Far Away Home
Matt's point of view in black // Clo's point of view in pink
Leaving Ciduad de Mexico was exciting and sad at the same time. I was excited to visit the twin (one dormant, one active) volcanoes of Parc Nacional Itzaccihuatl-Popocatepetl and enjoy some cleaner air outside of the city. I was sad because we were leaving behind a city in mourning with remnants of chaos, as well as the family whom we had begin to know a little and whom were very kind to us during our stay. You bond with people more during times of duress, I think.
After only a few hours of driving, we arrived at the visitors center of Itza-Popo and I was very surprised to find the air wasn't quite as clean as I expected. The view was spectacular and there weren't many people around, but the steadily falling ash was a surprise. We were planning on spending a night or two around here, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to sleep where ash was falling on poor Wilbur (and us). We decided to drive further up on the dormant volcano Izta (and away from Popo, which was active and spewing the dainty white flakes into a huge cloud) to see if we could sleep there instead. We found a mostly empty parking lot (outside of the drop zone of the ash cloud) near the trailhead and set up the beds in our portable, wheeled home.
It's a funny thing, having a home on wheels. It's a strange sort of home too. It's not like I feel comfortable just "hanging out" in Wilbur, since I can't even sit up straight unless I'm in the front seats or the tailgate is down. It's a very comfortable (we hit a home run here; we have an AMAZING bed) place to sleep. I always feel very safe and secure. There's not much I am worried about in terms of roads or highway conditions when we are driving around. We have lots of water, near endless power and supplies for any weather conditions. I like our home.
And in contrast with Matt who hates hanging out in bed: that's all I can do in Wilbur. HEAVEN!! There is no sitting down. It's either lay down or get out. My dream!!
I think it took me some time to bound with Wilbur. But the more we drive the more I enjoy him. Rainy afternoons become comfy TV afternoons. In the mornings Matt like to go for a walk, I stay in to lay like a stardust and take all the space of both mattress. I love that we have our sides of Wilbur and our little habit by now. It's really our house and our home. And our car of course!
House because all our possessions are in it. Home because we feel good and safe and started building tones of memories in it. It's not every morning but almost that we have stunning sunrise to look at as soon as we open an eye. Opening the back door and feeling the fresh air (or at least the outside air!!) is always so nice. Yes it is our home. And a great one.
Every place we stay for more than a day or two becomes somewhat of another home, though. Especially if we're staying at an airbnb or some place where we just "hang out" because of our schedule, weather conditions, the people there or whatever else may prompt us to stay. People often ask us if we miss home. Depending on who they are and how much time they have I answer differently, but the gist of it is always the same: not really. I'm not sure why exactly, though I suspect it has to do with my upbringing and how things turned out once I was living on my own and moving around a lot. There was a period of time early in my professional career when over a 24 month period I spent 18 of those months in hotel rooms. I became very good at making myself feel at home no matter where I may be sleeping.
I think to the question "Do I miss home?" I don't know what to answer just because I don't really understand the question... Home is a concept not a place for me. I even think when I say home I now think of my parents house!! Which is not even the house I grow up in, they just moved there a few years ago! I guess home equals family / love / safe feeling. So that would be where my parents / sisters are. Or where Matt is of course. And because we are together 24/7, home is everywhere and anywhere! Just where geographically we are together.
A more accurate question for me would be: "Do I feel homesick". I learned that expression when I was 17 and by myself in Texas for a year and not speaking a work of English. I don't think I felt homesick ever since. Except maybe a few weeks ago. To me it doesn't mean that I miss home. It means I am out of my comfort zone and need some rest.
It can be pretty exhausting with an intense rhythm to be on the road. The expression "I want to go home!!" reveals all its meaning then, it's mostly a need to feel in a cocoon, relaxed, warm and responsibilities-less.
Maybe this is the key. Home reminds us of childhood. Childhood is the apogee of freedom and insouciance, ... and also a warm and relaxed place to remember!
We also had a bit of a moving experience with Wilbur on our second night at Itza-Popo. We spent a few hours in the morning climb towards the peak, but after about 500m and two hours we decided to turn around because of the cold, strong wind and pouring rain. The altitude didn't help either, since we started out our climb around 4000m (yep - really high!). After getting back to our home of Wilbur and cooking some pasta in our awesome (new-ish, since Saltillo) Trangia stove, Clo started feeling rather nauseous and wasn't very hungry (this is a shocking rarity for Clo, and I was a bit worried). We both had small headaches as well. We knew about the symptoms of altitude sickness so decided to drive back down to the visitor center, about 500m lower than our current spot.
On the pics below you can see a typical rainy day. Trying to find shelter to cook a little and get warm, and hang out inside, and watch some movies with the sound of the rain on the roof. Pretty typical no? Would be doing the exact same in a 'real' house!!
