Personality of the month
By Jade Arroyo
“Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” These immortal lyrics by John Lennon are cited by Malinda Vértiz, a woman who seems to be always busy with family and a stack of papers with plans for exotic travel and who causes surprise and astonishment when one learns she has traveled all over the globe. She is the owner of Viajes Vértiz, the oldest and best-known travel agency in San Miguel. Although Malinda comes from the US, her roots are in San Miguel. She arrived here when she was two years old and here she met her husband. She spent her adolescence in Mexico City and studied political science at the University of Colorado in the United States. After finishing school she began working on a politician’s senatorial campaign. Months later he was involved in a scandal, and she returned to Mexico City to help her mother, who had broken an arm and a leg. To have something to do she found “temporary” employment at a travel agency, Viajes Felgueres, which specialized in trips to exotic destinations such as Africa, Oceania, New Zealand, India and Mongolia. “I went to help in the summer high season, when a guy quit without notice. I stayed until midnight or one o’clock finishing the work. I did not leave the country after that,” she recalled.
Malinda married, had her first child, and set up home in San Miguel. Shortly after, she decided to open the travel agency in collaboration with Viajes Felgueres, the agency from Mexico City. First it was on calle Jesús, then it moved to Umarán. In 1982 the agency was established as an independent and registered business, the first travel agency established in San Miguel as “Viajes Vértiz”. “The profession of travel agent is complex,” she said, “since you have to know the entire world and have a great sense of geography. It is also totally confidential—you cannot disclose where, when or with whom this or that person flew. The jargon used includes some combinations that almost sound like an equation: ‘long-scale-point-return trip.’” At first her clients were foreigners, and they had a hard time convincing Mexicans to use the travel agency. In those years, Mexicans in San Miguel used to buying everything in Celaya: groceries, furniture, clothes, blankets. “There was nothing here, and they had no confidence in using our services, preferring to continue their established routines they were used to.”
Globally, travel agencies went through a crisis that drove a thriving business nearly to extinction; 9/11, the rise of the Internet and online shopping and the economic crisis were all factors that adversely affected travel agencies. Malinda says that her priority is not to sell flights, but rather other services such as customized trips, cruises, etc. “We must show people that they need to check out their options,” she said.
Malinda’s specialty is designing personalized long-distance trips. Somehow she makes the trip in her mind’s eye with the person she is designing it for: walking the same steps through the Taj Mahal, seeing baby elephants bathing in the lake at a reserve in India, discovering the treasures of the markets, seeing the trucks carrying silkworms at a crossroads…. “With closed eyes I can tell you what you have to see and where to go,” she commented. Her desk is full of itineraries for different places: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Russia, Iran, Bonampak, European River cruises, Mongolia, Australia, Guatemala, Israel, Rio de Janeiro, Colombia, Chile, Peru…. “If you want a complicated trip to India, we arrange everything from visas, picking you up at the hotel, tours, etc. It is hard to say what my favorite place in the world is, but Egypt holds a special place in my heart: The first time I went to the land of the Pharaohs I completely fell in love,” said Malinda.
Travelling is a mysterious experience; every place has its own charms and is unique. It depends on who you are at some point in your life, it doesn’t matter how old you are.
“San Miguel is as cosmopolitan as New York; what makes it so special is its atmosphere, generated by its warm people, who open their arms to visitors.” Malinda thinks that foreigners are tired of hearing bad news and are daring to enjoy Mexico.
About her recipe for success, she says: “We are a team and everyone helps everyone. I’m surrounded by successful women in my office. In life you need to go step by step. It has to do with your education and your family, but most of it is your attitude and your desire to do things. Whatever happens, you have to move forward. And it’s an experience; no one can do it for you.”
Malinda’s office is abuzz with travel plans: an agent arranges tickets to Iran while another sets up the documentation needed for travel to China; the phone rings: a Mexican family is planning their vacation in Chiapas. That’s San Miguel: a place where everything comes together.