meant a lot to John to have some of his family at the wedding and it was a wonderful experience for my kids to really experience another culture. But I admit...it still felt great to cross back over the border into the United States...one of my favorite Christmas presents ever.
What about you? Do you usually travel or stay home? Do you have a good Christmas/holiday story or misadventure to share? I'm all ears!