I am driving in my truck–the same vehicle that has faithfully hauled my butt across the continent for over two years when suddenly it hits me.
This is it! I’m on the road again!
My cabin is winterized. (A pernicious leak under the bathroom floor will wait till spring.) The place is mostly mouseproofed. (Never underestimate the destructive ferocityof a mouse.) The refrigerator is empty.
To be clear, I’m still several weeks from actually beginning the next trip. At this point, I’m only heading south a hundred or so miles to my daughter’s house to await the arrival of a new grandson. (You may recall that the birth of the FIRST grandson was the reason for my extended visit to New York City.)
Then, once everyone is recovered, with blood counts and electrolytes and weight gains/losses and sleep patterns all in order (yeah, right), this grandma is hitting the road for real.
I will NOT (repeat, NOT) be driving or towing or otherwise be mistress of my own conveyance on this trip. In fact, I have sold my trailer.
Yes, that sweet and trusty little home that sheltered me through wind and rain and dark of night.
The little trailer that always felt like home, that eased the bumpy transition from ordinary, small-town life to transient weirdness. It even smelled good. Where everything had a place, and I had everything I needed? Sacrificed in service of my practical and minimalist nature.
I don’t keep things that I don’t need, especially large, expensive items that tend to deteriorate. Plus, I have no appetite for driving and towing large vehicles south of the border. Frankly, it would scare the shit out of me. So I’m trading in my wheels for a backpack and funding the first few months of travel from the sale of the trailer.
I’m going to Mexico.
When I tell people I’m going to Mexico, the reaction is universal: Silence. Hesitation. Knitted brows. They say, “Be careful.” They think, Why would you want to go there? It’s so dangerous.
Well, yes. There’s the drug troubles. There’s corruption. (Although THIS encounter with the Mexican powers-that-be ended surprisingly well.) Mexico is still “developing,” which means that the modest economic rung I occupy in the US is slightly more stratospheric there.
But if you think about it, why would anyone assume that the US is so much safer? This is where everyone carries a gun. This is where random shootings can happen anywhere, not just where the bad guys are. I don’t feel all that comfy in the US. It’s just that I’m accustomed to the risks, just like I’m used to traffic and expensive health care and sewer systems that can handle toilet paper. It’s all part of the white noise, right?
I’ve traveled in Mexico before, and I love the place for some of the reasons I listed here. This time I want to see all the stuff I missed, because my inner actuary tells me that I probably won’t be back again.
So here’s my itinerary through Mexico. Please, please share any suggestions, tips, experiences, what-have-you. Save the warnings. I’ve heard them all.
1. Take bus from Phoenix to Nuevo Casas Grandes in the north of Mexico. Here I will visit the ruins of Paquime, a UNESCO World Heritage site and a once and former crossroads of trade between the southern Aztecs and northern desert peoples. I’ll also finally see the famous potters of Mata Ortiz, who create intricate, symmetric patterns on hand-thrown pots formed without pottery wheels). The work is breathtaking.
2. On to Chihuahua, where I’ll begin the trip through the Copper Canyon–a series of interconnected canyons four times bigger than our Grand Canyon and many times more remote. I’ll visit some tiny indigenous villages–Urique and Batopilas–at the bottom and return to the rim to complete the train ride through some of the most gorgeous scenery on earth.
3. Guadalajara and environs. The train ends at the Pacific coast, so I’ll continue on down, through Mazatlan and other villages, heading inland toward Guadalajara, the second-largest and less-visited city in Mexico. A side trip to Tequila, where the blue agave grows, will not be overlooked.
4. Guanajuato. I’ll settle in this colonial silver-mining town (and UNESCO site #2) for a few weeks to study Spanish–so I can Que pasa? like a local. Or at least find out where el banyo is. On weekends, I anticipate several trips to surrounding pueblos–San Miguel d’Allende, San Luis Potosi, Aguascaliente.
4. The monarch butterflies. Every winter, up to 1 billion monarch butterflies migrate from my part of the world to the mountains west of Mexico City where their fragile weight bends the pine boughs and the beating of their wings sounds like rain. I’ve wanted to see this for over a decade. Now I will. (UNESCO site #3)
5. Oaxaca area. After the monarchs, I’ll take either the long and winding coastal road or the more direct inland highway to Oaxaca, another of Mexico’s Pueblos Magicos–the “magic towns” so designated for their beauty and unique character. I’ll also visit a handful of villages both north and south of town.
6. Yucatan. My plans get fuzzy here. The Yucatan peninsula is known for its Mayan ruins, cenotes (beautiful formations in water-filled limestone caves), and, of course, its resorts. This place isn’t called the Mayan Riviera for nothing.
I’d like to see the handful of towns and ruins that make the cut between awesome and not-obscenely-touristed. I think I have to see Tulum and Chichen Itza. Probably Merida and San Cristobal de las casas, but I haven’t really nailed any of this part down. I’ll also be breathing heavily down the neck of my tentative return date in late May.
So–whaddaya think? Any must-see destination I ought to consider? Anything I should X out? I will figure out how to properly do Spanish accents on this blog. That’s the least I can do.