Ship High In Transit
Scatter-brained, sometimes wasteful, always hungry, yet never bored; am I passing my time wisely? This question often pokes me in the chest with death’s bony finger when I catch myself glazed-over in front of a screen, or when I find myself fretting over an indestructible past or a potentially fictitious future. I find the ticking of mechanical clocks and watches unbearable, as it reminds me of the ever-present countdown which accompanies every fabricated second. Tiffany and I have been told what we are doing now is an “adventure”, an “epic road trip”, a “once in a lifetime opportunity to truly live and experience life”. I’m not convinced any of those statements accurately describes what we’re up to. I’ve referred to our trip as “Into the Mild”; I stand by that assessment.
It is important to remember, while the events unfolding in this journal were taking place, nearly 12 billion tons of Arctic ice melted away in a single day, dozens of people were shot to death by assholes in my home country, and all around the world people were suffering from disaster and misfortune of endless variety. So if you notice I’m complaining about the exceedingly mild calamities which were our spectacularly-bearable lot, rest assured I remain aware of this simple rule of thumb – Worse things have happened to better people.
We traveled from Guadalajara to Oaxaca over a few weeks to make it in time to pick up my mother at the airport in Oaxaca. Throughout this slice of our journey we both experienced pain, discomfort, illness, fun, joy, excitement, disappointment, and all of the sensations you will likely experience in the next few weeks; even if you have to do a job you dislike five days a week! So then, what is the point of traveling in a van, trudging through a language you barely grasp, and eating foods which may or may not cause your digestive system to erupt in protest like a population who have finally had enough of their oppressive leader? I honestly couldn’t tell you. However, I can tell you, even without a point, a clue, or a reason, I would rather do whatever “this” is than just about anything else.
Our first destination out of Guadalajara was the town of Chapala. Located on the beautiful Lake Chapala, we relished in the company of a variety of native dancers who were playing flutes and drums while dangling from a thirty-foot pole, suspended by rope. We wandered along long rows of craftsmen and artisans selling their wares along the Malecon. There were a variety of food stalls selling fried fish, pork products, juices, roasted corn, fresh tortillas and fresh fruit. The cobblestone streets overlooking the large lake were surrounded by green hills and mountains. Our weekday arrival afforded us views of the lake, with relatively few people to obscure it.
From the town of Chapala, we headed to the town of Ajijic. We were greeted by gringos con variety! Not just Americans from the USA, but Canadians have inhabited this town. The streets are fairly well populated with artists, craft shops, fancy restaurants and boutique hotels. Interspersed are the typical tiendas, weird markets selling random shit and a fair number of people walking around selling hats, hand made bracelets, blankets and the usual items we’ve been seeing since crossing the border. The main plaza is preternaturally charming. Beautifully landscaped with vibrant flowers, low bushes, healthy green leafed trees, stone pathways and side walks. The whole charming thing under the protective edifices of a church on one end, a theatre and a municipal building at another, and a loads of art galleries, cafes, ice cream shops and restaurants within a one block radius.
The next town over, Jacotopec, is a bit milder and genuinely a more Mexican sort of place. However, we did camp in a gringo-filled RV park/hotel/neighborhood on the edge of the town. The grounds of the park have several pools, more than one futbol field, a lighthouse overlooking the lake, a thermal pool, a number of cabanas, a few dozen camp sites for RV’s and little rooms to rent. There are also quite a few simple yet nice homes in the area.
The whole thing is done in a very rustic, yet elegant style. I often see this when Mexicans build estates, grand homes, hotels and ranches. Their style has this large, sweeping and easy sprawl to it; everything is grand and feels effortless. There is something graceful yet simple about using stone, metal and glass for the bulk of a building project. Sparse yet ornate woodwork lends warmth to these places as well. I also quite like the use of archways and unbroken expanses of large-square tile floors. The Roca Azul RV Park nailed it on this score.
