“So you’re headed down to Meh-hee-co?”

With as much as I’m looking forward to the time when I move in on my own somewhere, it’s seemed sometimes as if this last leg of the trip is just an excess. My stated goals have been accomplished. I can visualize my future in a way I couldn’t before, and I have leads on how to make it come true. I know people all over the country and the world is connected in my mind like never before. Why go to Mexico, a land that, colorful and vibrant as it is, seems so irrelevant to everything? It seems less like a canny vagabond’s next adventure and more like a rich kid’s extended spring break.

But it’s not really like that. For one thing, I do have a goal: I want to improve my Spanish. No better way to do that than to spend some intensive time in a Spanish-speaking country or two. And for another thing, I’m not headed for the resorts of Cancún and the upscale hotels of Mexico City. Lacking much knowledge of what there is in Mexico, I’ve been crawling the web looking for adventure worth the name. And I’ve found some: I’ll tell you about it directly.

It will have to be my last trip for a while, though. All the cosmic signs point that direction. My lucky travel T-shirt, gleaned from a dumpster in Grinnell years ago, has holes wearing in it, and the patches won’t stay on forever because they’re sewn into fabric that’s disintegrating from beneath them. My old backpack has developed a few holes and poking parts, and yet somehow I can’t bear to replace it with the new one I got for Christmas, because the old one has become such a part of me, and I know every crevice of it. I’ve already nearly filled the 540 pages split among the five parts of Journal VIII, and I’m going to have to write on some unbound signatures while I’m on this trip. I’m running lower and lower on money, though not uncomfortably so yet. And perhaps most importantly, the little black notebook that my friend Molly gave me at the beginning of the trip is filling up; the proportion of blank pages left is just the right amount for me to fill up while I’m on this trip.

So here are my plans. First, the most concrete part: this Friday night, I’m riding buses to Beloit, Wisconsin, getting there in the morning, and connecting with Rubén, the guy who drove me from Naranjos to northern Illinois last time I went to Mexico. He happens to be driving back to Mexico on Sunday morning, and feels like having a little company. From Naranjos, I’ll hitch to Papantla, the town where they had the fliers, and I’ll get on an old walking trail through the hills and over the river into the state of Puebla, passing through tiny villages and coffee plantations and around waterfalls until I get to Cuetzalán, a mountain town full of old traditions and indigenous folks, a nice enough place that the government of Mexico named it a “Magical Town”.

Then I’ll head to Mexico City and stay with a guy I found on CouchSurfing, who loves bicycling and has an extra one to lend me. I’ll head, in a roundabout way, through Veracruz (the city) for a cup of coffee at the Café Parroquia and then through a hippie beach and some Zapotec villages in Oaxaca. Then I’ll do whatever I can find to do in Chiapas, possibly including some ruins that Travis recommended to me from side trips he took on his rafting trip down the Usumacinta River. Into Guatemala, where I’m sure I’ll see some ruins of one sort or another, and I’ll probably also stay at Lake Atitlán a little while. And I’ll come out through Belize, where I’ve discovered a permaculture food forest that works with a rainforest ecosystem and actually feeds itself from its harvests. From there I’ll cross back into Mexico in the Yucatán Peninsula and see more ruins, and sinkholes full of crystal water called cenotes, and other stuff. And eventually, I suppose I’ll have to come back home, possibly by way of some skiing in Taos with Travis, or if not, then I should at least stop off in New Orleans. I aim to be back in time to turn 25 in Cincinnati.

Even more than last time I went to Mexico, I’ll probably be incommunicado a lot of the time. There’ll be internet places here and there, but if I decide, say, to walk to El Mirador in Guatemala, I’ll be walking an ancient Maya causeway for the better part of a week in the jungle, starting the trip at a one-horse town at the end of a 4½-hour bus ride down a gravel road, and getting more remote from there, and the closest I’ll be able to get to contacting all of you is if I shout. (Keep an ear out, won’t you?) There might be several other times like that. And anyhow, it’ll be a relief to not have to think about internet sometimes. I’ve been on the internet all the time since I got back.

