We left Alexandria, Virginia, on August 1, with plans to be in Belize City on October 2. Coconut and J’s grandparents wanted to meet us somewhere and Belize in October seemed reasonable, though I’m sure we never looked at a map or actually figured out how many miles away it was and how many hours of driving would be required. R and I aren’t that type of overlander - detail oriented. We just kind of go with our gut. On September 16, when we were still stuck in Zihuatanejo, a great Mexican beach town on the Pacific side that we had stumbled into a week earlier without any idea of what we were getting into, we did the math and figured that Belize was still about a million miles away and that we could never get there in two weeks and a few days so we had a change of plans and took R’s parents to San Augustinillo, a different Mexican beach town on the Pacific side.
A change in plans – that’s pretty much been the story of our trip. By Christmas we thought we would be in Panama. Instead, we might leave Mexico and be in Guatemala. We spent our first week in Mexico at La Posada, north of Monterrey, where we only planned to spend a night. We spent four nights in San Miguel de Allende because we were having fun with Sean and Mittie, a whole week at Zihua; seven nights in Puerto Escondido; more than a month in Oaxaca; and now, a week plus in San Cristobal de las Casas which I was pretty much ready to skip except for a hot shower and hotel room pillow.
We crossed the border into Mexico on August 26, and if you add it all up, we’ve been here for more than 15 weeks when we only planned to spend about six. Overindulgence has always been part of my identity – too much of everything is just enough, as the Dead sing in “I Need a Miracle” – but I didn’t expect Mexico to grab me by the huevos like it has.
The natural beauty of the country is unbelievable – like nothing I have ever seen. Driving roads where the horizon lays out mountains on top of mountains is terrifying, okay, especially when you are driving the equivalent of a tricycle, but once you get past that, the feeling that vista gives you is tremendous - you feel wild; unhinged. Like anything can happen but it will all be fine. And the people are so friendly. How often have you said, “Hello. Good morning” to every single person you passed on the street, including those riding by in a taxi and the driver? And had it returned? Americans' perception of Mexico is so skewed by media portrayal that we should sue for libel. Is a bunch of guys standing on the corner drinking Coca Cola and eating grilled corn on the cob threatening to you? How about when they all raise their Styrofoam cups in recognition, genuinely smile, and say “Buenos noches”?
So, our plans have changed a lot and we’ve had a hard time getting out of Mexico. We haven’t needed an explanation because we haven’t asked any questions – we go with our gut. Along the way we’ve run into other folks who are wobbling from there to here, but no matter what song they’re singing, when we tell them how we’ve got stuck, it’s the same refrain: you’re doing the right thing. There’s no place like here and there’s no place like now if you’re enjoying yourself.
And we are. Since we arrived on Sunday at Rancho San Nicolas, with plans to spend a night or two, a family of four from Canada has pulled in next to us. An older couple from Switzerland who has been here before pulled in next to them, and a young couple from Switzerland who has not been to Mexico before but took 14 months to drive up from Uruguay pulled in next to them. This has driven the American who has been here for the last month to the corner of the grounds – not because he’s not social, but because too much English spoken outside his window breaks his concentration while he finishes his novel. On Friday night, we all went out to dinner.
On Friday morning I took a walk on the path that leads steeply up from the campground, crossed a few barbed wire fences to the top of the hill, and gathered my breath while I watched the mist rise from the fields. I came down along the road and took a path that led to a river where I saw an old man gathering sticks like gold from the bank to put on the fire where he was heating his breakfast. When I arrived back at camp at 8:30, J was in the common room. He had started a fire in the fireplace and was playing pool with his two new friends. Coconut, who will be a teenager on Monday and has been acting like one lately by sleeping to 10 a.m. or later, was not far behind. Before lunch, she was demonstrating to the boys how to draw a bow to shot an arrow, and actually joined the Wiffle Ball game, which the young Swiss guy joined too, after sitting and watching us for about a minute.
Coconut told us later in the day that she wanted to stay here until at least Tuesday. We planned to start our drive to Palenque, a major Mayan ruin, on Sunday, but now - what the hell? We may have lots of questions about what we’ve done, and what we are going to do, but there are no regrets.