AS THE END DRAWS NEAR: Take the long way home – Supertramp
People often ask me why I’m always travelling. Why I’m so keen to chase the next city, hopping from country to country. Why, at the waning age of thirty I haven’t considered settling down, hanging up my transient compass, and putting down roots– perhaps that last one stems more so from my mother than anyone else, but nevertheless.
I travel because in the entirety of my relatively long-enough life, only once have I ever felt that I truly belonged somewhere. And that somewhere, known more commonly as London, England, gave me the hard and heartbreaking boot the millisecond my visa expired. Since then I’d resigned myself to forever roaming aimlessly, convinced my heart would never find a geological equivalent.
And then I met Todos Santos.
Four months at the bottom of the Baja
The next three months of my Mexican life would bring with it an array of a whole lot of everything and a satisfying amount of absolutely nothing. Todos Santos would become my hub, my home base, my safe harbour of return throughout my varied southern Baja excursions.
I would find myself on a motley of adventures joined by all sorts of new faces. An american man with flowing blonde locks and a hair-raising Harley Davidson would introduce me to my first spanish dubbed film at a cinema in La Paz, followed by the discovery of surprisingly delicious crickets at a nook of a mezcal bar. We’d ride to the historic mining town of El Triunfo and wander the empty streets refueling on famous bread and overpriced margaritas at Caffe El Triunfo.
With a group much resembling the UN, I would learn how to dig for hot springs on a beach in La Ventana then later watch a less than high speed police chase through its one main road, shortly succeeded by the slow return of victorious officers and their captives, handcuffed and slouched, heads hanging low in the box of the federale truck.
San Jose would gift me with the most spectacular hot dog I would ever savour and the bachelor party fueled streets of Cabo San Lucas would be braved, though briefly, before my patience would grow thin and the calling of nearby beaches would take hold.
Beaches where every star in the sky could be seen and the line between sea and sky was as elusive as any sense of reality. Where the sands would be filled with people, young and old and vibrant music would mix with the comforting smell of salt in the air.
Then the sun would disappear along with the varied crowds and all that would be left under the velvet blanket of stars was Van Morrison and me. And occasionally a herd of cows plodding thoughtlessly through the dead of night.
All of these journeys would forever feed my soul in their own special way, but none would compare to the time I spent simply being in Todos Santos, quickly becoming another beat in the community’s ever blossoming heart.
Becoming a local…
Here, I immersed myself in whatever I could. I took Spanish lessons from a woman who believed the best way to ingrain her knowledge into my daft head was through the perpetual referencing of tequila and my inevitable cruda (hangover). And to little surprise, it seemed to have worked. In no time, I was able to hold simple conversations and by the time I left Todos Santos I could go days without speaking English. Ish.
Through the help of various locals, I was introduced to a ranch owner who offered me a work to ride exchange. Every morning I’d shovel pile upon pile horse excrement and in return I was allowed to groom and ride a very stubborn, entirely incorrigible horse name Milagros, meaning miracles in Spanish; it was a miracle I didn’t have her turned into glue, but this is neither here nor there.
Our rides on the beach would consist of her refusing to canter and me refusing to allow her to return home, resulting in us stagnantly spinning circles in the sand, both our heads shaking with exasperation.
After a month of seemingly zero improvement, Milagros finally began to listen to me. Or enough at least to allow for us to clear brush on the property at a mildly productive rate. When on the return home, she began to canter at my command, I truly believed we had broken through the barrier; we were becoming friends.
After a good brush, I walked her back to her pen, undid her harness, and thanked her for a wonderful day, concluding with genuine optimism that we were going to get along just fine. She immediately proceeded to butt me in the head with hers, leaving my lip twice its size, then flipped open her lips, grinning mercilessly.
“Perhaps you don’t get along because you’re just too much alike.” A fellow rider noted with a smirk.
I made it my objective to participate in every event that came and went in this lively little town I now called home. Yoga at the Panteon, Jazz and blues festivals at La Posta del Oasis, salsa nights at La Morena, live music Thursdays at La Esquina, pool parties at the Guaycura hotel, and my ultimate fave: Oscar nominated movie nights at a little pizza joint, Gallo Azul.
