2006 February 21

Life concentrate

When I'm travelling, by 10 in the morning I can feel like it's been a full day already; I live more in a day on the road than in any four normal days. I'm back. It feels like I've been gone a month, and well earned.

Damn, but it's been too long since I've done real backpacking. Iceland reminded me of that, and this trip proved it. I had been thinking that if I couldn't take weeks that it wouldn't be worthwhile -- so wrong. It took me about a day to get into my travel headspace, and I didn't come out until I had to start juggling the last few hours to make sure I got to the airport on time. The only real downside of a short trip was the enforced lack of flexibility; I didn't have the luxury of days to play with in deciding whether I was liking a place well enough to hang around.

The travel headspace felt right and familiar; my Southeast Asian trip must have drilled me well enough that I could just slip it on again. In the grand scheme of things that wasn't that grand a voyage, only seven weeks, not hardly enough to impress a real Aussie wanderer, but four years later it still looms large for me. I certainly found my thoughts going back there often enough on this trip.

Of course, there was plenty to remind me; Mexico and Indochina are both lands of ruined pyramidal temples and teeming cities and fabulous, endless street food. I don't think I'm being idiosyncratic in being put in mind of one from the other.

For me, the intoxication of travel is a gluttony of novelty. Everything is new; I can't be soothed into somnolence by treacherous familiarity. I don't know where to find whatever I'm looking for and I don't have routines to lull me. Everything requires thought and alertness, which feed on themselves. At the peak, I'm balanced on a single wheel, rolling forward but ready for a hairpin turn at the glimpse of a stranger opportunity.

Enough overwrought prose poetry. Without further ado, a top five list of things I saw more of than I expected in Mexico:

5. Mariachis. I had sort of assumed mariachi music would be just for tourists, but not so much. I'm not educated enough to tell the difference between son and norteña, but the music was on stereos everywhere.

4. PDA. Couldn't ride a train or walk through a park without passing necking Mexicans.

3. Hurdygurdies. Wheezing, unmusical organs, handcranked by guys in anonymous beige uniforms -- they're about every three blocks in Mexico City centro historico. They act like they might be something like the Salvation Army, but the uniforms really have no insignia to identify them at all.

2. Police. I've never been anywhere with so many men in so many varying uniforms, everything from braid, big hats and brass buttons to stencilled black body armour and pistol-grip shotguns.

1. Clowns. I mean, real clowns. White greasepaint and fake noses and giant shoes. Clowns. With balloon animals.

¡Viva México!


When I saw PDA on your list, my first thought was that everyone had a Palm Treo in their hands...

Posted by: Michael A. Burstein on February 23, 2006 08:25 AM

Sounds like a lovely trip. Your ramblings on the headspace of travel remind me of why I like traveling so much. I think we have the same style in that respect.

I'm glad you had a great time. I'll have to see the pictures at some point.

Oh, and the mariachis? Yeah, I forgot driving past a mariachi plaza. Pick a couple up for your friends birthday! Crowd in a dozen for your daughters wedding! It was a crowd of musical day-laborers in full uniform, buttons running down each leg. It's good to know there are still a few things that differ from place to place in the world.

Posted by: Fanw on February 23, 2006 09:33 AM

The mariachis hang out (mobs of them) at Plaza Garibaldi. Pictures to come (I'm still kind of sad that I missed the one that would have been captioned "Hush my darling, be still my darling, the mariachi's on the phone.")

Posted by: colin on February 23, 2006 05:18 PM
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