It has come to my attention that I have been happily ensconced in my jungle bubble here for years. Jayne has had a few trips North to Canada but it has been many a moon since I have left Nayarit. We have had loose plans to visit much praised areas of Mexico and expand our horizons. We have had looser plans to perhaps visit family in the UK or head up North to Burning Man again. This, for all the reasons, hasn’t happened. A mix of lethargy, laziness, a pandemic and the fact we live in such a spectacular place has pretty much removed our motivation to go anywhere.
We are, thankfully, surrounded by more motivated, organized and adventurous folk. A few of them have spent a lump of time and energy organizing exciting things in temptingly remote places. In the unique environment of our local Mezcaleria where our good friends are hosting a night of DJ nonsense, we learn of one such exciting plan. After a strategic quantity of Mezcal we invite ourselves along.
The plan is to take a number of flights and taxis and end up in San Miguel Allende. We know of many who have lived or visited and all wax lyrical about its delights. The purpose of the trip is to support a fundraiser for the Mayan Warrior. The Mayan Warrior is a huge art car in the form of an ancient spirit animal, built on a truck body. Along with a world class sound system it has installed upon it the most spectacular (and barely legal) lasers available to man. In remote places such as the Black Rock desert at the Burning Man event in Nevada it offers to those that make the journey a treat of truly stunning lights and sounds. They are selling a few thousand tickets to dinners, parties and a late-night event to raise the money to take the beast back to Burning man this year. This is deemed a suitable enough excuse for us to make the trip. We are in.
It’s March and for the first time in a few years the Cirque De Los Niño’s is putting on their show. Gilles Ste-Croix (the co-founder of Cirque du Soleil) steps up and works his magic again. Thanks to his world class training, costumes and production skills the kids again put on a truly spectacular night once again.
Our planning for the Scorpion Temple build is at an end. Materials are bought, builders chosen and deposits paid. A troop of boys are descending on our site every morning and making satisfyingly loud buildy noises. It’s going up fast.
We have our brand-new fridge, sink, taps and oven in our new bodega awaiting a place to be. Our list of stuff to acquire is long but we have some months to get it together. On the list is to choose a thing to become our new kitchen counter tops. This is not something that I was expecting to get excited about until we arrive at a warehouse filled with shiny bits of stone. Out the front was as extraordinary stunning lump of mesmeric beauty. It looks like a massive three-dimensional satellite photo of a storm over a grey sea. I am smitten. We are now the proud owners of a very unique slice of Italian mountain.
There are flowers on our vanilla vine. We have only just processed last season’s harvest and here we go again ! The pollination ladders are ready. We are on a roll. Irrigation tests are a clear success. Sun and water makes for crops. Who knew ! Our first bed is now full to burst with rocket and lettuce. A ton of salads are in our future. We spend the time creating more water lines to the other two beds. Seeds are planted and expectations are high.
It’s time to leave. Our mate moves into the treehouse and we head to the airport. We are away for four days. It’s been a long while since I got on a plane. In my past life, I took up to 50 flights a year and I really don’t miss airports at all. This is the longest time I have ever been required to wear a mask. It’s not at all comfortable but everyone conforms. We arrive on San Miguel Allende as the sunsets. It’s a stunning old town built in 1542 full of colonial and Mexican buildings. Our initial oversize Airbnb is both large ( colonial) and dark (Mexican). A bit too dark due to no electricity. After a late night explore to find the roughest bar in town we camp down for the night and arrange to move to another place in the morning.
We absolutely score with our new gaff. It is a mansion of a place in the guts of town. A huge wooden door opens into a courtyard lounge and bar area with four huge bedrooms and a large kitchen. It’s a short walk over cobblestone to the neo-Gothic church Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, whose dramatic pink limestone towers loom above the main plaza. All around town the sun lights up bright purple blossoms of the Jacaranda trees. We meet up with friends and find out that the thousand or so tourists here for the weekend of events have an enemy in town. The new major has decided that he is not a fan of large sound and light events. He has cancelled the weekend. San Miguel Allende now has a large contingent of over excited ravers with nowhere to go.
