Turtle Medicine

I awoke early the next day like I always do. I wasn’t surprised to feel the dull pains of a hangover pulsing through my body. It could have been much worse. I popped a couple of aspirin and took a huge swig of water. I considered going to get some breakfast and trying to walk by the beach, but my hangover got the best of me. Plus I was on vacation. And after spending three days in a row waking up at the crack of dawn, I figured I had earned the right to sleep in.

By the time I crawled up out of bed, it was after 10:30. I felt worse than when I woke up earlier. I cursed under my breathe because I always go back to sleep to nurse a hangover, only to discover that my rest is anything but restorative. Instead, I usually feel worse than before. It’s best to keep it moving when you are hung over- let your body work out the toxic remnants of good memories…

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Waffles & french toast  with the heaviest cream I’ve ever had.

I quickly changed into some shorts and a tank top and headed down to grab some breakfast. Coincidentally I ran into my gal pals from LA. We laughed for a bit about the sand cleanup and reminisced over the crazy night before. It was their last night in Cancun and they decided to hang around the beach and soak up the Sun. It was wonderful how I always ran into them at the perfect time- their phones didn’t work in Mexico and attempts to chat via Whats App were pretty useless. I was SO glad I had a free Mexico travel plan that allowed me to make calls, texts and surf the web in Mexico.

It was 1:00 when I finished breakfast. In an amazing feat, I took the bartender up on his offer to take a tequila shot in hopes of chasing away the remnants of my hangover.  It wasn’t a cure all, but it definitely got the spirits moving. Determined not to lose an entire day to a low level hang over (I’m a baby when it comes to any type of discomfort), I decided to take the ship to Isla de Mujeres to tour the island and visit the Turtle Farm.

I could already tell this morning I was a little bit more anxious than usual. Despite an intrusive obsession coming into my head that put my into a silent, 10 minute tantrum, I was able to leave my room with barely any trouble. I felt a million times better when I felt the Sun hit my face and felt the beach breeze brush my cheeks. I think the Cancun Effect is a natural hangover cure, because the sights and sounds of vacationers and the beautiful beach made me feel so much better.  Even my anxiety seemed pale in comparison to the sights and sounds around me.

I hopped on the first bus I could and headed 4 miles North to the Ferry stop. While I waited for my boat, I treated myself to a beachside Corona and lounged on a chair while admiring the beach. The waves near us where gentler, and out in the distance people randomly hollered every 10 minutes when someone bunjee jumped into the Ocean. I spoke casually back and forth with several of the wait staff who like most, were excited I spoke Spanish. By this point, I had found a nice rhythm with the language that felt natural and relaxed.

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Me relaxing beach side. Corona missing from the picture…

And then it was on to the ferry, where I slugged slowly in a line with tourists from all over the world who were heading a few miles off the coast of Cancun to visit the island. En route, I chatted briefly with a young girl from Mexico City, who despite being quite nice, asked to touch my hair before randomly stating that she liked my hair, but didn’t like “pelo como Rasta” (hair like Rastafarians). I had to explain that my hair was in fact dreadlocks and that it was a very important part of my spiritual practices and culture. She gave me that dull, flat emotionless look people give you when they don’t know or really believe what you are talking about. Without really thinking, I gave her the nod to touch my hair, immediately triggered by the idea of her dirty hands touching my dreads. I was so dumbfounded by the insensitivity of our interaction and off put by a persistent low grade anxiety that was only made worse by my hangover, that I didn’t even say no when she asked to take a picture of me.

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Ferry ride with Cancun behind me.

