Thursday, December 18, 2014

What Mexicans Can Teach Americans

Sinaloa Girls
Mexico – despite political/criminal turmoil – remains a fantastic vacation destination. Great food, dramatic history, inexpensive hotels, all good reasons to go. The best motive head south? Mexico's caring, joyful people.

I traveled through Chihuahua and Sinaloa this past spring, looking to witness Semana Santa (Holy Week) ceremonies leading up to Easter. Read God's Middle Finger by Richard Grant to understand the glorious mayhem; I booked seconds after finishing it.

The proceedings lived up to their wild telling by Mr. Grant. What I most remember about the trip, however, was how incredibly kind Mexicans were to me, a solo female traveler. Not because they had to be. Just because. 
Good Friday Revelers

Three stories of Mexico's superior customer service and the lessons Americans need to learn:

Choose to trust the customer's story.  Chihuahua's ultra modern Vivebus service uses swipe cards and subway-style loading platforms to board dozens of riders at once. After my first trial ride, I was hooked and loaded up my card with 50 pesos (about 9 rides worth) at the digital kiosk.

On my next swipe, the card malfunctioned. My 50 pesos hadn't been loaded. Three Mexicans would come to my aid. The platform attendant saw my frustration and sent me back into the kiosk lobby for assistance. The kiosk attendant tried to find a paper receipt in the nearby garbage that would match my 50-peso purchase. Failing that, he marched me into the nearby office where a secretary heard my story. Nodded. Took my bad card and swapped it for another 50-peso card. Done.

Did they have to believe me? Did I have a receipt in my hands? They chose to give me the benefit of the doubt. And I have been raving about Chihuahua public transit ever since. It is a great service staffed by lots of attentive people. Listen up, MTA.

Cevicheria, El Fuerte
Do what needs doing. Taking El Chepe, the Copper Canyon Railroad, through arid NW Mexico proved relaxing. Getting tickets for El Chepe? Not so much. I managed to buy my first journey the day-of, despite it being a peak Mexican travel week. I spent a couple  days in lovely El Fuerte puzzling over how to get my return fare. There are only ticket offices in Chihuahua and Mochis the start/end points, online proved unwieldy, and well, did I mention it was Semana Santa?

I asked the clerk at Hotel El Fuerte about any travel agents who might be able to help. She dialed a few numbers. She then said she'd have her manager pick me up a ticket in Mochis that afternoon. Wait. What? That's equivalent to a hotel manager driving from Flushing, Queens to Newark, New Jersey or further to do this task for a customer. I thanked her and spent the rest of my day thinking about an appropriate gratuity.

When I returned to pick up the ticket, the manager handed it over and I paid her the ticket price plus 30% extra as a tip. She handed back the tip. And refused to take it despite my insistence. She was just doing what her guest needed doing. Stunning.

Remember your humanity. Waving goodbye. I didn't expect the universal farewell from the ground crew at Chihuahua airport. But as my 6am flight turned toward the runway, three men waved and smiled at the passengers. Waving back I got a little choked up.

Miss you already, Mexico.