Just over a decade ago I was going through an existential crisis. The main things that I used to identify myself were suddenly and violently ripped away from me. My mind was swirling with how I would re-shape my life. How would I re-define me? Would the redefined me have any resemblance to the former me?
One common thing for people who are going through transformative events of this magnitude is to hike the Appalachian Trail and that thought seriously crossed my mind as well (I eventually went to Antarctica instead). In fact, it more than just crossed my mind, I gave it some serious thought and if it hadn’t been for the opportunity to go to Antarctica presenting itself I may very well have done a hike on the A.T.
A common tradition for through-hikers is to adopt a “trail name”. This may be bestowed upon them by their peers on the trail or they may choose it themselves. Given the fact that I’m a Pulp Fiction fan, I chose the trail name “Just Jules” as an homage to the dialog when Jules Winnfield decided he was going to quit being a gangster.
I’ll just be Jules, Vincent; no more, no less.
These days I’m pretty comfortable with who I am. I wear slightly different labels. One of those labels is that of “traveller” which can mean different things to different people. With that, comes its own crisis. I’ve been doing that for so long that it often seems like it’s just the same-old same-old. A big part of this overland trip was to break that routine; force ourselves to do something new and different and hopefully bring the magic back. Unfortunately, that hasn’t really happened. Or maybe it has, and we just take everything for granted. For the most part, it seems like this is nothing more than parking somewhere for a week so that we can work and then packing up and moving over the weekend. That is, until, we made a decision to stop taking things for granted. To look at a stay in a hostel as not just a stay in a hostel, but to really give some consideration to the fact that it was an experience that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. To not just go someplace to work for the week and then move on, but to take something away, some experience, some nugget of information that we didn’t have before.
Say “Yes” more often
Cate and I found ourselves in Etzatlán, Jalisco, Mexico recently. There wasn’t anything special that attracted us to Etzatlán, it was purely a practical decision. We simply wanted to break up our drive from Sayulita to Lake Chapala. We didn’t want to do the whole drive in one day. Etzatlán was an appropriate distance between the two points and there was a campground with good reviews. That’s it.
We arrived at the campground, not really keen to do anything more than find a meal and settle-in for the evening. Our host recommended that we make the 30 minute walk into town. She described a plaza that was as nice as any she had ever been to and a quaint little Mexican town. She gave us a couple of restaurant recommendations as well as a couple of bar recommendations. Between her recommendations and the fact that the weather in the highlands of Jalisco is far preferable to that of the villages and towns on Mexico’s Pacific coast, we were convinced.
We started the walk just before 6PM. The first people that we encountered were a group of three kids. They were practicing lassoing each other in turn. We greeted them with a “buenas tardes” and they responded in kind. A few seconds after we passed, however, one of the kids came running towards us, shouting “good morning!” – we replied and got a bit of a chuckle out of this kid’s effort at English.
As we continued our trek, Etzatlán proved to be rather charming. There is an abandoned railroad track that has been paved over and is now a pedestrian pathway. Much like you would find just about anywhere. The town of my birth has this same thing, much as at any given time there are probably kids lassoing one-another there too.
Once we had arrived in the town center, the plaza proved to be as nice as we had been told, complete with a gazebo that is characteristic of many Mexican towns and seems a requisite ingredient to any of Mexico’s “Pueblos Magicos“. As we were making a pass around the square, a man seated at a bar shouted “good afternoon” to us. Assuming that like the kids earlier he was practicing his English, I briefly turned back, smiled, waved and said “good afternoon” back to him.
After we had our first pass around the square, we had made a decision about where we would dine and so again passed by the man who had greeted us. It turns out he wasn’t practicing his English. In fact, as he would later tell us, he had grown up in the States. His girlfriend was born in Ogden, Utah and now lives in Las Vegas. She was born to Mexican parents in the U.S. but identifies culturally as white. We ended up having drinks with them and they eventually invited us along to a BBQ at their uncle’s farm. At first I was hesitant as this was intended to be an early evening but we decided to say “yes” and accept their hospitality.
We got to Don Rodrigo’s farm and I was amazed at how much his place reminded me of any of the farms near where I grew up. Three-legged dog, check. Blue healer, check. I was so at ease and the carne asada cooked over a corn cob and wood fire was absolutely delicious.
The simple act of accepting this invitation felt like an adventure. The adventure felt a bit like I had finally realized the vision of being “Just Jules” and the many reminders of my youth, coupled with my contentment made me feel like maybe I have never been anything other than “Just Jules”.