It’s not good news but we all make the best of it. We eat everything and drink some things. The place is crammed with culture, shopping and art. We are in good place in good company. We find a couple who invite us to an art exhibition opening in their shop and the DJ they hire invites us to his place for a late-night house party. We dress up and turn up to find a massive house filled with music and hundreds of people who were expecting to be jumping around an over sized spirit animal instead of some generous random bloke’s massive front room and courtyard. Everyone is grateful for the chance to dance. Eventually we leave San Miguel Allende inspired and exhausted.
On our return, we slip back into jungle life. It’s all rather splendid and we are glad to be home. We meet a new stranger from Canada who tells us she is looking for a place to put some of her art. She stays for a few days at the Casitas and works on a mural for our retaining wall then leaves for further adventures. We are grateful she found us.
A few unexpected things are happening in UK . I haven’t seen my mum or my brother’s family since my Dads funeral. It’s been years. Our recent trip has me in travelling mood. Jayne is heading into a few weeks of intense deadline stuff so the timing is entirely unforeseen but perfect. The internet offers me a one way direct flight to London for not a lot and I buy it. I leave in 48 hours.
Our mad English friend Karl who is a skilled chef and born horseman is coming back to town. He has a wife and home in Durango state but has spent the last few years in our area. A year ago, he left his restaurant here to start an adventure. He found two rescue horses and set off to travel the 255-km length of the last river to flow through the Western Sierra Madres. The San Pedro Mezquital is the seventh biggest river in Mexico but almost unknown. It connects vast areas of some of the most challenging land Mexico can muster. it sustains thousands of people, unique wildlife and four indigenous ethnic tribes who mostly consider it a water source only. Karl’s mission has been to visit and integrate into the communities along the whole length of the river and educate them as to its importance to their very survival. He has lectured to schools and town meetings for many months. He has inspired a group of river guardians who have now committed to conserve and honour the river for future generations. We have been following his progress for over 6 months and sending supplies and money to feed and shoe the horses; and Karl occasionally. He has arrived back in one skinny sun-bleached piece with many stories to tell. Thanks to excellent care, his horses survived the journey well and are now loving the slower life of beach side Nayarit with a lot more food. It’s great to see them all alive and well.
I have packed light with a heap of room in my bag to bring back stuff. There is clearly going to be a lot of stuff. The plane is packed with slightly pinker and slightly fatter package holiday tourists who have spent two solid weeks trawling the buffets and bars within their 5 star all-inclusive resorts that splatter the Puerto Vallarta shoreline. On the plane, there is a thick atmosphere of hangovers, farts and heartburn. I am disappointed that I am not encouraged to wear a mask. For a treacly slow 12-hour flight, I fail in my attempts to sleep. A cold wet morning at Gatwick Airport awaits us all.
It’s bloody freezing. I have gone proper soft. Mexico has ruined me for weather. I drag my bags onto a train to St Pancras where I will hop another train North and be back in Darlington for the first time in 5 years by early afternoon. Potentially. I have friends in York who I might well meet with on the way. It’s been way too many years since I had a pint of real draught Guinness and York is full of pubs. I’m finding the glorious anticipation of that first black sip seducing. Imagining the cold glass and the white fresh creamy head hitting my top lip as the deepest and darkest of all heavenly delights pours over my tongue. It’s like a dream. Maybe because I am asleep. Then my phone rings. I’m struggling to gain consciousness and find the source of the phone noise. My mate who is currently in Barcelona has chosen this moment to call me. Good timing. It’s my stop. I nearly miss it. I manage to leap onto the station platform with my backpack in one hand and my phone in the other. It’s stopped ringing. The doors close and the train moves off to Cambridge. With my bag.
