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A is for arroz

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The second-class bus station outside of Palenque in Chiapas, Mexico was nothing spectacular: two rows of plastic chairs back to back, a droning TV and a ticket window. We were the only two there, a fact that I was reveling in because there was no coffee this morning and I didn't feel like small talk. Traffic was whizzing by the open door, hypnotizing me into a sleepy trance.

"I don't know, do you think the bus left yet?" All of the sudden a tall, stocky woman with short, blond hair and pleated khaki pants was fussing to get her luggage onto one of the plastic chairs so she could check her itinerary and match it to her watch.

"No, it's still here. I think it's that one at the end of the lot," replied her companion, pointing past us at the one bus you could see through the open side door of the building.

My immediate thought was to not make eye contact. These were the tourists we were trying to avoid. The ones that have matching luggage and try to get their point across by speaking louder and more slowly even though they're still speaking English. I started running through options: We could get a soda, scramble onto the bus or even fall asleep.

"Well, where are you girls headed?" We were caught.

These two women were an oddly matched pair, one built like a truck driver with too much eyeshadow and the other short, spritely and constantly scribbling in a tiny notebook. They were Texans, loud and brave.

And they had one thing in common—they loved to talk. Neither Kym nor I got in a word edgewise on the two-hour trip to Villahermosa, the next stop on our 10-day adventure. They started with hello and followed with their whole life story. But what started with a sense of dread quickly turned into a life lesson learned.

I judged these two women the second I saw them. As soon as they said they were from Texas, my mind shot rapid-fire: Republican, close-minded, homophobic, mass consumers with whom I'll never get along. They were Republican, but I was wrong about the rest.

One of them was a master skydiver with 1,500 jumps under her belt. The other had traveled to 44 countries and taken at least 20 trips to Mexico. One had a son in the army and wanted the troops home. The other was trying her darndest to learn Spanish. They both vowed to always leave their husbands at home because they fussed too much and got bored in museums. They were probably in their mid-50s and laughed at how they butchered Spanish with their thick Southern drawls.

They were on their way to Nepal next.

All of the sudden, I wanted to be these women when I grew up. But how?

"Well," the more outspoken one chimed in, "we always split meals and down here they give you so much food plus sides of rice and French fries. She likes fries, I like rice. It just works out."

I turned to my partner in crime and said, "How do you feel about rice?"

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