Reflections: The Spanish Invasion

George Rowe


Hola! Hola! You guessed it. Mexico.

My wife and I just returned from a wonderful vacation with four other members from our immediate family. From the planning of the trip to our return home many details had captured my attention to the point of being strangely overwhelmed—it would be our second trip in just one year.

As we approached the Cancun airport my senses were on high alert with the distinctive crispness of ocean colors and even from thirty thousand feet in the air the ocean bottom was clearly visible. There was a sense of awe and anticipated excitement in getting to the Grand Sirenis. I felt a slight downward movement of the plane as the pilot announced our approach to the airport that was prefaced with the announcement that all passengers return to their seats and fasten their seatbelts.

The smooth landing of such a large plane and the uneventful approach to the terminal was in itself a miracle in the technology of aerodynamics. For five hours it seemed that we were just sitting on an invisible platform as we gently crossed mountains, prairies, forests and part of a great ocean. How is it possible that a mode of transportation of that magnitude could move from point A to point B with the precision of a mighty eagle taking advantage of wind currents and fair weather? When we finally came to a complete stop at the terminal I thought about a Bible verse in Isaiah 40:31. “But those who wait on the Lord will find new strength. They will fly high on wings like eagles.”

When we stepped off the plane it was ninety-one degrees Fahrenheit—Hot! Hot! Hot! The common greetings of the Spanish language was Hola! Hola! I wasn’t sure how to respond and my grandchildren said, “Poppy, the “H” is silent.” That proved to be a very helpful lesson in language.

From the plane to the tour bus we were warmly greeted with “Hola! Hola!” and thus we felt that we belonged. The trip from the airport to the Grand Sirenis was uneventful and the hour plus of driving time was quickly swallowed up as I tried to take in sights and sometimes sounds along the way.

I saw everything from abject poverty to rising buildings of success and outward signs of wealth and prosperity. I saw buildings of commerce that were well-built and maintained to the highest degree of professionalism while “ordinary” citizens lived in shacks and run-down houses. As we approached the Grand Sirenis I almost felt guilty that I was coming to a country to spend money where many of the citizens had little of it.

My apprehension and inner concerns were quickly dissipated the moment I got off the bus and met Mexicans who were brandishing wide smiles, extending warm handshakes and greeting you as one of their own. Hola! Hola! The Spanish invasion of language and culture began to affect me deeply.

I know that in tourist resorts employees are paid to be friendly and go out of their way to make you feel welcome and comfortable—it is a part of their job. This was different. I looked beyond the facade of paid professionalism and I saw real people with real smiles and real body language that oozed with realism and a genuine sense of ‘we want you to belong.’

We covered every possible square foot of the resort and took time to visit the city of Playa del Carmen. I was totally taken in by the infectious smiles and the calls of “Hola! Hola!” were enough to cause an inward smile that was often expressed by my own body language as I responded with, “Hola! Hola!” I talked with people at the shopping plazas, bus stop, all around the resort and especially during meal time. My senses tingled with admiration for their work ethics and professionalism in whatever task they were doing. It wasn’t difficult for me to give an extra tip following a meal or when someone went out of their way to make you feel comfortable. A very sociable Mexican temperament made me feel that we all belong to the same Maker.

We wanted to take in as many sights and events as possible. It was exciting but the thought of swimming with dolphins was definitely not on my radar. The extended family, including my wife, went out of their way to convince me that swimming with the dolphins would be one of the highlights of the trip. After much persuasion and threatening I consented.

The preparation for the event was thorough with a no nonsense approach by the trainers. After some carefully worded instructions the next big thing was fitting us with “proper” life jackets with “proper” sizes for all.

The trainer slipped one down over my head and proceeded to adjust it so that it would be safe and comfortable. “No, no,” I insisted. “This jacket is far too small.” “Sir,” said the trainer, “I know what I’m doing. This is the jacket size for you.” I thought, “I’ve been wearing life jackets since Mom had me in diapers and this trainer is not going to tell me what size of a jacket I should be wearing, no sir.” I had him remove my life jacket and I then indicated to him the proper size. He simply smiled while making adjustments and then sent me on my way with the other members of my family.

We finally made it to the pool where hundreds of people had gathered for this great exhibition of fish against man—for some reason I kept fiddling with my life jacket and began to have second thoughts about sizing. About ten of us were in a straight line and took our places at the appropriate spot designated by the trainer. There were about five “tricks” in total that the swimmer and the dolphin were to be engaged in—even kissing it right on the mouth. I said to my wife, “This will be a pleasant change.” Wrong choice of words, even after 45 years of marriage. Her look made me feel like I was dolphin chowder already.

All the people ahead of me did their little “tricks” with the dolphin and now it was my turn to jump into the pool. I did. Something was wrong. That stupid life jacket slipped up over my head just far enough to stop me from breathing and there was no way I could balance myself in the water. I was either going to drown or simply die from embarrassment while imagining hundreds of people pointing their thumbs down and shouting for the trainers to hear, “Let him drown! Let him drown!”

I wondering if the trainer who equipped me with a life jacket that he knew was too big is standing with the crowd and also shouting, “Let him drown! Let him drown!” One of the trainers quickly came to my side and grabbing me by both shoulders said rather emphatically, “Sir, your life jacket is too big.” “No kidding,” I said. “Now, where do we go from here?” “To the middle of the pool,” said the trainer. “I can’t swim. I’m going to drown because of this stupid life jacket.”

The trainer literally took the back of my jacket and swam to the center of the pool dragging me while I was spitting gallons of dolphin infected water from my lungs and mouth. “Almost there,” he shouted, “Almost there.” By now I was about to pass out from water being forced into my lungs and from a chocking sensation with the trainer dragging me by the back of my life jacket.

He left me there with screaming crowds and playful dolphins. My feet and legs immediately came to the surface as if attached to floating devices. I struggled to keep some sense of equilibrium so that I wouldn’t do a complete flip over with feet in the air and head under the water. “Pretend you are riding a bicycle,” shouted the trainer from the distant shore. “I have never ridden a bicycle in my entire life,” I shouted back. “I don’t intend to try and ride a bicycle while struggling to keep water out of my lungs and suck in some much needed air.” There was uncontrollable laughter from family members and merciless fish fans who wanted to see a real drowning.

The trainer was to “talk” to a dolphin, send it to the centre of the pool before I drowned and lunging onto the dorsal fin it would quickly bring me back to safety at an enormous speed. I am about to die a painful death. Struggling to keep from drowning, I saw this enormous dorsal fin coming toward me and I wanted to shout, “Shark! Shark in the water!” I regained my composure.

The dolphin slowed its rapid speed, came up behind me and then just made itself comfortable by my right side. “Grab my dorsal! Grab my dorsal!” I did. This mighty fish struggled and quickly went back to his trainer with me still trying to tread water and suck air into my lings. “I am sending out two dolphins,” shouted the trainer. Lots of laughter. Two dorsal fins coming at me with tremendous speed. Are they angry with me? Will they pull me under and play with me to the point of death? Almost out of nowhere I have a large fish sitting in water to my right and to my left, like they are saying, “Grab the dorsal dummy. Let’s get this over with.”

I grabbed both dorsal fins and it was up and away. My life jacket slipped back to a comfortable position. I was able to breathe and immediate shouts from the family and the surrounding gallery assured me that I would not be hooked off the bottom or become a meal for two very tired and angry dolphins. This was the highlight of my trip and all while the sun was still shining.