Home is where the dog is.

After six months of criss-crossing a solid quadrant of the globe, from Mexico to Alaska to the PNW to the Azores to Panama to Memphis, I am back in Puerto Vallarta with Porkchop and smelly dog kisses never felt so good. This beast has my heart, for better or for worse.
It is because of that that I’ve decided to set up a permanent home base here in Vallarta. I got back here around the first of February and camped out at a friends Air BnB while looking for a long term place.
I think I’ve found the perfect fit.
Oddly enough, it is the very first place in Vallarta that I inquired about when searching for a rental from Alaska back in December 2016. It is much bigger than I need for myself, but a reasonable walking distance to all of my favorite things (20 minute walk to my favorite beach bar, El Barracuda,) and there’s a fantastic taco stand on the corner, and it has a rooftop pool and bar with a bit of a view out to the sea. The price is right at 6000 mxn per month (About $325 USD at current exchange rate,) and Porkchop does really well on the roof by himself when I need to run errands, so we’re going with it.
20180218_085513.jpgThis house, I’ve dubbed it Casa Demasiada, is so very different from my last tidy concrete box on the sea. The house itself is so empty, as it came unfurnished and more or less remains so, and echoes with all the tile and concrete typical of Mexican construction. It is an open air apartment, second story with tall ceilings. It feels like a big, bright cave filled with all the noise of the neighborhood below.
And there is so much of that! Where before I listened for the chacalacas and the slap slap slap of the pangas on the waves, here everything is so much more…alive.
Early in the mornings the roosters start crowing, then the dogs start barking as their owners wake and let them out onto rooftops and sidewalks to do their business and see what’s what. The vendors all have megaphones attached to their trucks announcing the arrival of gas, or water, or vegetables, or pastries. The radios from the day laborers working on new construction all around come on mid-morning, battling for air space for a while before one wins out and the tapping of rubber mallets leveling new-laid bricks or the scrape of hoes mixing concrete add to the rhythm of it all.
In the afternoons when the children get home from school, they kick the soccer ball around and play and fight outside in the street, occasionally getting a cackle from an errant hen whose scratching has been rudely interrupted. At night, everyone gathers on the sidewalks with the music playing again…usually a calmer a tempo with rich, crooning tenor.
20180309_192535.jpgI felt like I lived in a secret garden before. Here it feels like I am a part of life. I am participating in this beautiful circus that rises up in waves all day, swelling around me and reminding me of my own presence in this moment. And then it calms to a quiet murmur at night as I lay on my back on the roof and look at the stars and count constellations and watch the moon rise above the mountains behind me as I tangle my fingertips in Porkchop’s fur.
This is good. It is what I needed. It is what I was looking for.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

I don’t know why other people travel. There are all kinds of reasons to do so, I guess. Some of them are really great, some of them are total shit. Apparently there’s been a huge uptick in global travel and tourism in recent years and I find it fascinating in a morbid kind of way. I want to dissect it and see what’s going on and there are all kinds of plausible theories from oil prices to the balance of power and privilege to the sick slow bloom of globalism that offers the tantalizing chance for each and every one of us to be worldly and cultured beyond our bounds. (Not actually each and every one of us, I’m being sarcastic.)
I’ve seen Digital Nomadism become a thing and the idea of “Gypsy” become romanticized whereas in the very, very recent past both nomads and gypsies of every creed were derided for their lifestyles and frowned upon and persecuted by “fine upstanding civilized society.”
What the serious fuck is this all about.
I don’t know. I’ve dabbled in it all. I am a shameless rambler, myself. No, that’s not quite right. There is often something akin to shame creeping under my skin. I think it’s married to the anxiety. I am a traveler with constant and perpetual travel anxiety and stress. I keep pushing myself through these things because I think surely eventually I’ll get used to it. It will feel normal. I’ll learn to go with the flow a little better and it won’t twist my nerves in knots every time. So far, after maybe fifteenish or so years of this…it still does. And I still keep doing it because I don’t know what else to do with myself.
That’s it.
That’s the only reason I travel. I just don’t know what else to do.
Other people have set up careers or they go the family route or they find a cause they feel passionate about and it grows into their soul like some permanent part of themselves. I’ve never had any of that. I feel passionately about things often and invest myself heavily into various projects, but I am not a lifetime cause kind of girl. Everything I learn and read and experience shifts my perspective; sometimes incrementally, sometimes violently. And it changes how I interact with the things that matter to me. I don’t think this is an unreasonable way for a human being to react to the world around them—we should all be analyzing the information coming in to us and adjusting accordingly.
But it does make life difficult. Especially when you’ve never entrenched yourself into any one culture or lifestyle that you’re forced to commit to for extraneous reasons.
Here’s the nuts and bolts of things as they stand now: Way back in March I went out on a limb and booked a big trip with a flight to Barcelona and then a transatlantic cruise from the Canary Islands to Panama. In July, shit kind ofhit the fan in Mexico and I decided I needed a break (so. much. drama) so I hauled up to Alaska with plans to drive my RV down to Seattle to meet with business partners and then hop to LAX for that Barcelona flight. I ignored the fact that funds were running low and I had absolutely zero faith in myself driving my 1978 Toyota Dolphin (stick shift) from Anchorage, Alaska to Seattle, Washington all on my lonesome. It’d all work out somehow, right?
Well, yesterday I had a moment of reckoning in the way of a mild panic attack after jolting my way across town in the RV, clearly indicating I have no business attempting to drive the thing in traffic without further lessons. I sat in a Wal-Mart parking lot for four hours trying to work up the nerve to drive it back to my friend’s house and finally he came and picked me up to try again today. Upon attempting to retrieve said motorhome today, we discover it had been towed. TOWED. Overnight. From a Wal-Mart parking lot which has long since been the iconic redneck urban boondocking mecca.
I’m not really one to believe in “signs” per se. But after the things that transpired in Mexico to make me feel like I needed a break, and the shit that’s going on here now…I feel like I’m doing something wrong in life. I don’t know what to do except keep at it, keep going. If I stop…it’ll be a hard stop and I don’t know what it might require to recover from that.
I don’t know how to fix it alljust now, so I’ve paid the piper and I hit the road ASAP headed South. It’s all I know to do. I’m feeling very…human. Almost fragile, even. There are many worse things happening in the world at this moment, but my own hard won mortality feels like it’s rising to the top at the moment. Kind of bubbling under the surface in thick viscous boils that could pop at any moment. Who knows.
Wish me luck.

