Mexico

An open heart in Mexico

Jumping off the edge of a boat, going down into the water like a cannonball. Feeling the warm, salty water flowing around your body. Going up, and taking a deep breath as you rise into the surface, you open your eyes and notice the beautiful turquoise water, glimmering with the sun’s rays. A far, you see the hotel building along the shore, and 180º degrees around, the extraordinary greatness of the ocean. Suddenly, the sun shines energetically on your face. You open your eyes, the sun shines still on your face from the window of the airplane. You look below, and everything to be seen is green arriving Cancun.  A vivacious dominant jungle, and seconds later, the airport. As you exit the plane, a warm, humid breeze hits you suddenly opening your pores to an extraordinary adventure. It’s the beginning of an exquisite experience. An experience that will open all your senses, and all there is left, is to give in to the luring ambiance. The streets are surrounded by an exciting jungle amongst a lake. As you arrive the majestic hotel, and leave to the back part, where so many eccentric dreams lie, your subconscious whispers into your ears “this is it.” The breeze blow into your pores once more, the palm trees gently move, the waves shake with excitement and the sand slides in between your toes, a moment tear-worthy. Your eyes transfigure, as they watch the white sand contrasting the beginning of a sunset, giving its last rays to the clear sky that gives a warm color to the immense miles of water. Celestial.

I know it for sure, I’ve been there. It was a beautiful 12th of June of the year 2014. I sat on a bench and contemplated the pure sand below my feet. I held in in my and took the fresh scent into my nose. It was a purifying afternoon. I got detoxified, all my worries were in the past. I stood up, closed my eyes and heard the calm waves of the ocean. I thought about my parent’s divorce, the social rejection, fake relationships my father’s death and my last heartbreak. For the first time I didn’t cry. I opened my eyes and looked up into the sky, with a comforting smile. “Thank you, God”. For in that moment I knew I was strong and I had been tested, and most importantly, my reward was here. Being there, made me feel emotionally strong and I let go of so many feeling I had been ignoring for years. That night, my insomnia went away for the first time in months. I fell in a deep sleep a couple of seconds after my head touched the pillow. I woke up in the best mood. Later that morning, I ate breakfast on the balcony of the Hotel’s Restaurant. I watched the ocean again but this time with thankfulness. I saw some children running along the shore, yelling and laughing. I bet myself I felt just as unconcerned as they did.

The next day I traveled to the most magical place in my memory: Xcaret. Everything was covered with a revitalizing green. I was in the middle of the most beautiful scenery I had ever seen. My eyes looked everywhere, amazed with a feeling of belonging. I walked through a stone lane admiring the splendid rivers with big turtles swimming around. I walked on and on and got to the shore. My jaw dropped in astonishment, I froze for a moment and discovered the place where I wished to stay the rest of my life in. I gazed at the huge rocks below and the sand below the tall palm trees, I opened my eyes even more, and saw the gorgeous, transparent water sparkling and the soft waves calling me in. I went in and drowned all my worries in the ocean, who took them to a place never to be found. I opened my eyes and a couple of tears fell out.

Days will pass, months, years, even decades, but that one moment of peace will remain forever, a moment worth living for, a moment of life and freedom which many search, but only the open hearted obtain.

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To My Lovely Mexico

I have been very blessed because my parents have given me the opportunity to travel with them. I am not talking about extravagant places like Peru or Australia because my mom has a theory; in order for me to appreciate my own culture as much as others, I have to first know my country and know my culture and how rich it is because it is very different from state to state. That is why my parents decided to travel in Mexico first.