I pulled up to Isla de Mujeres and immediately found my second wind. Even though it was late in the day, I was able to cross something off my list. Originally Steph and I had planned to come here together on Friday, but I decided I wanted to go zip lining in Xenotes instead and opted to take advantage of my hangover and stay closer to Cancun. I was able to leave a message at her hotel while en route to the Island and I tried not to feel too bad about changing plans on her. Plus I had to get out of the hotel room before my mind and body got the best of me.

iphone pics 2460.JPGThe hotel staff I spoke with recommended I rent a golf cart and drive around the island. At first I was super nervous about this idea, but  I opted to be super adventurous and risk getting lost in a foreign country. I just imagined myself running out of gas and dropping my phone in the Ocean on accident or something.  I had a little under 3 hours to explore the island. I was cutting it tight, but for $40 dollars it was definitely worth it.

Driving around the island made me think about my car back home. There is something so freeing about being behind the wheel. It’s like the closest thing I will ever get to holding destiny in my own two hands. The power and the freedom of it all made for an exhilarating, but low key spin around the Island. It was refreshing to see the tourist life jutting up against brightly colored private homes endless streets of vendors and the few locals who inhabited the island. Even areas more run down parts of the town were filled with little children running around and dogs laying in the shade.

Turtles are majestic creatures. The way they move is stoic and dignified. I hope that one day I can move with such deliberate patience. I can remember standing in the humid room, the sounds of water splashes licking the air around you. I imagined I was a turtle- wrapped in the safety of my own shell, floating above the depths of the salty ocean, coming to shore to nest and lay eggs like my ancestors have done for thousands of years.

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Sea Turtles of Quintana Roo

I admired the different expression of colors shapes and sizes of each turtle. They were separated by age and species . When you approached their closure, they swam to you – each climbing on top one another, bobbing their head slowly up and down in the water. I tried hard to imagine the turtles being released into the ocean. Even though their temporary habitation at the farm was a carefully orchestrated human attempt at repopulation, the farm had some zooish quality to it.

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Zoo like enclosure. Pretty depressing I know.

You could feed the turtles, which I didn’t really want to on account of me thinking they were probably eating dead fish pellets, and the fact that it seemed like a pretty unsanitary activity. Most importantly, it made me think of when I used to feed giraffes at the Zoo in Colorado. Was this feeding the highlight of their day-of their existence? Would they ever know freedom? Would they ever experience the wild again?

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Welcome to the Turtle Farm

Compassion is a beautiful thing, and the turtles brought it out of me. It just poured out of me thick and heavy like honey that’s been sitting by a warm stove. So there I was, standing in front of the turtles, still slightly hungover, speaking aloud to them as if they were dear children I would not see again. I told them how beautiful they were and thanked them for their medicine (real hippy stuff I know, right). An important side note here- it was around this time that I owned the spiritual and emotional significance of my trip to Mexico. After having felt slightly self-conscious about lugging my crystals to be charged on the top of the pyramid in Coba, I had no problem tearing up out of joy and speaking prayers and affirmations aloud, despite being surrounded by tourists in corona t- shirts. It was one of the best things about traveling, and one of my favorite things about being alone in general- the opportunity to dream and imagine and be exactly who I am at that moment and safe doing it. That is turtle medicine. Thank you turtle.

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Panoramic shot of the outdoor turtle enclosures.

And that my friends was when I decided to add scuba diving with sea turtles to my bucket list. I wanted to witness them in their element and truly experience their medicine and majesty.

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Two thumbs way, way up.

A short two hour stay on the island later and I found myself racing to get the golf cart back to the rent-a-cart station before they closed at 5. They had my ID and I HAD to get back there before they closed.  In my eagerness to return, I quickly took several guess turns and ended up lost. Fortunately I ran into a bit of travelers luck when I found out I was only 5 minutes away from my destination. And here I was, thinking I was a good 15 minutes away on the other side of the island. On the one hand, I did get a chance to see several of the Spanish inspired, stuccoed Churches and open style, air condition less classrooms which I appreciated. It also left me a good 30 minutes to walk around the beach in Isla de Mujeres, before I had to catch the ferry back to Cancun.

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Interesting Church with a false facade.

