Photo: Street in Tulum.
I transcribed this myself while listening to the audiobook of Pale Blue Dot. I could’ve pasted it from somewhere but I wanted to feel it in my fingertips:
“We were wanderers from the beginning. We knew every stand of tree for a hundred miles. When the fruits or nuts were ripe, we were there. We followed the herds in their annual migrations. We rejoiced in fresh meat. Through stealth, feint, ambush, and main force assault a few of us cooperating accomplished what many of us, each hunting alone, could not. We depended on one another. Making it on our own was as ludicrous to imagine as was settling down…
When the drought was prolonged, or when an unsettling chill lingered in the summer air, our group moved on. Sometimes to unknown lands. We sought a better place. And when we couldn’t get on with the others in our little nomadic band, we left to find a more friendly bunch somewhere else. We could always begin again.
For 99.9 percent of the time since our species came to be, we were hunters and foragers, wanderers on the savannas and the steppes. There were no border guards then, no customs officials. The frontier was everywhere. We were bounded only by the Earth and the ocean and the sky, plus occasional grumpy neighbors.
When the climate was congenial, though, when the food was plentiful, we were willing to stay put. Unadventurous. Overweight. Careless. In the last ten thousand years – an instant in our long history, we have abandoned the nomadic life. We’ve domesticated the plants and animals. Why chase the food when you can make it come to you?
For all its material advantages, the sedentary life has left us edgy, unfulfilled. Even after 400 generations in villages and cities, we haven’t forgotten. The open road still softly calls, like a nearly forgotten song of childhood. We invest far-off places with a certain romance. This appeal, I suspect, has been meticulously crafted by natural selection as an essential element in our survival. Long summers, mild winters, rich harvests, plentiful game – none of them lasts forever. It is beyond our powers to predict the future. Catastrophic events have a way of sneaking up on us, of catching us unaware. Your own life, or your band’s, or even your species might be owed to a restless few — drawn, by a craving they can hardly articulate or understand, to undiscovered lands and new worlds.
Herman Melville, in Moby Dick, spoke for wanderers of all epochs and meridians:
“I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote.
I love to sail forbidden seas…”
Two semesters, one degree, a year and a half of selling pieces of my soul to different restaurant jobs and many wistful dreams of past misadventures later, I finally took the plunge back into what my 2015 trip through Asia beckoned, the only thing that speaks to me. Time to travel. First stop, Mexico.
As I stepped into the placid early-February airport and strode towards check in, a rush of feeling swept through me like I just huffed some monsoon sized inhalation of the most premium of cracks. Feeling a little jittery, but supremely elated, in a ‘this-will-last-forever’ kinda way. Most flights, ferries and elongated train rides I embark on emotionally strung out on a fractaled vision of every recently lofty life moment, through journey meant to be momentarily inconsequential.
I caught the red-eye from YVR. Flew to my first stopover, catapulted once again into the sky, this time entranced in Daniel Pinchbeck’s auto-bio-treatise on shamans and psychedelics I picked up in Pulp Fiction.
“Smoking DMT is like being shot from a cannon into another dimension.”
Flying in a plane is like being shot from a cannon into another dimension.
Got to Seattle. Smoked with a shirt in the winter cold, felt like I was in Moscow. Had a loud empty stomach and felt the painlessness of a cigarette.
Got molested by a border agent coming back through security. Told me I looked “real nervous”.
Maybe his career seemed for a second less like being the H&M sentry – a job likewise involving stern glances and hating one’s own life. I think you should just be allowed to bring your drugs on planes, and that’ll be the platform on which I one day run for office. If you’ve ever seen the show Border Security, you’d know most criminals are roughly as interesting as being on hold and your LinkedIn profile.
Arrived at Minneapolis. Three fast food meals, four cups of coffee and no sleep later, a delirium has set in. I try to sleep on the steel + 1mm carpet floor and the laptop in my angular bag makes a shit pillow. People, presumably well rested (cunts), stare.
Zombied my way around the too-big terminal and found the glow of an Indigo. I browsed through books like Have a New Sex Life by Monday and pop-psych books about self-improvement and leadership and EQ and IQ and achieving your true potential and getting your shit together with books aptly titled Positive Intelligence and Getting your Shit Together. Shelves on shelves of schlick-fic and Malcom Gladwell. A shelf of public figures’ masturbatory memoirs where they literally just talk, probably into a tape recorder transcribed by their maidstaff. You’d think a sometimes-funny comedian like Aziz Ansari could vom out something more digestible than his shelf-mates Elon Musk and Megyn Kelly but alas, his book was shit.
The above has been transcribed anticipation and anxiety – these are my last normal moments before pole vaulting myself into the world.
Arrive in Cancun because there’s no airport in Tulum. Runners stolen from my bag by customs. Vive!
T+ 3 Days:
Buses and waiting, gradually letting my guard down but still missing my runners. I can’t go for runs so I take up chain smoking instead. I find out via listening that ‘o’ is probably the most frequently used letter in Spanish and then realize this is meaningless like everything.
I stayed up for something like 48 hours in this foray from Canada into Tulum, deciding to uncollapse my half-sentient self to make friends and drink for 6 more hours and throw down to some bars’ sultry salsa-hip-hop tunes. I danced with an Argentinian who was into me until she wasn’t and it’s something of an accomplishment that a hot Latin-American woman liked my white-guy-from-Canada dance
Coming back from this debauchery to my bed I got chased by a wild pack of dogs, all uncuddlable and unkempt, ugly and hairless. As I hurdled knocked over trash cans and climbed a tall stone wall my mind wistfully wandered through the streets of Istanbul in the 80’s, people low key fixing this problem feeding strychnine meatballs to the strays (I swear I love dogs). Bald dogs are so weird; they’re like the uncircumcised dicks of dogs. The rabies shot doesn’t actually cover you for rabies, it just gives you a day not to die while you landswim your meatbag to the hospital post-mauling.