This was the first time we tried the "quick move" technique, where I just move things from the drivers seat into the back and Clo reclines in the bed like a queen in her litter. I did it quickly-ish since it was still raining and getting dark, and I wanted to get to the visitor center (about 30 minutes drive) before they closed the park gate. Clo may have looked like a queen on our mattresses and surrounded by our clothing bags (what's usually in the drivers seat), but I don't think the road did anything positive for her nausea. It was a dirt (mud thanks to the rain) with extensive rain channels and ditches, making for an extremely slow and rolling ride down to the parking lot. She did feel better, though, and we ended up having quite a nice sleep and thankfully with no ash, since the wind was blowing in the other direction.
Yeah naaa... not the best drive!! But good technique to move fast!!
Another upside of the visitor center was the data service we had their for our phones, a very speedy LTE. Fantastic! Since we don't often meet people (much less become friends) with people while we're traveling, having data allows us to keep in touch with our family and friends. This is a big part of feeling at "home" for me. Luckily I spend nearly 100% of my time with the person who makes me feel this way the most, but this doesn't reduce the importance of keeping in touch with other people who are important to me. I often feel a bit guilty because I don't do this as much as I feel I should. I think it's because I can feel stressed or under an obligation to return a message to someone if they are waiting for it and I have not responded in the most rapid fashion. It's so much more relaxing and easier if I know I can just do my own thing and not worry about it. It's a bit strange. I'm not sure entirely of the cause.
I love keeping in touch. I think I have periods where I need it more or less. But I love to know how friends are doing, and details about their life. And I love when friends are asking me how I am doing. I am very lucking to have pretty amazing friends (I don't have many of them but I have the bests ;-)) and following their life from far away is pretty awesome. The jobs, the travels, the babies, etc etc. Facebook is nice but it's pretty impersonal (when at first I had the opposite feeling about Facebook). But sending text, one on one; knowing that people take time for you, just for you, to give news or ask for some. It's keeping up the relationships alive and it's needed. At least for me.
And since we started the trip... we don't meet a tone of people. So my only interlocutor is Matt. Do you guys need a drawing? Yes, it feels good to interact with other human being, even if it's only in text !!!!
I think relaxation is at the core of it. The next place we spent a few days at was Cholula, a small and very attractive village about 30 minutes away from Puebla. We found a cheap (and wonderful) hotel and spent a couple of days exploring a Mayan temple in the middle of the city, washing clothes, showering and generally just relaxing. I love excitement, adventures and the unknown but I always want a place to go where I feel relaxed and comfortable. Wherever I feel that is where I feel at home.
And for me now, in the Official Definition of Home needs to be 2 non negotiable things: 1 - toilets and 2 - a washing machine. Sitting down to poop and have clean clothes whenever I want. I will not settle without. (which is pretty easy to get in any developed country so I am very hopeful for the future!!)
And as you can see I am now talking and even writing about poop. Yep spending too much time with that husband of mine!!
Oh, that and food. A few nights later we were sleeping in Wilbur in the courtyard of a beautiful (and nearly empty) hotel. Prior to this very comfortable sleep, we had gone next door to a small restaurant where I had some of the best food in weeks. It was nothing fancy (and it was super cheap), but it felt like we had walked into someone's home and they fed us what they just ate. Actually I am pretty sure this is what happened, because when we first walked into this place there was a big family in the back room eating. They said they weren't open yet (at 5pm?) but we could help ourselves to the beer in the fridge. So we did that and then about an hour later we had the most amazing meal. It definitely made me feel relaxed and content.
Then we arrived on Oaxaca! I heard a lot about this city prior to arrival and it certainly didn't disappoint. We only stayed here three days but they were full of a lot of activity. Clo found an awesome airbnb just a few minutes walking from downtown, so I spent quite a bit of time outside of the apartment. I guess this is why it didn't feel like home very much for me, though the time we spent here was great! It's amazing how many parades, street performances and live music goes on here. And it wasn't for anything special that we could tell, it was just what was happening. Quite a cool spot. On the downside, it was a bit more touristy than I liked. Not a bad thing exactly, but it detracted a bit from my enjoyment. Though the plentiful coffee shops definitely helped to propel it higher on my ranking.
My favorite city so far though was the next place we spent a few days; San Cristobal. Less touristy than Oaxaca but still with a lot of culture. The weather was fantastic and cool, though sunny and warm in the daytime. Even better was the amazing place we stayed, extremely cheap and very clean with super nice owners. We even had Wilbur fully cleaned, inside an out. He was a bit messed up after we left him parked overnight under a tree that was apparently the place for birds to go shit. Totally covered in shit. I've never seen so much bird shit in one place, and it all was on Wilbur. Anyway, we had him cleaned up and it contributed to feeling good about our time in San Cristobal.
