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Part 2 Of the Story - Francisco

My time in Italy came to an end, and it was time to travel to Mexico. However, I couldn’t travel directly to Mexico as we had planned our Mexico trip before I knew I would be going to Italy. I had to come back to the States to catch my next flight. The flight was Milan - Copenhagen - Chicago, and my schedule was extremely tight. A delay would make me miss my plane to Mexico. We love to travel, but our budgets are always small, so we fly on budget airlines, often choosing long and red-eye flights, travel with light luggage, and purchase the kind of tickets that you can’t reschedule. You either “use it or lose it”. Not the most convenient way to travel, but a lot cheaper, even considering the few times we have missed a flight and have had to purchase a ticket at the last minute.

I arrived in Chicago, and there I met my wife, and my mom. They had traveled from Appleton to the Chicago O’Hare International Airport using public transportation, while carrying a toddler, a baby, my mom’s luggage, our luggage, and a baby car seat. I was impressed by their physical and mental strength and determination. The original plan was to bring all of that in our car and drive together, and of course, we had considered I would be helping carry some of the load. Plans had changed since.

Once we all met in Chicago, we checked in with our airline and took our red-eye flight to Tuxtla Gutierrez (my hometown), with a stop in Guadalajara. 12 hours later, we were welcomed at the airport by my father. Accounting for the time difference, I had left Milan on Sunday night at 9:20 pm and we arrived to our final destination in Mexico on Tuesday at 12:30pm.

I won’t go into details, but many of you know what traveling with a toddler and a baby means. We were all exhausted, but happy to be in Mexico. The weather was mid 80’s and there was something in the air that made me feel at home.

We relaxed for a couple of days, but Taide, my wife, still found time to practice cello about 3 hours a day (every day during our entire vacation, talk about dedication), while I studied and prepared for the start of the rehearsals with the Chiapas Symphony Orchestra.

Finally, the day of the first rehearsal arrived and I was in front of the orchestra. Conducting my hometown orchestra was a very special and meaningful experience for me. It was frightening too. I wasn’t sure how some of the orchestra players would receive me. Some of the older ones had seen me running around the local music school when I was 10 years old. A few others had witnessed my performances when I was still a beginner pianist and san me grow over the years. Some of the younger ones didn’t know me personally but had heard about me or followed me on social media. No one is a prophet in their own land, right? I was more nervous about this than conducting the actual music, which I knew well.

To put this a little more in context, I will share that, in some musical circles in Mexico, a few people could be skeptical of those who move to the States or Europe to study, and then come back to teach or perform. Among many other reasons, this could be because a few come back with a sense of superiority, and this combines with the self-awareness of those with more limited experience who have never left their hometowns. In any case, orchestral conducting is as much a psychological game as it is knowing your craft and your music. I was nervous and didn’t want to make the wrong impression.

As soon as I introduced myself and we started making music together, I knew there was a special chemistry between us. They welcomed me warmly and every player tried their very best. We had 6, 2 ½ hour rehearsals to work, and it was hard work. There were moments where we would spend several minutes on just a couple of phrases, and repeat them many times, until the musical line, balance and sound was exactly what I thought the music demanded. When preparing long, complex masterpieces, this could be physically and mentally exhausting. However, they all were patient and kept working with a good attitude. By the end of the last rehearsal, every player knew it would be an amazing concert, and a meaningful experience for us all. At the end, we all cheered and clapped for each other. There was excitement and expectation for the performance.

The performance was almost sold out. As soon as the orchestra started playing, we all felt the energy, it was truly inspiring. The concert started with the energetic Mozart's Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, followed by gorgeous Fauré’s Pavane in F# minor. The last and main piece of the program was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major, described by

Richard Wagner as “the Apotheosis of the Dance”.

Following the concert, friends and family, some of whom I hadn't seen in years, crowded the theater’s lobby. They all wanted to say a quick congratulatory line, take a picture or spend a couple of minutes catching up. Having so much support in the audience made this particular concert a very special one also.

Right after we left the theater, my entire family and I traveled about 2 hours out of the city to a friend’s home in the countryside. Their home is in a nature and adventure park, which they also own, called “Sima de la Cotorras” (Sinkhole of the Parrots). It has this name because during most of the year, thousands of Mexican green parakeets, who live there, offer a spectacle, flying in and out in circular patterns at dawn and dusk. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see them. From December to February, although very warm for Wisconsin standards, this region is too cold for the parrots, which migrate to warmer regions, only to come back in the spring.

However, we enjoyed a warm night outdoors, singing, and telling stories by a bonfire. In the morning, we rappelled into the sinkhole, had a guided tour to see cave paintings. and the evergreen tropical vegetation at the bottom of the formation. We finished our tour riding a zip line across the sinkhole rim. We came back to my hometown with renewed energy.

During the next 3 weeks, we visited friends, exercised outdoors in the mornings, practiced our instruments daily, and spent time with our children and family. We went to the amazing local zoo, one of the few in the world that is built inside a tropical nature protected area, and that exhibits a vast variety of animals only found within the state where it is located. In this zoo you will find many species of crocodiles, amphibious, tropical birds, eagles, wild boars, cougars, jaguars, among many other animals. But you won’t find giraffes, lions, or elephants as they don’t belong in that ecosystem.

We also visited the historic, culture and folklore-rich town of San Cristobal de las Casas. It is only 45 minutes away from Tuxtla Gutierrez, but it is located at about 7,250 feet of altitude. As a result of this, the tropical climate disappears, giving way to a cool, highlands climate. Everything about this town is magical. You can see large groups of indigenous people wearing their colorful handwoven textiles, and selling their crafts in numerous markets, beautifully adorned nativity scenes in the main square, with a folkloric marimba filling the air with music. Picturesque alleys full of cafes and restaurants, gorgeous and well-preserved, Spanish, colonial architecture, buildings everywhere you look.

I could go on about all the things we did and enjoyed during our time in Mexico, but you get the idea. The most special thing was that we were together and had the blessing to spend quality time as a family.

Our trip back to the States was, once again, a 12-hour, red-eye flight from Tuxtla Gutierrez to Chicago. We all came back with a light jacket, thinking we could manage running from the airport to inside the car. Little did we know we were arriving just in time to catch the infamous storm we had just before Christmas, with negative temperatures and gusts up to 40 miles an hour.

Thankfully our flight wasn’t delayed, but once in Chicago, I found out that 1 of my car tires had deflated all the way to the floor. Also, my car battery had leaked fluid and had no charge. The car battery was still under warranty, and I just needed to replace the tire valve. Not a big deal under different circumstances but having only a light jacket and no gloves or a hat, made it just a little uncomfortable. In the meantime, Taide waited at the airport for 3 hours, alone with the babies and all our belongings. Oh, part of the adventure!

We finally made it home at around 7:30pm, about 24 hours after leaving my parents’ house. That was December 23 in the evening, just in time to spend Christmas Eve at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Combined Locks, WI. We were thankful to God for keeping us safe and for allowing us to be back in time.

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