Here, a film would be projected on a flimsy screen at the back of the restaurant where every time a server walked past to place or deliver an order the wake of their movement would cast a ripple across the film, momentarily distorting the likes of Glenn Close, Viggo Mortensen, and Christian Bale. It was bliss. Laced with extraordinary pizza and dangerously affordable sangria.
And then came January, and with it a little known music festival called Tropic of Cancer. This annual festival sets roots in Todos Santos’ best venues and produces a week’s worth of Nashville’s finest collaborating with various local bands. The town triples in size, laden with musicians, their unkempt shoulder length hair and lumberjack beards juxtaposing them from the average Todos Santonian. The streets come alive and I am in the sordid depths of my ultimate domain.
If you’re one to brave the seven day music mecca, by the time the festival is over, your feet look like a casualty of war, the function of your ears will have long disappeared with whatever dignity you thought you might have once had; all of which will be replaced with a waning liver and an empty pocket book.
What’s left of the raspy, over exhausted voice you used to audibly express your musical appreciation will make the most seasoned chain smoker sound like the rolling waves of a baby’s giggle, and the thought of enduring any social gathering for the remainder of your broken and listless life is quite simply torture.
You swear to yourself and your empathetic counterparts that you’re going dry. You’re laying low. You’re going to spend your remaining days hydrating and connecting with nature, becoming one with the ocean, finding peace within the palms. Your evenings will be used to meditate over freshly squeezed beet juice while in an intricate tree pose, knees deep in The Celestine Prophecy.
And then suddenly you hear of an art walk that is inhabiting the very road you’re residing on. Creations from a plethora of local artists will line the street along with periodic wine stations and immediately you’ve convinced yourself that red wine is essentially the vine’s rendition of beet juice and just like that, your slow sip towards the grave revives itself…
For four months this dance will continue; the attempt to find balance within a town bursting with fiestas, day in and day out. And eventually you might even get the hang of it. You may even find yourself dabbling in a handful of varied love affairs, one particularly involving a Mexican Cowbow, a romantic horse ride through the desert, and shortly thereafter a breakup delivered in your broken Spanish, oddly reciprocated by the cowboy counterpart’s offering of condolence flan.
As much as you might want it to, time can’t stand still forever. And so, one brightly lit morning you’ll wake to the sound of the road, beckoning you back from where you once came. Your life in Todos Santos has come to a close and it’s time to begin the end of your journey.
It’s a strange feeling, arriving at the tail end of a six month experience. So much time and planning, stressing and organizing all to have come and go as quickly as if it never even happened.
As I watched Todos Santos gradually fade from Van Morrison’s rear view mirror, I thought about how it was only a matter of time before what I was doing became something I had done. This journey I had so long ago embarked on, even before I set foot to pedal, will have become past tense, something I had accomplished, something completed and defined as yet another written page in my book of life, transcribing the person I’m ever becoming.
I took my time crossing the desert, stopping at places I’d been, places I hadn’t. I didn’t reach out to the people I had met on my way like I thought I would, but instead met new ones. It was comforting, the familiarity of my return. It brought with it an ease of approach, a kind of endearing indifference retracing my nostalgic steps.
As I came toward the US border, I stopped once more for gas. My tank was full but I just wasn’t quite ready. I wandered the tienda while two gentleman tended to Van Morrison. I stocked up on Rancheritos, all the dulce de leche sweets I could fit into my bag, and a ballena of Pacifico for what was left of the road.
I took a deep, dusty breath, and in Spanish for the very last time, I thanked the men and said goodbye.
As each kilometer drew me closer to home, a unsettling feeling washed over me, itching at the idea that I just wasn’t finished. On my final stop before entering Canada I booked a flight to England. And just like that, the conclusion of one journey was now the start of another.
For a wise songwriter once wrote,
“I was never lost, I only chose to never go home.”