Apart from the young gentlemen who decided we all wanted to hear his playlist, the ride back to Cancun was uneventful. I even had the opportunity to meet an older married couple (the wife was a human geography professor who taught sustainability) who had rented a car and traveled all along the Yucatan for the past week. It was a refreshing conversation and I was happy to have relaxing company.  Note to self, make blog cards to pass out to people when I travel.

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Promenade at Isla de Mujeres

The bus ride home was short and sweet. 30 minutes after leaving the Island, I was walking up the steep hill to my hotel. I was exhausted but mostly over my hangover which was nice. Despite wanting to cancel on dinner plans, I rallied and met with my friends who were headed back to Los Angeles the next day. We headed to the hotel strip for dinner at Senor Frog’s.

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Fish tacos and beer. Deliciousness.

Per my usual I order tacos, secretly wishing I was in Mexico City so I could order some tamales with rice and beans.  We were seated in an awkward spot which didn’t help my mood,  but I really enjoyed the band singing covers of pop hits from the last few years.  Plus the tacos were surprisingly good and we just hung out and recapped our days, wondered how we would ever go back to the states after all we had experienced.

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Beautiful brown skin in Mexico.

We took a few last minute selfies and walked a half mile to catch the return bus to our hotel. By this time, I was feeling a little cranky and growing increasingly annoyed at the people constantly trying to sell me something. Many had no problem reaching out and grabbing your shoulder to get your attention- something I disliked for obvious reasons and found highly inappropriate. Boundaries people.

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Nonetheless, I made it to my room safely and showered- carefully removing the last bits of sand from the night before. I chuckled at the audacity of it all and quickly hopped out of the shower amazed at all I had done so far. Tomorrow was a long day of traveling. I had to meet the tour bus at 7:05 am sharp and make the 2.5 hours bus ride to Chichen Itza. I quickly gathered the items I would need, including a small pack able back pack I splurged on, my outfit for tomorrow and hurried into bed. As usual, I was slightly nervous about waking up on time and making sure I had everything. But then I thought about turtle and my heart melted. I drifted off to sleep.

 

 

The Stuff Bucket Lists are Made of

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Making it happen at 6 am.

It was early when I woke- maybe just a little after 6:00 in the morning. I was more excited than nervous to see how I would handle leaving my hotel room. Would OCD get the best of me? Only time would tell. As usual,  I gave myself too much time. Being the Type A person I am, I was already pretty much packed the night before. All I had to do was change into my bathing suit, find my dress and grab some cold bottled water from the fridge. With about 20 minutes to spare, I left the door with what could only be called sympathy checking (I felt bad about this being my first BIG trip alone in Mexico so I gave myself permission to perform some minor rituals) which only took about 60 seconds. It was a relief to be walking away, the no turning back rule has been strictly enforced for months now.

Breakfast is the only meal at the all inclusive hotel that I don’t have to force myself to eat. After a couple days of trying different things, I settle on my usual- French toast, eggs, sausage, fruit and an orange juice. Some days when there are strawberries and whipped cream, I treat myself. I stuffed down my food, too nervous to enjoy eating, but smart enough to know that if I don’t eat I will regret it later.

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Our guide, Miguel Moo

At 7:05 I arrive at the lobby. I’m greeted by a small white van and a man who introduces himself as our guide, Miguel Moo. I am the first person to arrive at the plan and I immediately I pick a window seat in the front, hoping we won’t have a full tour and I can have some space. Eventually we make our last stop and pick up a young, cheery Brit named Steph who asked to sit next to me. Without hesitation I invite her to sit next to me, excited for some company.

Our guide begins talking about the Mayan people. He has a confident, but humble and playful heir to him. He switches between Spanish and English with ease. Everyone stops when he speaks because his presence commands respect and attention. He begins by addressing all of the common stereotypes of people. He begins with pointing fun of Americans, Mexicans and the many travels from all over the world with their hats, ball caps, strong accents and speedo swimsuits. Afterwards, he asks us to share some stereotypes about Mexicans and then challenges us to re-think what we think we know, about the Maya- the idea that that they suddenly disappeared after the invasion of the Spanish, that Ancient Aliens came and showed them how to build the pyramids or that human sacrifices were unwilling captives.