Do not think I haven’t gone out of Mexico because well I actually have; I have visited places like Orlando, Canada, and Los Angeles to name a few. I have been lucky enough to have parents who actually like traveling. I can assure you that I have visited most of the Mexican Republic in my short life, and I could not be prouder. Well first of all I know most of the world’s population thinks about Mexico as place where we all have moustaches, funny accent, ponchos (clothes), sombreros, we travel in donkeys, drink tequila all day and sleep under cacti. Maybe that is the biggest mistake in history! For example I live in a small town located in the biggest state known as Chihuahua. My little town has another town located thirty minutes apart, known as Colonia Juarez. Well to be honest it is like an American town. Most of the inhabitants have white skin, blue or green eyes, and speak English. I have never seen sombreros or tequila or cacti around Colonia Juarez. Mexico, as I said before, has a rich and vast culture; it changes drastically from town to town.

Personally, I cannot choose one place that gives me the sensation of bravery. Mexico as a whole is what makes me feel brave and alive. In my several visits to the capital I have noticed that even though there is insecurity somehow I feel safe. There is this certain kind coziness that the locals make you feel they make you feel like you are part of them, that they have known you for years. Not to leave behind all the beautiful places Mexico has, all the world-known beaches, forests, and the ancient temples and landmarks which make Mexico a unique place to live. As I mentioned before, everything varies from state to state. In the south for example people are the friendliest you will ever meet! Here in the north even though it is the most expensive state, we have the best carne asada in the world.

Bravery is not only of our actions it is also a feeling that we personally get. This is why I chose Mexico, it gives me a sensation that I belong right where I am. Mexican people are hardworking and they love what they do, they love their culture and defend it to the death. They are proud of what they do and who they are and they are not ashamed to show to the world. That is what makes me feel brave that Mexicans never lose their essence and they love their country. I do think that my mom is right. Getting to know Mexico before going to other continents is what will give me the chance to appreciate what I have even more.

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by Sage Porter

In March 2015, my 9-year-old son and I left Los Angeles by bus and spent a day in Mexico.

Our group of 20 volunteers visited an orphanage to play with the children and bring donations.  The drive was filled with uncertainty as we did not know what to expect.  My son was quiet, staring out the window at the unfinished houses.  Clusters of houses stacked close to each other along the road and on the mild rolling hills seemed forgotten about as they were missing walls, roofs or simply undone. The grey skies suggested rain but seemed uncertain about their true feelings.

Mexico Orphanage

During the drive, thoughts of the movie Annie were swirling through my son’s head. He was picturing mean heartless people running the orphanage yelling at the unhappy children who were forced to clean all day. When we arrived my son was stuck to my side like glue.  I asked if he wanted to do an art project or play sports with the older kids, or cuddle a baby but he was just silent, watching, shaking his head no.


He took in the scene; the younger kids drawing and blowing bubbles, young 
girls painting their fingernails and an older child lovingly walking hand-in-hand with a toddler.   He just watched.


About an hour in to our visit he asked one of the adult volunteers if there was anything he could help with and he ended up setting the tables in the lunch room. When the 80 children entered the hall, he handed out food on his own.  He eventually found his way to the middle of the room at a table with a group of kids he didn’t know, speaking a language he doesn’t speak and ate lunch with them.   
He started to open up, showing his sideways smile as I watched from the other end of the room. 

Mexico Orphanage

After lunch he wanted to visit the babies.  We spent the rest of our time playing with an 8 month old boy.  My son held him, talked with him and got him  smiling and laughing.   By the time we had to go their faces were both lit up enjoying the connection of one another.

 

As we left the orphanage the skies cleared up and it was a beautiful day. The clouds were mirroring my son’s feelings, finally opening up to the blue skies as my son opened up to the knowledge that the kids were ok, happy, and loved just like him.

I believe you can find beauty no matter where you are.  I am surrounded by it in any location and in any situation.  I choose to pass this way of looking at life to my children. I find ways for them to realize that real life, full of beauty and connection to others is found in any place. It is important to shift away from our daily activities and open ourselves to others to learn about them and mainly ourselves.Mexico Orphanage

My son is happily going back to visit next month.

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Bravery is in the heart in Mexico

What is to be brave? Being brave can have different meaning, depending on people and circumstances.

