Saturday, February 19, 2011

Risk Assessment

Living is easy.  It's the challenges that make things interesting.  We learn from them.  They make us stronger & they create change for better or worse.

I was contemplating this as I was working in a community garden in Puerto Escondido.  Wake up before the sun, then manual labour until the sun beats you down.  It felt really good, really constructive to be working with my hands, keeping busy, learning & having something to show for it.  We transplanted a banana plant!  I felt like I wanted to see how the time I put in developed - the literal fruits of my labour - which was impossible for me, but a good feeling.
I was also contemplating this on an island in the Lugunas of Chacahua with the Escondido crew (Lucas, Andrea & Omar).  Hammocking, watching the surf.  Feet in the sand.  Where everything is easy.  Stars so thick you could jar them up & send them home.  The sparkles of bioluminescence in the water at night, like it's trying to keep up with the sky.  Mosquito guts all over my legs from the nightly massacres.  I digress...

4 days offline means 64 unread messages on Monday.  Two messages from home gives me an unsubstantiated hollow feeling creeps in.  I should be ready, but I take a breath & it still winds me when I read it.

Thursday before the weekend my cousin was in a major car accident.  He was in critical condition, but has since been upgraded to stable.  In my limited knowledge of anatomy & injuries, & based on what I've heard, it sounds like it was almost as bad as it could possibly have been.  He is lucky to have made it to the hospital.

I know that if you're away for a long period of time, something bad is bound to happen.  It was so hard to be away & to hear my family struggle.  You want to reach out to someone who is not there.  I couldn't sleep all night.  I have come to terms & embraced loss of control & powerlessness at times - it's comes with hitchhiking.  It was not easy to decide to come home, & I know I am powerless whether I am on the road, or in the hospital room.  Think of it in selfish terms:  I am not coming home because you ask me to or want me to, I am coming home to reassure myself.

These sorts of challenges can be contradictory.  On one hand, it is hard to be away.  On the other hand, it's hard to go back.

It's time to go home.


Take Your Time Coming Home.

When I talked to my dad on Skype, he said "Don't let this cloud your judgement."  Yeah, yeah...  Then I hitchhiked for 25 hours straight.  From Puerto Escondido to Valladolid = 1,522km.  I seem to disregard the simplest advice alot.

I was inspired by this hitchhiking race I heard of in Europe.  Meet at 8am, then again in 2 days at 8pm; 60 hours to get as far as possible, then return to the same location.  Travelling quickly can be fun, with a goal at hand.  In my case, I was trying to get to Cancun by noon Thursday to make the cheapest flight home.

It was taking forever to go up this road down the coast of Oaxaca, then north.  The rhythm of Los Fabulosos Cadillacs guide my feet along the highway.  In the middle of my lunch as a Sol cervesa truck driver stops & agrees to take me to the main autopista to the North, then radios a friend to get me the rest of the way to Coatzalcoalcos.  A super nice father-son sales team get me to Villahermosa, and now I'm back in a city.

Since spending so much time in the country, islands, surf towns, pueblitos - I prefer them much more than the cities.  Yeah, I can see how the cities are dangerous & people are constantly afraid & worried.  With my McGuyver-like skills of whipping up a sign with ketchup packets, I got a ride at around 2:30-3am...probably within 2 hours, but I've come to realize I have very little concept of time & am extremely patient - both qualities acquired by HHing.  Truck drivers are constantly my heros.
"What?  There's a bed back here?  You don't say!  You mean, I can use it?  Wake me up in 4 hours please!"

When I woke up we were only in Campeche, not even halfway to Merida - translation, going much slower than I had hoped.  At around 1pm I was under a bridge in the rain like a troll outside Valladolid cursing the Yucateca Mexicans for being way less Mexican than all the others west of the penninsula.  Scoffing at the flight listings over lunch, I resolved I could make it on the 7:40pm flight.  I did know it was 4pm.  I didn't know the airport was 2 1/2 hours away.

I spent the weekend trying not to think about how stupid I was - on a tropical island off the coast of Cancun.  I would hate to be stuck in my least favourite city in Mexico, the furthest point away from my favourite city in Mexico, so I took up a suggestion to let the ferry wash my worries away.  A bird with a Boston accent keeps chirping in my ear: "Are you shitting me?  There are worse places to be stranded.  You could be in Buffalo.  It's cold as a bastard there!"

3 days later he whistled my way onto another flight, only to lose my passport in the Toronto airport.  I am a scene going through security, wearing a wifebeater & shorts riddled with holes with mismatched socks (no shoes) while carrying on a sleeping bag, tent & a plastic bag.  (They made me check my bag because my duty-free tequila's not allowed on my layover.  Damn loopholes!)