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Map of Mayan Ruins, see top right for Coba

He talked about how the Mayan culture and people are alive and well and that many of the hotel staff and guides are the direct descendants of the Maya. He went on to explain that the Maya are a shorter, dark skinned people with little to no body hair, black almond shaped eyes and round faces. The further North you go, the more Spanish looking Mexicans with lighter skin, and more oval faces you will find. Often time their names being traditional Spanish names Martinez, Rodriguez than the traditional one syllable last names of the Maya.  He told us that there are over 3 million Maya that live across Mexico, Guatemala and Belize, 80% of which speak Maya as their first language. He also told us that later today, we would have the chance to meet some of the Maya and visit on of their cooperatives where their way of life, religions and language are still practiced.

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The Mayan class system.

But first, we are given the standard history of the pre-Spanish Mexico, which includes an explanation of its unique topography, which consists of entirely flat terrain with porous limestone rock which allows groundwater to flow through underground rivers and pool into Xenotes (pronounced senotes), or sink holes. As a result, there are no above ground rivers in Mexico and any topographical changes are likely ruins which have become overgrown with trees and vegetation. After a 2 hour ride, we arrived in Tulum, one of the oldest and best preserved of the Mayan ruins, which lays just 130 kilometers south of Cancun on the Caribbean shore.

 

Upon exiting the tour bus, I was greeted by a dusty street and a slew of vendors.  Before entering the ruins, Steph and I stopped for a quick bathroom break where I discovered the strangest  and most unsanitary faucet system I have yet to see. To activate the flow of water when washing your hands, you nudged a small stainless steel pin, the size and shape of a short pencil you’d use to jot down your lottery ticket number or the number of sushi rolls you want to order, with your fingers, while washing them. I wish I had a picture because the design made no sense to my OCD mind. I made sure to squeeze a normal size amount of sanitizer on my hands upon exiting, ignoring the urge to sanitize again, and quickly met up with Steph and the rest of the group to enter Tulum.

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I love all the iguanas sun bathing on the ruins

We walked a little less than 100 meters into where stone walls mixed with dense jungle greeted us to our right. After navigating along a limestone pathway we made a sharp right and scuffled through a small stone arch way with a pack of 10 other tourists. On the other side was what can only be described as a beautiful beach side estate with views of the nearby beach and a stone wall encircling you on three sides.  Ruins, green grass and sun basking iguanas greeted you wherever you looked.  Dots of tourists floated around the cleared land like busy ants weaving in and out of the ruins with cameras, sunglasses and hats in tow.

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One of my favorite pictures. A shot of the ruler’s home.

Our guide tried his best  to keep us in the shade while he pointed out several of the structures dedicated to the Spring and Fall Equinox celebrations. He explains that 20 is the basis of the Mayan calendar (10 hands and 10 toes) and that daily life was closely tied to numerology and cycles of the Sun, moon and planets. He also discusses the basics of the Mayan social system and how they were separated by building and religious activities. Miguel pointed out the largest of the structures with huge plazas and Ocean views, which were occupied by the rulers and their immediate family.

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This structure probably housed members of the ruling family

Immediately surrounding those large estates were more modest, but intricately designed buildings occupied by lesser nobles and skilled aristocrats (astronomers, priests, architects). The remaining city inhabitants lived in stone and straw homes outside the boundaries of Tulum.

 

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Renderings of Tulum. The vibrant, colorful buildings where said to have                       reminded conquerors of villages in Spain..

It’s hard to explain how open and vast, but cozy Tulum feels. The Ocean is comforting and every where you look there is something more to see- intricate buildings with pillars and windows and hints of where color use to be. Statues honoring various Gods with iguanas poking there head around and often hissing if you get too close. And the jungle, slowly creeping over the stone walls, surrounding the Ocean like a silent gate keeper to the ancient city.