San Cristobal was awesome, and the Airbnb we stayed at was so nice!! Having a kitchen is becoming something I miss; maybe I would even say now that the kitchen is the heart of the house! (God help me I am losing my mind!! haha). But really it is very nice to have a kitchen, make my tea, cut some vegetable and fruits.. little things, but that become precious and very very enjoyable when you don't do them often. And in common house like we were in in San Cristobal, the kitchen is where you meet other people. And it is super nice to chat with other travelers while cooking and sharing recipe of tip about local products.
Another part of the city which I really enjoyed was the running.
There's a hill in the middle in the middle of the city you can run up/around/down and it makes for a beautiful and excellent workout. It's already rather high up (2200m/7200ft) so it's enjoyably taxing, and the views in the morning are spectacular. I think this also makes me feel more at home, wherever we actually are staying; following my few routines. Maybe it's going for a run, maybe it's going to a coffee shop to write, maybe it's taking a walk in the morning while Clo is still sleeping... these things really help me to feel relaxed and calm.
That's almost certainly the key to me feeling like I'm at home; being relaxed. The weather, a few routines, feeling healthy, satisfied with my activities for the day/week/year/etc, it all combines together in one big bundle where a significant part of the outcome is being relaxed. And when I feel relaxed, I feel at home. I was aware of this in general before we started on this trip, but it's certainly been made more clear how these things impact my overall mood.
The surroundings impact on my mood too for sure. Feeling like you belong is nice, I am for sure an ocean person, I feel very relax by the water. I am getting used to the mountain and the green , but there is always that claustrophobic feeling about too many green trees around. Being by the ocean, the endless horizon, the sensation of freedom and open possibilities is something I like a lot.
And speaking of mood, I've also realized how much Clo's mood impacts my own. It's awesome when she is excited and happy! After we left the amazing San Cristobal, we were back into the jungle. We hung out for a couple of days at the Agua Azul waterfall and then off to our first Mayan ruins in the jungle. And what a ruins it was! I've been to a few Mayan ruins in the past, but the Yaxchilán ruins were incredible. Not only was Clo extremely excited (it was her first ruins), but it turned out to be one of the highlights of the whole trip for me so far. It's hard to describe how cool it was but I'll give it a shot.
The hanging out and faking to have a normal life is very enjoyable to me. It's little things: having a real meal like a grilled fish (and not a sandwich in a tortilla or an avocado salad eaten at the back of Wilbur under 35 degrés celsius), or sitting down with a limonada and look at the kids playing soccer next door. With no rush or planning to do. Just enjoy the instant, and an instant that seems quiet "normal". Like a instant that could be an Home Instant. Got me?
Since I met Matt we have been living different places, short term and longer term. We have had our stuff in one place, went back to France, took more stuff in a suitcase, then move those stuff in boxes to be shipped to somewhere else, and then flew some stuff back to France cause I had nothing left there!! And now : I live out of a backpack and a shoe box. All that stuff trafficking was not that necessary I guess!! You just need a few thing that you feel comfortable in and that's it. Feeling at home in your clothes is a feeling too I guess!!
Back to Yaxchilán ruins. We started out in the morning as soon as we could. The ticket office opened at 8, so we walked there from where we slept in Wilbur and got our tickets. Then we walked across the street to where the boat was waiting (it costs ~1000 pesos for the whole thing; boat rental, ruin access, tickets, etc). As soon as we got close to the river, we noticed incredibly loud screams coming from across the river in Guatemala. They sounded suspiciously like the jaguar noisemakers we had seen hawkers trying to sell at the Teotihuacan pyramids in Mexico. They had to be some sort of speakers set up for ambiance, right? No way the noises were so loud, frequent and obnoxious... right? Nope. Wrong. We spent the next 45 minutes on the river looking for crocodiles (and we did see one) listening to the jaguars scream hello to us.
Then we arrived at the ruins. For two hours (until we left) we were the ONLY people there besides the one guy who took our tickets at the entrance (then he went back to work cleaning up from a storm the day before). The screams of jaguars were now on all sides of us (though less frequent since it was later in the morning), monkeys frolicked in the trees above us, birds flew everywhere and we felt like we were in the middle of nowhere in an abandoned and ancient city. Which is basically exactly what it was. Truly incredible. The pictures don't do it justice.
I tried my best but the pictures don't do it justice. The whole experience of getting there and being there by ourselves was just amazing. I don't even have the right words for it. Putain d'endroit de ouf quoi. Excuse my French!!
The next few days we saw a few more ruins (different and also cool, but not equal to the wow factor of Yaxchilan), I got a head cold that changed into a flu and finally we arrived in Merida.
We are going to spend a bit over two weeks here, partially to enjoy the Hanal Pixan (unique Yucatan version of Dias de los Muertos) celebrations and partially to relax and explore the region, city and other things. This was always part of our plan from the beginning of the trip, but so far I only had a chance to do it alone in Saltillo. I am really excited to spend this time here with Clo and see what we do. It should be a lot of fun!