Getting to Roca Azul, you drive from the main highway down a long cobblestone, tree-lined road. On either side of the road, for the majority of the drive, there are farms, fields and a few small homes. The road ends at a guard shack and a large metal gate. You can see the lush green grass, a few of the pools, some of the hotel and cabin areas from the front gate. Once you check in, which is as laid back and effortless as the building design, you are largely left alone to your own devices. We really enjoyed it. Pelé absolutely loved chasing a ball and playing on a completely empty soccer field several times a day.
We spent our first night in a lovely rain storm. We woke the next day to gentle rain on the roof. It was one of those beautiful mornings when there was nothing pressing on the agenda, the weather was not encouraging you to rush out of bed and the temperature was just right for staying under the covers. We eventually got up, played for a while with Pelé, then headed into the town of Ajijic for a hike.
Our hike took us up some steep and nearly jungle-like terrain. It was fabulous to work up a sweat in those hills. Every mile or so, you were gifted with a fabulous view of the town, the lake and the mountains beyond. The weather was nearly perfect. Warm, clear skies in one direction, with a massive storm cloud to the north. This made the slight breeze, which was blowing from that direction, nice and cool. The storm clouds also made for an additional dramatic view to the North.
After our hike, Tiff was in the mood for something fresh. Thanks to the chic influence of Canadians and Californians, there are health food stores and restaurants in Ajijic. Tiff stopped at one of them and was over the moon with her choices of salads. I opted for an Arabic food truck around the corner. Her meal, a salad, guacamole and a smoothie was nearly $12. My meal of a pita bread sandwich and a delicious side salad was about $5. Amazingly, we both overpaid by local standards.
We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the town, landing the occasional conversation with a local, or a shop keeper, but mostly just wandering. That evening, we headed back to our strange campsite to do some maintenance on the van and to catch up on some writing.
The guys who replaced our windshield did not do a very good job of dealing with the paint which was chipped by the removal of the broken windshield. I asked them to at least scuff and prime the area under the windshield before installing the new one; they did not. So, I happen to have painter’s tape, sand paper and some bright red paint on deck and did the best I could.
The following morning, we headed into the town of Jacotopec for breakfast. Their town square, while super charming in it’s own right, is not nearly as influenced by Californians and Canadians, and had what felt like only two tourists in it…and their little dog, of course. The bustling plaza was filled with locals heading to work, getting breakfast and running errands. I was in the mood for birria again, this time I wanted to try the stew.
We found a little place which wasn’t quite ready to be open, but seated us anyway. The delicious and somewhat spicy stew comes with a large scoop of slow cooked goat meat, a bright red and tangy broth, fresh chopped onions, lime and a picante salsa for good measure. They had not yet chopped up the cilantro which would normally accompany this dish, but they did manage to make five or six hearty little corn tortillas to go with it.
The meal was delicious, but the ambiance was a little strange. There were competing soundtracks happening in the town square. The square itself has a lovely speaker system which was playing classical music and old traditional Mexican music at the perfect volume. There was also a small fitness center located on the second floor of a nearby building which was blasting some overdriven speakers with up-tempo workout music. The instructor of the fitness class was yelling at the students in a high pitched, staccato and nearly breathless voice. The clash of these two rival musical journeys made for a unique sonic landscape which I am mercifully unlikely to be able to reproduce again in my life.
We took our time walking around town after breakfast. As a matter of fact, my sweet wife joined me for breakfast, but declined to eat anything other than a tortilla, so we had to sort out breakfast for her after I ate (this decision was reached by committee…I’m not an asshole). She made herself a healthy breakfast in the van and took it to go as we wandered about the town. We hit a small outdoor market and bought some fruit for the road. While we were shopping, several people approached us and asked us for money. Including a woman in her seventies. I wish I had more to give.
