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.

On conquering the material self

The initial blush of excitement has faded.
In its place the question of “what have I gotten myself into” is answered only with a creeping chill of fear and dread. I’ve always thrown myself into the well headlong and waited to wonder what was at the bottom until I was halfway down. For a long time, being burned by that mentality has kept me from making such leaps of faith.
But I had to make one, and now reality is setting in. The slow, painful process of shedding your accumulated earthly belongings by choice is like molting off your identity. You know yourself by the things you choose to own, or want to own. When you let them go, in many ways you lose yourself. It’s disorienting and isn’t something to take lightly.
In essence, I am saying goodbye to Rachel, the homebody with her chickens and rabbits and gardens and passionate interests in agriculture and homey shit like cooking and putting up food and crochet. Adieu to the selectively social creature that loved to shop, go out for dinner or music, and loved her job behind the bar.
Keep in mind, I am trying to say goodbye to this person while simultaneously wrapping my brain around being the kind of person that lives in a 30-year old RV with her dog. I will not have a job for a while. I will not have a home aside from the one I will be driving.
Maybe the implications of this seem like they would be something I should have conquered emotionally before taking on the project…but would anyone take such a thing on if they thought it through first? I know myself well enough to know I wouldn’t have, because I have passed up opportunities such as this before. It’s really rather unreasonable on many levels and may even speak to some textbook case of mental illness to forsake everything you own, everyone you know, everything you love and run away to Mexico.
And yet, I know the fear is fleeting and I will box up these belongings and pack them away re-discover happiness in simplicity and minimalism. And I will certainly be a better, stronger person because of it.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, i understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. (1 Cor. 13:11 KJV)

Maybe this is what growing up feels like.
It’s about damn time.

On leaving Alaska

The home I loved in this largest state is starting to feel a little small.
The home I love in this largest state is starting to feel a little small.

On December 8, 2014 I turned 30 years old. To celebrate, my best friend took me to Las Vegas and I left Alaska for the first time in four years.
In January 2015, I visited my family outside of Memphis, TN and left Alaska for the second time in four in years.
Time with the "little" brother in Mississippi
Time with the “little” brother in Mississippi

In February 2015, I flew to San Diego with my friend Phil and got on a Princess Cruise Liner and experienced Mexico for the first time ever. It was then that I left Alaska for the third time in four years and it was then that I decided I needed to leave her for a little bit longer.
I first came to Alaska as a 19 year old girl in 2004. I found a job in Denali on CoolWorks after many restless nights looking for a way to escape the sleepy Memphis suburbs in North Mississippi. It was a transitional summer for me in many ways and one of the most important summers of my life. I left Alaska at the end of that season, but I knew I’d be back.
Three years later after stints living in NYC and Molokai in Hawaii, my little sister called me up and asked for advice in finding a job in Alaska. I was working as a vet tech in Midtown Memphis at the time, engaged to a nice guy and settling in, by all accounts, for the business of real life and growing up, etc. When Hannah asked me about Denali, I knew it was time to go back. I knew that was my last chance to experience that place I loved so much before babies and marriage and career, so I packed up and Hannah, my father and I drove North to Alaska.
At some point that summer I knew I wouldn’t be going back to Memphis, and I didn’t.
Hiking in Hatcher's Pass with my dog, Porkchop
Hiking in Hatcher’s Pass with my dog, Porkchop

Since then, I have lived in picturesque hippie ski town, Girdwood, and oddly sleepy former coal town, Sutton. I have spent most of my time in Anchorage, which many Alaskans refer to as being “close to Alaska.” I’m rather fond of it. I continued a career in journalism for a while, struggling through the deadlines and poor pay before finding my true calling as dive bar bartender at a sports lounge on the East Side.
Kayaking on Kenai Lake, May 2014
Kayaking on Kenai Lake, May 2014

I have built a tiny homestead on the more ghetto fringes of Downtown where at various times I have raised chickens and quail and rabbits and goats and lots and lots of plants. Through this venture, I somehow began to connect with the agriculture community of Alaska and followed an interest in animal husbandry and gardening and homesteading that I had harbored in varying degrees since early childhood.
Dipnetting for salmon
Dipnetting for salmon

I also found myself in an excellent position to fall in love with the outdoors in earnest and begin to fish, camp, kayak and hike when the weather was good. The rest of the time, I followed my old Memphis habits of earnest appreciation of good food, booze and music.
What I wasn’t able to do much of for the majority of my time here is leave.
Have you ever lived on an island? Where you’ve been down every road, and met every person you cared to meet, and watched every sunset and marveled over every vista…and just needed to get out? In the lower 48 you can do that relatively inexpensively. In Alaska, no quick get away can happen without a $600-$2000 plane ticket to kick it off.
So after experiencing the marvels of the Baja Peninsula and the, um…interesting travel means of cruising, I could not shake the need to see more.
The desert is calling and I must go, if you will.
The Dolphin awaits.
The Dolphin awaits.

Those who know me well know I can be singularly obsessive over things when I set my mind to something. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I buy a 1984 Toyota Dolphin mini motorhome, put notice in to move out of my house, and start charting the course between Anchorage, Alaska and Cabo San Lucas.
The road trip starts in August. The journey has already begun.