Extreme Adulting Day 3: Beauty & the Beer

I’m tired. I don’t want to be writing this post, actually, but I feel compelled to keep it going and keep producing, even though I’ve spent so many hours today already writing and working on this little blog of mine.
(Yes. Hours.)
I woke up this morning in a fit of indecision…actually quite a bit like the one I described yesterday in my challenge post. I wanted to go to the beach and go fishing, but I had a lot of work to do. Especially homework. Ultimately I rolled over to sleep on it and awoke an hour or two later decided—I would go. I would rather take the opportunity for a ride out to some little beach I’d never seen before and a day learning a new skill than work on homework. Even if that means shit grades.
A girl’s gotta have priorities, you know. Who moves to Mexico to sit in the house and study and work all the time. Not this one! And this may seem irresponsible and not very “adult-like” behavior, but when you’ve invested so much in being in a place and experiencing it, it would be a damn waste not to do so.
So I crammed in some morning work before catching my ride to Boca with Porkchop in tow, and we all loaded up in the panga to head out to the rancho somewhere past Quimixto but before Yelapa. We landed on a small beach full of big granite boulders and awash in seaweed. The big brown mountain rose up sharp behind it and a little hut stood off to one side behind a green iron gate. The whole property past the beach was ringed in rusty barbed wire and termite-tasted posts, and it instantly took me back to my youth of tetanus shots and tick checks in the evenings and I loved it.
Back-story —the writing malaise is lifting, can you tell?—my fishing companion for the day is Paul. Paul is a 65+ year old guy who has been enamored with me and regaling me with fascinating stories since I met him a week or two ago on the bus. He is from LA and owns a house up in the hills somewhere in Vallarta. He wants me to watch his house in his absence because…well, he still has a few years of probation left in the states apparently.
I take all of Paul’s stories with a grain of salt because they are some pretty wild tales, but he launches into them with such a genuine enthusiasm (and repeats them so often,) I actually am beginning to believe them all. I’ve also seen first hand the way he operates is such that the situations he describes are fully plausible. Paul is fascinated with the idea that I’m a writer and will someday tell all of his stories, but I won’t get into all of that just now. (No, not even the one involving myself tagging along with him to “look for his old girlfriend” in a series of Vallarta’s finest strip clubs.)
Anyway, part of what makes Paul believable is that he has a lot of obviously very old friends around and one of them owns this rancho on this little isolated beach in between all these crazy tourist destinations and eco resorts and that’s where Porkchop and I got to spend my day. We putzed about a great deal and Porkchop chased crabs on the rocks and I explored the tide pools after tiring of my casting practice. (Read more about me and learning to fish with a hand line.) There was a nap involved, at some point, followed by some adventuring up the hillside.

