This letter is addressed to those of you who have just arrived in town and find yourselves wandering through the streets of Antigua, as if in a daze, stunned by the beauty of the city, the valley, the volcanoes, the architecture, the bars. It’s a letter to those of you who are in your first few weeks of language school or just beginning your volunteer work. It’s a letter to those of you who are just breaking out of your Lonely Planet prison cell and exploring the world on your own. It’s a letter to those of you still innocent enough to believe that a few salsa lessons will allow you to overcome your innate, inbred and eternal lack of rhythm. At least that’s how it was for me.
It’s a letter to you because I remember those first few weeks in Antigua – exactly four years ago this month – and I remember that taunting, echoing thought to make sudden changes to my travel plans and decide to stick around for a while. And I remember the other dense and deeper thought – to bag it all, to tell the boss to pound sand and to take the leap: to ex-patriate.
And I remember the moment when I finally decided to do it.
John and I were on a run up to Oaxaca to steward a few thousand liters of Ilegal Mezcal across the border, back to Antigua and into the safety of Café No Sé. We’d been on the road a few days and we were on our way home. It was 8:45 on a Tuesday night. We were half an hour north of the Guatemalan – Mexican border at Tapachula in the bed of a pick- up truck being driven by a deeply crazy mezcalera on a dark, dirt road, flying hell bent for leather at about 80 miles and hour surrounded by glass.
Orion was due south, with a full moon above. We’d been loading and unloading cases of mezcal in the heat throughout the day – but the night had a chill, so we’d cracked a bottle and were trying to fend off the wind with a few ratty old coffee bags.
As our driver skidded around a corner the bottles rattled across the floor. I turned to John and said, “We’re both in our 40s. We both had successful careers in New York City. We’re both pretty smart guys…”
The tires skittered as the driver swerved sharply to avoid a hallucinatory fever dream and clipped the ruts on the side of the road. We bounced – the bottles, the crates, the driver, and us – a few inches in the air then crashed back down hard as the truck accelerated once again.
John passed me the bottle and finished the thought.
“And now we’re barreling down a dirt road in Mexico, heading for the border and hoping to hell we make it home alive”
“Yup.” I said. “Feels like I’ve finally done something right with my life.”
And that was that. Four years in and the trip is still a blast. So, to you, the one who is wandering and wondering if its really necessary to go home I offer the unsolicited advice – give it a shot, there’s room in the pick-up and the moon is still high. Jump in.