A world full of friends: No one is a stranger if you talk to them


My wife and I recently spent nearly a week in Playa del Carmen in Mexico with a couple of good friends.

Before we left, if we told someone about our plans, many of them would question why we want to travel someplace where there are murders all of the time.

Our response was to ask them if they’ve watched the morning news on Indianapolis and Louisville TV stations of late. Each day, those stations give an update on the latest murder or murders. It gets pretty hard to watch the news at times because of the senseless killings that occur in the nearby big cities on a regular basis. I can’t even imagine living in or near New York City or Chicago and watching the morning news there.

Playa del Carmen is located in a region known as the Riviera Maya in the northeastern part of the Yucatán Peninsula. It’s a beautiful place with great beaches, the preserved ruins of the ancient Mayans and numerous all-inclusive resorts with all of the food you could ever want.

But it’s not perfect, either, as more and more murders have been reported there in recent years.

We’ve found, however, that the biggest problem the millions of tourists have in Playa each year is avoiding all of the local residents trying to sell you something you don’t want. You can’t walk the streets without getting plagued by someone trying to get you to come in and eat at their restaurant or sell you jewelry, clothing and all kinds of trinkets — all things we don’t go there to buy.

We go there for the warm weather and sunshine and to relax on the beach or by the pool.

My very astute wife did point out that unlike our past visits to Playa more than a dozen years ago, the number of people trying to sell you something has declined quite a bit.

It’s not because there aren’t as many. It’s because everyone there now has a smartphone, and just like in America, they generally can’t take their eyes off of the phone long enough to see who’s walking by. That’s a plus.

Before I go anywhere on a vacation, my daughter always tells my wife to not let me talk to any strangers knowing that won’t happen. It doesn’t work because I don’t know any strangers. It’s a Woods thing.

Meeting and talking with strangers is really why I like visiting another country.

During this most recent trip, I met a guy from Ipswich, England, covered in tattoos from head to toe. We talked about “soccer,” or as the English call it, “football.” He was surprised to learn the Premier League had any kind of following at all in the U.S. I also talked with a couple of his friends, including an interesting guy from Poland and another who just happened to be a police officer in the Philadelphia area.

My favorite encounter, however, occurred one evening when I sat down next to a couple of men about my age from England.

Both had worked for an electric utility before retiring. They were spending two weeks at Playa del Carmen. When they returned home, they were headed off to Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea for another two weeks. Now that’s what I call a real vacation.

We got to know each other pretty well over the next couple of hours.

They wanted me to tell them about Indiana and our weather, and I asked them about their home and weather. We talked about fishing, of course. Then we talked about horse racing after I told them Jackson County isn’t very far from Churchill Downs. They were from the Ascot area, home to Britain’s most well-known horse racing track, in Berkshire County. They also lived pretty close to Windsor Castle, home to the royal family.

Once we got the pleasantries out of the way, we moved on to topics most men our age (notice I didn’t say old men) talk about — solving the world’s problems or at least the problems we thought we could tackle.

I was not surprised to find the issues they wanted to talk about the most were similar to the things my buddies and I here often discuss at length.

The first involved the unwillingness of some of the younger generation, including some of our own grandchildren, to get and keep a job, especially when there are so many jobs going unfilled.

The second involved the proliferation of illegal drugs. It seems drug usage in England is almost as bad as it is here.

One of the men, Leonard, said officials in England are blaming it on America, although he wasn’t convinced that was true.

Unsurprisingly, by the end of our conversation, we hadn’t solved any of the world’s problems, but they were calling me bloke. Some might find it a little derogatory, but I think it means I have a couple of new friends.

Aubrey Woods is editor of The Tribune. Send comments to [email protected].

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