It honestly hurts me to have to tell someone the same age as my mother that I don’t have any pesos to give her. It hurts for a number of reasons. For one, I’m usually lying. I have pesos on me, but not always in denominations which lend themselves to direct charitable contributions. I can’t very well ask the lady to break a $500 peso note! Restaurants and shops have a hard time keeping enough change on-hand. Secondly, it hurts because I see an unsettling sadness in their eyes as person after person passes them by without even any eye contact. When I approach someone on the street asking for money, I always look into their eyes, smile and say hello. That sadness I see often breaks a little, like when it is bright and sunny in one direction and dark clouds hang in another. When those people smile back at me, I can’t tell if it’s because they are happy to have some measure of affection, or if they are anticipating some dollars to flow from my hands. In either case, I more often than not, wind up saying (read, lying), ‘lo siento, no tengo efectivo.’
We left Jacotopec and headed to, according to our guide book, the Switzerland of Mexico; Mazamitla! I’ve been to a few places which claim to be “the Switzerland” of so and so. I’ve also been to Switzerland, and can honestly say, that having mountains, nice wood work, cozy places to eat expensive food, and even having liberal social policies does not exactly make a place a “Switzerland”. Honestly, what makes a place a “Switzerland” is having a shit-load of Swiss people in it. Everywhere else which is the “Switzerland” of some other place is likely to be a place where charming meets expensive. Mazamitla confirms my theory nicely.
That is not to say we didn’t like Mazamitla; we did! It is charming, a bit more expensive in some places, and is almost completely devoid of Swiss people. There are a rather disproportionate number of places to buy cheese though. It’s worth the visit if you want to walk around a charming place, eat cheese, and hear music at volumes and varieties you will NEVER hear in Switzerland.
I’d like talk for a moment about something I think everyone has experienced. If you are absolutely disgusted by the discussion of bodily functions, you are going to want to give a few paragraphs a pass. I’ll warn you again when we get closer to the gross bit with a handy little symbol, this one should do *. I had an experience recently which I would like never to repeat, but I fear may be something I am going to face again in the future; debilitating, late night and super painful diarrhea (thanks spellcheck)!
The morning before we reached Guanajuato, Tiffany and I stopped to have breakfast in a small town called Vista Hermosa De Negrete (VHDN). VHDN is a small farming community about 2 hours from Mazamitla. On Saturday morning, the town square and several side streets are occupied by a scattered farmer’s market. There is no real hope of tourists coming through, so the wares and food items being sold are meant for locals. Fortunately for us, the prices reflect this.
There are stalls selling and butchering live chickens, live fish, and recently-live pigs, goats and cows. Other booths were making fresh fruit juices (which some customers request to drink from plastic bags), other booths have fresh bread, and others have fresh fruit and vegetables. Some are selling an assortment of toasters, electric knives and other small electronics. However, some are little restaurants. The fare ranged from tacos to birria to little tacitos filled with beans and potatoes. There was also a guy just selling instant coffee, tea and hot water.
I was excited to eat the goat stew again, and Tiffany was enchanted by the hilarious lady making the fruit juices. We split up, I got the instant coffees together, and Tiffany ordered herself a few of the little bean and potato tacitos and an enormous fruit drink (Bananas, papaya, strawberry milk, nuts, bran, oats and a few other things which she couldn’t easily identify). The simple task of getting the coffees took me forever; I can’t help but entangle myself in conversations, and ended up speaking with a guy called Pacco. I ordered my coffee in Spanish, but he answered me in perfect English. Any chance I get, I ask people where they learned to speak English, Pacco told me he had recently been deported after 35 years of living and working in Sacramento.
He was an interesting guy. When Pacco was 15 years old, his family moved from the little town of VHDN to Sacramento, California. He told me about the shame he felt before he could communicate with other kids in English; this prompted him to learn the language as fast as he could. He seemed very happy to have a conversation with me in English, and excused my poor Spanish as “Not Bad at all”. Pacco told me he had his own construction company in the Sacrmento area for 15 years. One evening Pacco, his wife and his son got into a somewhat drunken and heated argument. His son grabbed his wife by the arm and bruised her. She called the police, and Pacco was arrested.
