If I’d written this blog a day or two ago, as I stood with my feet in the Pacific Ocean surf and watched the sky turn pink above me, it would have read differently. Back then, as my toes sank into the sand, I decided the title of my first Mexico blog would be ‘Falling in love again’, because that’s the sensation I had. That I was falling in love again – with life.
I feel like we’ve been through a tough time, life and I, over the past months or even years. That we’d fallen out a little. But six days at the beach in Mexico – a country that captured my heart when I first crossed the border into Tijuana in 1995, aged 24 and with a rucksack on my back, and that gave me a home for five marvellous, albeit crazy years – seemed to restore my faith in life, in myself and in the choices I make.
The first three days of my beach trip were spent in Acapulco at the über-chic Hotel Boca Chica, a prime destination during the town’s 1950s heyday when Hollywood movie stars draped themselves from its balconies or lounged around its pool. The refurbished Boca Chica played host to the wedding of a dear Mexican friend of mine, someone who was like a sister to me during my stay in this fascinating country and who accompanied me on a number of adventures.
There were plenty of moments during those days at the Boca Chica when I had to pinch myself. There I was, dancing on a moonlit terrace to my favourite Mexican tunes until 4 am, sipping a frozen margarita with friends I hadn’t seen in years, taking a spin around the bay on an inflatable banana, watching our boat captain reel in an enormous swordfish and, perhaps the highlight, watching the Acapulco cliff divers from the sea, under the stars.
I’ve seen the cliff divers once or twice before, from the Hotel Mirador, another prime 1950s destination, or at least from the public viewing platform next to it. But there was something incredibly magical about watching them scale the rocks and dive from a great height while sitting in darkness on a gently rocking boat. And things got even more magical when one of the cliff divers swam out to us, climbed on deck and gave us a potted history of the spectacle – before collecting his propina (tip), of course. All this as the moonlight reflected off the sea. I really did have to pinch myself.
For the final three days of my beach stay, I moved on to one of my favourite spots in the whole world – and that’s saying something as I’ve seen quite a lot of beautiful beaches from Australia to Fiji to Brazil.
Pie de la Cuesta (or Foot of the Hill) is only half-an-hour from Acapulco but it’s a world away. Mass tourism has yet to discover this beautiful spot – thank goodness – and it retains a really local feel. On one side, there’s a long stretch of sandy beach and the roaring waves of the Pacific while on the other, there’s a lagoon where you can swim, kayak, water-ski, jet ski, wakeboard, visit islands, bird watch or cover yourself in restorative mud.
Pie is incredibly special to me. I guess it played a pretty big part in my Mexican life – I went there countless times during my five years in the country and took pretty much every foreign visitor there to try their hand at water-skiing or to lounge in a hammock drinking micheladas (beer, lime and ice, with salt around the rim). So many happy memories.
But there’s something about the place itself that draws me. Perhaps it’s the peace or the abundance and variety of Nature or the exhilaration of water-skiing or the power of those crashing waves that almost dragged me under once and threatened to carry off a friend on our first visit. Perhaps it’s the combination of so many things I love: natural beauty, sunshine, freedom and adventure sports.
On this occasion, given I was travelling on my own and not en masse as I generally was in the old days, I was blessed to find the Hotel Baxar, a beautiful hotel with a real family feel where I didn’t feel at all lonely – despite being very much alone. And here, in Pie de la Cuesta, I had a few more of those ‘pinch myself’ moments – like the one when all of a sudden and despite thinking I’d never learn to wakeboard and would have to stick with the skis, I was upright and gliding along at top speed, watching the lagoon go by. I really haven’t a clue how I got out of the water and onto my feet but it was an amazing feeling.
Or the moment when the sun went down and the sky turned an incredible pink and tears came to my ears – not of sadness, or loneliness, but of awe, wonder and privilege. Or the moment when my guacamole and spicy shrimp tacos arrived on a tray as I lay on a bed facing out to sea. Or when I caught sight of a fish darting through a wave just before it broke and turned into churning white froth.
In those moments, I really did fall back in love with life. Through my brave choices, through my hard work and by following my heart to Pie instead of heeding warnings of potential danger or my own fears of loneliness, I was staying in a stunning location on my favourite beach. And I didn’t feel at all alone. ‘I trust you life’, I said out loud, over and again, as I walked along the beach in the morning sun. ‘I trust myself.’