Hands down the best part of Tulum are the views. One of my favorite views was the private beach front and cascading rocks. The waves near Tulum were smaller than Cancun but more tumultuous. And unlike the beach at Cancun with its shell crushed sand, the sand at Tulum was finer and whiter.  It’s easy to imagine what it would have been like to wake up near the beach and stroll around this city walls, passing through beautiful bright buildings and eventually ducking under the archways as you entered into the nearby jungle.

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View of the solstice temple and beach. Wish I were that iguana.

It’s crazy to imagine being one of the Maya, looking out onto the shore and seeing a strange ship with sails huge the coast. And how strange would it be to have sailed across the big Ocean from Spain to see beautiful buildings on the coast of a blue Sea. Okay I total stole that from our guide and one of the information signs, but check out the pictures and you will see what I mean.

Miguel gave us an hour to wonder Tulum on our own. Steph and I took turns taking pictures of one another. I found out that she too was a blogger and hoped to quit her job someday, travel and write until her money runs out. I admire her for that and was delighted to share Tulum with her. It made me even more excited about my own journey, and all the other places I would visit and all the other travelers I would meet.

mayan elder cleansing ceremonyAfter Tulum we stopped at a Mayan cooperative to swim at a Xenote and eat some lunch. Before entering the Xenote, we were treated to a Mayan smudging ceremony so that we could enter the village and the Xenote. Afterwards we met a young Mayan mother who was making tacos fresh on a kern. Our guide invited us all to try some with a pinch of salt. The taste of the fresh corn taco muted any doubts I had about the unsanitary handling of food by lots of sweaty tourists. It was definitely worth it.

Lunch wasn’t so bad either and swimming in the xenote was amazing. Steph had an underwater camera and we took tons of photos. I can’t wait to share them with you because the xenote was probably one of my favorites in retrospect. Some areas of the water spewed warm air trapped from beneath the ground while deep caves running 150 feet deep and one mile long ran were connected to the sides of the xenotes.

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Steph swimming in a xenote Pics of me jumping off the bridge coming soon.

Scuba diverse surrounded us and little kids floated in life vests while Steph and I swam in circles around the xenote. We even took turns taking pictures of one another jumping off the bridge.

corn tortillas.pngAfter a quick pit stop and swim, we were on the road an hour or so to head to Coba- our final destination and the 2nd to last of the Mayan ruins I would see that lay deep in the Mexican jungle. My cell phone was nearly dead and I accidentally left the charger chord plugged in the backup charger, which drained the battery. Luckily our guide let me plug my iPhone into the car console. 15 minutes lent me nearly 20% of a battery- just enough to capture the rest of my day if I played my cards right.

 

It was nearing 3:00 when we arrived at Coba. A zip line tower and a small gift shop greeted us at the entrance. Coba was a lot less crowded than Tulum and we didn’t have to walk long or maneuver through too many other groups before arriving at one of the ruins called “La Iglesia” or simply the Church. Our guide spends the next 30 minutes talking about Mayan religion and the confluence of Christianity. He explains that many of the ruins are actually stacks of pyramids from previous rulers, and sometimes previous Indigenous groups who conquered the city. Jesus Christ and many of the Christian Saints were worshiped by the Maya, who were told they were the same Gods as theirs, just known by another name.

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La Iglesia, Coba, Mexico

We moved onwards to a large passageway with two tilted stone walls with large hoops to our right and left sides. This was the site where the game called “Pok a Tok” by the Maya was played to help priests make predictions about future affairs involving upcoming battles, the fate of crops or weather patterns. Select members of society were chosen to bounce a nearly 8 pound rubber ball through a stone hope using only their hips, elbows and knees.

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Picture of the game “Pok a Tok” being played by the descendants of the Maya.