Shortly after his arrest, the first in his life, he was sent to anger management classes, paid a number of large fees, including attorney fees, and court costs, and though he was on the right track to heading back to his normal life. Two days later, Immigration officials visited him on a jobsite, put him in handcuffs, and took him away. That was about a year ago.
He was with another woman now, and was selling herbs, hot coffee and tea in a market in a town he said he only remembered from his childhood. He missed his old life in Sacramento, but knew he could never go back. His honesty, the heavy regret in his voice, and his powerful need to tell me this story over a 20 peso transaction made the whole thing feel like a confession.
Tiffany had been sitting patiently over her breakfast, waiting for her coffee when I showed up. I set them down, then headed over to the booth next door to inquire about the soup they were making.
People who make birria all have a similar set up. There is a large pot of red/orange broth on a low burner. Next to the burner is a round, thick, wooden cutting board which is usually worn down into a bowl shape. A pile of plastic plates, bowls and cutlery are stacked up to one side, and a separate cutting board and knife are on standby to cut limes, onions and cilantro. To the other side, there is a tortilla press and a flat iron griddle where the tiny genius who makes the tortillas performs her magic.
This booth was operated by a husband and wife team. The husband was making the stew and chopping up the goat, while the wife prepped the garnish and made the tortillas. It smelled fantastic, looked delicious and it was exactly what I wanted for breakfast. There was another woman who was handling transactions, delivering food and cleaning up the tables. I mistook her for the sister of the tortilla lady, but she told me they were just friends. The three of them laughed and somewhat marveled at the tall, white weirdo who was ordering food in a child’s Spanish. They were cool with me taking my food over to the booth next door so I could eat with my wife. They made an enormous bowl of the beautiful soup for me, and handed me a hand made basket full of freshly made tortillas. I piled my soup with the fresh onions, cilantro and one of the less spicy salsas on the table. I paid 30 pesos for the whole thing, and they didn’t want any tip.
When I finally sat down with Tiffany, the lady who had been cleaning up and taking money brought me a lime and several more tortillas, and told me to just ask if I wanted more. I ate every bit of that delicious meal, and shared my tortillas with Tiffany. I tried and liked her juice drink, and we both were surprised at how good the instant coffee was. In all, the experience was friendly, touching, a little sad, but mostly fun, delicious and crazily inexpensive. We bought some fruit from one stand, a little sweet bread from another, then hit the road for the historical and beautiful town of Guanajuato; where, as I write this, I’m recovering from a violent and uncomfortable night dealing with the breakfast I just described to you.
We made it to Guanajuato after a beautiful drive through central Mexico. The mountains and hills were green and rolling, and the road conditions were fantastic. When we made it into the city, we quickly realized the driving directions provided by Google Maps would have to be taken with a grain of salt.
The streets of Guanajuato are not large. In fact, they are often just wide enough for a normal car to pass down them without any issues. We do not drive a normal car. The van, La Sonadora, is about twenty-two feet long, and about nine feet tall. She isn’t exactly light on her feet either at about 7,500 pounds.
We climbed up the incredibly steep and equally narrow streets until we reached our destination for the next few days. It was biled as an “RV” park, but in reality, it was a couple of houses behind a large gate, and a few places to park large vans. There were nice bathrooms with showers available for “campers”, and there was even water and electricity available. The view from our parking spot was fantastic!
We parked the van, put a leash on the dog and headed into the city. It was a fairly quick walk down the hill into the city center. On the way, I saw an older woman carrying two heavy bags crossing a foot bridge over a large ravine. I asked her if I could help her carry her bags, and she took me up on my offer. I suddenly became aware of just how much I take for granted my ability to walk without much difficulty. We followed this tiny yet incredibly strong and ancient woman for a few hundred yards, and up an impressive number of stairs to her home. She chatted with us the whole way, and was happy to have had a little help. When we finally reached her door, she thanked us and waited for us to go away before unlocking her gate.
A few moments later, I realized just how far she must have walked with her bags before we showed up. The closest place to get any type of groceries was many blocks away from the bridge where we first encountered her, all of it up hill from that point. We were impressed.