A soldier is brave when he fights for his country, a toddler is brave when taking his/her first steps alone. Even a traveler is brave when he/her tries unknown things and embarks a new adventure.

There is a time and a place for everybody to be brave. There is probably at some point in our life a special place that makes us want to be brave.

Bravery presents itself under different aspects.

Traveling is always been in my blood. When I started traveling I got such a buzz from it that I wanted to do it for the rest of my life. I could not do it for too long though as money would eventually run out and I had to go back to “normal life”.

Some years back suddenly few personal dramas happened. I will not go into detail, everyone of us at some point goes through tough times. For me that was it. I hit rock bottom, I had to do something about my own life.

Finally I did what I should have already done. I sold few belongins, packed my backpack and left into the almost unknown. I went to the Riviera Maya in Mexico, Playa del Carmen, where I had already been few years earlier.

I arranged a job over there. This time I was leaving with no money at all, I could not afford to just travel. I was hoping for the best but expecting the worst.

I started to work as sales girl for a scuba dive school. I loved it from the first moment. I found inspiring fun people and a passion for scuba diving I had never had before.

It was for me a dream come true. Endless white sandy beaches, crystal clear turquoise blue water and countless palm trees. The great surprise came with scuba diving.

I always loved the sea but somehow the depths of it scared me. I was terrified by scuba diving, but to my surprise I fell in love with it from the first time!

What a fantastic world, I was fascinated and overwhelmed to be able to interact with the marine life. So many colourful fish, blue water all around and my body was weightless. I was overcome by a wonderful sense of freedom.

I felt like a mermaid in my natural habitat. I came up from that dive (and all the others that followed) grinning from ear to ear. The feeling I had from it was indescribable. From this moment on I never looked back, I found my path. I wanted to be a scuba diving instructor!

Once my mind was clear, I slowly started to let go of all my previous ties and unspoken griefs. I started to look inside my soul and I finally admitted to myself all that I had denied until that moment.

From there I only looked forward. Mexico was the starting point of the Making of Myself.

This was in 2009. Oddly enough, Mexico was also the first place where I did my very first big solo travel back in 2002. Who knows? Maybe there was already an unspoken connection.

Having said that, I believe every single place I travel to brings something new out of me.

Since then I have traveled, worked and lived in many other countries. Every single place inspires me to new aspects of my life and to where and what I want to be. To be honest I am not totally sure yet about where I want to be, or what is my place in this world.

I am happy and content with my position in life at the moment, but I feel some changes will happen in the near future.

So far I have won great battles, I am not afraid of myself anymore and I am rather happy in my own skin. I have not won the war though. I still have a long way to go.

Traveling to amazing places has helped me through experiences to love myself more and to open up to myself. In the meantime I have also found true love. This makes me question myself even further. For me there is only one place that inspires me to be brave. It is my own heart.

Being brave to me means being true to myself. Sometimes is still hard to be completely true especially when I am put in front of big decisions, big question marks. Being true to myself is the only way to be brave and move forward.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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There is a special magic about first times. The first time that I screwed up my courage, took the leap of faith and jumped outside of my comfort zone, I landed in Xalapa, Mexico. Unaccompanied, I traveled to a place where the only person I knew from home was my faculty advisor, Dr Tony Serna.

The opportunity was a summer study abroad program—a language and literature intensive. Even though I’d studied Spanish from seventh grade through my freshman year at Ohio University, the prospect of immersion in a culture where I wasn’t fluent in the language and customs was daunting.

Four days out of each week between mid-June and early August, Mondays through Thursdays, I attended classes at Universidad Veracruzana. Our instructors, all native Spanish speakers, taught Mexican history, folklore and contemporary Latin-American literature. My classmates were other foreign students. On Fridays, it was customary for us to cut classes and take off on the second class buses for other locales. Sometimes I would travel with my classmates but, as often as not, I would strike out on my own.