The game seems complicated and hard to imagine, with the passageway being so narrow, teams being able to win and lose points, and the dimensions of the passageway way and height of the hoop.

 

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Court where the Mayan game “Pok a Tok” was played

Most significantly,  was the fact that it was the captains of the winning teams who were sacrificed following this religious game. According to our guide, it was an honor to be sacrificed because it meant you would bypass the underworld and go straight to heaven. Apparently this game was practiced in various forms by the Toltecs, Olmecs and Aztecs. It is also still practiced today by the Maya people on special occasions at Chichen Itza, where it is commonly referred to as Ulama.

 

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Termite nest in a tree. Great source of protein if you get lost in the jungle our guide told us.

The last part of Coba was a treat. We had the option of taking what our guide called a Mexican limousine (really just a pedicab), or walking a little under a mile to the base of  Nohuch Mul, the tallest pyramid in Mexico. We opted to walk and hear a little bit more about the Mayan people from our guide Miguel who was constantly spewing useful information. If you look over there you can see the termite nests. Because it rains so much in the wet season, they build their nests up in the trees. If you ever get lost in the jungle you can poke a hole in their nest and eat them to survive he says-Miguel is definitely my kind of tour guide. He also points out another amazing feature I had never heard of. The Maya constructed perfectly straight roads that connected their cities. They used stucco and limestone to make paths that could be followed under the cool light of the Moon for religious travelers and traders. In fact, the very paths we were walking on were the original paths laid out by the Maya thousands of years before.

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The remains of a temple near Nohun Mul with a stone commemorating the site.

We had an hour or so to walk around Coba and climb the top of Nohuch Mul. Being the adventurers we are, both Steph and I blazed ahead, water bottles in hand and descended the steep steps to the stop without a single break.

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When we got to the top we were huffing and puffing and overwhelmed with a breathtaking view. The ruins stood over the landscape, it’s rocks and paths giving way to building foundations and walls covered in jungle growth. It was majesty in the truest sense.

 

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It’s a super steep climb to the top- nearly 130 feet.

After a few brief photo opps, many moments staring off in the distance questioning the meaning of life and checking our phones to make sure we gave ourselves enough time to make the mile long trek back to the bus, it was time to head back down. I told that I would meet up with her at the bottom in a few minutes. I brought my crystals with me to charge in the Sun and needed just a few minutes to steal away and say some prayers.

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Me at the top of Nohuch Mul

The tourists at the top of the pyramid thinned a little and I was able to find a quiet spot to utter prayers for gratitude and for loved ones back home. I breathed slowly in and out, being mindful of how my body felt before opening my eyes and taking in the vast scenery that surrounded me. My heart melted and I felt a heaviness leave my body when I looked to my left and saw that someone had left an offering of beans, cacao and corn.  I closed my eyes again and leaned my head back towards the sky. I felt so big and alive and aware of myself and my surroundings. I was exactly where I needed to be, content to share the Maya’s passion for the Earth, Sun and Moon and in awe of the precision, execution and expression their pyramids exuded.

Getting up the pyramid was the easy part. There was a slow line of travelers easing their way down with the safety ropes, and they were taking their time. I opted for the lean and step down approach for a quicker descent and quickly met up with Steph. We had run out of water and once again were running late to the bus. Steph treated me to some cold water (my hotel atm wasn’t working that morning and I had run out of pesos and cash) which was an absolute treat. I literally jogged to look at two ruins hidden just beyond the pathway to the bus and snapped a few quick shots- so much to take in and so little time.
Steph and I exchanged information, promised we would stay in touch and follow each other’s blogs. If you’re interested in reading about Steph’s adventures check back here later for a link to her site. Hopefully by the time you’re reading this, she has already quit her job to travel the world and blog for 6 months until her money runs out. Steph if you’re reading this- hello future you and safe travels my friend, I hope we meet again soon.