Guanajuato is a lovely and vibrant city. There are museums, a large university, places of cultural and historical value, and lots of delicious places to eat. It is the birthplace of the artist, Diego Rivera, there is a museum dedicated to Cervantes, a museum of mummified bodies, an underground river system which has been convereted into a maze for cars to get lost in, and enough charming little squares to film a love scene a day for a month. The place is thick with a history rich with greed, treachery and revolution. You can see the remnants of it once having been the richest town in all of Mexico in the churches, Spanish Colonial buildings and the madness of the aging yet monumental infrastructure.
We spent hours walking around, drinking coffee in a beautiful square, and watching the sunset over the city from a vantage point at the top of yet another hill. We were enchanted by the picturesque beauty and the vibrant atmosphere of the city. We were looking forward to seeing more of it the following day. After about a 45 minutes of vigorous hill climbing, we made it back to the van just before the rain started to rinse the town. 45 minutes after that, the rain began to pressure wash the streets. Sleep was on our minds.
Remember this little guy * ? It’s time to talk about gross things…
*Can you remember the last time you felt nauseous? How about the last time you woke in the middle of the night with little time to spare to get from your sheets to the toilet? Can you recall the sensation of your bowels turning circles and doing back-flips, all while cramping as you sat doubled over with a trash can below your face, just in case you vomited between bouts of violent diarrhea?
I can recall all of these sensations quite vividly. In fact, I can recall every detail of my experience, most of which I will spare you, but there are a few things I’d like to share about what went down that woeful and bowel-splintering evening. For one, this all took place moments after the afore mentioned heavy rain had stopped for the night, so I consider myself quite fortunate. Secondly, we were parked in a little “RV” park which had flushing toilets. We are about 20 yards down hill from these toilets, so I am fortunate this didn’t happen when we were parked on a city street, or in the middle of nowhere. We have a small toilet in our van, but we only use that for the first and last piss of the night, when another option is not convenient or not available. So far, neither of us has shit in it. It is one of my goals on this trip to never shit in it. I came awfully close. I consider myself lucky on this count as well.
Before I laid down for the night, I wasn’t feeling exactly excellent. I was experiencing some stomach pain, and a rather significant uptick in flatulence. This is never a welcomed development when two people are spending time together, it is even less welcome those two people are spending time in a van. Thankfully, our vent fan works quite well in these moments.
It began raining around 9PM, and it was really coming down when I finally managed to fall asleep around 10PM. At about 12:45AM, I woke in a panic! A sharp pain shot straight through my stomach, just below my bellybutton and seemed to land on my spine. I knew I only had a few moments to pull on some pants, find my flip-flops, grab my head lamp, get up the hill to the bathroom before I shit myself. I was disoriented, nauseous and suddenly sweating. I didn’t bother with a shirt, I opened the sliding door to the van, and tried my best to get up that hill with my dignity intact. Mercifully I made it without incident.
I was on that toilet for at least 30 minutes. The crazy town of Guanajuato was wide awake. I could hear loud music coming from every direction. Dogs were barking, howling and wailing from even more directions. I heard cars, trucks, horns, alarms, human voices, and just about every man made noise short of actual building construction, floating up the hill where we were parked and landing in my very troubled brain.
I thought of early humans. What was their experience when they ate the wrong foods, and ended up in this state? I could comfort myself with thoughts of renting a room to stay in with a toilet near the bed, or even going to a hospital if it got too bad. I even thought at any moment, Tiffany would notice I was gone, begin to worry about me, and come looking for me. What did the early human mind link to for comfort? Did a woman doubled over behind a bush, with her insides turning over like a stone down a hill think of her mother? Maybe she knew it would pass, and remained calm. She could just as easily have been completely panicked and worried she might die. Perhaps we were more like the rest of the animal kingdom then, and managed to stay in the moment, focusing solely on the sensations, and not about the past or future.
