Where did you come from? Where are you going?
They’re the questions we’re asked at every military checkpoint in Baja. As we reply, the armed militia men behold our dusty, hulking machine and our matching, early-nineties era getup and wave us on our way.
My purposes in traveling are fairly singular. They don't have much to do with motorcycles, or with being a bad-ass female, or with compiling “Top Ten Things To Do” lists for the Internet. When asked about what I hope to get out of this journey, I see that this trip began fulfilling its purpose the moment I left. The moment I left that old fish boat floating in Richardson Bay, the marina gate shrieking shut behind me, I gave myself over to joy. True, I left my job for this joy; left behind the only semblance of a fulfilling career I’ve ever had, and let’s not forget—I’ll be thirty next month. Why would I leave now?
In the months preceding our departure, I considered the kinds of details I might choose to share in the accounts of my travels. I knew I would have no hesitation in recording such afternoons as those that Nathan and I spent in Mulegé. We camped on the beach at Santispak for three-and-a-half days, eating local dates and raw clams with a squeeze of lime; reading and watching small, transparent fish nip at our ankles in the clear shallows of the Sea of Cortez. Once, while day was still breaking, we sat on a stone outside our tent eating homemade chicken tamales, bought from one of the tamale-guys making his daily rounds among the beach campers, and looked out at the mirror surface of the sea. No wind or waves yet; just the ripples that fell away from the dark dorsal and back of a dolphin, which had just then decided to join us for breakfast.
Such moments feel like they have been plucked out of the cosmos for us. They are the kinds of moments our friends wished for us in their farewells, and for which we carry our loved ones, living and lost, in our hearts. And all this: afforded to us by the loss of some stupid steering head cap nut which had wiggled loose from the bike at some unknown time, and without which we dared not continue until we found a replacement.
It is with the same desire to write generously that I am compelled to share our hardships and frustrations. But to what degree? Perhaps I am the only one to bat an eyelash at this. Perhaps not. It is a question I face as a writer as well as a living, breathing person; a person who sometimes looks okay in photos, but who sometimes doesn’t, and who is ultimately as susceptible to intestinal parasites as my poor traveling companion. It is a question we all face, really. What lies behind the images of ourselves that we hope others will see, and why is it important that certain blemishes and bumps remain hidden? It seems to me that the jingling of all those little and loud alarm bells in our psyches are the exact occasions on which we ought to turn the beams of our compassion and gentleness on ourselves, and chance revealing a bit more.
In all honesty, I worried about how the people I love would receive the news of my travel plans. I shouldered more guilt about the anxiety my departure would cause my family than they will ever know. And I had more or less resigned myself to this by the time I left; that it will be okay if they never quite “get it”. And it will be ok—however varied their griefs are in which I play the primary agent, I know they will be proud of me for this one day.
I left because I want to get better at telling stories. I want to grow in patience for the times when my voice falters and I lose my train of thought. I want to know the freedom to speak in the terms of my choosing. I haven’t felt free because human experience is vast; and I have long struggled to find myself at the center of my own life; and my attention and feeling have always been magnetized to the person of nearest proximity; and the task of finding language authentic to a particular experience is hard.
But I know that healing awaits me in the practice of storytelling. And that the telling is one more step forward in the recovery of my voice. And that this healing is worth all the trouble.
Some people know and some people don’t know that I lived privately with Bulimia for the better part of the last decade. In fact, the very week in which we crossed our first border, I brought to a close my third year of recovery. I celebrate and I continue to recover. It seems to me, as I drain the last of my delicious black coffee in a Mexican hipster cafe, that there is no better way to honor my freedom from that terrifying darkness than to shine some light into it. In the fullest possession of myself that I’ve known, I throw my fear of the cliché to the wind and call my experience of Bulimia “darkness” and I call my recovery “light”. It is pure joy knowing that the light of no one else’s creation but my own could illuminate that darkness.
This is where I’ve come from. I rightfully carry my past with me, and as we rest here in La Paz, reflection is welcome and easy. At its core, my eating disorder was the desire to escape. My body, my vessel for perception and participation, when brought under my control, quieted my mind. Even for a brief moment, the noisy, intrusive machinations over painful experiences could be still.
I work now to trust the vessel’s integrity. I work to find myself worthy enough to hold and pour out the intricate fluidity of experience. We all must. And while the difficulty of knowing how to be present is just a part of my history, it is the only history I have. It is important to speak of it—it contains the lesson that to be present for pain is also to remain present for delight. It is a lesson without end.
So, when people ask me why I’m skiving off to Latin America with the man I love, I can only offer “love of self”. That’s the all and everything. If I manage to bring something measurable to those who need measurements, fine. I will be busy receiving the gifts—the tripe tacos and sand pits and coffeehouses and mountains and delicious afternoons doing nothing—offered to me by this world that would turn without me, regardless.