My earliest forays were to cities about two hours distant—Veracruz, Puebla, Tecolutla and Xico. By late July, I felt confident enough in my growing language and cultural fluency to hop the second class bus to Oaxaca. I told my classmates, the family I boarded with and Sergio, my Mexican sweetheart, about my plans. Sergio was skeptical about my insistence on traveling solo.

While it may have seemed foolhardy and overconfident in Sergio’s view, everything worked out for the best. By traveling alone, not engrossed with a boyfriend or a group, I was more approachable, more open to meeting new people and having new experiences.

Shortly after arriving in the Oaxaca, I met a Canadian traveler whose name I’ve long since forgotten. We agreed to share lodgings to save money. During my afternoon siesta, I felt my first earth tremor. At first I thought it was an overloaded truck rumbling through the narrow street outside the hotel. My roommate set me straight on returning from his day’s ramblings.

On Saturday I took local buses to the Zapotec archaeological zones of Mitla and Monte Alban. I climbed the pyramids and shopped the local crafts markets for souvenirs. Some locals invited me to a quinceañera that evening .

By late Saturday night, I ran low on funds and waited in the ADO station for the morning bus to Xalapa. A local journalist, Roberto (Beto) Palacios, passed through the bus station on his return home from an out-of-town assignment as I sat in the terminal. We struck up a conversation.

When Beto learned that I was a journalism student, he insisted that I stay the next day as his guest for the Guelaguetza events. We used Beto’s press credentials to get seats in the press section. Before dropping me back at the ADO afterward, we went out for coffee. We exchanged addresses and promised to stay in contact.

The success of the Oaxaca trip emboldened me to attempt an even more ambitious solo adventure once classes ended the first week of August. When I shared my plan with Sergio, he grudgingly accepted every part of it except the final weekend in Mexico City. There he insisted that, for my safety, he accompany me.

There was a brief delay to the beginning of my final odyssey due to a stomach ailment. Once Sergio had nursed cme back to health, he saw me off at the Xalapa ADO, promising to meet me in Mexico City’s main terminal in eleven days.

I made the most of those eleven days, covering as much terriory in central Mexico as time and my budget would allow. Everywhere the second-class buses could take me, I went. I was serenaded by mariachis in the Patio Tapatio in Guadalajara. I stared into the vacant eyes of the mummies in Guanajuato. My main reason for picking the beaches at Manzanillo over Puerto Vallarta was that the bus route to the former passed through Autlan, my guitar hero Carlos Santana’s birthplace.

After watching Pacific sunsets and feasting on fresh-caught seafood in Manzanillo, I hopped a bus for the eastbound trek toward Mexico City. On that leg of the trip, my principal stop was Patzcuaro so I could watch the fishermen cast their butterfly nets on Lake Janitzio. I transited Morelia and Queretaro on the way to my rendezvous with Sergio in the capital.

During our whirlwind weekend, Sergio took me to Teotihuacan, Chapultepec and Xochimilco. He proposed on our final night together. The long-distance romance fizzled but that never tarnished the memories.

Whenever I experience self-doubt, I remember my daring Mexican adventures.

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There is powerful, freeing beauty in this world that transcends any travel show or guidebook if we open to it and are ready. Mexico is full of that for me.

Well before the violent troubles of the last decade, I first camped on beaches near Ensenada with my parents, all of us sleeping in a big canvas tent. One summer we drove far south through Mazatlan, Aculpulco and past the glamorous fountains of Guadalajara, which I studied while sick with tourista from the back seat.  We devoured bags of fresh pastries from corner Panaderias, lobster purchased on the beach from local fishermen and fresh tortillas made right before my eyes. I always longed to return but life intervened.

Decades later I gasped at my first glimpse of the pyramids of Teotihuacan. There was just a giant snake’s head in stone, broken steps and a bit of sky but something resonated. It was part of an email invitation to visit the place where traditions say, “Man becomes God.”