Whatever the case may have been for those people so long ago, I felt a sadness for my ancestors, knowing they went through this same torture, perhaps without a specific meal to blame for their plight. I can tell you, picturing the unwashed hands of the charming people who made my soup that morning, or the unsanitary conditions of the food preparation area, where they kept the dishes, and the table upon which I ate the soup did wonders for me in my hour of need. I’m kidding, of course. None of those things did anything to assuage the grief of those first 30 minutes on the can.
I managed to come to a resting point in my bouts of nausea, where the urge to shit and or vomit was at a low enough ebb where I could stand up, wash my hands and head back to my comfortable bed. By this point, I was also shivering uncontrollably, my head was pounding, and my muscles were aching from my face down to the joints in my toes.
To my complete and total surprise, Tiffany had managed to sleep through the whole ordeal, and didn’t even realize I was gone. I laid down in my bed, covered up, shivering for a few minutes before I had to, once again, rush to the toilet. This time, I already had my pants on, and needed only to grab a shirt before I took off.
I would repeat that cycle at least six more times throughout the night. At 6:30AM, I took my last emergent trip up the hill. My ordeal with the punishing shits had ended. After that, I managed to sleep until about 10AM. I felt awful about sleeping so late into the day. Tiffany was super excited to see more of the city of Guanajuato, but instead had been waiting around on me as I languished in bed.
I finally dragged myself out of bed around 11, stopped writing about the experience, took a cold shower, got dressed and was ready to go. Instead of walking again throughout this beautiful, maze-like city of hills, I had to call an Uber to take us to town. The Uber driver was one of the calmest suicidal people I’ve ever known. He calmly drove at top speed down hills. He nonchalantly passed a motorcycle around a blind curve, and with unflappable disinterest, he darted through narrow streets, barely missing pedestrians and other vehicles. His disregard for his own safety was not put in-check until crazy traffic forced him to slow down and drive like a semi-normal human being.
I’ve noticed something about people in Mexico. This is not meant to apply to every single Mexican, but so far, as a general rule, I think it maps onto reality quite nicely. People here are incredibly relaxed when it comes to stimulus which would otherwise piss off someone from the west. They don’t ever really seem to be in much of a hurry, but when it comes to closing the distance between points A&B, they don’t fuck around. People drive fast, make crazy moves, and do everything they can to be going as fast as possible, but they don’t appear to be in a hurry. It just seems like the need to get to the next place is paramount, and everything, including the personal safety of themselves and others just doesn’t really matter much.
I’ve noticed the same code expressed in restaurants. Both patrons and wait staff are ready to make and take orders for food and drinks incredibly quickly by western standards. The meal is by no means rushed, and the waiters never seem to want you to piss off as soon as you are done eating. In fact, if you don’t ask for the check, you probably won’t get it. Closing the gap between points A&B absolutely has to happen right away, just don’t be a dick about it.
There is something confident and certain in this which I appreciate. They know what they want to eat and drink, that’s why they picked that type of restaurant/taco stand, etc. They are confident in their driving, and know that no one else actually wants to die on the road, and so long as the person coming around the corner isn’t a tourist, a head-on collision feels unlikely. I admire this confidence and certainty. I fear it, but I respect it. One can only hope it doesn’t end with an Uber driver crashing through the grille of our van.
We spent another half a day wandering around Guanajuato, walking among the beautiful colonial Spanish buildings and enjoying the colorful markets. We were a mere single Uber ride away from our little red home.
Oh yeah, six hours later it was Tiffany’s turn to atone for her sins against Montezuma!
On our way out of town the following day, we stopped at the mummy museum in downtown Guanajuato. This museum is worth visiting, for sure. However, it is worth noting, if you do visit this museum, be sure to do a little research on the contents of the museum before you go, as there will be very little information shared with you once you pay your entrance fee and wander around inside. You will see mummies of unknown ages, as no sign will tell you how old they are now, or how old they were at the time of death. You won’t necessarily know where these poor souls are from, how they died, what their actual names were, why they are in these glass cases, or why they had to be exhumed n the first place. There are a few little placards at the bases of a few of the exhibits, but mostly, you are free to wander about with only your imagination as a guide. I do not mind this one bit, but if you hope to learn anything about the mummies, it is best to do a little research before you go have a look at them.