Paul’s friend, whose name I wouldn’t know how to spell even if I could correctly pronounce it, has been working on the hillside all this time, clearing off all the brush and digging out the dirt beneath the massive rock shelfs. I asked how the prevented erosion when the rains came and was confronted with a surprising answer—all of this was to ENCOURAGE erosion. The summer rains would come and wash all of the exposed dirt down off the hillside into the retaining walls at the foot of the mountain, effectively building up new flat space to build.
Coming from a state which harbors several communities in states of emergency due to erosion, I have personally never been able to picture it in a positive context and so I found this interesting. It’s a brilliant way of letting nature do some of the work for you, though certainly clearing the steep hillside is no easy task.
Despite all this, I found myself hankering (yes, hankering) for a beer or a cocktail because beaches and beers just go so damn well together. It was the first time so far I found myself slightly disappointed in my commitment to sobriety, but I stayed preoccupied and drank lots of water instead and successfully marked one more day off the Sober Month Calendar.
Yay me!

Day in Bullets:

  • Pesos Spent: $15 for a bag of plums before the plum lady got off the boat in Quimixto.
  • Alcohol Consumed: Zero!
  • Fish Caught: Zero.
  • Ticks Found: Two.
  • Homework Done: One biology lesson.
  • Pitches Sent: One, unenthusiastically.
  • State of the Porkchop: Thoroughly exhausted, impossibly sandy, curmudgeonly about tick check, and dreaming of crab catching.
  • Pictures Taken: About a million.
  • Sunburns Acquired: All of them. (My 30spf waterproof sunscreen was no match for the 11+ UV index today.)
  • Watch/Listen: Lauryn Hill’s Video for “Doo-Wop (That Thing)”  This one popped up in my feed today and was just such a delicious pop of nostalgia I thought I’d share.
  • Link: “The particular beauty of Naples, an incomplete list” by Sara White on Verbalized. I loved this travelogue today. It’s such a great style, and reflections on these small things are the ones that make them special to us—not the grand tourist attractions, no matter how spectacular they are. It got me thinking about what this list would look like for me here in Vallarta.
  • Link: “The Personal-Essay Boom Is Over” by Jia Tolentino for The New Yorker. This is such a great piece picking apart a portion of the night mare freelance writing is right now. There’s a lot to this and I love how it puts things in context—all that time I spent on LiveJournal and Blogger as a teen is what gave rise to the army of poorly-paying and non-paying “writing gigs” out there because there was more flashy content available coming from people who were already accustomed to not being paid. What I hope this all means, ultimately, is that people are beginning to turn away from the milled-out Thought Catalog essays (like the one I recently submitted out of frustration,) and towards real writing—thoughtful, researched, edited writing that is bought and paid for with real money instead of internet fame. It seems weird to be writing this in a blog chock full of personal essays but…such is life. I’ll end the night with this tidbit:

The commodification of personal experience was also women’s territory: the small budgets of popular women-focussed Web sites, and the rapidly changing conventions and constrictions surrounding women’s lives, insured it. And so many women wrote about the most difficult things that had ever happened to them and received not much in return.

 
 

On finding your voice when there is nothing new under the sun.

When I was younger I was a writer. The prose came easily and content generation happened like magic over night. The ideas were hot coals ready to be stoked and everything I came across seemed to stir them up. I was a writer because I wrote, and I never stopped to think whether or not what I was writing was original or valid or culturally sensitive or politically correct because I wrote more than I read, and a steady line of people told me it was good.
Things are so different now. The constant stream of information has put a damper on that once burning writer flame. My thoughts are co-opted by Facebook and Twitter 140 characters at a time. I’ve had editors and teachers show me the ways of the world, and it silenced me because I was unused to criticism, as constructive as it may have been.
When I was younger I was a writer, and I loved travel and I loved reading books about travel. I always wanted to write my own great soul-searching travel epic and I went to all the right places to gather material, but the story hasn’t come to me because the more I traveled, the more I met other travelers who were also writers. They were all so enthused about their own stories and, frankly, their stories sounded much more interesting than any of the ideas I’d been tossing around. It was intimidating to finally meet my peers and come out of the sheltered environment which had fostered so much creativity. The gully washer rush of ideas slowed to a trickle over time and then dried up altogether.
How does this work? Creativity, inspiration, collaboration. What is “the right amount” of outside influence to get ideas coming out of you before they can be stomped down and relegated to the trash heap of unoriginality and played-out thoughts. Feedback is valuable, but is there such a thing as too much? Education and awareness are important, but can you become so immersed in them that you lose your own voice?
I theorize that’s what has happened to me through the steady tutelage of twenty years of social media and exposure to other people’s ideas. People used to have to work hard to hear what others had to say about things. They wrote letters and waited weeks and months for replies. They consumed the rare newspaper or magazine or book voraciously. They traveled long distances to fellowship with other great thinkers and collaborate on new concepts.
By contrast, today I can research fifty topics before noon with a hangover and learn whatever I want to know about, say, orangutan dietary habits and family units with a few clicks of the keyboard. The consumption of media no longer holds value for me because it is so accessible, and I think I feel my own ideas are lumped into that. When I consider what I write swirling in the melee of Google and Facebook, something squeaks in my gut and it works on me until the overwhelming feeling of “what’s the point” takes over and I surrender to another night of Netflix.
I’m trying to change that, though. Trying to adopt new habits and push the noise to background. It’s certainly easier said than done for a content addict like myself. I’ve come up with a few ideas I rarely stick with (Facebook diets? Laughable!) but the awareness of the issue actually has been half the battle. Yeah…cliche as that may be.
I had to decide what I’m about and I’ve decided that I am not here to write another Toes In the Sand travel girl memoir. I am here to uncover that writer I used to be before I got too scared to be her and too disillusioned to bother trying to bring her out. In fact I’d like to revert wholly to that teenage self—that brazen, disdainful, irreverent thing. She was really something, I think, and I admire her don’t give a fuck attitude very much. Her voice, my voice, is valid even if I’m the only one that thinks it is. My stories hold value because they are not anyone else’s, and that’s enough. And even if nobody else ever reads a word I write, I am creating something worthwhile… simply because I am creating. It takes a certain amount of hubris to be a writer, and I think being bold in life is triggering a revival of the confidence I have desperately needed in every way for so very long.

