I’m writing this blog post from our cozy Airbnb in the heart of Barrio Guadalupe, a quiet neighborhood just ten minutes by foot from the center of San Cristobal de Las Casas. San Cristobal is, as everyone told us it would be, a special place. As we rode up into the mountains to get here, the temperature dropped from 86 degrees Fahrenheit to a chilly 60. Dropping down into the valley that cradles this colorfully calm city, I felt as though I had been plopped into a cultural and geographical blender: the surrounding greenery and mountains transported me to the Swiss alps, while the single-story pastel buildings reminded me of my actual whereabouts in Mexico. As we rode through the narrow cobblestone streets, we passed several small coffee shops and artisanal craft shops. I counted three vegan restaurants on a single street, and as we pulled up to the fourth for lunch, the excitement inside me bubbled.
We left Puerto Escondido on Sunday the 28th at 8:00am to beat the heat. By then, the sun was already baking the bike, and we were roasting under our gear. As Josh indicated in our previous post, we had been waiting on parts to arrive in P.E., hoping they would show up before our reservations at our hostel were up. On Thursday, we got a notification that the package was still in Mexico City. A friend at the hostel offered to forward the package to us when it finally arrived, as she was staying in P.E. for another week. Josh did extensive research and determined the bike was safe to ride out and that we could have our friend ship the parts via a faster Mexican postal service successfully. (Sorry gear-gang, this will not be a post about the bike’s condition, as I am not as well versed in the equipment-lingo as Josh. But for a quick debrief, the bike is well and running.)
On Sunday, we arrived safely in Huatulco, a small town just off the coast in Oaxaca. Our next two stops were going to be just that: stops until we arrived at our next desired destination, San Cristobal de las Casas. Even so, we were charmed by Huatulco’s small and vibrant Zocalo (this is what the main square is called in Mexico) and charming markets. Maribel, the manager/receptionist/cleaner/cook/do-it-all-owner of our Hostel, recommended we ride out to the lighthouse to watch the sunset. Per her recommendation, we witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets to date.
We also witnessed the zoo-like flocking of onlookers who seemed more interested in eyeballing our motorcycle than watching the sunset. This has been one of the most curious phenomenons of our trip. In Mexico, motorcycles are extremely common and a typical staple for transportation (cue the man riding a motorbike with his entire family perched on the handlebars). Despite motorbikes being a commonplace vehicle, not one of the motorcycles native to this country are much larger than a vespa. Our motorcycle is large by American standards, so in the eyes of Mexican people, we are riding a blue whale in a sea of guppies. For this reason, we get a lot of long stares, questions about the bike, and the occasional “you guys are ridiculous” head-shake. For the most part we don’t mind—it’s currently our only claim to fame and we sometimes feel warm and fuzzy inside from all the attention. At other times, it can make us feel like zoo animals or circus freaks. It is difficult to blend in when we’re with the bike, and at times that can create social situations that we aren’t interested in being in or have the energy for.
Let me be clear—none of the above is intended to come off as a complaint. It’s merely an observation of an aspect of our trip that neither of us expected to experience. This itself is a huge theme in our travels: nothing is happening like we planned it to, and what is happening is nothing we could have imagined would happen. What we have learned covers the gamut of lessons from the practical and mundane to the existential and intimate.
Here is a list of the absolutely practical and logistical lessons we’ve learned about traveling:
1. Have your accommodations booked at minimum one day before arriving at your destination. There is nothing more uncomfortable looking for a hotel after riding into town sweaty and tired.
2. Two hours of riding is a piece of cake. Three hours is a long day. Four hours is an endurance challenge. Plan accordingly.
3. Pemex gas stations make a great riding stop as they have bathrooms and often a store with water and snacks.
4. We can ride for one hour and twenty minutes straight, but it’s far more comfortable to stop every 45 minutes.
5. Charge your helmet!
6. In hotter climates, always check accommodations for A/C.
7. When in doubt about rainfall, cover the bike.
8. Vigilance is good, hyper-vigilance is unnecessary.
9. Start looking for meals one hour before you get hungry.
10. Pack ready-to-eat foods!
11. Check in with your travel partner at the beginning, middle, and end of every day.
12. When in doubt, put on sunscreen.
13. When in doubt, put on bug spray.
14. Listen and take advice from other travelers, but don’t take it as gospel.
These lessons are specific to us, and while other travels may find this list useful, we subscribe to the belief that travel is unique to the adventurer. Just like a relationship between two people, no individual will have the same desires, needs, or experiences in any specific place. (Our buddy David recently wrote about this belief, and we wholeheartedly agree.)
As for the bigger lessons learned, we have found that they grow and evolve as we go, so many of these ideas have just been born and are still being nurtured and watered. They are seeds of bigger life lessons, and may grow into something more than just a lesson learned:
1. Meditation improves our sleep, creativity, and digestion.
2. Not everything in life needs to be analyzed. There is something to be said for simple acceptance and the act of letting something go.
3. The money we have saved and put into this trip is not just a fund from which we drain and empty to an end point. It is an investment in something greater: an investment in time to explore, to learn, and eventually to create.
4. In order to experience joy, it is so important for us to be learning, contributing, and creating. If we can find ways to accomplish those three things, we feel consistently happy and satisfied.
5. There is more than one way to be successful.
The amount we feel we have learned and grown in the past ten weeks is overwhelming. And yet, it is so ambiguously abstract that it is difficult to put into words the ways in which we have changed. I do know, though, that neither of us are the same as when we got on our bike in November.
I believe it is impossible to travel and stay the same. Travel ignites an inescapable sense of curiosity and fear all at once. The combination of which causes any person who finds herself in a foreign place to be hyperaware of her senses and everything around her. To travel is to force yourself to look inside in order to deal with the unfamiliar outside. To question everything you thought you knew about the world because it looks and acts so differently than it does at home.
Traveling for this long, and knowing we will be for so much longer, gives me a sense of hope and freedom in what’s to come. I am so excited to see who we become, what we create, and what manifests out of this beautiful seed we have planted.