OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
by David Eidell (03/12)
I find myself preparing yet again to begin a long migration southward. This looks to be a lengthy odyssey, both in time and in distance. The last time I traveled from the west coast of the United States down to fourteen degrees north latitude, my hair was brown, not gray; my body radiated energy, not aches and pains and I desperately needed ear plugs to sleep,
in the midst of the cacophony that is Latin America. Indeed I am a wizened senior now. Old. Obviously doddering because the elderly are supposed to grow roots, fill up the auto-dialer on their cellular with a list of medical providers, be greeted by their first name at the pharmacy counter, and have the ability to shout “I-Seventy-nine-Bingo!” at the drop of a hat. At least I sleep better these days because barking dogs and thumping stereos bother me a lot less. This nonchalance toward noise is said by some to separate an authentic old-time Mexico traveler from the wanna be's; Cynics however would call it “going deaf”.
I must have been brain-washed as a kid. I remember sitting on the edge of my seat at the Saturday matinee watching Desi, and Lucy go off the deep end with their new Flamingo house on wheels. I walked out at the end of that movie a changed child. Ten years later while normal teenagers dreamed of chrome reversed rims and stereo reverberators, I spent hours in an RV camper lot sitting in the upstairs lounge of a Kamp King cab-over, daydreaming of the places it could take me.
Old people are supposed to shun travel because travel means change and the fracturing of routine. Nonsense! I love routine. I'll pack some and take it along.
My first way-point is a several-month-long wheels mired stop in a tiny Pacific coast fishing village. As far as climate is concerned, it is a real oddball. Mexican beaches normally swelter in the summer, but this one is located far enough north, that the Japan and Pacific currents swamp the offshore with sixty-degree water. I am going to need a tiny LPG heater to keep from turning blue when I'm whistling John Philip Sousa tunes in the shower on July 4. Some would say that the lure of fresh abalone affected my decision. I blush at the implication.
“What do you do all day down in Mexico?” is a commonly heard question. If I were on an ocean cruise, the same people would insist that I play shuffleboard. That's supposed to be an “approved” activity for the elderly, isn't it? In reality, long stop-overs mean I have time to plant a garden. The end result of trading a shuffleboard broom for a garden spade turns out to be a lot tastier than a shuffleboard puck. I am loading up on more than just Kandy Corn seeds. I'm going to plant russet potatoes and lots of different lettuce and salad greens. Bartering the harvest with fellow expat gardeners may include my throwing in some free rhubarb while hoping they'll bake a pie. Actually with my electrician's fix-it aptitude, tools and spare parts I meet a lot of Mexicans who struggle to keep their clunkers operating. I may fix a bad battery cable in exchange for a large fish Tinkering is high on the list of what many RV'ers like to do to pass a pleasant afternoon.
Boredom “in paradise” used to yawn more often than it does now. The incredible growth of the internet has changed every single aspect of travel and living in Mexico. Want to see a movie? Download it. Want to talk to friends? Don headphones and double-click SKYPE. Years ago a phone call home meant a long drive, followed by a long wait, a phone charge that would just about ruin the appetite, and audio that was unintelligible. Now the person you're talking to sounds like they're sitting next to you. It sort of takes the romance and exotic character out of “being off the beaten track” though.
One of the most familiar and endearing memories of “old time” travel is detachedly listening to a distant AM radio station while staring down a shimmering highway. The music would wax and wane and be sprinkled with irregular crackling of lightening. For five decades I spent uncounted evening hours listening to distant news radio stations reporting the current peso to dollar exchange rate. The report usually arrived in a staccato cadence:“The British Pound is trading at 1.71, the French Franc, 6.82, and the Mexican Peso “crackle-pop-squeal” I would sigh, tune in an hour later and cross my fingers.
Today, a computer connection can bring forth all the day's news. Too much in fact. One false click of a computer mouse releases a tsunami of tension in the Middle East, “Wall Street” this and “enriched uranium” that. I would rather worry about what's for dinner or if the load of gasoline has shown up down at the gasolinera yet. Someone else than I has to cure the world's ills. This means I will click on a currency exchange site, find the peso exchange rate while ignoring flashing side bars (that are advertisements on how to survive the “coming economic meltdown”)
Then there's the Kindle and Nook. I am an unabashed bookworm. I can say with a bit of chagrin that a considerable chunk of my monthly budget has gone at times toward gasoline and even hotel tariffs while seeking out tattered paperbacks moldering on expatriate exchange library bookshelves. Furthermore I'll bet that more than a hundred dollars, total, of precious pension has been lost on chancing the mailing of books from the US. The first demonstration of an e-book just about dropped me to my knees. A Kindle downloaded a massive Tom Clancy novel in mere seconds on a primitive dial-up connection in a remote village. Mexico is the land of poor or non-existent reading lamps and the back-lighting available in color e-readers is a phenomenal improvement in a dimly lit environment. A single battery charge lasts dozens of chapters and the library can store a tire flattening quantity of books. I attended a book store seminar on the Nook a few days ago. I was astonished at the resolution offered in a Nook color screen. It displayed images in an online version of National Geographic every bit as clear and detailed as the print edition. I admit to reading Consumer Reports and Car & Driver, in Mexico even though I am in an ill position to consume anything but the basics and drive a vehicle that has long-ago fallen off the back pages of The Kelley Blue Book.
I already covered tinkering, gardening, computers and reading so let's continue with the news that I sprang for a digital camera upgrade, from 7.0 megapixels to 14.0. I can upload photos into email. Many RV'ers are curious about new places and a photo shoot and article about the little-known area of Baja California may be of interest. I am glad to share.
Things are always “more interesting” where camaraderie among expatriates influences the way of life. It doesn't extend quite to clubbiness or chumminess, People greet each other with genuine interest, neighbors keep tabs on the state of each others health and well-being, news and items of interest are circulated purposefully rather than casually, and having two very different societies right out your front door adds to the eclectic atmosphere.
Is Mexico safe? That's like asking if driving a car on an L.A. freeway is safe. The inarguable bottom line is, the 2011 – 2012 Mexico tourist season did not produce headlines about tourist massacres.
Fourteen degrees latitude you may wonder? That's south of Mexico and actually into Central America. Why there? Well, because there is a Lake Tahoe size crater lake in Guatemala's mountainous interior. Perched at fifty three hundred feet elevation, Lake Atitlan (ah-teet-LAWN) is surrounded by volcanoes and Indian villages.
But there is a lot of road and a lot of living and exploring to be done between here and there. And I'm not kidding myself – after I arrive at the lake, I know that Honduras' Bay Islands, like Roatan and Utila are not very far away, nor are the fabulous Mayan ruins at Tikal or Bonampak....or...
“Thank You! Desi and Lucy!”