Speaking of which, here are some conclusions I’ve been reaching. One: I think I may have a good way to reduce my internet usage in the future. When I’m finished using the computer, instead of just shutting it, I’ll turn it off entirely. Then when I impulsively want to use it again, I’ll be dissuaded by how long it would take to boot it up, and I’ll wait until it’s important. Two: I’ve noticed that over the last month or so I’ve found it hard to concentrate on reading, and I think I figured out why—it’s because I haven’t been moving my body. When I was in Wenden, Arizona, after a long day of hitchhiking and walking, I set up my bed for the night on the floor of a stockroom outbuilding that someone had lent me for the night, and I discovered I had the willpower to plow through about a hundred pages of Crime and Punishment, all the way to the end of the book. My mind must be properly wound up by a moving body before I can focus properly on intellectual things. Both of these things I mentioned are problems that are actually solutions: I solve my computer problem by saving electricity like I should have been; I solve my focus problem by getting out and exercising.

I’ve got one more conclusion that isn’t one of those problem-solutions, though. Three: I’m pioneering a new method of using bookmarks! I realized that I was forgetting a lot about the books I read once I was done reading them. So I came up with the idea to use a bookmark that’s a wide, blank strip of paper. Whenever I read something I know I’ll want to remember, I write it down on the bookmark, and once I’m done with the book, I save the bookmark and turn the book back in to the library. Now I have a quick refresher on all the stuff I thought was cool in the book. Until I get the patent application filed, feel free to steal this idea! Tell all your friends! It’s a readvolution!! Ahem. Sorry about that.

File under: Year of Adventure, plans


Anonymous

History

Have a good trip down there. It sounds as though you have plenty of interesting places lined up to see. And I agree with you about exercise. Without it, the brain goes flat, and nothing charges you up more than getting a good physical workout.

Bon voyage, and I will look forward to celebrating your 25th birthday with you. Grandma

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알피

History

I love the way you organized your post. It is well written and easy reading. My teacher told me that book which I read will influence my writing style. What kinda book did you read last moment? Suggest me some books then if you dont mind. Ah, I just found out your birthday. Wow, almost 25 years and you had many experience in some countries around the world, you must be writer then! At least , inspire the youth to do same.

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Anonymous

History

Sounds like fun. I'll be tramping through South America in March. I will probably exceed your entire travel budget before the wheels of the airplane leave the runway in Cincinnati.

Dave

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Chuck

History

Alfi - the last few books I've read have been seriously advanced English. Right now I'm working on Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire, and he's using dozens of words I've never seen. Same with Annie Dillard's Living by Fiction. But for an author who influenced my own writing style when I was a kid, try Bill Bryson. The first book by him that I read was The Lost Continent, and it's great. You'll also learn a lot about America (circa 1987). Another book like that one, which I just read, is Blue Highways, by William Least Heat-Moon. That one will also give you a good idea of what some of the different American accents sound like. Bryson's A Walk in the Woods is also great. Some of Bill Bryson's humor comes from the way he uses formal English to describe everyday stuff, so look out for that. And for something a little easier, it may be hard to find in Indonesia, but I can't highly enough recommend the young-adult books of Daniel Pink water. 5 Novels is a good collection to look for. Those ought to get you started at least.

Dave - what sort of tromping around are we talking about? The kind where you wish you'd kept that backpack after all? It's still at my mom's house if you need it… in any case I'm looking forward to hearing about your adventures. About time someone besides me and Grandma and Grandpa got to go on one, and Lord knows you deserve a break.

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Chuck

History

Everyone - to update you, I'm currently STILL in Beloit, Wisconsin. The guy I'm driving down with has to get a preposterous number of things all taken care of and vehicles prepared before we can leave. With any luck we'll be leaving this afternoon, but I might be lucky to get there by summer at this rate…

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