It’s a bit of a stress finding staff to help my thoroughly jet lagged moron of a self. I make all the calls and fill in all the forms but it’s the UK. We are not good at this stuff. I decide after a few futile hours of navigating Transport for London’s insane lost and found rabbit holes that I will never see my bag again and I’m just to get over it. I console myself by finding a Greggs bakery and demolishing two steak bakes. Bliss. Two hours and twelve long minutes later I arrive in York station with a 3 year Guinness thirst. It is splendid to see mates and just as splendid to finally make my Guinnessy dreams come true. Four times.
My first job when I arrived in Darlington was to find some clothes so my newly delicate UK person didn’t freeze to death. It’s a barmy 15 degrees in Darlington which is effectively local bikini weather but I’m nithered!! I am wrapped in layers of local supermarket clothing for men. Despite this my knees are achingly cold. My knees?? Who am I???
My dear mate has spent lockdown building a rustic wooden cabin at the bottom of his garden. He has done a splendid job. I spend my first few days living there in absolute comfort. Only a few weeks earlier they had yet another big post pandemic “clear out” and I am presented with a dark wooden pot that I recognise. It’s from Zambia and older than me. They decided not to throw it out but didn’t know what it was. It’s a stunning moment. My entire music and photo life was transferred and stored onto hard-drives and brought to Mexico where they were a victim of our break-in. I have had to accept the fact that all my photos of every feature of my slightly bizarre life were gone forever. Every single one of the many hundreds of CDs I burned onto hard drives were gone forever. What I forgot was I backed them all up on a bunch of USBs and stored them in an old pot. This is the pot!! Having my digital history back is absolutely worth this trip. Everything else is now a bonus.
There are many bonus things. Jayne gets an email in Mexico to tell me my bag has been delivered to the lost property office at Cambridge train station and is available to collect. I rent a car and set off at 7 am to arrive in Cambridge, thanks to old roads and all the traffic, around midday. I confidently and gratefully present myself to the customer services desk at the station and show them the email inviting me to collect my bag. We all know that the concept of customer service is certainly differently understood in various parts of the world. At a train station in Cambridge it takes on a new level of irony. There are no words spoken as a dazed looking girl in a “customer friendly uniform” leaves her desk and vanishes behind glass doors to presumably retrieve my lost bag. She returns with a slip of paper. With a tone of voice that has contempt mixed with intense boredom she explains that it’s not there and these people have it. There is no name on the paper, just a number. Who has it? I ask. She nods unhelpfully at the paper. On it is a telephone number that I have rang a dozen times over the past few days. The telephone number eventually takes you through to a long drawn our menu where you chose number seven. This eventually takes you to a recorded message asking you to explain why you are calling, describe any lost item and leave a number that they will only call if they find something. I have had no calls. I explain to the impervious idiot that this is no good to me. I can’t wait here for a few days just in case they call. She then states that she feels uncomfortable with my attitude. I request she calls security. They may have more sympathy with my plight.
I leave the station to regain my composure. I have to make sense of what is happening. After a few deep breaths, I return to the station and walk up to the bloke who has the best uniform. He must be important. I tell him my tale and he takes pity. He tells me the name of a company he “thinks” takes care of lost property but in order to find out I have to ring the useless number. With a little help from Google and a few other random employees I bother, I work out that it is possible my bag has been kidnapped and is now held in Welwyn Garden City. This is only a couple of hours away.
Welwyn Garden City is one of 30 garden cities in the UK. It was founded in 1920 by Sir Ebenezer Howard as a planned town to provide for both industry and pleasant living conditions. I’m sure in 1920 it was lovely. The industrial estate I find is less than pleasant but I’m happy to see the storage warehouse. I knock on the windows and the door is opened by a confused looking girl. I explain that I’m searching for my bag. I hand her the paper with the useless number on it. I think she recognised the number as the one she has been ignoring for days. I spotted a flash of pity and guilt in her eyes. She told me that for some reason that she was uncertain of, I was absolutely not allowed to come and collect my lost things from their lost property warehouse. Despite that she finds my bag and returns it to me within 3 minutes. I am deeply grateful to be dealing with a real person again. I thank her effusively and tell he she will be responsible for my happy noises all day. She seemed good with that.