I arrive home on a 3 hour delayed flight at 3am to gorgeous -1C temperatures.  It is my first time seeing snow this year.  The February cold will grip me soon, I'm sure of it.  I'm ready for the 55C difference.  I hope.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Choose Your Own Adventure

In Mexico, everyone understands Hitchhiking as Rides - like the english word.
¿Donde vas?  ¿Puedo dar un ride?
Where are you going?  Can I have a ride?

These are stories of my most memorable rides.
They happened two days from each other last week.


I'm pulling out my map right now.  My first day backtracking on my whole trip was from Mexico City to Oaxaca.  I took two steps out of a truck & waved my thumb towards the cars headed to the junction.  The red one stopped.  I took 5 steps from one ride to the ride.  Chido.  Cool.  This is Brynn & Rafa.  Brynn is from Portland Maine, but says she's from Canada; Rafa is from Acapulco & lives in Ensenada, near Tijuana.  They met going to school in Halifax, at Dalhousie.  Muy chido.

We polished off a bottle of creme de mezcale that night & probably pissed off everyone else at the hostel.  Found a lucha libra themed bar with a band playing in centre ring.  The next day we spent climbing inside some Zacatecan tombs & ruins together, at Yagul, Mitla & Monte Alban, that watches over Oaxaca city.  Saw what I wanted to see - the tree that is it's own ecosystem, El Tule.  The petrified waterfalls were beyond what I was expecting.  (Hierve el Agua.)  Strangely peaceful, or just strange.

Brynn & I are on the same wavelengths, where she will do or say something moments before I am about to.  She studied arabic, is a couchsurfer & shaved her head 3 times last year.  Rafa had cut all his dreads off a month ago, except for one at the back.  Together they are the second cutest couple I've seen in Mexico.  (The first being Nati & Mati from Sayulita who have cartoon superpower cuteness, although I hadn't considered Dante & his beau from Mexico City...)

They left me outside the hostel we stayed at the night before & I proceeded to get lost & wander through Oaxaca alone, which isn't so bad actually.


There are two highways getting from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido.  One goes east to Juchitan, then along the coast to Pto Escondido, while the other goes direct.  I see the sign for the direct one, the one I want to take, & have a discussion with the lovely bus driver man who says esta es solo un media hora mas rapido - this one is only half an hour faster.  (Ha!  If only.)  I get off...

10 hours later I arrive in Escondido.
Hitching through nowhere again.  Luckily I watched that video until 5 am last night about those lovely folks doing a hitching documentary in Europe.  They humbly said "Even if you wait all day, you will get there."  No big deal.  I got some good spots.  Got a couple half hour rides along the way.  Two trucks pull over in the middle of rural Oaxaca.  They're going to Escondido!  I find it odd that two trucks should stop.  My offer has two guys inside.  Should I:
a) run
b) hop in
c) see what the second truck is up to
d) refuse

There is really no option to be overdramatized.  Of course I went with them.  Roberto is driving & Alan is sitting shotgun.  Alan is kinda cute.  Roberto says the other man in the other truck is with them.  A convoy!  The other man in the other truck doesn't speak english or spanish, only Romano.  Gypsies!

Roberto apologizes for going slow, even though we're passing the lumber trucks & have to wait for his friend about once an hour to catch up.  We make switch batteries for our own truck about 3 times with the battery at my feet, & once for a new one.  I try to catch some z's & hope to see the ocean in an hour or so.  When I wake up, we're still climbing.  Alan decides to go with the other truck either to talk, or help him manoever potholes.  Roberto is a good driver, cause he makes this trip once a week, to sell 1200 coconuts, as well as drives a truck to the northern border.

We're waiting for them when Alan comes in the back of a pickup.  No gas.  Syphon gas from ours & he hitches back to his own.  We are at the top of the mountain with rings of clouds over our heads.  The air is fresh & spectacular.  Two more hours he says.

As it gets darker I start realizing that we have no lights.  None.  We stop under a streetlight; he pulls out some wiring from under the dash, unscrews a light from the trailer & with a twist of a couple wire coathangers - voila!  One headlight.  Roberto buys & sells cars.  Gyspies; at least I know I'm in good hands.  Roberto apologizes for being so slow in getting there, but it's an Adventure!  Adventure always means misadventure, but I am enjoying the ride.  He says at least I'll get there safely.

So the police stop us.  In the back of the other truck is half the skeleton of a cab of another truck.  Alan rolls up some document sitting on the seat & shoves it in his pocket.  I briefly question whether the truck is stolen, & continue reading my book.

Roberto says among other things he's a pilot.  He flies a small plane of marijuana from a clandestine location to Guatemala & Columbia for the drug cartel.  He buys me a coke & a bag of chips.  I've spent 8pesos today.  We talk about how he needs to practice his English & how my Spanish is fairly good.  After almost 11 hours since leaving the hostel, I get dropped off in Pto Escondido.

What did they say in that documentary again?  Don't take rides from strangers?  No wait - Don't Panic!
No, that's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  Actually, that's the best advice there is.