I knew I had to go but had very little income or freedom to travel. My son was still a toddler and his father was on the road with work. How could I ever swing it? In less than a month the money came in unexpectedly. I felt so grateful and found the courage to make plans. The trip came together – five days on my own in a country where I didn’t speak the language with a group I’d never met – but soon I was on my way.

Teotihuacan lies about 40 miles outside of Mexico City.  Upon arrival at the airport I rendezvoused with the group just outside of customs. My first glimpse of the Pyramid of the Sun, was from a van, the pinnacle dodging between roadside trees as we sped towards the Villas Archaeologicos, our home for the week.

Our loose-knit group was led by an elder from the tradition of don Miguel Ruiz, author of the Four Agreements. Victoria Allen led us up the Avenue of the Dead, through simple rituals where we walked or sat in between ancient stone walls on hard earth and cast off “that which no longer served.” The rituals reminded me of something I hadn’t known I missed. My Catholic school days had been very theatrical – full of Latin masses and ceremonies with incense, candles and chanting. I’d missed some of that.

On our last day in Teo we walked purposefully towards the Pyramid of the Sun in focused silence. I kept repeating to myself all the things that I am not and soon added all the things I’d been identifying with: mother, daughter, wife, writer and renounced them as well. There was a shift and instead of emptiness I felt the world expand. There was no me only presence and it swept through the ruins, between the mountains, across the sky. Any sadness, disappointment or lack evaporated. I felt completely present and whole, silent and free. Later I struggled up the Pyramid’s steep, narrow steps to the apex. Butterflies bounced past in the sunlight and my heart soared with them.

I’d experienced a little of what Teo deeply is and has been for centuries.  Tourists still scour the place with guidebooks in hand. Touts offer silver bangles and fill the air with the peals from little ceramic whistles. Through it all Teo remains a power center.

I came home feeling strong and clear, so grateful for the opportunity to inhale that rarefied air and be with others open to the same. My life soon turned inside out. Change isn’t always easy but often necessary. I’ve returned half a dozen times to renew and surrender in that sacred, beautiful place.

Mexico will always be dear to my heart and I now know there are power centers across the globe. They can be monasteries or retreat houses, crumbling ruins or a simply a towering forest. In time I’ll find more.