On my way, back North I pop in and see my Mum in Lincolnshire. I arrange to return the next week when I get to see my brother and his family as well. The likelihood of them coming to Mexico is not high so it’s important to be here. I get to see my daughter who I haven’t seen since she left our place pre-Covid days. That seems like a lifetime away. I even got to interview her new boyfriend. He already has the job but it was good that she made me feel like my opinion mattered. Suzy is due to visit us in a few weeks which is excellent news. I also get to stay with my son who I haven’t seen since he left our place 9 months ago. It’s been far too long
I am collected by my mate who was given the task of dumping all my stuff that I had failed to sell or give away before I left. He has a van so I slipped him a few quid before I left for Mexico to gather all my bits and bobs and chuck them in a skip. The ultimate release of past things to make room for new. Well that was the theory anyway. As it turned out my good buddy took one look at my pile of crap and decided that it all had a future. When I asked him to chuck everything he actually chucked nothing. Bless him. I’m taken to a warehouse at the local airport where his brother has a business. There is a ladder resting next to the office. I climb up and in front of me, laid out neatly is about ten cubic meters of my life in boxes. It’s sorta kinda emotional. There are a lot of treasures here I’m glad to see again. There are even love letters from lifetimes ago when my ex girlfriends used to like me. I spend days in that warehouse carefully putting strange and ridiculous things aside while throwing out most . I find thousands of actual real life photographs. I put the good ones aside and take snaps as best I can with my phone . There are so many. I have a lot of fun distributing handfuls of the most embarrassing ones to old friends who are now less hairy, less skinny and less pretty.
There are hundreds of books. Some my daughter will take but she will have to invest heavily in shelving. Most are earmarked for charity. It is very likely that all the rest of the clothing, DVDs , CDs and bootlegged cassette tapes from 80s Bangkok will end up rejected by charity shops.
Another friend that I know is a musician and vinyl maestro. He has thousands of old school LPs in his house. He has been spending lockdown helping a friend open a shop in the centre of Darlington that is a treasure trove of nostalgic classics. Alongside a fair selection of vinyl albums there are DVDs, Video games, Old comic books, an entire floor of old books and a large selection of Airfix model kits. Its a great space to hangout. It’s always a pleasure to see the bugger but I am compelled to warn him I have a the hundreds of books and DVDs along with a heap of dodgy cassette tapes and CDs stored in a dusty lockup with his name on them . When we arrive unannounced in the middle of the day and unload a vast quantity of mildly interesting and mostly obsolete crap into his shop he takes it very well. He may not be as pleased to see me next time.
Darlington, it has to be said is a more depressing place post COVID. There are too many shops and gathering places closed down. It’s a ghost town during the week. No-one goes out. In the process of walking to my favourite Indian restaurant around 8 pm every night, 6 days in a row (don’t judge me ) I saw how deserted the town has become. The few pubs that are open throw people out before 10 pm. I meet many friends and they all tell me similar tales. They haven’t been out or socialising for years. Everyone’s gas and electricity bills have trebled so it’s like having two mortgages. No one has any spare cash, no one goes out or sees each other much. The last time my previously super social friends were together was for my dear friends’ funeral last year. It took one of our finest to die to get people together again. It’s hard enough to get folk out to the pub. The chances of them getting on a plane to Mexico are looking slim.
My visit was a catalyst to get a number of folk out of their new routines and into curry houses and pubs again, even for a short while. It was extraordinary to instantly reconnect with friends after 5 years apart. Seemed like yesterday and forever at the same time. I buy myself a flight home. It has been special to see my people but it is an undisputed real thing that my home is now the jungle we share outside San Pancho in Nayarit Mexico.