So why isn’t this blog called ‘Falling in love again’? Well, after writing the above and recalling my time at the beach, I think it still could carry that title but, inevitably, I’ve lost a bit of my inner peace since I left that tranquil location. I am back in Mexico City, a fascinating place filled with colour, culture, art, amazing architecture and incredibly warm and open people but also a gigantic metropolis that’s filled with noise, traffic and pollution and that doesn’t have the family feel of Pie and the Hotel Baxar. And like any big city, it takes some getting used to.
I’m still remembering how to get around and learning the public transport system again. I’m still trying to locate the shops, supermarkets and friendly cafés. And I’m still coming to terms with my aloneness, felt more starkly in this place of so many people and where Christmas and family are incredibly important. Despite numerous friends in this enormous city, they all have their busy lives, friends and families and fundamentally – as it’s been for quite a long time – I’m on my own, and a long way from home.
Of course, I knew these feelings would come up. I knew I was taking a risk leaving the safety and comfort of my London flat, friendship group, community and family to spend the festive season on the other side of the world. But I made a choice – a choice to shake things up a bit, to do things differently, to challenge myself, to break out of my comfort zone and to reignite my adventurous spirit. I was always going to miss the Christmas lights and trees, the carol concerts, the gift shopping to tacky tunes, the bright winter days, the homely movies and the promise of a cosy few days with my family.
So my emotional wobble since returning to the city is only to be expected. Nor do I have plans for the next few weeks. Things are very much up in the air. I could stay in the capital with a few friends or I could go off and explore this marvelous country, aware that a lot of Mexicans and foreigners are also exploring it at this time of year so prices will be high and the prime locations packed.
The bottom line, however, is that wherever I go and whatever I do, I am alone. I am fundamentally alone. But then, at the same time, I am not alone. It just depends how I look at things.
Since I got back to the city on Thursday night, I’ve realised that I’m always looking for a place to belong, a way to feel part of something, part of a group, a family or a community. But even if I find that group, community or family, I never truly feel like I belong. I always feel a bit of an outsider. This is a feeling that has been with me since childhood – a feeling that’s explained brilliantly by John Bradshaw in a book I’m reading: Healing the Shame that Binds You. (I do have some light holiday reading too but I’m really pleased I’m reading this book – it’s helping me to know myself even more).
Understanding that I carry this sense of apartness with me wherever I go has been a big help because I now see that this feeling of belonging I so yearn for needs to come from the inside. I need to feel like I belong to myself or that all the parts of myself belong to each other. I need to integrate my adventurous, courageous, outgoing, grown-up side with the insecure, fearful, somewhat paranoid young child inside me. And I need to draw on my inner strength and on God to find my peace and poise, in the face of life’s ups and downs.
So yes, I am alone. And a long way from home. But I am not alone and I carry my home with me, inside of me. I am my own companion. And as the Mexicans say, ‘mejor sola que mal acompañada’, or better alone than in bad company, which for today I interpret as better alone than in a relationship just for the sake of having someone to lean on or to not feel like I’m some sort of anomaly.
So this trip seems to be about embracing my aloneness and celebrating everything I am and everything I have – my resourcefulness, my courage, my imagination, my persistence and my willingness to trust myself. It’s also about getting out there and discovering the riches of Mexico City and beyond. Which is why I’m really excited about going to the house of Frida Kahlo later today – the troubled Mexican artist whose life story inspired my Mexican memoir blog. My decision to go to Frida’s house today is interesting given an article I read this morning by Martha Beck (@MarthaBeck): ‘When you feel lonely‘. In it, Martha explores three types of loneliness: absolute loneliness, separation loneliness and existential loneliness. It seems to be the existential loneliness that I often feel and I was very pleased to read her solution: Art. So here I am, partaking in my art – writing and creating – and soon I’ll be immersed in the art of Frida and the beautiful bright colours of her house.
Before I sign off to take a bus down to Coyoacan, this piece by Melanie Notkin (@SavvyAuntie) caught my eye this morning. Thanks to Jody Day (@gatewaywomen) of Gateway Women for tweeting this and Martha’s article. Melanie writes about being single and childless and confronting the thoughts of others in her Huffington Post piece: ‘I know what you’re thinking’. It was an interesting read for me given the fact I’m single, childless and alone in Mexico over Christmas and New Year.
I was also very much the only single guest at the Hotel Baxar amongst a number of couples and families. But it was OK. In fact, it was more than OK. It was positively delightful – it was one of those ‘I’m going to have to pinch myself’ experiences. It was a gift. It was a blessing.
Alone doesn’t have to equal lonely – even if that’s what we imagine others are thinking.