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The Potters Village

The two-lane paved road rises and falls, twists and turns like a dangling rope through the rugged Chihuahua hill country. “Amazing that one of Mexico’s most famous potters lives out here,” says my friend Dick Davis.
Shimmering in the stark desert light is the village of Mata Ortiz, the home of Mexico’s renowned potter Juan Quezada. In the mid-day heat, the pueblo is deserted except for a few stray dogs roaming the dirt-rutted streets. Old adobe walls and ramshackle wooden fences are laced with clotheslines of brightly colored garments drying against a brown desert backdrop.
Quezada’s modest gallery is on the corner of the main street across from an abandoned railroad tract. As we enter, he breezes in from the side room. Dressed in a faded tan cowboy hat, of medium height and bantam weight, he looks as fit as an Oklahoma rodeo wrangler, despite being in his early seventies. His rugged, suntanned face exudes a quiet dignity and purposeful curiosity.
The pale blue adobe walls in the front room are lined with ollas and vases, glazed in a rainbow of rust-red, brown, and eggshell white hues and painted with intricate, geometric designs. I am mesmerized by their spiral, thin-walled shapes and meticulously painted and etched patterns.
Outside, the heat glimmers over the parched, dust-colored land. Nothing seems to be
alive except patches of creosote and agave clinging to the desert’s emptiness. How could such incredible artistic beauty come to exist in such a remote, hardscrabble place?
The freedom and joy of discovery, I begin to realize, lies not in seeing new places, but in seeing things in new ways. The desert, I soon learn, is not empty but full of beauty.
Quezada grew up poor, leaving school at twelve to gathered firewood and herd sheep in the
hills above the village. While gathering firewood, he stumbled on some shards of pottery in a mountain cave, a burial site belonging to an ancient indigenous people called the Paquimé who had lived in this region from 1200 to 1450 A.D.
“The first time I saw those pieces,” Juan tells us in Spanish, “I said, ‘I have found a hidden treasure.’ I knew that the ancient ones must have found the materials here.” Over many years, he experimented with different clays, pigments, drawing and firing techniques to produce ollas or pots with the ancient culture’s iconography and design.
“Nobody taught me. There were no potters then. The village was poor,ˮ he continues.
The story could have ended here, lost in the buried memory of a poor village, but it didn’t because of Juan’s artistic genius, obsessive curiosity, and an unlikely friendship with the American art dealer and anthropologist Spencer MacCallum that would change the fortune of the little town and shape an artistic legacy whose reach is still unknown.
Like a tale out of the Wizard of Oz, it began in 1976 when MacCallum stopped off at a second-hand shop in a New Mexico border town where he bought three unsigned pots. Intrigued by their intricate beauty, he embarked on an adventure south that would take him to Mata Ortiz and the unknown potter. Over the next six years, MacCallum provided Juan with money to work at his craft full-time, while organizing exhibits in the United States to premiere it. “His arrival was a gift from God, a miracle,” says Juan.
Mata Ortiz today is the center of a bustling ceramic cottage industry. About one-fourth of its 2,600 inhabitants earn their livelihoods as potters—many of them trained by Quezada himself.
The homes, some humble brick adobes and others larger cinder-block buildings, radiate with an infectious warmth and vitality to the craft. Pots and vases line oilcloth-covered tables. I look over the shoulders of men and women as they shape, polish and paint at tiny sunlit work stations. They place a single coil of clay atop a plaster mold, and then by hand work the clay upwards to form their thin-walled bowls, jars, and pots.
A piece of hacksaw blade is used to smooth the surface. Hand-made kilns or just an inverted galvanized bucket buried in dried cow chips are used to fire the pots. Brushes to paint the long flowing geometric patterns are made from children’s hair.
Today, one of Quezada’s pots can sell for thousands of dollars. He now owns the land where he used to gather firewood. It has a rich vein of white clay, which he shares with other village potters. “Everywhere the sun shines is for everyone,” he says.
Walking outside the village, Juan points to a thin seam of chalky white clay; at another location to a pile of cottonwood bark once used to fire the clay. I begin to see beneath the bone-dry landscape, the desert’s possibilities discovered by Juan and other villagers. The Chihuahua Desert’s beauty is in its austerity: the searing heat, the stark desert light, and the rich caches of clay that Quezada recognized as the pueblo’s miracle.

About the Author:
Victor A. Walsh’s travel and feature stories and literary essays have appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, San Antonio Express-News, Austin American Statesman, San Jose Mercury News, Arizona Daily Star, Literary Traveler, Rosebud, Coast To Coast, Desert Leaf, Irish America, Sunset, and VIA. He spends his time when he’s productively unemployed prowling forgotten or unusual destinations looking for stories that connect a place and its people to their remembered past.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

So today was pretty eventful. A black, female lawyer from Yale living in Paris told me who I am. Well. Sort of.

I have been in Mexico City for a week now and it’s not exactly been what I have expected. I had been eagerly awaiting the intense heat of a Mexican desert in summer. Instead I have landed into the dreary puddles of dirty, lukewarm puddles in cracked asphalt that reflect the grey sky overhead, filled to bursting with a blanket of clouds. It has rained every single day. Like winter. But the thing is, it’s June. Anyways, this morning has finally been relatively clear and warm so I decide to head out to El Bosque de Chapultepec, the enormous forest park nearby where I am to meet up with a group of expats for a picnic and a day in the sun. It certainly seems promising, however there was a slight snag in the clean, pressed sheets that are my plans for the day.