It was 7:15 when the bus dropped me off at my hotel.  I had 20 minutes or so to shower and meet my good friends from Los Angeles for a special dinner at the hotel restaurant that requires reservations (fancy shmancy I know).  Dinner was awesome. Tequila shots were awesome. The company was amazing and our service was on point. It was one of the worst tasting, best dinners of my entire life and I will never forget how sweet, kind and tolerant our waiters were of drunken banter. One positive thing to note is that my Spanish is excellent when I drink.

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Dinner with my pals from Los Angeles. They are SO laid back and fun. What a treat!

One shot turned to two and we braved our fear of ice cubes and tried the hotel’s margaritas. Afterwards we headed to the dance floor for the cupid shuffle, the Macarena, the electric slide, the wobble and pretty much ever other group synchronized party dance you can think of. In a rather rare moment, I also got caught up dancing bachata with one of the hotel staff for an entire song. By myself. Because everyone magically left the dance floor. And for a moment in time, I pretended I was on dancing with the stars only really it was dancing with OCD ‘cause it was sticky and sweaty and awesome and amazing and the best kind of ERP ever.

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Me sweaty on the dance floor.

More dancing, more drinking, lots of bottled water and a skinny dip in the Ocean commenced for some time afterwards (don’t worry mom, there were no boys involved). It was a day to remember and a night bucket lists are made of. One helpful word of wisdom I wish to impart for future beach vacationers- don’t sit on the beach and let the waves hit you on the sand to exfoliate your legs, unless you are committed to spending a good 10 minutes cleaning out sand from inside your lady parts.

 

But it was all fine and dandy. I enjoyed every second of it, knowing full well I would feel it in the morning regardless of how much water I drank.

What Living off the Grid has Taught Me

Living off the grid was was always the plan-my path to self awareness, my offering to Mother Earth, my protest of the system, my end game. But looking back at how this journey unfolded, I realize there was always a part of me that chucked it up to empty threats from a clinically depressed and anxious idealist, turned young sustainability professional. And then somewhere between shuffling through unfullfilling jobs every 18 months, chipping away at $80,000 of student loan debt and re-inventing myself every three years,  a small part of me SERIOUSLY started to chuck this off the grid talk as nonsense.  I remember telling someone my intentions and then squirming in anguish when they responded, “it gets cold outside”.  Maybe they were right. Was this some illusive attempt to exert control over my life?  An easy out from the never ending perils of human interaction and interpersonal dynamics? Or perhaps the ultimate solution to ending the cyclical misery I experienced while living in a system that does not serve me, humanity or the Earth?

In truth, it was none of those things, but SO, SO much more. I have just always been a space cadet with my head in the clouds– one of those dreamers with an intense, unquenchable and often times annoying excitement about the world.  I’ve always been interested in the bizarre, the strange, the inexplicable, the experience–what lays beyond the boundaries and off the beaten path. And I’ve always admired, and been drawn to people who feel the same way– the people who live and thrive on the fringes of society with full body tattoos, scars and wild stories. The black sheep, the one’s who have that “I don’t give a fuck what you think” look.

So here I was, this free spirited, self declared wild child who reveled in their stories, and aspired to be them, but couldn’t dare take the leap. So, I soaked up stories in between emotional breakdowns, passive aggressive managers and throughout a host of meaningless activities, until one day, my life became something I wasn’t interested in participating in, contributing to or living in. Lot’s of other complicated things happened along the way, but the repression of this dream and all the limiting beliefs tied with it, cost me big time.  I hit my all time personal low in May of 2015. And believe me I, have been to some pretty low places. This was the first time I  started to lose everything around me –my dog, my job, my family, my sanity– until destiny intervened.

And then BOOM!!! In less than 6 months I lost everything, gained it all (back and then some), AND managed to land in the driver’s seat of my life again. What started off as a rant became a dream. And then during my recovery process, that dream became a vision, and that vision became fused with value and meaning. In the course of a month, I started to integrate this new paradigm into my collective experience. Suddenly I realized I had re-invented myself for the last time. Instead of the usual pack up all my things, give notice and move across the country, I birthed myself anew– only this time when I woke, I stood firm in my path, content with my inadequacies and sensitivities- full of a renewed sense of spirit and an unwavering passion fueled by this cosmic intersection of dreams and destiny.

