Is reading people's vacation posts like looking at their vacation photos? I think the impulse to share "here's what I did on my trip" images (whether words or pictures) comes from the desire to bring everyone you know along with you, to not have anyone miss out. But photos and even words don't get it completely right, because it's not the same as being here. I always bring along a journal when I travel, because I want to write down the things I might forget or can't photograph. Like the music that was playing in the garden restaurant we ate at on Thursday night. A sort of big-band, jazzy sound, the woman's voice rich and strong; it took me more than a few numbers to notice that the lyrics she was singing were old alternative songs. I've never heard a weirder version of "Personal Jesus." Or how, at the place where we're staying, every day on the ash tray near the elevator, there's a red hibiscus flower draped very carefully across the sand---but only on the fourth-floor ash tray. The guy at the beach yesterday who was selling silver jewelery; he would not believe me when I told him that I only had forty pesos with me and so couldn't buy the beautiful little bangle he was trying to sell me. Finally I stood up from my towel and said "Listen. I forgot to bring my money with me. I only have forty pesos. I'm not trying to bargain or to waste your time. You can take my forty pesos or not." Crazy!
Still, as I write this (the morning surf huge off our balcony, and there's someone swimming in the water just behind the waves, which is crazy to me), I'm acutely aware that writing about your vacation is not usually beneficial for anyone but yourself, unless you can find something that has a point beyond describing what you did. That thing that good travel writers manage to do. I'm hoping I can achieve that here, but if not, feel free to click away to a better blog!
On Thursday, my mom and sister, Haley, Jake and I went snorkeling. We went to Cabo Pulmo, which is a national marine park. We went via van right across the desert, through the mountains and the little towns where people really live. The difference between the tourist part of Baja and the residential part is stark. People live in these tiny square homes, coated with brightly-colored adobe, with a big water tank on the top. The water is heated by the sun, and that's their hot water. Those with ranches have their cows in their front yard. It's hot here, and dry (rains about four times a year); no air conditioning, obviously, or any of the comforts of how Americans live. The landscape is sere, grey and brown and white with occasional flashes of green or yellow, yet beautiful, but I think you have to love the desert to see the beauty in it.
Our guide, Claire, was from France. She’d lived in the Bahamas with her boyfriend, taking tourists out on scuba and snorkeling tours, until they were asked to run the tours at Cabo Pulmo. She and her boyfriend live in this tiny town—population 80, not counting the twenty-five or so tourists that come each day—snorkeling and scuba-ing and telling people about the environment. Suzette asked me if I could live like Claire, and I decided that yes, if I didn’t have kids, I would love to live like her for a year or two. Suzette asked her if she liked the Bahamas or Cabo Pulmo better, and she said that definitely Pulmo, because it is wilder and less developed. There are no big hotels there, no one trying to sell you trinkets on the beach, no spas or chlorinated pools. Just the barest form of survival, and wind and waves and water.
There was another girl, Jasper, on our boat who was also traveling with her boyfriend. They were going up and down the coastline, camping on beaches and getting up early to find the best surfing waves. They’d been living out of their tent and the occasional bed and breakfast for six weeks, since they’d graduated from college, but they were cutting the trip short because she had a job interview next week.
As the day progressed, and we snorkeled with sea lions (seriously! I snorkeled with sea lions!), gazed at coral reefs, reached out casual hands to tropical fish who were wary enough not to let us touch them; as I watched Haley’s hair grow wilder and wilder in the wind until she looked like a surfer girl; as I tried to keep Jake, who strikes out fearlessly in nearly any environment, constantly in my eyesight so he wouldn’t drown or be beaten against the rocks the sea lions dove from; as I breathed in my snorkeling mask trying to keep my underwater claustrophobia at bay, a line from a poem by Mary Oliver kept coming into my mind: “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?”
Of course, what I will do with my life is mostly decided, and I didn’t do anything amazing. I took the traditional route: marriage and children. I don’t regret any of that, of course, but I can say that I regret not doing anything wild before settling down. At least, not wild in the sense of Claire and Jasper. I didn’t ever have an adventure. Of course, that’s no one’s fault but mine and the choices I made, but I couldn’t help, watching my two oldest swimming, sleek in their wetsuits and brimming with possibility, that they will have adventures. I hope they get to experience something of the world, live on their own, live in other ways than just our staid existence.
There are so many lives a person could chose to live. I’m grateful I don’t live like the people do in the villages we saw, but I’m pretty sure I’ll never live the opulent opposite we see in the tourist side, either. I’m just right in the middle, boring and predictable. I can’t do much to change that, but I am filled with a renewed desire to encourage my kids to seek out adventure.