More from my backlog, this was written June 23rd, 2016, in the days following the massacre in Orlando, the uprising in Oaxaca, the execution of Jo Cox, and other events that comprised the “bad two weeks” that most of us wish never happened. Being abroad in Mexico was a weird thing then, and this was me trying to work through that.
I’m living the dream, right? Abroad. Far from everything that ties me down and hinders my life. That’s the nomad world. 275 days of being adrift. (Ed. Note: 320 now.)
Well, it doesn’t always feel like a dream. It’s a surreal mix of amazing meets isolated.
A general malaise has been hard to shake for days now. It’s been a bad two weeks in Mexico, a bad two weeks anywhere.
The Bad Two Weeks Breakdown
A madman gunned down a nightclub of gay Latinos. Just days before, Oaxaca, Mexico, erupted in bloody violence that saw at least nine dead and dozens injured. A British politician was executed by a neo-Nazi in attempts to disrupt an election. One of my favourite actors died in a bizarre accident when his car pinned him to a pillar, and a singer I respected was executed by some dude for apparently no reason at all.
On top of all that, my dad sits lonely in a hospital with a broken foot, too ill of health and too large to make it around with crutches. He’s trapped until he proves he’s mobile again, and I can’t even talk to him on the phone.
It’s been 11 days of senseless violence, political futility, mired in existential angst. I’d be depressed if I was living Life as Usual back in Canada, but I’m in central Mexico and I only left Oaxaca a few weeks ago. Am I depressed?
Sometimes it’s hard for me to take myself seriously as I live abroad because I forget it’s not a vacation. It’s a different life but with all the same challenges, pains, and adversities, plus a few more thrown in for good measure.
A Different Life with Same Struggles
For me, it’s been a stretch fraught with loneliness and anxiety for days now. My anxiety is at such a pitch that I turned down an opportunity to do daily Spanish classes because it would interfere with my work time-management. I can’t decide, though, if that’s anxiety as much as pragmatic realism, but my pride wears the latter better.
It’s in this mindset I resume writing my memoirs of my first months abroad in Europe. It’s this darkness of late that makes me feel a fraud, because I can’t pretend the nomad life is all sunshine and roses. And do I share this with you? I don’t know. Do you readers seek only a slice of the inimitable dream of throwing it all away and taking to the road? That’s all it is, a dream, because life follows you no matter what the compass reads.
The Duplicity of Travel
I know other people who are better “travellers” than I am, because they’re more adventure-y and thing-do-y, but I’m contented to live almost a postage-stamp life abroad; getting to know neighbourhoods and keeping life simple. Simplicity is almost a lost art, and what I need after a rollercoaster five years.
Sometimes people who do the most are those who seem the least content to me, but they’re better distracted from minutiae than I am. A week like these past two have been, and my simplicity fails to mask the sadness and destruction in the general world. I too am embroiled in a quagmire of discontent that finds those at home, for I am not on vacation, I’m not doing astounding things, I am simply in other places.
The Salve of Pretense
Today, in a guise of pretending I’m not far flung from home, I’ve found a Starbucks and a Frappuccino. I’m 6,000 kilometres from home but my drink tastes and looks like it would in Vancouver. Sometimes, these industrial giants make us most feel tethered to everything we’ve walked away from. Ironic that it takes the machinations of industry to give me a taste of everything I find familiar.
My morning was spent wondering if Mexico is my problem. I spiralled down into the travel rabbithole today. Flights from Spain to Greece to Istanbul. Climates in Bulgaria and the Balkans. What does Sarajevo look like? Should I go to Izmil? Where in Greece are their airports? When should I go to which, and why?
(Ed. note: Dark irony: Turkey has since suffered a fail coup and a “suspension” of human rights. So much for that plan.)
The Dark Heart of Mexico
I like Guanajuato, and I’m enjoying Mexico more than I expected, but I’ll never really love Mexico. My heart is in Europe. The heart wants what it wants, man.
People told me for months, “Oh, don’t worry about Mexico, it’s fine, it’s safe, it’s like America—just don’t go to Baltimore… or Acapulco.” Then nine people were murdered blocks from where I lived a spell, erasing my naivety. That jarred me more than any American mass shooting has, because I foolishly expected a relatively calm time in Oaxaca. Instead, I missed a violent uprising by three weeks. My eyes opened wide to the darkness of corruption and oppression Mexico lives in.
One man told me he didn’t think Mexico could climb out from under the corruption in his lifetime. “In your children’s?” I asked. He furrowed his brow and shook his head with sadness. No, not then either. Corruption, it seems, courses through the oscuro corazon Mexicano — the dark heart of Mexico.
Here, yes, it feels safe and I enjoy the vibe I’ve found, but it’s still Mexico, and that oppression seldom sinks far below the surface, I find.
Dreaming of Europe
Lately, I’ve been thinking of the civility of much of Europe. The wine, the cheese. Schnitzel.
This time, I will plan Europe better. Three months in Schengen, three months out. Comme ci, comme ca. Back in, back out, unless I find somewhere I want to call home a while, a list I hope Tbilisi, Georgia, finds itself on.
For now, though, the realization escalates: I am the proverbial ship without a port, the class lesson without a plan, the aimless soul. I am of no fixed address.
There is much freedom in that but also much flailing. At times I feel I’m still in fake-it-till-you-make-it mode, but at least I’m drinking cocktails and living the good life while I do.
The Illusion Snaps
This Starbucks is a magnet for beggars. Shrewd children enter in attempts to scam coins off tourists who don’t understand. Frequently these children are in forced-labour situations and those coins go to an overlord keeping them on a tight leash. Cue the women with children in snugs, seeking coins, with clothes too nice and moves too orchestrated, methods down pat.
And so this short-term fake “home” vibe granted by a global chain has been broken. There is no home, not for me, not anymore.
If you’re buying the dream of what a travel life can be, it’s important to understand this is all part of it. It’s a constant awareness of how good you left things back home, and how you might be here, but you’ll never really feel as though you’re of here.
I understand that now, and I guess I understood it a hell of a lot earlier than this.
Tallying it Up
Would I change my mind and shorten my plans, make this life less ambitious?
No. Not at all. The longer I’m here, the more I realize I’m cut out for this life and it’s all gonna be okay. I often wonder, in fact, despite all this, if five years will be long enough.
Yeah, bleak and dark points are more frequent than I would have imagined. Right now, I’m struggling to bring in money. Not because I want more money, but because I need it. That’s never a happy-fun-fun time for anyone, whether you’re sitting in central Mexico eating “drunken guacamole” made with tequila like I am right now, or not.
But, here, I can afford to dine out while the struggle stays real. At home, with my current income, my credit would vanish at three to four times the pace it is here. I wouldn’t be dining out. I wouldn’t even be buying coffee.
In Mexico, in this economy, it’s worth it for me to eat out and chase my dreams rather than waste my time cooking at home, and that’s a beautiful thing, because food is culture.
A Different Day Awaits
Soon, I’ll return to Europe, from which I fled with tail between my legs, and I’ll redeem myself. I’ll do the travels I should have done first – the budget-friendly Balkans and crushed-economy Greece.
Despite my struggles, the world’s grief, dark weeks, and all this, I wouldn’t change this dream of mine. I’ll make it work and have the life I seek. I’ll overcome my odds and come shining out the other side of it all. I don’t know how, but I’ve had too many serendipitous moments telling me that the future is there for the taking.
Post-Script: Since this was written, I have bought my flight to Prague, Czech Republic, and paid for one month in a small town in the south of Czech. I paid $444 for a one-way flight that I have since seen priced between $650 and $1,230. Not too shabby. Yes, I will return to Europe.