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.
I have enjoyed reading several of your blog posts!
You are a good writer and don’t try to “sugar coat” things but instead try to be honest.
If you don’t mind a couple “constructive criticism” observations:
1. You just paid in advance for a whole month – sight unseen – AGAIN? In previous blog posts you seemed to say you had learned your lesson about that. Why not get a hotel room for 2 or 3 nights. Then decide if you even like the neighborhood, or even the entire city for that matter. Then you have a few days to look around for an apartment in the neighborhood you like best. Or bail out if you don’t like it there.
2. Sorry if this is rude but it seems to me you don’t like anywhere you ARE but dream of how it’s going to be great in the NEXT place. It’s even cringe inducing, to read your posts describing how the next place you’re going to will be wonderful — just knowing that the post you write when you actually get there is going to be such a let down for you. You romanticize about the future places you are going. And, next time I’ll do it differently!
Not to dishearten you, I hope, I think it’s brave of you to do this nomad thing and try to live your dreams! Most people never do. We only get this one shot at life so why not go for it!
I actually loved Madrid and the Azores and Lisbon and Croatia and Scotland too, but life was hard on me in Croatia, but I really want to return there for more, so they didn’t scare me off! In Porto, I stayed with a couple pissy men who didn’t seem to understand why I didn’t feel like playing tourist in one of their wettest months in history, and instead stayed inside. At the same time, my currency lost 20% of its value while I was losing income, and by March I had lost 60% of my income, which I can happily say I am FINALLY signing a contract today that replaces it. I learned the hard way to never book a place without a kitchen.
It’s my first year travelling, and I’ve had a lot of bad luck with bugs and other things, but I’ve also learned a lot too. In the end, all these shit encounters become great stories — and potentially eye-opening for anyone dreaming about it for themselves.
The trouble with waiting-and-seeing about getting a place is that a lot of good places vanish and you’re left with shit to choose from. That’s what happened for Guanajuato. The second place was actually ADORABLE, and I actually DID inspect it before I took it, but the ants, like most bugs, only came out at night and despite my complaints, nothing was done about it. I couldn’t have foreseen the mouse/rat, either.
As for this apartment in San Miguel, it’s great. I couldn’t have left Mexico even if I wanted to — my finances were hurting too badly. I came here to work diligently to find more clients or paying work. And now I have.
The problem is, I just dislike Mexico. It’s not my cup of tea for long-term life. A month here would be great. Four has been too many and I’ve one month to go.
I am excited about returning to Europe. Despite HORRIBLE luck in Zagreb, I really loved that city, and I think I’m in for great experiences. I’ve gotten a place that normally goes for $2400 a month for $700 in a small town in the Czech Republic and soon I’ll wheel and deal for some other places.
I think travelling is like love. It’s easy to be head-over-heels for a week or two, but stick around and you see all the things you dislike. I come from a city that led the world for standard of living for well over a decade… it’s a hard act to follow, my friend.
That said, I’m gonna continue being honest about places. In my first year, I’ve had cockroaches three times, ants once, a mouse/rat, two broken stoves, a sink fall off the wall, and so on.Some of those have been in the NICEST apartments that I would’ve taken even if I had pre-examined them. So, you just never know.
For the deals and really nice places, you need to book in advance. I’ve spoken with people like Tim Leffel, one of the most famous budget travellers there is, and he won’t book ahead — unless he’s staying for a month, then he prenegotiates and gets better rates.
I had to cut corners once I knew I had lost 60% of my monthly income. Now that I’ve gotten it back, I’ll have more flexibility and can aim higher with rentals.
Hey, thanks for inspiring my latest post: Do I Hate Everywhere. It gave me a lot to think about and I wrote 3,100 words. I hope it clarifies things for you. 😀