Here we are, daylight in Tulum, a lazy town spotted with jade swimming holes, its town center hugging the highway, tropical and tranquil, its travelers comparatively less the type hellbent on hangovers and sunburns. I’m diving in cenotes, forgetting where I put things and hanging out with Vancouver fam, eating my weight in cheap tacos, nowhere to be, zigzagging through the energetic murals of back alleys.
And then I’m in Villadolid, instantaneously realizing that many Mexicans outside the tourist honeypots loathe white people, after being refused a simple reciprocal greeting, served cold stares instead @ multiple public cocinas. The looks I got in rural Malaysia and Vietnam were generally a cocktail of incredulity and comedy, though in Mexico they know just how to perform the perfectly subtle lip-tightening to signal disgust. A serrated rehearsal, at least parried by the nearby marvelous Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza and in one week the wondrous apexes of Teotihuacan’s temples of the sun and moon.
In some small town cenotes swimmers are prohibited because of precious gems inside. Gold and other valuables have been recovered, though much of it is sitting behind some glass case in a Harvard museum. Corollary to the aforementioned disgust, this place has a long history of being fucked by the United States. I sewed 2 (two) Canadian flags on my big backpack (not the unzippable day-pack) but unfortunately that thing lay prostrate on hostel dorm floors 97% of the trip, probably voyeur to plenty of backpacker fucking (which did me no good). Perhaps for next time I should just get a maple leaf tattoo on my neck, or maybe my face.
T + 1.9 weeks:
I met a lovely French couple in my pre-MC-flight stop in Cancun, one of whom had a strange fixation with the ‘Philly-Cheese Steak’ after travelling to Philadelphia, sampling the grease-food cuisine and using the titular sandwich as a barometer by which to judge American cooking. He harped on n on about how disgusting poutine was. I told him like most things in life, it’s meant to be enjoyed drunk. I met someone troubled by a past, uncertain about the future yet with a poise as if existing in a state of perpetually walking on a tightrope, a brooding streak that dyed all gesture, presence as if possessing an aura, zero fucks to give, perhaps confused why they were even in Mexico or why they were even anywhere at all, whose personality fell somewhere along a continuum of assholeishness masked as introversion. She still lit up the room in a strange way. I hate to classify people but I do think there are ‘archetypes’ out there, and I deeply appreciate meeting someone who doesn’t even loosely fit any personality mold in my schema of ‘people-types’. There have been a few in the last couple weeks, now added to the mental repository and thus it becomes marginally more difficult to find someone whose existence is a query to myself. I eagerly await the question marks, the puzzles, the WTF’s of all backgrounds and his/her-stories.
T+ 2 weeks
Flying to Mexico City and the plane is about to take off. Three cervezas deep and my tolerance is bulletproof; I can no longer feel the effects of alcohol. In a few days I will chat with my hostel mate Sarah about how a little midday drinking takes the edge off a hangover, and we establish that life is just one big edge that needs to be taken off.
I’ve got a book, somehow a ‘premium’ seat with mad leg room on this plane (don’t confuse Mexico-premium for first class), my legs sprawled three feet in front of me and an equanimity alit internally as I think about the cabin serfs whose kneecaps are being slowly ground into a fine powder while my legs gargle oxygen molecules. I get a kick out of the cutesy stewardess theatrics where they pantomime how to put on seatbelts and how not to die should we plunge to our death.
Mexico City is the highlight of the show.
Though the relaxed pace of life in the Yucatan forgives the brawling chaos of a trip on the Mexico City subway, the capital’s plusses are endless. In the oldest city in North America in the notes in my phone I cross items off a list headered “touristy shit” one at a time. I see the famous lucha libre at the Arena Mexico, replete with the cunty trumpeting of vuvuzelas and two midgets (pol. correct?) getting KO’d via kicks and stomps while I try to decipher what this has to do with the story arc of this steroidy soap opera. We see a snapshot of a pained yet joyous life at Frida Kahlo’s old house, get daydrunk and traipse every neighborhood every day until our legs burn with exhaustion and we run out of sunscreen and there’s a permanent sense of of direction internally embedded about this place, a permanent sense of the Mexican way of life.
For sale in a few convenience marts is a 27 peso 750mL bottle of mezcal which is alarmingly smooth and tastes like sinning. At the time of this writing 27 pesos is less than two Canadian dollars, which at the time of this writing is roughly one American hay-penny. Buy it from 7/11 to shirk the otherwise-imposed gringo tax. We get messy in the tree shade sprawl of Chapultapec Parc for 40 cents each and see the Museo de Arte Moderno and the city’s old royal castle. The rooftop of Hostel Massiosare where I stay downtown has two rooftop terraces, a barbecue, and the type of intimacy only afforded over a morning cup of coffee. At night, floating above skyline views is the big orange moon in a muted blue haze while you irrigate your consciousness with $1 beers. Massiosare is the nest away from entropy, floating above the city, flowing with the most colorful characters of my time in this country
I met so many sweet people. And that’s all I gotta say.
I might make it a goal for me to somehow transcribe human quirks into words in the same irrealizable curiosity with which they come across IRL. As per always, it’s the backpackers coming along, intersecting your trail and breathing life into these adventures.
I’m back and I miss the sexy beaches, the sugar cane mojitos and choking heat, pyramid dust and buildings puking ancient history. I blew my nose on the plane and it wasn’t pretty.
No new conclusions, just a sense of stretched out time. Three weeks was three months, I swear.
Travelling is great, it really is. The quality of introspection is orgiastic.
I’ll be in Korea tomorrow with a new post soon!