My sister and I are sitting around a table in a little cafe in Mexico City, laughing and crying hysterically, our backpacks on the floor, glasses of Coca Cola in our hands. It’s after 9:00pm and we’ve been wandering the streets for over two hours, looking for our couch surfer’s apartment. Our backs are drenched in sweat and we’re exhausted and sunburned. As the reality of the situation sets in, we can’t help but smile to keep the tears at bay. “Normal people would’ve gotten a cab hours ago!” “Why haven’t we tried to call him to ask for better directions?” I start laughing even harder when I realize the look of confusion on the last señora’s face was probably because I had spoken in English without knowing it, a testament to just how frayed my mind is.
The Palacio Nacional, closed to the public for the second time in a row.
“Do you have any weed?” We exchange glances of bewilderment and shake our heads ‘no.’ This is the second time we’ve been asked in two days. “Why does everyone think we have pot, dude?” We’re at a nice club in Morelia, hoping to end what has been a terrible four days on a good note. Instead, we’re with a friend of a friend, hoping desperately to excuse ourselves, find a taxi and go home. Johnny is our ride for the night, and after four or five drinks he is fist pumping and grinding with the air, speaking in spastic Spanish and broken English, ferociously eying anyone who dare look our way. “Please don’t leave me alone with him,” our friend pleads. ‘How did we get here?’ I think to myself as I reject yet another round of free drinks, too nervous to enjoy the unwanted attention.
(Disclaimer, we’re not as happy as we look)
We’re standing on a street corner, helplessly lost. An older gentleman is arguing with a taxi driver, trying to determine just how lost we are. I tell him the name of the street we’re looking for again and he shakes his head. He’s never heard of it. He keeps chewing on dead skin from his lip and asks us if we have our friend’s phone number. I shake my head no, I don’t even have her entire address. I left it behind in a notebook, confident I didn’t need it. “You don’t have your friend’s number?” he asks incredulously. “That’s the first thing you need if you get kidnapped!” He argues with the cab driver some more and then sends us off. “Don’t worry, I am going to take down his plates,” he says reassuringly as we hop in and speed off.
We haven’t slept in our own bed in over two weeks. Airport chairs, sleeping bags, couches, and shared mattresses on the floor have had to do. Tired of couch surfing we decide to splurge on a cheap hostel for a few nights. We’re sharing a room with four other strange men, but we’re overjoyed to have our own squeaky bunk beds and lumpy pillows.
Too tired to move after a day walking in the sun exploring Oaxaca.
The truth is, these stories are the rule and not the exception. These moments are far more frequent than the glamorous photos and embellished memories we like to share. Zero privacy, weak coffee, and bug bites the size of silver dollars are all part of the reality of my life now. And that’s okay. I’m not really on vacation. I’m not expecting to be comfortable or coddled. And sometimes, the best stories are the ones with the worst beginnings.
Back in the little cafe in Mexico City our waiter insists on letting us use their telephone to call our couch surfer. The phone rings and Scott answers. We tell him where we are and he tells us to stay put, he’s coming to get us. We were only two blocks away. We smile with relief and thank our gracious waiter. We won’t have to wander the streets all night after all.
We leave the club and Johnny insists on driving us home. We make it back safely and our friend apologizes for his behavior. We learn that she’s placed a restraining order on him in the past and that he’s done jail time in the States for drugs. We look at each other in disbelief, grateful to be away from him.
The cabbie speeds away and shows us a map of where we are going. He points out the combi we should’ve taken and drives us to the other side of town. Despite my worst fears, he doesn’t rob us or rip us off.
So here’s the real truth about traveling: you get lost and then find your way. You have good encounters and bad encounters. You lose things you care about and go weeks without talking to your family and friends. You have times where you question everything and then moments that make up for all of the daily inconveniences and frustrations. You make new friends. You realize you don’t really need those clothes that were stolen from the laundromat, after all. It’s a journey, and it’s not always exciting or enjoyable. But, it is worth it.
Enjoying a day in Xochimilco for a “floating garden” party!
What are the travel moments that you don’t often talk about or share? What keeps you going during those moments when you want to give up?Google+