Travel: A Mexican Girl in Paris (Part Une)

So I sat on a plane to Paris, unsuccessfully trying to sleep to avoid jet-lag since my fly would arrive at 7am, when somewhere over the Atlantic it dawned on me…I was on my way to Paris! Alone! And I had focused so much on getting there that I had forgotten to actually plan what I would do once I got there. I started panicking a little, which guaranteed that I would get not even a minute of sleep the whole flight. I had bought a Rick Steves Western Europe guide a couple days prior and now realizing that I was probably way overdue on reading it, decided to get on it. The more I flipped thru pages reading excerpts here and there, the more it became clear to me how utterly clueless I was about this whole other world I was about to enter. So clueless in fact, that even the most obvious details had escaped me, like say, exchanging dollars for Euros before getting there; heck, how about actually carrying dollars/Euros, since all I had at that time was a whopping $20 dollars in my pocket. Of course I had my debit card that I knew I would be using a lot, both directly to purchase and also to withdraw cash from ATM’s, but it probably would’ve been a good idea to carry more than $20 dollars on arrival in case finding an ATM took a while.
Anyway, the flight landed safely at Charles de Gaulle airport, and after a surprisingly easy immigration process (they barely looked at my passport before stamping it), I was already thru with my checked luggage in tow. Then, another realization hit me… I had assumed that speaking English would suffice to get me thru even in countries where they spoke a different language…and now I was about to find out how wrong I was on that assumption. I didn’t speak an ounce of French, bon jour and au revoir were the totality of my French vocabulary, and there I was, roaming a Parisian airport that only had signs in French. I had no idea which way the exits were. I walked to what looked like to be the airport’s front doors/entrance, but it was full of tour buses picking up big organized groups, and didn’t look like that would be my way out. I walked back and forth thru a very long and wide corridor, and found a place to exchange my $20 dollars for Euros. I asked the clerk at the window for directions to the airport’s exit, first in Spanish (remembering that French are not fond of the English language) without any luck; I asked again in English, desperate to get some help, but only confirmed that they are really really not fond of this language, and also that all the stories I had heard about French people being rude were true.
I felt completely lost, and also like an idiot walking back and forth the same corridor with no idea as to which way to go. Twenty to thirty minutes went by, and the thought that I would have to fly back home that very same day actually crossed my mind. I was already envisioning how I would tell everyone that I had been to Paris but never actually made it out of the airport and that I had to end my trip on the same day it started because I couldn’t find my way out of said airport, when suddenly I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to look at the person touching me, when he asked, in Spanish and with a pity look on his face, “this is your first time in Paris, isn’t it?”; I silently nodded while looking at the two other guys standing behind the one approaching me, also with pity looks on their faces. Guy #1 explained that he had been to Paris before and was now traveling with his two buddies who had never been, and offered to bring me along as they made their way to the city. I didn’t hesitate and immediately started following his lead.
He then asked me what part of Mexico I was from, which initially freaked me out because how did he know I was from Mexico, then I noticed I was still holding my Mexican passport in hand as I had been the whole time I had wandered the airport looking like a lost soul. Also it hit me that they were probably Mexican too, based on their accent, and it turned out all 3 of them were going to Med school in Monterrey, where I also happened to be going to school at the time.
We met another lost soul while standing in line to get metro tickets to the city, a Brazilian guy who was in town to participate in some dance competition, but since he wouldn’t be meeting his dance crew until the next day, he joined us. We rode the metro to Rue de Rivoli, and got off somewhere not too far from the Louvre. None of us had a reservation for that night and needed to look for a place to stay, so naturally we stopped at the first hotel we came across, only to find out it was way out of our price range. It wasn’t even a nice hotel to be that expensive, so things were not looking up for us.
After asking at another couple hotels, and facing prices way out of our reach yet again, Guy numero uno suggested all five of us banded together for the night and split the cost of one room. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t very smart to agree to spend the night in a foreign country with 4 strange men, but jet-lag was setting in at this time, leaving no room for common sense. So we got our belongings situated in our new shared accommodations, and off we went to explore Paree, acting like we had known each other our whole lives.
