A funny thing happened on the way to the airplane.
My daughter and I arrived at Logan Airport at 5:45 a.m. to catch a 6:50 flight to Charlotte, N.C., where we would change planes for Mexico City. With an hour to spare, and no bags to check, we figured we had plenty of time. When we got to the desk to check in, however, the agent looked at our IDs and said, ''Your daughter is under 18. You need to have a notarized letter from your husband saying it's OK to take her out of the country."
Thus began a frantic effort to obtain said letter. Thankfully, my husband had gone straight to work after dropping us off at the airport.
''Huh?" he said when I called to explain the dilemma. No one from US Airways had bothered telling us when we made the reservations, and why would it occur to us to ask.
The sympathetic airline employee called the State Police barracks at Logan, and found a trooper on duty who was also a notary public. The problem was, the barracks was in a distant terminal, and the clock was ticking.
''This is the only flight for Mexico City today," the clerk warned.
Bags in hand, my daughter and I sprinted for the shuttle bus, which finally came, and finally, after letting off all the other passengers at other stops, deposited us at our terminal. It was still a three-minute run to the barracks. Out of breath, we found the state trooper, who called my husband and verified that I was indeed his wife (''Her name, sir? Date of birth? Place of birth?") and that his daughter was indeed his daughter (same drill), and that it was fine with him if we went to Mexico. The trooper wrote a letter saying as much, affixed his notary stamp to it and signed it. (Thank you, Trooper Edward l. Whelan!)
Then, Megan and I rushed back to the shuttle stop, waited interminably for the bus, which contained one elderly woman who could not walk very well and who was insisting that the bus driver accompany her all the way to her gate. Unable to do that -- thank goodness -- he did accompany her to a bench, where he hailed an airport employee to take care of her. The clock was ticking ever louder. We arrived, finally, at our terminal, then had to wait in line to go through security. By the time we ran up to our gate, the plane was boarding. We sank into our seats, grateful -- but irritated at the regulation that we, and doubtless others, never knew about.
Here it is. For Mexico, youngsters 17 and under must have a notarized letter of consent signed by the parent not accompanying the child. If parents are separated or divorced, the accompanying parent must have proper documents, such as a child custody order, plus a birth certificate. For Canada, parents are advised to have documents showing that the child is theirs; separated or divorced parents must keep ''legal and other relevant documents in order to clarify their rights." For minors accompanied by only one parent, a notarized letter must include permission to travel from the other parent, as well as the destination and length of stay.
A spokesman for US Airways advises parents to check with their airline to determine what the policies are for other countries if they are traveling out of the United States with minor children. (Some destination countries require proof of permission.) Also, divorced or separated parents or legal guardians should find out what documents they need.
Mexico was wonderful, once we got there. I had promised my daughter five years ago that when she was a high school senior, I would take her to the spa that I had visited several times with friends. (''Camp Mom," we called it; no husbands or children allowed. So, I broke the rule.)
The Hotel and Spa Ixtapan de la Sal is about two hours southwest of Mexico City, in the Sierra Madres. Our room cost $150 a night, including all meals, which are a highlight there. We ate in the regular dining room, not wanting to limit ourselves to the measly 900 calories in the spa dining room. Breakfast included plate-sized slices of pineapple, tender papaya, watermelon, fresh squeezed orange juice -- and that was just for starters. Lunch invariably included homemade soups, fresh fish, Mexican specialties such as tacos, guacamole, and enchiladas, plus salad and dessert. My favorite dinner was the richest, most wonderful chicken mole I had ever had. There were seafood specialties, rack of lamb, fajita plates, plus a dessert cart from which you could have ''one of each."
Naturally, we had to work all those calories off. Starting at 7 a.m., with the sun rising over the hills, we would join a group hike for an hour, sometimes through town, sometimes through the countryside. My favorite took us through a eucalyptus forest, with its wonderful aroma. The hotel offers salsa, aerobics, and water aerobics (there are two pools), and the fitness room is well equipped.
Perhaps best of all are the treatments. Since we did not buy a spa package, we went to the bath house behind the spa, where we got $25 massages and facials, $10 manicures and pedicures, and luxuriated in a Roman bath complete with bubbling mineral spring water in a marble hot tub. Your money goes far in Mexico these days: almost 11 pesos to the dollar.
We went horseback riding, played tennis, shopped at the colorful Sunday market in town, watched movies in the spa theater at night, and hiked around the sprawling water park behind the spa. (For those in a more languid state of mind, there's a little red train that takes you around the perimeter.) About the only thing we didn't try was golf, though there is a brand-new course.
The spa offers excursions to Cuernavaca and Taxco and other places. We were content to stay put. We returned to Boston a little darker and a lot smarter. Next time either my husband or I take one or both children out of the country, we'll pack our papers first. Who knew?
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The Hotel and Spa Ixtapan can be reached by phone at 800-638-7950 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bella English can be reached at email@example.com. All Along, her column on family travel, appears the second Sunday of the month.