I got lost. Terribly, terribly lost.

As per usual. I just seem to get lost everywhere I go. Back in high school I took great pride in my knowledge of the streets of Northern California that I earned of countless excursions that ended several hours longer than they should have. In Japan I managed to get lost on group tours due to wandering off to follow some enchanting sound, some subtle hint of curious noise. I have even been so successful as to get lost a different way each day this past week on my way to work even though it is the exact same route.

So now I am wandering the small walkways of this enormous park in the middle of the most populated city on earth looking for a group of foreigners I have never met. And then it hits me, like the way a large stone drops into a lake with a deep thunk. I was listening to a podcast of NPR’s This American Life while wandering, happy as a clam. The particular episode was on Americans in Paris. In classic TAL fashion, Ira Glass was weaving wit, with honesty, authenticity and light humor while dabbing all the strands in the fantastic dyes of the storyteller to produce a textile of lives that one cannot help but smile as you hold it in your hands. He was interviewing Janet McDonald, a black woman from Brooklyn who graduated from Yale and was working as a lawyer in Paris, about her experiences. Janet said the following,

“I was always an outsider. And I feel most inside where I am now. Outside. Go figure”

Boom. Pause. Rewind. Listen again. Pause. Look up. Close eyes. Yes. Finally, someone had done the impossible; Janet had articulated to me a significant aspect of my identity I was never able to articulate to myself, like walking through a completely dark room looking for a small object when suddenly someone turns on the light for you and you see the object was directly by your foot the whole time. Well I picked it up. And it felt good.

Too white for the brown kids, too brown for the white kids. Too alternative for the smart kids, too smart for the alternative kids. I had spent 20 years being told that I was more Mexican than American because my skin embraces sunlight like an old friend. I finally arrived to the place where I was told I was supposed to belong, the promised land where I would fit it in. Yesterday I met a young woman who asked me if I was from Saudi Arabia.

Why is it I love to travel? Why do I relish being in places where I am undisputedly an outsider? Oh yeah. Because that is who I am, who I have always been and who I will always be.

Go figure.

About the Author: Tomas is a student at Brown University who constantly wonders why he ever left the warm caress of his native northern California. When he is not observing the world around him, he is listening to it.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

Of Love and Libertad

A lazy cat napping on the sofa in the galeria
A stray dog approaching, head down, tail swaying in an anticipated touch
the rooster that knows not the hands of the clock
the unexpected play of dolphins breaking the skin of the sea
this is the melody of Mexican life

-Wanda St.Hilaire, Of Love, Life and Journeys

This February, I sat writing on the periphery of the plaza in San Miguel de Allende with the stunning La Parroquia church as a backdrop. Percolating under the surface was an emotion that was all too unfamiliar in my Canadian day-to-day life. It was joy. I’d been awarded a grant to attend the annual writers’ conference. I was on my thirty-sixth visit to my beloved Mexico.

Surrounded by like-minded “free range humans”¬–artists, writers, photographers, sculptors, and musicians, my body hummed with 1000 volts of happiness. I was electrified with the energy of people doing what they love in a place they adore.

My first taste of Mexico was at age twenty-two in Acapulco with girlfriends. We rode on the back of motorbikes with Brazilian boys and sailed with Italian clothing designers. Two brilliant new friends from Mexico City challenged us to hop off of the plane on our way home for a visit. Both girlfriends jammed out by the time we landed. I stayed, not wanting the adventure to end.

We spent days climbing the pyramid and investigating Mexico D.F, and enchanting evenings out with a multitude of their welcoming friends. It was Mexican hospitality and culture at its finest. The bliss of being young and ripe with wanderlust was unleashed and I was hooked.

In Oaxaca, the moment I landed I felt a deep love of life. Everyday I sat in the zocolo and chatted with renegade lawyers, curious campesinos, and old Zapotec men who spoke with me in a dialogue I didn’t know, yet understood. Sitting for hours writing in cafés over dark Chiapas coffee, waiters befriended me and we shared stories of our radically differing lives.

