Lessons and Reminders
Matt's point of view in black // Clo's point of view in pink
A few days after Clo and I were reunited and began the trip "officially" back in June, she posed the question of "why exactly are we doing this?". It was in reference to our then brand new trip/travel/lifestyle/etc and was somewhat of a rhetorical question. Nonetheless, my answer was then the same as it is now. Why not? To say what we're doing is a "once in a lifetime" adventure is true, but also sort of duplicitous from my perspective. Basically everything in our lives is, by definition, once in a lifetime. I can't go back and repeat anything I've done before. And if I try and repeat something exactly the same, it never is. It may be get close, but it's never an exact duplication.
And to start on a light note, I am glad this is once in a lifetime. And that there will be no duplication. You guys all think we are living the dream, you are all "jealous" and ask us to stop sending pics... Apart from the fact that this is a pretty awesome life adventure, you all have to know that sleeping in a car under 35 degree Celsius is not fun. Being eaten alive by mosquitoes and knowing that your only way out is actually inside that same car is not fun. Not showering for days after sleeping several nights in the same (again) 35 degree Celsius car is not fun. I will stop here, I don't want to completely kill the fantasy. But tho... sorry to sometimes have the question popping up in my mind: Why are we doing this?
I answered Clo at the time that I was excited/interested/happy/curious/etc about our currently activities because it is full of unknowns and new experiences. While I appreciate having a few (and very important to me) known quantities in my life, I love the excitement of new things. They give me a chance to fail and learn something new. If I'm lucky I will succeed at something, but I've definitely learned more throughout my life when I've had to deal with failure or overcome an obstacle or five. I believe it makes me a more well-rounded, knowledgeable and helpful human bean. They don't have to be completely exceptional or crazy experiences for me to learn something. In many ways, the most commonplace and regular occurrence may contain the most education for me.
I never fail so I don't know what he is talking about. ;-))
One morning in Saltillo, about halfway through my stay there, I was enjoying coffee with Ziho and having an interesting discussion (about travel, life choices or poop, I don't recall). At one point I said something to which I'd expect a response, but as she was eating she simply raised her right index finger, with the rest of her fingers bent loosely in a grasp and bent it twice in succession. I cocked my head to the side and looked a little perplexed, to which she explained it was a common way of nonverbal agreement. This is one of those little things that I love! My foreign language in college was Sign Language, and while I certainly don't remember much of it now, the importance of non-verbal actions in communication (obviously for deaf people, but it's huge for literally everyone) really stuck with me. While not as common as the unique head nodding in the Indian sub-continent, it's great to learn about a new (to me) communication tool in this region.
Communication is very important. As most of my time is spend being self sufficient with Matt, it is kind of fun to meet/see/interact with people that cross our path on the road. They are not many, we don't hang out on busy sites, neither is it the high busy season anywhere. But to be able to talk with the kid on his bike that looks at our Land Cruiser with sparkles in the eyes, or to chat about the different kind of teas and herbs to drink in the morning with another lady makes speaking Spanish very enjoyable. I didn't do enough effort to get it back properly yet but I am getting there.
Near the end of my Saltillo stay, I was running in the canyons with Remie when I learned about the scheme in which most Oxxo/7-11/etc stations are operated in Mexico. The family who leases the business is basically stuck there for life; they are required to be opened long hours (frequently 24 a day), their profits are low (their benefit is they normally live above/behind/etc the actual store in lodging provided as part of the deal) and often times are going to be paying off the loan they needed to take from the company for years and years. There is of course the argument to be made they were better off then before (every case is individual, obviously), but how good can it be to be indebted for ten or twenty years? Maybe not a good question to ask most Americans, but it's certainly interesting how the principle of lifelong debt is spreading around the world.
The feelings I have at hearing things like this are frustration, sadness and desire to try and change something. But usually that is where it stops. What can I do about the conditions of how the Oxxo business is structured and how they treat their employees? It's easy and logical to think this way too, because it frees me from making a conscious choice (except patronizing the Oxxo stores) to do something about it. So what do I learn here? I learned something about the world, which is rarely a bad thing, and I learned something about my own self justification processes.
On to something lighter. After Clo and I left Saltillo and continued south, the first place we stopped was in Real de Catorce. A constant challenge for Clo and I is finding where we want to sleep. My own preference would always be outside of a city, in a country side or even better somewhere in the mountains. No people around, the sounds of nature and the freedom to pee wherever I want. Real de Catorce being a city in the center of a volcanic crater (we had to drive about 3km through a tiny one-way tunnel to enter the city), being away from people was somewhat difficult. Nonetheless, after some discussion and slow driving on roads made up of large chunks of rock, we finally made our way to the other side of the city and found a quiet parking lot near a large church. To date this has been the only "city" parking lot I've really enjoyed. I learned I shouldn't be afraid to keep trying something I normally dislike.
This place was gorgeous, We had a great time there. This wasn't the archetype of a parking lot tho (see the photo!!). The beer there the first night with the sunset was glorious. To get back to the beginning go this text... I guess this is "Why?". For moments like this one.
Of course, staying in the wilderness isn't always good either. I hate bugs. A lot. About as much as I hate humidity when I don't have a shower available at the end of the day and/or before bed. So when we are staying in the wild, we always try to do it with a breeze (to keep the bugs away until we get mosquito netting up and while we're outside of Wilbur) and make sure we're done with our eating and such before night falls and more bugs come out. A few days after Real de Catorce, we made the mistake of trying to eat nearly an hour after the sunset. We didn't see it when we went to bed, but in the dark the bugs had made their way into Wilbur and we trapped them inside with us via the mosquito netting. Big mistake. I woke up with about 5 bites on me and Clo had close to 100 (I ended up spending most of the night sleeping with the sheet over my head but Clo sleeps like she's protecting herself from falling rocks). It's good to remember why we set certain rules.