We were spit out of Guanajuato like a broken tooth, and made our way to the scenic and laid-back city of San Miguel De Allende. San Miguel is what you hope a city will be when you read about it in a guide book. The photo opportunities are abundant, the buildings are old and colorful, the streets are filled with shops, food and locals bustling about. The surrounding hills are green, lush and often sensuously blanketed with misty clouds. In short, it is yet another in a string of charming Mexican towns.
There has been a dramatic uptick in deadly violence in the city as the new government is making equally violent efforts to “crack down” on crime, specifically crime generated by narcos. This violence is spilling over to the large number of tourists and American and Canadian ex-pats who inhabit the city. We heard from several people who had been living in the city for some time that things were getting scary, and genuine fear had settled in with locals and tourists alike. We ended up staying there for four days.
Within 45 minutes of our arrival in town, we found ourselves at a really cool little restaurant within three blocks of the somewhat posh little RV park where we made our home-base. The restaurant was called “Ten Ten Pie” (Pie is pronounced “pee-eh”). We were looking forward to eating something other than typical Mexican food, and were excited by the promise of burgers for me, and fresh veggies for both of us. Ten Ten Pie did not disappoint.
The food was fantastic, the service was great, and the music was not traditional Mexican. Our waitress was singing along to the “Pixies” at one point. She was absolutely adorable, and handled the other older gringos in the restaurant like old friends. I asked her if she knew of any interesting people we might interview for the podcast. When she did not immediately suggest herself, I had a hunch she might be just who I was looking for. It turns out I was correct. You can listen to our conversation with Fernanda Reyes here!
After our delicious, Americanized meal, we needed a walk. San Miguel, like many cities in Mexico, is filled with sidewalks which look like the apocalypse got a head start. Honestly, I was much more prepared for poor road conditions than I have been for the conditions of the sidewalks. The roads are an improvement upon the walking conditions, for sure.
We walked aimlessly about town, looking at churches, squares, interesting shops, and gradually made our way to the grand overlook which sits above the city. We spent a little bit of time wandering around the top of the town, then decided to head back to the campground, via a beautiful park. About three minutes into our downhill journey, my right foot landed in between a cracked sidewalk and a slippery rock. All of my weight was coming down on that leg as my foot rolled under the momentum and weight of my clumsy body, and my ankle popped like a bunch of celery being broken by a chimp. In an attempt to recover and get the weight off of my ankle, I tumbled into the street and rolled like drunken gymnast back to my feet.
I have sprained that same ankle nearly a dozen times since I was in high school. I know what it feels like at every stage of the injury, from the moment of the insult, to the end of the recovery period. This one was particularly bad. Honestly, it was one of the worst ones I’ve experienced in my life. At this point, when I sprain this ankle, my foot pops out of socket and turns completely sideways until I pop it back in place. It is not nice, to say the least.
Tiffany and Pelé were behind me when I took my decidedly graceless tumble into the street. She thought I had fallen, and was worried that I had hurt my arm. I was up immediately and hobbling down the hill. I know that when this happens, as soon as I sit down, I am not likely to get back up again, as the swelling will take over and I won’t be able to put weight on the foot without great pain, so I kept on moving.
We were a little over a mile from our van, and the majority of the remaining distance was downhill from where I hurt myself. Needless to say, it was a difficult trip. We stopped for ice and anti-inflammatory drugs on the way back. I showered, Tiff made me an ice pack, and I crawled into our bed. I would sit there for the next day and a half.
Fortunately, I had nothing else to do, and the RV park had a solid WIFI conection, so I reached out to my friend and the patron saint of our journey, Dr. Chris Ryan to introduce him to some of my friends in Colorado, where he was traveling at the time. In typical fashion, Chris responded with a contact who lives about two miles from where I was convalescing.