There in the lazy afternoons, lovers of all ages congregated. Observing intertwined bodies, kisses, and deep embraces, I voyeuristically yearned to join the uninhibited profusion of love.

Living in small barrios in Puerto Vallarta, fluid days sweetly stretched out with chance meetings on strolls or long, delectable lunches at el fresco cafés. Worth is not determined by the size of your wallet or the busyness of your schedule, but by the richness of your connections with family and friends.

While some visitors find the lack of structure disorienting, I find it wildly liberating. There, my spirit can relax once again from the insidious bombardment of laws, rules, and regulations at home. I don’t want to spend my life worrying about being fined for applying lipstick at a light.

When I need to restore my body, refresh my spirit, or calm my monkey mind, Mexico is the cure. Oceanside, I shed the shackles of heavy clothing and the din of traffic to the delight of walking with the sun on my face, the earth under my feet, and the expansiveness of blue skies over the tropical lushness.

Mexico in not a masculine taskmaster who motivates with heavy-handed will. She is feminine. She is free. She gently inspires. She coaxes you to smile, to dance, to laugh, to play, to create, and to love–deeply.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

Field Worker

All morning, bussed South from Mexico City,
I watch Volkswagens and motorcycles-
some with three riders- blur by in a stream of color and faces.
Blue smoke puffs from chrome tailpipes,
the putter and exhaust of worn rings
and neglected metal that will soon seize.

If angels breath, they won’t fly here.

Not where the Sierra Madres
pierce the sky like ghosts armored in beryl-horned caps
as if to readying to march.
Not in this place where a blight falls quiet
from the same slack sky, coating the sugar cane’s electric green.

Jose says the field workers are dying by the thousands
of a mystery kidney disease,
says the newspapers lie,
reporting any pesos for a study would be a waste,

because workers drink tequila
stay out late
say they chew cane pulp instead of food.

I’ve been on this bus too long not to care,
and so I mistake the low-flying crop-duster for something holy
when it glides by,
streaming parathion and paraquat in contrails from its wingtips,
which descends, spreading over the men in a blue cloud
so it looks as if the cane is harvested by the dead.

I think of working McDonald’s weekends,
how I always thought the managers jobs were to care,
that they sat in the office studying Material Safety Data Sheets
as I hunched in a black apron over the grill,
scrubbing it with the scouring acid that looked benign as dish soap
in its clear package that I scissored open,
but would settle like lesions into my hands,
ghosting them for months after.

What my great-grandfather said about working coal seams for scrip-
the stamped-out copper coins they could only use in the company store-
they gave us shit and called it sunshine-
how he emerged from the dark of a twelve hour shift
to the dark of night, exhaling carbon
and wiping black from the creases in his eyes.

I open my eyes again on the fields,
thinking of what we allow settle into us and see many
like my grandfather- the truly working dead,
their leather-worn hands rasping the bead tighter up the bolo
of their straw hats.
I see them in loose pants and chambray,
I see them in helmets with spit-carbide lanterns.
I see them working the field the same as I see them in a hole,
hobbling bundles of cane
to the rusted beds of pickups and longbed trailers
like mining cars doing not what they want,
but what they believe they must.

About the Author: Jonathan Travelstead served in the Air Force National Guard for six years as a firefighter and currently works as a full-time firefighter for the city of Murphysboro. Having finished his MFA at Southern Illinois University of Carbondale, he now works on an old dirt-bike he hopes will one day get him to the salt flats of Bolivia.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.
Going to Mexico?  WSGT found these travel books and gear to help you prepare.

Lonely Planet Mexico:  The world’s favorite travel guidebook series.

Travel Hat:  Keep your head and shoulders out of the sun with a great hat.

Medical kit:  Stay healthy in unexpected situations