Like I said, jet-lag had gotten ahold of me by then, but I figured if I fought the exhaustion all day and waited until nighttime to get some good rest, that would put me right on schedule with the new time zone I’d be living in for the next couple of months.
As previously mentioned on my last post, I hadn’t pack a jacket and was surprised to find the Parisian weather quite chilly and windy on what was almost June, so I bought some cheesy black hoodie sweatshirt with Paris written across the chest in some awful, awful font; at this point I was still trying to come to terms with the realization of how unprepared I actually was for this trip.
We didn’t ride the subway again for the rest of the day, we just walked and walked, for hours on end. We walked to the Louvre’s esplanade, and admired the famous glass pyramid; strolled thru the Jardin des Tuileries to the Place de la Concorde, and continued up the Av. des Champs Élysées until we stood in awe of the Arc de Triomphe, examining it from every angle. Though to be honest, we couldn’t stop for very long because we were running on the pure adrenaline that the excitement of being there was bringing us, but stopping for more than a few minutes meant feeling the need to succumb to the deep fatigue we were actually carrying around. Still, we were determined to make our way to the Tour Eiffel, not only to make the dream of witnessing its grandness come true, but also as some sort of confirmation that we were really there, in Paris, that this was all really happening.
It’s precisely its grandness that makes the Eiffel Tower’s location really deceiving. You can see it from miles and miles away with a sense that you’re about to come face to face with it at any moment, and when that doesn’t happen as soon as you were expecting, you almost start feeling like you’re chasing some sort of mirage or illusory sight that moves away just as you’re about to reach it. It was either that or the severe exhaustion that was really messing with my time and space perception. It must’ve been really about a 45 minute walk from the Arc de Triomphe to the Tour Eiffel, but it felt like the longest walk of my life. Nonetheless, we finally made it.
I was there, living in the flesh a moment I had pictured in my mind ever since I could remember, and it was more than I had ever imagined. It was so much bigger and more beautiful than I thought, its majestic and imposing presence was touching. I wanted to climb to the top of the tower but the elevator lines were long and I stupidly decided I would take the stairs instead. I made it halfway to the first level when I felt like my legs were going to give up on me, but I forced myself to continue on upwards. Slowly I made it to the first level feeling like I had just climbed Mount Everest. So many mixed emotions rushed to me at once, that I just ended up feeling overwhelmed and confused by it all. Not only had I been thru a whirlwind in the last 36 hours, but I was also going thru some personal stuff that I couldn’t quite figure out yet, and all of the sudden that was all I could think of.
I remember finding a pay-phone up there, on the first level of the Eiffel Tower, and using it to call my college roommate back in Mexico. She was surprised to hear my voice when she picked up the phone, as she obviously knew I was in Paris, and probably even more surprised when she realized I wanted to discuss all this personal stuff instead of talking about my trip. She stopped me in the middle of my blabber to ask where I was, “standing on the first level of the Eiffel Tower,” I responded. “Oh my God, you are there, you are on top of the Eiffel Tower, you made it! Forget all that sh*t, and enjoy this moment, would you?” she said. I knew she was right, and I promised I would try to focus only in taking it all in, despite knowing damn well it was unlikely that I would be able to really put all those thoughts completely behind me. Nevertheless, after hanging up, I decided I was in no condition to reach the top and that it’d be best to go back to the hotel; the idea of making it back seemed daunting so it demanded I solely concentrate on that task.
I don’t know how I mustered up the energy to walk the whole way back, especially with the cold rising as the sun was setting and even amid some drizzle falling, but somehow I did. Despite all the excitement of the day, in that moment nothing could beat the joy of finally getting into a nice, warm bed and feeling my head touching the pillow. In the 10 seconds it took me to fall asleep, I remember feeling immensely grateful for everything, and feeling a huge sense of accomplishment…I had made it to Paris, to the Eiffel Tower, and most importantly, I had survived my first day of this great adventure.

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