Dr. Uncle Chris Ryan made introductions between his friend Dan and I. As it happens, Dan is a prolific and incredibly accomplished comic artis. For 33 years, seven days a week, Dan Piraro wrote, sketched and published a comic per day for his brain-child comic, named Bizarro Comics.
After my long recovery (which wasn’t long enough), Tiffany, Dan and I made plans to have lunch and possibly record a podcast. Dan was quite busy with a few projects, so his time was limited. We made fast friends, and turned what was meant to be a quick, one hour meeting into a five hour hang out. You can listen to Dan’s episode of the podcast HERE!
Dan’s dogs and his beautiful and talented wife, Christy were a delight to meet. We would have loved to spend much more time with them, but we needed to hustle to Oaxaca to pick up my mom, who would be there in two days. Oaxaca city was more than 12 hours drive from San Miguel De Allende.
The drive was more and more beautiful as we got closer to the state of Oaxaca. The states of Hidalgo and Puebla are filled with beauty, and we hope to return to see a bit more of it. We bypassed Mexico City and a dozen other places we wanted to visit in something of an excited hurry. I was buzzing from my meeting with the talented and inspirational Dan Piraro, and was overjoyed to be on my way to see my mom.
We did manage to spend one night in a tiny village in the mountains on the way there. On the way into the village, I hit the brakes and drove in reverse for over 100 yards to capture the image below.
We were stopped outside the gate of a little school in the middle of nowhere and were confronted with a rather dire yet compelling piece of outdoor art. The students of this rural village painted a mural depicting a series of results form man made climate change. I was touched and saddened by such a relatively innocent group of people feeling the weight of culpability for what human beings have done to the world in which we live. My heart honestly broke a little for them and for all of us. So what did I do with this heartbreak? I put my idling diesel engine back into gear, and drove myself, my hungry dog and my childless wife back to the road, and continued our journey with just a little bit more than the normal amount of guilt and existential angst.
The following morning, we climbed up to the peaks which we had been sleeping under. The mountains were covered in large oaks and a variety of trees I’m too dumb to identify. Amazingly, there were large and crazy looking cactus dotted throughout the forests up to a certain elevation. It was a stunning drive.
It took us several hours to travel the mere 65 miles between where we stayed the night and the city of Oaxaca. After a meal, a walk about town and a little airport parking lot van clean up, we walked into the Oaxaca airport and were greeted by a smile and voice so familiar and delightful to me that I nearly cried; my mom had flown from Memphis, TN to Oaxaca, Mexico by way of Atlanta, GA and Mexico City, just to hang out with us.
I’ll talk about our visit and our time in Oaxaca in the next journal entry. However, as I limped subtly around on my bum ankle, and suspiciously eyed all of the delicious food within reach, I though about my parents in a strange light.
One’s parents watch in a somewhat helpless state as their little ones make their way in a dangerous and indifferent world. A crocodile will eat a human with the same indifference with which it dines on any other animal. Microbes, viruses and illness of all variety have no filter to discern between sinners or saints. Opportunity is opportunity, food is food, and fate doesn’t care if your parents loved you or gave you away at the moment of birth.
My mother, who objectively loves me in a way I haven’t the experience to understand, is completely powerless to prevent the ankle twisting, the dangerous drivers or the poor sanitary conditions where I eat so many of my meals. In spite of this lack of agency over the safety and outcome of her children’s lives, she is available for love, conversation and support, whenever we need it.
Her capacity to work through her fears of the cruel indifference of the universe is tempered by faith in a loving god, and years of experience helping people die with dignity. I am remarkably fortunate to have this in my life, and I hope if you have something similar in your life, you take the time to acknowledge anyone who affords you such a gift.
The distance between nourishment and death
Is covered by hope
The journey between lovers and enemies
Is traveled by broken hearts
The gap which breaks an ankle
Gives an unhurried gift
The ground which receives your knees in prayer
Is waiting to devour your corpse
The time you spent reading this
Will never return the favor
In-Between Impulse and Echo
The good ones make a sweeter sound