Mexico threw her arms around me and welcomed me back with comprehensible Spanish, non-segregated food establishments and a unified currency. More than that though were her people; her unreliable, disorganized, ever-tardy people: warm, open, generous and with so much time for anyone who comes their way.
Looking back, it was around this time I was reminded that, just as much if not more than what I see, the pleasure of travelling is in who I meet along the way. It is somewhat self-fulfilling that people who think it’s fun to strap their own bodyweight to their back, spend the best part of most days wedged sweatily into variable public transport and struggle through repetetive conversations in foreign languages will get on well with each other when they meet, but it is still faintly magical to repeatedly come across people with whom it is possible to become friends with so quickly. The literature student and the Spanish teacher in Oaxaca, the political scientist in Cancún, the photographer and the writer in Tulum. The girl with grey and amber eyes who magicked away three days in Mérida. People who it would have been a pleasure to meet under any circumstances, but combined with beautiful locations, good food and the time to talk for as long as we needed became truly memorable. I never got to spend more than two or three days with any of the people I met, but in many ways it wasn’t necessary; that time is enough to establish that you have enough in common beyond the shared experiences of travelling, and modern technology means you simply never have to lose touch.
At this point, half of those people were still to come. I stopped over one night in a Cancún (pleasingly) sleeping off its New Year excesses, this time in a more expensive, less drug-fuelled hostel, before moving quickly on to the ruins of Tulum. Tulum itself was little more than a truck stop, a tiny town built around a single main street lined with fuelling stations, restaurants and backpacker accommodation. Finding a dorm in one of the latter, I met a British-American couple with whom I would spend the next twenty-four hours. We went to the famous ruins together, a curious mixture of a well-preserved site, a stunning piece of turquoise coast and an over-sanitized conservation project that made the whole place feel like a golf course. I find now that I remember our conversation more than the ruins: the phrase “comfortably international” will stick with me for a long time as we discussed being Third Culture Kids, as well as the attempt to illustrate the mind-bending concept of trying to translate words whose referrent only exists in one culture.
We ate well, went for a drink, lamented the mosquitoes and talked about music, politics, technology and travel. In the morning we ate breakfast together, and I enjoyed for the last time my new friends’ ability to be funny, insightful and informed about everything from Chernobyl to taxidermy. Wished that I too had left university long behind and found out a bit more about the world… enjoyed feeling very young. I had to leave; I ate lunch quickly in the same restaurant we’d eaten dinner in the night before, welcomed back like an old friend by the waiter, and then got back on the buses.
Mérida, the last stop of note on my trip, was a nicely busy city on the other side of the Yucatán peninsula. The highlight was a series of cenotes, caves plummeting away underground that – somehow – were filled with crystal blue green pools and inquisitive fish. The last had a set of roots hanging forty feet high from an opportunistic tree on the surface. The days on either side disappeared via art galleries, markets and food stalls, in hindsight made hazy in comparison to the company I shared them with. Again, the conversations about travelling and language, sex and faith, literature and music, have stayed with me more than the lovely central square or the bands and artesans that occupied it. Too soon practicalities were requiring my attention: coaches and planes and the new term starting in GDA. My flight home was from Tuxtla, a town two states away, so after goodbyes in the bus station I settled in for a long trip.
After fourteen hours on the road, I was fully expecting to do nothing in Tuxtla apart from rest and wait for my flight, but Mexican towns are not so easily brushed off. Despite the comprehesive roadworks that were disrupting the city centre (much to the approval of my taxi driver, who was impressed the government was finally doing something so practical and unglamorous) the cathedral, plazas and markets enticed me out of my hotel room. By the end of the day I found myself semi-accidentally in a verdant square thickly populated with young families, cuddling couples and suits finished with their day’s work. I listened to the live marimba band as the sun set, the sight of elderly couples swaying in unhurried circles beginning to soothe the sting of leaving Mérida. I wandered home humming a salsa tune, went to bed early. I got up at five thirty the next morning and went back to Guadalajara.