07 February 2016

Mexico 2016 Day 1 – Thursday 04 February

Anne and I were up shortly after 03:00 and left Natchitoches about 04:30, arriving at the Shreveport airport at about 06:00 for our 08:04 flight to Dallas. We had an unpleasant surprise of a $40 checked-baggage fee for each of us.[1]  We had breakfast and passed through security. I finished transcribing various friends’ prayer intentions into my pilgrimage notebook as suggested by Taylor Marshall in an email a week or so ago, for presentation to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

We had an uneventful flight to Dallas where we first exchanged $600 US for Mexican pesos … which I would later learn also uses the “$” sign. I’m not sure what the exact exchange rate was there (it’s notoriously not that great, but we were paying for the convenience since neither our bank, nor any other that I know of in Natchitoches, does currency exchanges), but in general the exchange rate was $18 pesos per $1 US; I just used 20 as a rough on-the-fly estimate. We also grabbed a bite to eat, then boarded the plane for Mexico City a bit after they began boarding but well before wheels-up. We had another uneventful flight, except for some kind of immigration form that they only had in Spanish. Luckily, a young lady seated next to Anne was able to talk us through it. The pilot announced early in the flight that there was some turbulence at normal cruising altitude (36,000 ft.?) so he kept us low at about 28,000 ft. for the duration of the flight, which made the views of the landscape quite striking as we crossed into the rugged mountainous area around Mexico City.

We landed a little after 13:50, then made our way through customs, baggage claim, and so forth, finally seeing a sign for “206 Tours” – our group. It seems our pilgrimage group was trickling in, because about a dozen of us ended up shuttled in two vans and others would not arrive until late in the evening. Our van was very hot; it might be February, but the weather here in Mexico City feels more like April. We arrived at the Galleria Plaza Hotel [LINK] about 15:30 or so. Then we had another unpleasant surprise – it seems that the hotel staff did not have our room ready … until 16:30 or so. We met the Mexican guide representing 206 Tours, Roberto, who was as irritated as we were. Anyway, since we had to meet down front for 17:00, we didn’t get very long at all to freshen up – but Anne did get in a short nap.

Back down in the lobby, we started meeting other members of our pilgrimage. One of them recognized Joy Marshall as she walked by; a few minutes later I spied Taylor Marshall, the organizer of the tour, and briefly met him.

After a short round of introductions, we walked as a group several blocks past a great monument at the center of a roundabout, with an angel on the top, commemorating Mexican Independence [LINK] to a little church, the Capilla del Santisimo [LINK], where we had our first Mass. 
It was said by Fr. Juan Diego Sutherland, whom Taylor had invited along to be our spiritual director. He is a big, ruddy, blue-eyed Canadian who is a member of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal now in prison ministry in Nicaragua. "Juan Diego" is his religious name, taken upon entry to religious life. There was another priest along as well, Fr. Peter Mangum, the rector of St. John Berchman Cathedral in Shreveport,[2] but I gather he was “just” a pilgrim, i.e., paying his own way (I presume Fr. Juan Diego was not). The two priests did concelebrate the Masses, alternating primary and secondary roles and offering the homily.

After the Mass, we were able to look around the church, being for just the first of many times during these few days virtually overwhelmed by the beauty of these Mexican churches, filled with ornate gold-leafed wood carving, an abundance of statues and iconography devoted to a host of saints and depicting many familiar instants in Biblical and Church history, always including at least one copy of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that was the primary goal of our pilgrimage and the central fact of the national identity of Mexico.
Also common were clear glass coffins with a life-size crucified Christ, as if just taken down from the Cross. As we left, Roberto took us around the corner to see the adoration chapel attached to the church, which offers perpetual adoration in a somewhat less than reputable area of town filled with clubs and the like. It was open at that hour, about 19:00 or so, but would later lock the doors while leaving the Blessed Sacrament visible through a large plate glass window. It is a novel arrangement.

We walked back to the hotel  again past the Angel monument which was now and lit up in pink for cancer awareness day – and directly to dinner in the hotel dining room, presented as a buffet with a host of different offerings. We’d been worried about Anne’s diet, which she is attempting to maintain as gluten-free because she has a mild non-celiac gluten intolerance that just makes it better if she avoids it altogether. She was always able to find something suitable. And the food was always good as well as available in quantity for both breakfast and dinner. Lunch was provided as part of the package as well, but in a local restaurant wherever we happened to be each particular day.

This first night, we shared a table with a Filipino couple now residing in Boston, Arsenio and Gemma. We shared a couple more meals with them and found them very congenial.

After supper, Anne and I availed ourselves of a Circle K convenience store (I kid you not – a Circle K!) to buy a couple of bottles of drinking water. Even today it is generally considered prudent not to drink tap water, even in a high-end hotel like the Galleria Plaza. We would do the same most of the evenings we were in Mexico City.

Later in the evening, Anne and I took advantage of a coupon for free margaritas our first night only in the hotel bar, where we sat and had a good visit with Fr. Juan Diego and a pair of ladies from Houston, Molly and Kate. They were blue – the margaritas, I mean, not the padre nor the Houstonians.

Other pictures from the day

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[1] I suspected it was not legit, but did not want to make trouble; my suspicion was reinforced when, although Shreveport told us we’d be charged again on the way home, we were not. I ended up calling American Airlines’ customer service number a couple of days after returning home and was told that there is “an exception” for Mexico City (and some other locations) and that we should not have been charged. So now I have to request a refund.
[2] Interestingly, Anne’s cousin Dr. Christa Rodriguez had attended Mass at the Cathedral in Shreveport last weekend, heard the priest talking about going to Mexico City during the coming week, and wondered if he were with our group. He was.


  1. Dr, this is wonderful. I am really enjoying this. I hope for more pics to come!

  2. Thanks! And this reminds me to thank YOU for opening the Dropbox folder for people to post their pictures in. As you know, my smartphone camera was acting up, and I've found it very helpful to fill in the gaps where my pics didn't come out very well.