As the plane circled over Monterrey, I had a good view of the beautiful green mountains surrounding this city, part of the Sierra Madre Oriental, and in particular the Cerro de la Silla (Saddle Mountain, so named for obvious reasons – see photo) which apparently dominates the view from every part of town.
While waiting in the snaking customs line to get my tourist card, I noticed a group of four Sikh men standing further back on the line, a bit too far for a conversation. I nodded and smiled, they did the same, and so, I suppose, officially began my interreligious experience in México.
Once past customs, I looked in vain for the person who was supposed to meet me and drive me to the hotel; there were several people bearing cards with names on them, but none were mine. My plane to Monterrey had been delayed for two hours, so I imagined that must have caused some hitch in the arrangements. The people at the information desk couldn’t help me, so I figured I’d just cruise the terminal (it’s not very big) and see what I’d come up with. Sure enough, a few minutes later I espied through the crowd some familiar turbaned heads and, along with them, a smartly-dressed young woman ushering them out the doors. (I have long ago learned that Sikh men, besides invariably being very gracious, devout and friendly people, also provide an invaluable service to the interfaith community as convenient points of reference, with their colorful turbans (dastaars) and full beards – when in doubt, look for the turbans!)
The young woman turned out to be Susana, my greeter, who was very relieved to see me since she wasn’t sure when my plane would arrive. We waited at the curb for a few minutes for our van to come, and there I also met Michelle, a very friendly Yoruban from Atlanta. On the ride into town, Susana told me that she’d be my personal assistant during my stay here, and would be glad to take me on whatever errands I needed to do once we got unloaded at the hotel.
The Holiday Inn Fundidora is a glitzy, modern hotel which is part of a complex of buildings designed to accommodate conferences, conventions and expositions. It includes, within short walking distance of each other, the hotel, the Cinterplex (a business and exposition center where most of the Encuentro’s events are taking place, alongside the Bridal Fair…), a huge auditorium, a modern multi-purpose arena (Black Eyed Peas, indoor soccer, assorted conventioneers), an arts center (currently featuring an exhibit entitled 'Isis and the Feathered Serpent' – think maybe I’ll go to that one…), a Sesame Street theme park, and last, but not even nearly least, a House of Parrots. It’s also the start of Paseo Santa Lucía, a modernistic walkway around an artificial river, which winds its way for a couple of miles into the center of the city.
After getting settled at the hotel, we had a dinner where everybody was introduced, we were given some necessary materials, and were told a bit about the next day’s events. We’ll be getting a private tour of the complex in the morning; then, in the afternoon, a group of indigenous peoples who have been walking for more than a week from various parts of México will arrive at Parque Fundidora, and we’ve been asked to greet them when they arrive. I’m really looking forward to that.