The highway that connects Puerto Vallarta to Manzanillo weaves irregularly down Mexico's coastline, looping in and out of Colima's fractured mountain-ranges like a sloppily braided strand of hemp. Our taxi shuttered South along the dust-bleached stretch of road. I'd been in the country for 10 minutes and had already gone from parched to damp. Damp to soaking.
"Quiero un ... um .. bebido. T--ti-enda por cerveza?" I strained my tongue around a term's worth of high school Spanish. Tried to get the driver's attention.
My cousin took the lead bringing his left hand to his lips, thumb and pinky extended in the international signal for drink.
Five minutes later we drifted out of a gravel lot, sweaty Modelos in hand.
"Salud, dinero, y amor!" The clink of cans.
The sun-baked highway twisted on.
I've spent an embarrassing amount of time in Mexico for someone with such pathetic Spanish. Nuevo Vallarta and the Mayan Riviera during Spring Breaks. Mexico City, Cuernavaca and Acapulco on a high school trip. It was my third time navigating this particular stretch of highway to reach my family's on-again-off-again Christmas vacation spot tucked into the Northern crescent of Santiago bay. This time, I told myself, I'd do my best to learn more. Feet still itching from 9 months as a nomad in Asia, I'd felt palpitations in my chest from the sheer act of packing my bag the night before. Every trip now represented opportunity. My parents, fresh from a cycling tour in Italy felt the same way -- once you've experience the surge of adventure travel, it's hard to settle for two weeks on the beach.
I should probably emphasize that I'm not against holidays. In fact I think they're fundamental, just under-utilized. Most major decisions in my professional life have been made in pursuit of time off. I started writing so I could move around between stories; I currently work a combination of part-time jobs so that I can cycle during the nicest part of the day.
My beef instead is with North American holiday culture--the idea of 'rewarding' the working class with a 14-day prolonged torpor in order to recharge for the rest of the year seems insane. Even more so: the idea that doing what you love every day negates the need for a holiday altogether. Diversity is important. Whether the imbalance lies in the work or the holiday system, the end result is unhealthy.
I prefer to view holiday as a short period for experimentation. An official window in the status quo to take risks without the regular consequences. To live in another city without quitting your job. A chance to pick up biking without abandoning guitar. A opportunity to give up certain things and embrace others -- to see what sticks once you return to what we call everyday life.
I've adopted this mind-set for two reason. First: in erodes the fictitious barrier created between the holidays and 'reality.' Second, it stressed the sustainable and holistic reasons for taking time off. Countless literature has been dedicated to the benefits of the four - six hours work day. What about the 6 month work year? What about three weeks on, three weeks off.
Within hours of settling into our tangerine-orange condo, I realized how much the last year had had an affect on our family vacation.
During day one, my dad disappeared on a jog for the first time in recent memory (and reappeared with a cut-up knee, but a grin on his face, from the city's blown-out sidewalks.) Hours were logged on public transit, making mental maps of the less explored parts of the bay. I found myself wandering down the over-grown cattle trails of the surrounding ranch-land, camera around my neck as an ice-breaker to practice my Spanish. After a half-year of shooting with particular scenarios in mind, it was refreshing to pursue photography as something more than a means to an end. Spending longer with my subjects before shooting their portrait, managed to kick-start my creative drive.
I can't say I didn't fall victim to the occasional bout of short term indulgence. Thanks to Colima's abundance of low-alcohol lagers I found myself packing a backpack full of road beers more often than once. But most those beers were just that -- beers to go. After having spent over 3/4 of the last year on the road, having little concrete responsibilities was no longer a novelty I needed to indulge. Instead I could focus on where I was. What I could learn. Even after a late night of tequila cheladas, I didn't even question the concept of waking up early to trawl for sailfish. The freedom to sleep-in until noon paled in comparison to the glow off Manzanillo habour in the pre-dawn mist of 5:30 a.m.
These last few years, I've become more and more suspicious of the concept of the luxury vacation. It's not simply that these destinations tend to be incredibly expensive, fuelling an uncomfortable class-dynamic in many of the countries they occupy. It's the idea of being sedated by convenience culture. By not testing your limits you aren't simply foregoing the opportunity to learn something but you're sedating your senses. You're sacrificing the visceral doping of novelty and slight discomfort for memories less likely to stand the erosion of time. The human body is incredibly elastic. When faced with challenges, it adapts and evolves. It rewards mild-discomfort by becoming smarter, faster stronger. It punishes unchecked hedonism with lethargy malaise.
I don't think it's any coincidence that the majority of trips these days are marketed as 'Once in a Life Time.' That sentence reveals more about a trip than an industry's simple attempt to capitalize on FOMO and YOLO culture. The bleak reality is that spas, cruises, and resorts scarcely hold up to long-term indulgence. Once you've laid on one white sand beach, you're laid on them all. The real nuances of the destination exist in the villages. The cities centres. The wild.
A few weeks ago I broke the regular narrative structure of this blog to celebrate my 26th birthday. I listed a handful of things I'd learned about myself over the past quarter century. Two of them were lifted from an eccentric friend visiting from Monterrey, Mexico with a tendency to jump into the frozen Victorian ocean in the winter.
9. It’s always worth waking up for sunrise.
10. Speaking of which, sleeping in is kind of like saying: “I don’t want to be alive right now.
Both sentences have been paraphrased countless times in a hand-bound journal I purchased in Amsterdam four years ago. In it, I do my best to record my thoughts at the end of each day. To make sense of the world as I explore it. And although I do my best to embrace these epiphanies there are times I come up short, due to hang-overs, or exhaustion, or both.
During my last 48-hours in Manzanillo, I finally cashed in my nap quota. Although I initially blamed it on a surplus of sun and liquor, the nausea that developed my last day made a virus--perhaps from all the raw tuna I choked down in the preceding 24-hours--a more likely culprit. I fell asleep at 9:30 p.m. one night. Woke up 10 hours later. I drank a glass of juice, then spent the majority of my last day in Manzanillo in fetal position on a couch.
After cold-sweating my way through a final family meal, I stared dead-eyed out at the same drive that had enchanted me less than two weeks earlier. I struggled to appreciate the green hills of Colima fading to patch-work as our planed nosed North but fell into a fever-dream long before we broke the clouds. When I awoke the sun had been swallowed up by the horizon. The Los Angeles Valley burned like the embers of a slash-burned plain, a crescent moon barely visible in the inky black above.
Perhaps it was in sheer contrast to the morning, but I felt refreshed our plane pitched down toward the city. The nausea clinging to the back of my brain unhinged its claws as our wheels touched tarmac.
The cool air through the boarding tunnel felt refreshing. I wondered if the bartender in the international terminal spoke Spanish.
Duolingo's been my Spanish teacher these past two months. Follow me @mcallisterjeff.