Friday, October 17, 2014

Travel: It’s Not Always All It’s Cracked Up To Be


 The traffic rumbles by outside, and even though I can smell the ocean, the anxious ball in my chest has only slightly diminished since I stopped trying to navigate Ensenada’s streets. 

You want an actual confession from a travel addict, invisible audience? Travel can be terrifying and hard. 

I spent more than a month in Washington, getting myself psyched up for an open-ended trip to Baja, and spent a blissful three weeks meandering down the west coast, camping in State Parks, staring straight up at monstrous Redwood trees, and stopping to spend time with friends and family. 

As I got closer to my date to head to Mexico, I started to waffle. I pushed it back. I dragged my feet. I couldn’t bring myself to look into where I wanted to go. And then in one day I bought Mexican car insurance, booked a place to stay in Ensenada, and left, a ball of anxiety blooming in my chest even as I enjoyed the meandering road that took me out of San Diego and inland so I could cross in Tecate, a smaller and less intense border than Tijuana, I decided.

I literally drove across the border without speaking to a soul. I’d been told this was the case. I didn’t believe it. It’s true. It was easier than crossing into Canada, but our ideas of Mexico, even to a seasoned traveler, are pretty firmly entrenched. I got stopped in the middle of nowhere by a cop, who shook my hand, asked me to remove my sunglasses, asked where I was going and what I did for work and shook my hand as he wished me good day and waved me along. 

I drove through Mexico’s wine region, a mix of rolling hills and flat, wide valleys filled with vineyards and olive trees, and I was reminded of home by the dust and the slow, determined walk of the farmers. I made it to Ensenada as the sun started to set over the Pacific Ocean, and looked down on the glimmering bay catching the late afternoon sun.

I was too freaked out to head completely into town before I stopped at a hotel on the side of the freeway.

Why am I so nervous? Perhaps because I’ve never road tripped in a foreign country before – not when I was the only driver, anyway, and not including a long arduous trip along the Pan-American highway to take my friends to Panama City and jet back to Boquete in the rental car. That time I was so lacking in sleep and reeling at the loss of my friends that I didn’t have time to contemplate it much, AND I’d been in Panama for more than a year at that point.

It’s been a long time since I was in Mexico, and Mexico and I have both changed since then. Not only that, but this part of Mexico is utterly unfamiliar to me, even as I find familiarity in the people who smile, say nothing of my Spanish and simply welcome me as they would anyone else into their restaurants, their houses, their country. 

The parts of Mexico I adore have already surfaced to remind me of what I missed: brightly colored houses cascading down the hills in no particular order, colonial architecture, large smiles, food so good your eyes roll into the back of your head, the comforting lull of a dialect that was the first I learned and the one I struggle the least to understand, and just a little more disorder than we allow in the States – enough to feel like there’s still room for growth, love – for me. 

And yet I drove like an idiot through town this morning, terrified I was running stop signs and red lights because traffic lights are in different places, trying not to get too interested in all that was going on around me when I should be focusing on whether or not I could take a left – was anyone else taking a left – OH GOD IT’S A COP AND HE’S PASSING ME ON THE CURB OUT OF NOWHERE.

Let me just get one thing straight, invisible audience. I am NOT fearless. It is true that I can move forward despite fear, but that is completely different. And sometimes, by calling me fearless, or capable of conquering the world, or independent, you can make me feel pinned into a box that I often don’t belong in, nor do I want to. 

Something is shifting. It is not necessarily that my adventurous spirit has deserted me, but I have found myself craving something different lately, and it may or may not manifest into something different than what I thought I would do when I got to Mexico. I am craving a tangible community in a way I never have before. I do not want to start completely from scratch again. Call it what you will, but suddenly I am more interested in the adventure of deepening relationships than I am in the adventure of new faces. 

Where will this take me? I have absolutely no fucking idea. And that – plus the fact that I am looking at my travel bug, what’s comfortable and familiar, and perhaps deciding against it – is enough to make me terrified all over again. But even if I cannot claim fearlessness, I can claim the ability to walk into and out the other side of fear, and that feels more helpful in this case than fearlessness would. 

So tomorrow I will get in my car and drive again, because forward motion is the only goal here. There’s no destination in mind, only a direction, and all of those roads -- regardless of length, time or detours -- will inevitably lead me toward discovering my own version of home.

Love and forward moving kisses