At best, travel is for exploring yourself. That is how it has always been for me. Not that I’ve found nuggets of wisdom in every jaunt to the Jersey shore or expanded my inner vision with every overpriced ride from an airport, but going to and being in some unfamiliar place pulls my spirit hither and yon. Nothing can be assumed, nothing is on automatic. Perhaps it is the jolt into the present moment. Perhaps that points of comfortable recognition are not available to hang on to.
This is one of the mornings that I cannot type fast enough. I want to get so much down on this screen and I know that when I follow any thought path, I will leave others, equally important to me to die by the wayside. Sometimes when I travel it takes me days to get into this mind set and when I don’t feel the click into this intense desire to settle into a book, journal or do some mindful exercise, I am very disappointed. When the switch is thrown (although the mechanism is still unknown to me) quickly, I celebrate. This morning is one of those experiences.
We — Julia, Cheshire and I — are in Puerto Morelos, a small town south of Cancun. A bit more “real” than its ersatz developed neighbor. We are in a very sweet walled house, the house developed for tourists like us — little pool out back, BBQ, very nice linens, good kitchen, big screen tv — on a street where dogs back and some properties are falling into ruin while others are being built. Mexican people walk and ride on motorcycles and in cars. We saw another tourist couple in the convenience store but without Cheshire’s Spanish and some pesos, it would have been harder settling into our digs last night.
We arrived in late midday into the stifling heat that is both unpleasant and recognizable to me — Vietnam and China, even Costa Rica — I have traveled in this kind of heat before and my body know, even when my mind refuses to believe, that this is a place of slowing down and tending to the body in a way outside of my normal day-to-day.
Monday night back in Madison, there were fierce storms, tornado warnings and alerts. We spent a good deal of our night on the living room couch and in our basements. There were trees down and houses ripped up, not in our part of Madison but close by. As I looked at the pictures online much later I was very much aware of how life changes in an instant — how different Tuesday would have looked had the storm claimed our neighborhood.
Julia and I had a place at 6 a.m. in Milwaukee which is about an hour and a half from our house. I know, crazy time, but I never sleep well before a trip and always sleep on planes — it seems a good use of time and energy but how crazy it was! Monday, I had very little planed outside of Julia’s activities. We packed, cleaned out the frig, checked in with Amy (whose kids are cat sitting) and were both in bed early — she before 9, myself before 10. The thunder and tornado alarms woke up before midnight. Julia first climbed into my bed. She can sleep though a moderate thunder storm now, but there was no sleeping though this one — thunder, cell phone alert squawks, town alarms, and emergency vehicle sirens. When the storm seemed to keep coming, I checked the weather on the lap top and tried to decide what to do. After all, we were waking up at 2 to leave before 3 to get to the airport. I had “planned” on those four hours of sleep to get me focused enough to drive. My initial mental gymnastics were about how I was going to get back to sleep in order to stay on course.
Ah, how the gods laugh at mortal planning! If there are micromanaging deities, I could believe that they present us with lesson after lesson, usually on the same topic. Almost ad nauseum, waiting for some learning to happen.
After a few minutes of wild storming and the warning to get into a safe place NOW, I had Julia put on clothes and we sent down to the first floor. Amy, bless her heart (friendship lesson #5,009,234.671), texted me asking if I was ok. Yes, this was serious weather. We stayed on the couch in the living room which is not as safe as the basement but from which movement to a safer part of the house would be easy. We snuggled together for an hour or more, neither of us sleeping, me worrying, Julia very quiet. When the alarms stopped and the storm became merely heavy rain, we climbed the stairs and collapsed into my bed. I would have time for a nap before hitting the road.
The alarm went off at 2 and for a moment I imagined it a dream. I willed myself out of bed — when David was alive he would have done the willing. Yes, I have learned. — grateful for the shower that woke me up and the time to rouse an exhausted Julia and get us out the door on time. And then on the road we hit more intense rain. Optimistically, I must admit that although I hate driving through rain and hail, there was no possibility of falling asleep at the wheel.
The trip down was uneventful. We slept on the planes — I much more than Julia and arrived in Cancun with flocks of American and British tourists lining up for immigration as if they were Noah’s cargo of feathered and furred pairs. Julia had been cooperative on the planes; however, she denied needing to go the bathroom when I did during our second flight. And she is still not always aware of her body. Where that leads is predictable but always surprising to the mother who juggles too many inconsequential lists in her head. The long walk from the plane to the immigration lines which is not lined with conveniences was too much for her and mid way there she stopped with pee streaming down her legs.
My initial anger leads me to humiliation which would work well for most typical kids. I am not proud of this, ever, but my first impulses with what I see as baffling behavior is not necessarily the most helpful or loving. To my credit, I deeply see that there is no intent in these situations, there is just poor planning on her part. We found a rest room before the immigration line, Julia changed into the clothes packed in her back pack — always a change of clothes incase of travel mishaps — and she washed her good sandals before we went into the lines.
I am struck by the Velveteen Rabbit realness of living with Julia — we can have no pretense, no false pride. We find joy where we can and we are not humiliated by what occurs. That did not come out as profound as it is clanging around in my brain. Not that many wiser people have not taught the same thing but I am so much Dorothy who needs to discover how those ruby slippers work for myself.
The house, as I said, is lovely and it was heaven to spend the evening and night with Cheshire! We can talk — we might do it non-stop for the entire week if mouths did not need sleep or food.
There is a convenience store of the 7-eleven variety and two restaurants within walking distance of our house. We bought cereal, milk, bananas, cookies and Julia’s longed for chips there and then retired to a very empty restaurant which served very USA food. It was very good — Julia’s fish and chips was as close to healthy as that dish can get, my burger was perfect and the calamari, “Brooklyn style” was fresh — but not the Mexican experience that Cheshire and I travel for. Julia was hungry! Understandably so since we split a bagel before the first plane and had little else except for plane snacks during the day. I was still on adrenaline from the last 24 hours, she simply needed food in a way that she rarely does. She ate her own food, had bites of my burger – rarely does she care to taste what others eat, rarely does she really care about food! — and some of my and most of Cheshire’s fries. We then returned to our little house, exhausted but not tired, and watched one of the Star Trek movies on the largest tv screen that I’ve ever lived with. Julia went to bed protesting a little, more a formal protest than with any passion, hit the pillow and was out cold within minutes just after 9 which under normal vacation circumstances would have been early.
Cheshire and I indulged and dozed in front of The Wolf of Wall Street which is an incredibly depressing movie. I have little interest in dissecting my reasoning but suffice it to say that perhaps some spiritual awakening has penetrated my core.
This morning I woke up just before 7 — I am still on school year time and 7 is sleeping in on a school morning. I came out to our walled back garden, did Japanese Crane, took a dip in the pool sans clothing, made myself some tea and have been tapping away on a lounge listening to birds that do not live in Wisconsin and the rustle of palm trees.
And now, I hear the murmurings of Julia who may have found her iPad before she decided to find me.