Perhaps emboldened by our success at Real de Catorce, the next night we decided to stay in the city of Xilitla. As in, right inside the city. On a Saturday night. We had a few drinks so we decided not to drive outside of the city anywhere, and we had found what we thought was a super nice parking spot. Uh, well, not really. While we were sitting inside the back of Wilbur sweating our little butts off (we had one window open, but we didn't want to open the other one that was facing the street), we discovered exactly how opaque our windows were: very. Around 11pm, four teenagers arrived on the street and were obviously on a double date. We then observed one of the couples making what could only bee their first kiss. Sweet, right? Right. Then they drew their names in hearts on the dusty windows of Wilbur. Also sort of sweet. Then they started dry humping and making out against the side of Wilbur. Much less sweet. Clo had to restrain me from going outside and telling them to fuck off. When the dude went around to the other side of Wilbur and peed against the wall I just sighed and cried on the inside. Then the dance club started up. Finally around 4am it shut down. Which meant we had at least 4-5 people pee against that same used wall beside Wilbur. I think we fell asleep around 6am, for maybe an hour or two. We don't learn our lessons very well, I guess. No more cities!
No more cities unless we are staying in a cheap hotel or airbnb. Since it had been over a month since we were on the road, we sort of forgot one of our key practices. Once or twice a week (depending on a variety of circumstances) we stay in a cheap hotel to shower and just relax. I personally need the relaxation less than the shower, but after a few days of no good sleep (or no sleep at all), sweating at night, sweating during the day because of hiking/sun/humidity/etc... I really need a cool shower and clean underwear to make me happy. It's important I remember to do things that make me calm and content, even if I'm excited for new things and seeing what's around the next corner.
As we arrived in Mexico City a few days later, I was looking forward to almost a week of exploring the city, showers on a daily basis (maybe even twice in a single day!), hanging out in cafes and writing and generally taking it easy. As you have probably figured out, none of this happened. On the day after we arrived, minutes after we walked out of Clo's appointment, the ground started to shake. This wasn't the first or biggest earthquake I've been part of, but certainly the one which I've seen the impacts of most personally. Clo and I spent almost five hours walking back to our airbnb. We saw a lot of the damage first hand as we crossed the city.
This is definitely not the week we planned of having. Personally it was the first time I felt an earthquake. I was on the phone with my dad talking about the doctor appointment I just had. I remember my hands shaking so much that I couldn't swipe up the Skype window of my iPhone. I don't know why / what scared me the most. Just the unknown I think. Not understanding. There is too much to process in 10 seconds. And then you realize you are OK. Matt is OK. People around me are OK. So this is what an earthquake is. Earthquake : Checked!!
I collected my thoughts and then we started walking, I think at first we thought there were no damages.. but the more you walk and the more you understand. Crossing a bridge and in the distance seeing the huge smoke of a fire right in the downtown is not a good sign. On the other side seeing people crying is good sign that this is fucked up. And then seeing people running around frenetically is another pretty good clue that this is bad. At first I didn't understand why they were running with shopping cart. It's just that anything that could carry away rocks from the collapsed building was good to use. Which makes for a pretty chaotic looking situation. And there again your brain takes a few seconds to process. And to make sense out of something that you should not have to make sense out of.
We walked home.
And started to process. Matt and I have very different ways to process things. Which created a very interesting conversation that evening. Very annoying to have this conversation again tho, means we have thing to process. Means shit happened (again).
I know that my main feeling right after was guilt. I remember a few years ago, when Paris was under terrorist attacks and I was comfortably having brunches in Singapore, I felt that guilt. It's kind of weird but I felt I was completely missing a part of 'history" of my country and mostly failing to be there for my friends and family. I felt that I should be in France, and help. I don't know how but just help, be there. At least be in the same state of mind as my friends that were in Paris and that were living that nightmare front row.
I had the same feeling here in Mexico. Which is weird because we were here. We had the front row sit that time around.
We could have "Helped". But how, what, where... We were in an AirBnB that week. You could hear the son of the family coming back at night crying because he had been digging for hours at a collapse school near by. I asked him what we could do. How we could Help. He said there was nothing much we could actually do in this frenetic Spanish speaking search and rescue ambiance. Nothing we can do. Again. The feeling of being powerless. We really are not much in the middle of a chaos, you feel very little in those moments.
But in the end of all of this, it made me think a lot of that guilt that is so easily triggered in me. I think the "Guilty Feeling" is not so much about was I or not in Paris in solitary of my traumatized friends. It is not that I went to carry some rocks in the rescue effort or not in the Mexico City earthquake. I think I have been carrying the guilty syndrome for a few years now. And it's more about me being alive / not dead. But the final point is that I am alive. There is nothing to be guilty about that. And you can count on me for enjoying the shit out of it.
We were very lucky and not hurt at all. Even though we had a couple of days without power (thanks to Wilbur's solar for keeping our stuff charged) and the city water didn't work (boiled water was used for showers) through the end of our stay, what we faced was nothing compared to so many other people. Not only in Mexico City, but in many other parts of the nearby world; the multiple hurricanes in Carribean have caused terrible devastation as well.
And what am I doing about it? Not much. It's really made me think about one of my goals on this trip, which is to donate my time and skills to help make things better for other people who need the help. Spending time talking with Remie and Ziho (who have done very similar things) was a very positive reminder, and being in Mexico City during the earthquake was a bit of a slap in the face. Now I will make actual plans and do something instead of only thinking and planning.