It’s adequate to say that it took a pandemic.
Packing our bags for our road trip through Mexico, I was an equal combination of terrified and ecstatic. What were we thinking? Had we completely lost our minds? What if the car breaks down? What about Covid? How will our kids manage all this time in the car without AC or technology? Have we not read the news? These were rational questions and I knew that. Yet somehow, when I was hardly aware, I had reached a precipice. It was my Thelma and Louise moment. At some point towards the end of the year, I had crossed over fear and reason into wild hope, in search of that spontaneous feeling of abandon and the thrill of adventure. And I was taking my family with me.
When the four of us climbed into our 1973 restored Range Rover (which we’d never driven farther than an hour from where we live) I clearly knew that a three week road trip from Guatemala through Mexico to Austin, Texas, was either going to be the best decision we’d ever made or quite simply, the worst. There didn’t seem to be much gray area. We had spent the last three years fixing up our classic old car and the time had come to sell it in the States. A year of pivoting our businesses persuaded us to cash in on the ol’ beaut (whom we had affectionately named Clifford) and make an adventure out of it all. In spite of the odds and the weird looks that we got from people about our plans, there was no going back; the wheels of wanderlust and fate were already in motion. A road trip through Mexico during a global pandemic, in a forty-seven year old car that topped out at 55mph, with an eight and a six year old, and not much more than a gear shift, crank windows and lap belts, was the making of a modern day hero’s journey. It was calling so strongly we had no choice but to say yes and see where we’d land. It felt romantic and risky, ridiculous, reek and rugged with potential.
It should be said that I’m not exactly the kind of daredevil that normally throws all caution to the wind and I surely wasn’t ignoring the glaring risks laid out before us. I had done my research and was not going to take this trip lightly. Firstly, I wanted to make sure that we could travel as safely and responsibly as possible, considering the Pandemic. Secondly, we have lived abroad in Central America for eleven years (Casco Viejo, Panama and now Antigua, Guatemala) so we have a buffer of familiarity with the broader route that we wanted to travel, in addition to us being a bilingual family which definitely helps minimize any confusing language gaps. This is where my husband and I saw eye-to-eye. We felt we were fairly and reasonably calculating the potential obstacles and dangers while ultimately outweighing them with the positive possibilities. We didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into, because who ever really does! What we did commit to though, was to keep it simple: set low expectations for ourselves out of preparation, knowing that we could just as easily make it 1,800 miles to Texas, or only 100 miles to Tapachula, met by a broken down car and a ride home in a tow-truck. Plan the best itinerary possible and leave the rest to chance.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say how good chance was to us.
For fourteen days we drove through gorgeous Mexican landscape, drenched in palpable, saturated color; sweet and secure in culture. Somehow, no matter how many times I’ve been to this country, I’m constantly amazed by the sophistication, richness and diversity of Mexico. From beach to desert, through countless small towns and big cities, down windy roads and over giant túmulos in trusty old Clifford we forged. Each new morning making headway felt like an exciting new endeavor. Eight hotels, three homes, so many friendly faces, and fifty-eight hours of driving time packed into our own nostalgic bubble. An adventure reminiscent of days gone by, and one that I began to long for before it was even over. Our lack of a radio was replaced by a blue-tooth speaker, dozens of playlists, and spotty cell service. Road time was allotted to reading, napping, snacking, bickering, Eye Spy, laughing, and chewing gum, which we may have once applied to a small crack on the radiator. Antigua – Tapachula – Salina Cruz – Oaxaca – Puebla - San Miguel de Allende – Monterrey – Laredo – Austin. We saw breathtaking vistas, shorelines, and glimpses of real life, beyond what any jet could have ever delivered. A highlight reel of incredible meals, walks through mercados, so much hand sanitizer, a beautiful Christmas, a 42nd birthday, a first lost tooth, a freezing cold New Year’s Eve, enough mezcalitos to keep us warm, a few lost items, a lot of keepsakes, four Covid tests, a clean bill of health, and thousands of photos to prove it wasn’t all just a dream.
The real adventure of this entire road trip began long before we even head off from home, down the cobblestone streets of Antigua, Guatemala. It began with a roller coaster of a year, intense lockdown, and the apex of a socio-political climate that questioned everyone and everything. The sensation of stepping into the unknown during such an unbelievable time in history, and feeling scared but doing it anyway, was nothing short of invigorating. It was like a cold plunge pool for the soul. Coming out on the other end as a better, healthier person, was an unparalleled reminder to say yes to what pushes me out of my comfort zone and to be open to what I can’t always control. It shone a light on my privilege and responsibility to the world around me. It was an opportunity to reconnect with my sweet family, with nature, culture, art, morning strolls in new places, delicious food and the goodness of strangers. It was more than I could have ever asked for in a road trip. It restored something that I worried had disappeared. It was proof that even in a year full of impossible loss, I could still take the curvy, scenic route back to finding myself again.
To see a hardcopy of this story, you can pick up the Spring 2021 issue of YOLO Journal at a stockiest near you.