This is my story, so far…

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Car camping and some Netflix time

I started my off the grid journey on December 16, 2015. I had been slowly getting rid of clothes and belongings over the past three years and thought I’d pursue a ‘non’traditional’ lifestyle in hopes of getting out of a stressful living situation and immersing myself in life affirming activities. At the time, a sense of freedom, travelling and financial independence where priority items on the get excited about life again list. So I set my intention to Airbnb, short rent and travel instead of signing a lease. and shortly moved out gifting everything I owned to my siblings in the process. So there I was– moving like a nomad through the gentrified streets of Washington, D.C. in hopes of renewing my sense of life and nurturing my adventurous spirit. To be honest, it worked too well. I spent the first week camped out in the backyard of a girlfriend’s house, praying I could hold my morning dump until I made it to work. Other than that, it was a sweet setup. I had wash station, some nice foliage for the occasional pit stop and I was less than 2 miles from a metro station.

But El Nino only lasted so long and eventually the cold of winter set in. I survived in my friends’ back yard until freezing rains led me to car camp in a National Forest. After deciding that sleeping in my car for $16 dollars a night was a bad deal, I realized I could probably find a chill residential area, sleep in my car, shorten my commute and save around $360 bucks a month. So I did, until a stranger came knocking on my door and freaked me out one night. Plus, public peeing in the rain and those DAMN street lights were killing me. I eventually settled on a private parking lot with 24/7 access to my gym AND a fresh shower. Alas, I had found my ideal location, which I conveniently named headquarters, or HQ for short.

Mekka house
Camping in a friends’ back yard!

I spent the entirety of January and February sleeping in that parking lot alongside another super secret hospital location that was amazing, but far away from everything. A few #urbanexcursions later to New York, West Virginia, Boston, Philadelphia and Virginia Beach as well as a stay in an AirBnB while winter storm Jonas decimated the DMV and a short stint at a friend’s office apartment that went sour, and I realized that this lifestyle was not only easy and inexpensive– it was incredibly freeing.  The awful depression ceased and the anxiety lifted. For the first time in a long time, I was in love with life again.

Today marks three months of cold nights in cars,  wet nights in random camp grounds and an array of AirBnB’s. So many times I woke up in the tender hours of the morning to the sound of rain, or birds bustling, or wind whipping my tent and that quiet feeling you get when you wake up and witness your own experience. Living off the grid has  strengthened my tool box for self improvement and taught me so many lessons, both big and small. I learned how to brush my teeth without running water, find the best places to shower and the cleanest restrooms to take a shit in. I learned that I can push my body to extremes with little food and water and I have become much more in tune with my own body. I’ve come to understand the true value of a dollar, a favor, a friend and an accurate weather forecast. I’ve learned how valuable time is and how closely my life is tied to the weather, the elements and the seasons.

In short, living off the grid has been a total mind fuck in the truest sense. It’s also taught me a helluva lot about my big, fat, complicated emotional life. It’s also shown me that I am stronger than I think and more resilient than I give myself credit for.  I’ve learned the freedom of flexibility and profoundly deepened my gratitude for shelter, sleep and sustenance. It’s also exposed some pretty unhealthy habits, limiting beliefs and thoughts I have about what is right and wrong, and who I am and ought to be.

Of all the things I have experienced and cherished most about the journey, the single most important lesson I’ve learned so far, is that there is NOTHING more exhilarating, fulfilling or life affirming than [walking] confidently in the direction of your dreams and living the life you’ve always imagined.

If you are reading this, I want to thank you for witnessing my journey. I look forward to sharing more with you, as I study the art of the tumbling weed.