Three Weeks at Carretera a Barra de Navidad Kilómetro 14.5

At the beginning of February I left Alaska, a place I had grown to love and feel to be more my home than anywhere else on earth after being there for ten years. I left her for the hazy allure of Mexico, an anonymous little spot on the map south of Puerto Vallarta, to be specific. Here I am sandwiched between the fishing villages of Boca de Tomatlin and Mismaloya on the Mexican equivalent of California’s Hwy 1. I live in a little studio apartment carved out of a cliff and reinforced with concrete and tile with the Pacific ocean lapping at my balcony and the jungle-draped mountain rising sharply behind me. There is nothing in between except a two lane road, a few other similarly precarious homes, and me.
I’ve been here for three weeks and patterns are beginning to emerge.
Every morning I wake up at eight in the morning when the sun comes over the mountain behind me and the water taxis start slapping the waves back and forth from Puerto Vallarta to Boca and Yelapa carrying tourists and fishermen and sight-seers. By 8:30 or 9:00 the neighbor upstairs is stirring and she moves some mysterious heavy furniture item across the floor and the sounds of breakfast—dishes rattling softly and water running—trickle down the cliff from her open windows into mine.
I get up and begin my own rituals of making coffee (two ice cubes, one teaspoon condensed milk) and checking to see if the iguanas are out yet. Around this time some heavy, musky floral aroma makes an appearance on the scene, mingling with the sea water and whatever other olfactory flotsam and jetsam happens to be on the air at the moment and I think it must be the neighbor’s body wash when she showers. Not bad, but a little loud for me.
Feed dog, water dog, consider the contents of my refrigerator, walk dog.
Around 11:00 or 11:30 the pirate ship is out in the bay shooting off its cannons. How exciting that must be for the people on the ship, it must be so loud from there, and how sharply that contrasts to the way it’s become a regular punctuation of my day. The dog perks his ears and paces and I go back to work or study or whatever pointless preoccupation I have going on.
Lunch? Eh.
Around 2:30 or 3:00 the sun will start creeping onto my balcony at last and I check the cloud cover and consider my current state of sunburn, or lack thereof, and if all is in order I’ll take my studies out with the intention of reading and decreasing this Alaskan whitewash I wear. But I’ll probably just daydream, write a few notes, listen to whatever latest music is making me feel creative by proxy. This goes on for an hour or so, and I’m finally hungry and come in for some ice water while I cook an early dinner and work a bit with one eye on the horizon for the daily round of sunset pictures. (I’ll probably be out of space on my phone soon.)
After sunset I’ll walk the dog again and close up the big sliding glass door so the bugs don’t come in. I’ll have every intention of working some more, but the overhead lights in here at night—weak coiled fluorescents dangling from naked wires above the ceiling fans—are not very inspiring, so I’ll likely turn them off and work a bit by lantern before I give up and wash up for bed and fall asleep to some show on Amazon.
On Fridays we do laundry. On Saturday and Sunday we focus a bit more on school because deadlines and procrastination. One or two days per week we try to go to town for groceries and human contact. We feed the iguanas the not-really-bananas as often as possible.
Part of me is surprised that I’m ok with this routine, and I’m sure I won’t be happy like this forever…but for now it’s not bad at all.