I arrived at my hostel in Cancun mid-afternoon. The trip from the airport to el centro was wildly complicated, yet I felt more confident than ever as my Spanish appeared shiny and well-lubricated (being the opposite of rusty), i was not the only one leaving a veritable monsoon of sweat everywhere I went, and I didn’t get lost even once!
Yet when I finally collapsed in my dorm-bunk at El Mundo Joven, I felt something I have never really felt before: homesickness.
Chalking it up to an immense lack of sleep, I took a three hour nap, but did not succeed in shaking the feeling. The truth is, I have never travelled completely alone. Even when I’ve gone places on my own, it’s always been with an organization that has essentially provided friends (er, classmates/coworkers) for me. I’ve always admired my dear wife’s independence, but haven’t really bothered developing much of that myself. This was going to take a little more effort on my part.
I get an F for EFFort for that first evening, as I basically wandered the sketchy neighbourhood humming Boulevard of Broken Dreams forlornly to myself (okay, that’s a melodramatization, but you get the point). Over the next few days, however, I’ve employed four different strategies for travelling solo. For anyone who’s interested: here they are.
Strategy 1: Screw friends, just go it alone!
Despite reading that Chichen Itza was a total tourist trap, I resolved to sign up for the next day’s tour, which left at 7am. Thus I was guaranteed to get out of bed and at least see some history. Which I did. And it was awesome.
You know that game where teams try to get a rubber ball into stone hoops without using their hands or feet (á la Road to El Dorado)? Well there’s the hoop. The only detail that pop-culture has mistaken is the fact that it was not the losers who were sacrificed, but rather the MVP, as determined by a panel of judges. This was, we were told, a great honour.
The legendary Chichen Itzá: NOT a tourist trap by any means, its architecture is filled with insanely meticulous details that tell the date, time, and phases of the moon with incredible accuracy. (Also, saying yes to every “can you take a picture of us” request is a great way to make friends!)
Strategy 2: Shamelessly ask people to be your friend
Following a coworker’s recommendation, I researched nearby Isla Mujeres, Cancun’s quieter neighbour, named for the mysterious clay statues of women found by Spanish settlers. The friendly flight attendants/pilots I’d watched crazy magic tricks with the previous night were all gone or staying in, so I was opting for a repeat of Strategy #1, when a friendly-looking British gal walked into the hostel kitchen. “Wanna go to Isla Mujeres with me and rent some bikes?” I said. “Yep,” she replied, and that was that. It was wonderful to have a travel-friend to chat with who was equally okay with driving a goofy golf cart (bike rentals were nowhere to be found) down barely-wide-enough paths that were probably not intended for golf carts.
Strategy 3: Put yourself in a desperate situation and let providence find friends for you
This one is probably the least recommended, but highly effective nonetheless. This morning I set out in search of Las Zapatistas (more to come on that soon). Upon arrival, it was clear that the combi-driver’s promise that “hay muchos taxis para regresar” was not entirely well-founded. This wasn’t all that concerning until the guard, indicative of the welcoming-yet-intensely-protective nature of the Zapatistas, made it clear that visitors were not permitted to wander around for hours while waiting for a ride, and there was nothing but mountainous jungle in every direction.
Very fortunately, a kind Valencian couple who arrived shortly after me on a private tour of rural Chiapas saw my rather disconcerted expression and offered me a ride. That ride turned into a very informative trek through more of the nearby indigenous communities. Muchisimas gracias Daniel, Sara, y Victor for letting me tag along!
Great folks to spend a day with (Sara, it felt VERY similar to our parapente afternoon 🙂 )
Strategy 4: Appreciate solitude
This has always been one of my greatest strengths, aside from long-distance running and knowing anything about football. Obviously this statement is a blatant lie. But as I sit at this table-for-one in San Cristobal, (with a lightning-footed Mexican couple dancing to ridiculously catchy Latino jazz in a tiny patio clearly not intended for dancing or movement in general), I am learning to appreciate just soaking in the atmosphere of a place on my own (besides the 5 million internet users that have access to this blog, but hey, baby steps, amiright?)
In sum, solo travelling has been a very fun, very valuable experience. I’ve learned to truly value new friends, as well as my wonderful Facebook/Snapchat/Skype buddies (geez, whatever happened to email, eh?). Looking back on this blog, however, I’m so excited for saratreetravels to be reunited again in a few short days. There’s nothing like sharing amazing experiences with the person you’ll be reminiscing about them with forever!