It’s warm and muggy, a hurricane is on the way, pushing rain ahead to the parched desert south of us. The summer sky all around Todos Santos, Mexico swirls with gorgeous dollops of silver, gray and bruised-purple clouds, but not a drop of rain falls on the town. It is as if there is a black magic anti-rain shield arching over us.
This time of year, tourism dries up as locals with pesos and passports skip town for cooler climes.
Go walking in the desert too late in the morning and the heat beats the fire out of you, sending you into a mini-vision quest of sweat and discomfort.
You start to notice the small things. Odd muses show up.
Many times since we arrived to house sit, E.B. White has crossed my mind, of all people. As a young American girl who loved books, he was one of my earliest inspirations. I reread Charlotte’s Web yearly. As I got older, I hid this guilty pleasure for fear of being judged uncool by my friends. They were getting into makeup and boys. Usually in that order.
Later, I discovered his This Is New York essay, which he wrote one summer in a cheap sweltering New York City hotel room. It still is benchmark inspiration for me in so many ways. I blame this whole Todos Santos adventure on E.B., actually.
I think to myself, why does creativity seem to demand its pound of flesh? To live a more creative life, do we have to go through the artist garret gauntlet? Must we freeze in Paris or sweat in New York, or, in my case, the Baja desert late summer sauna?
I signed up for this experience, so I work to be open and not fall into the universal trap of kvetching about the weather all time.
I’m at our kitchen table, shifting around on one of the world’s most uncomfortable chairs. The chair is actually what made me think of E.B. White in a New York hotel room, sweating over his typewriter in a rickety cheap chair.
My chair is the complete and total opposite of rickety. If Fred Flintstone had a mountain cave man cousin who made furniture, this would be the stuff. The table I’m at is a single 7 inch thick wedge of wood from a good sized tree, it must weigh 400 lbs. The legs are literally large branches.
The Cave Man chairs have seats that are also carved from 6 inch slices of tree trunks. In a passing nod to ergonomics, the seat has indents carved out for your butt cheeks.
The seat indentations are one size fits all, or maybe one size fits many Mexicans. In any case, my one size doesn’t conform and my gringa butt is super uncomfortable.
Since I moved to Mexico, I have been stunned at how uncomfortable the chairs are here. Even in nice restaurants sometimes.
I have a theory that their Spanish Inquisition seating is a practical defense against 2 traditions.
One – restaurant waiters have to wait for you to ask for the check. If you visit from the states and you don’t know that, it will make you crazy until you figure it out.
Two: the “mi casa es tu casa” tradition. Sure! Come on in and have a seat, my house is your house! Make yourself at home in one of our boulder hard Cave Man chairs or pull up a rickety cheap plastic folding chair and pray today isn’t the day it decides to finally collapse.
Pretty smart, huh? Both options will have you hopping up to grab your coat in about 20 minutes.
Today it is lucky for me that my younger self also read the story of the Princess and the Pea, so I get up and add a cushion to my cave man chair.
My sweet man sits is across from me. My Mexico City boy agreed to come with me and help, even though small pueblos are not his thing. He just googled our blog and has a question. He peers over his glasses at me and I swoon a bit inside. He looks a subject from a Velazquez portrait – a 15th century Iberian philosopher, perhaps.
No, that’s a stretch. In reality, he looks more like a wily royal court official plotting his next move.
Velazquez shakes loose a memory from the magic time I spent as a docent at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth. I first came across the painter’s work there and I spent many quiet moments in the galleries with the Spanish paintings, knowing they were telling me something but stuck as to how to translate it into my life’s frame. The message was something like
Why haven’t you moved to Spain yet, hermana?
That was a dream vibrating way above my hearing range at that time. Instead I groped for a socially acceptable solution.
I began to seriously consider going back to get my Masters in art history.
Compare the happy hour or holiday dinner reactions of family and friends to the following:
“I’m working on my masters degree.”
“Oh, we’re selling the house and car and saving to pull the kids out of school and move to Spain next year, no, don’t have any grand plans, we’re going to figure out most of it as we go”.
See how this works?
Grad school would have been the perfect, albeit costly, cover story for my restless heart, so I wrangled with the idea, but never even applied. It seemed like an insurmountable challenge. I used to give up so easily back then.
I didn’t know that discomfort is sometimes a green light, a shortcut to dreams come true. Nobody ever tells you that in the movies.
I have zero regrets, it seems to be working out OK now. Instead of being trapped in the frustrating dynamic of studying handsome latino men frozen in 400 year old paintings, I have a much more interesting assignment of learning from the sexy caballero sitting across from me, en vivo, at the Cave Man table, looking like a Spanish conquistador come to life, googling “la vida wich wings” .
My heart has melted and not just because of the heat.
The fan we have turned up full bore in the open doorway is blowing in happy inane mayflies and keeping mosquitos at bay. My hair is up in a chula bandana and a bit of sweat runs down my back. The iPhone hums a Latin soft pop mix in a tinny way that reminds me of the AM radio that used to play in my grandmother’s Iowa kitchen every morning, along with the farm report, but sans the latin pop. I check in and I’m surprising myself. I’m uncomfortable but I’m happy.
When I committed to house sit a few months ago, from my cool perch in Mexico City, there were practical reasons for it, yet there was something else, that I couldn’t fully articulate.
Does that ever happen to you when you decide on a course of action? It’s like that whisper in the gallery at the Kimbell – you can’t quite catch in the moment –
come closer so you can hear the story
This time I did listen to it and I remind myself of it everyday here at about 2:30 pm when the heat really peaks.
Not to be overly dramatic, but the message was something like – this will be a crucible you need and will make us stronger. Desert clarity, heat, time to write, and also, my favorite part, animals to care for.
Do you ever wonder why we want to travel in the first place? Why is it a gillion dollar industry? I saw an interesting factoid recently from a study – it said that women reported feeling most empowered from saving money and travel, 2 seemingly opposite goals.
I can only speak for myself, and from comments of many other travelers I have come across in Facebook groups for women that travel. It seems to be this:
In a society that makes it very easy to hide from ourselves, travel is our soul’s shortcut to getting us back on Her path.
Even the most pre-packaged vacay will get you off the comfy couch and into the unknown.
So as you plan your next getaway, consider checking in with what you really want to be doing. And then just go do that. You don’t need permission. In fact, learning how to forge ahead and making your plans in the face of resistance from family and friends is the first fruit of your journey.
See? You’ve grown a bit and you haven’t even left town yet!
It may be messy, imperfect, uncomfortably hot or buggy. Go anyway. Get the selfie and then put the phone away. Practice being offline. And see how it changes your life.
If you are wondering how to get started incorporating more Slow Travel into your life, we have a Quick Start to Slow Travel Transition Guide that shows you it is never too early to start your plan to break free. The best part is, the changes you make will improve your life now, too.