The Joys of Hosting
Guests Arriving by Other Means of Transport, Planning the First Meal, and "They're Here!"
Very occasionally our foreign guests to Mexico may arrive by car or bus. If intrepid enough to do either, the host's burden is lessened as they are likely to know what they are doing or everyone can blame disasters on their youth.
You may safely assume car drivers will make sure they have papers in order, have checked what's needed at the border crossing, be stocked with useful, up-to-date maps, bottled water and food provisions (blankets, torches, spare tires). And, if busing up to Mexico from Central America, your visitors will probably have developed stomachs sturdy enough to withstand anything they could gobble up here.
I wouldn't even bother collecting bus travelers from the station, unless they are under 20 years old or painfully naïve (as who can tell what time these things are going to get in?). Just advise them to get the official "sitio" cab/"taxis autorizados" to your house. All Mexico City's bus stations have these now, and they are fairly well marked.
The only advice for these outstanding guests is perhaps to buy a Ladatel phone card (50 pesos should do it) when in national territory - at a stop for gas, or one of the leg-stretch pauses on the bus. These will be useful in case they are delayed or if some emergency strikes, or simply just to call you to say they are getting closer so you get a decent estimated time of arrival (very hard to provide with either means of transport).
Sometimes people forget that first class or "executive" or "de luxe" buses (terms often used with little distinction to mean not second class chicken buses) are equipped with air-conditioning, and drivers simply cannot resist severely testing passengers' ability to withstand freezing cold gusts of air all night long. So remind them to keep their jacket and sweater with them as they may be needed.
Those taking the bus might even have a close to delightful trip if they get one of the buses with seats divided into couples and singles, with extra leg room, reclining power and diagonal foot rests. Unfortunately they have different names depending on the bus line. Travelers should ask what the most luxurious, expensive and least frequent service is, and will probably strike gold.
One's own toilet roll or plentiful packs of tissues is still imperative, as is water. When you see the cartloads of free resfrescos (pop) they load up with you wouldn't imagine they could run out, but I have seen passengers barge to the back of the bus where they are stocked (unless you have a hostess handing them out) and come back with armfuls, completely unashamed. Of course inflatable neck pillows are useful, if they don't make you feel self-conscious, and perhaps earplugs and blindfolds to shield you from the gory, horribly dubbed B movies that are still shown on some bus lines. Sleeping pills are also recommended.
Bus journeys of over four hours, five at a pinch, with children under 10 (newborns are ok) are for superhumans - meaning both adult and child - only.
On the subject of kids. If your guests have them and you are not a parent yourself, don't panic, even if you forgot to ask about their favorite foods. Parents remember your freedom with nostalgia and do not expect you to anticipate their children's needs. It is likely that the mother will think of everything for her brood, but then be distressed because she forgot her own makeup, swimming suit, dinner gown and beach sandals.
Finally, when shopping for the first meal, remember how bland and depressing airplane fare is, and counter it with something generous, full of flavor and fresh. At the same time, jet lag and over-tiredness causes wobbly tummies even before Mexican bacteria can start to work, so it is not a good idea to offer a spicy or adventurous regional dish in the first few hours. Let them sleep before throwing the gauntlet at their stomachs. The first meal should offer comfort, not challenge.
I find guests (most of mine arrive for dinner) are relieved and delighted to be served a big, green, healthy, disinfected crisp and varied salad and a truly al dente (rather than sloppy soggy plane mush) pasta, especially after a nutrition-draining long haul flight. There is plenty of time to work through chilaquiles, quesadillas, red, brown, black and green moles, pozoles, various taquitos, tostadas, tlacoyos with their attendant salsitas, zapotes, chirimoyas and all those things you can't wait to show them.
Even if it seems obvious by your actions, tell them how pleased you are to see them, that they look well (unless they obviously don't) and how thrilled you are that they came all this way to see you. If your character is on the dry and stony side, try at least to say something nice. It's odd how vulnerable big journeys can make people feel and if you start them off with positive thoughts and encouragement it can really sow the ground for a great visit.
Before they hit the sack, don't forget to show them where all the boring breakfast cereals are, as well as juice, fresh fruit and bread are kept, along with the bottled water. It is quite possible jetlag, or plain old overexcitement, could find them wide-awake at 5 a.m. with a ravenous hunger.
For this reason it is wise not to make it too late, however excited you are to see each other. But gauge this by age, and to a degree experience. If they are young and have no particular appointments the next morning, a lot of pleasure is to be had from the initial encounter and enthused anticipation of what the next days, weeks, month, may bring and you may as well go for it. If they are older, remember they are your guests and so may be too polite to say how exhausted they are, so you should facilitate their way to their pillows and a sweet slumber.
By Barbara Kastelein
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