Mexico No.5: Final Week

Friday, 20th May 2016

I leave Colima in one week. I am going to travel north, into the silver mines and mysterious mountains of Guanajuato, where independence was conceived in 1810, and realized in 1821. There is so much to see and to do; I can barely sit still for excitement. The map below brings it to my attention: I leave Colima in one week. That makes me think!

Plans for travel: Jalisco, Guanajuato, San Luis Potosi.

In the high mountains of Ecuador there’s a phrase for altitude sickness: La altura me cogió. Literally, ‘the altitude has caught me’. In Mexican Spanish, that phrase is both impolite and incomprehensible – but it applies to me now, because since my high-altitude flight over Volcán de Colima last Saturday, I have been feeling strange. Drawing the map above has placed a pin on where that strange is coming from.

Time passes slowly, until it doesn’t

In March and April I was caught up in the seamless flow of my day-to-day life. The days would dawn blue and bright, seemingly the same, although I eventually learned to distinguish them by details: a slight breeze from the east, a touch more haze in the sky. (I am no exception to the charming British stereotype of weather appreciation.) I would go every Monday to the grocery store to buy papaya and pan, and would notice the increasing ripeness of mangos. We drank tequila on Friday evenings and slept in on Sundays. Occasionally I found myself humming along to Pink Floyd’s ‘Time’. I lived on details and rhythms. Before Colima, I never considered that life can pass you by wherever you are.

I love it here. I am incredibly lucky, two-fold lucky: I get the big perks of camping on and studying an active volcano, and living abroad allows me to appreciate the small quirks of this strange and fragrant country. On every walk around my neighbourhood I notice something new. Would I ever get bored of living here? Suddenly three months is not enough time at all. And now that I have only a week, I wonder if I could have squeezed more out of my time in Colima. Did I do enough with the time that I had? I feel wistful that I didn’t stop and smell the roses (or the hibiscus) more often.

Nostalgia is inevitable, and it’s not all bad: what about the ‘grass is greener here’ phenomenon?

The flight gave me my first taste of nostalgia for Colima. I literally had an overview of my city, my state, and my volcano. I used to think it was strange that scientists could be so passionate, so protective, of a single edifice. It’s just a volcano – it’s an inanimate object! I understand now. The flight: wind roaring through the open window, air as freezing as a mountain burn, the eruption on our final approach. This is not just a volcano, it’s mine! 

My nostalgia grew as we flew back from the volcano towards the city. There were the coloured circus tents at Villa de Alvarez. There was the university campus, and the road north. There were the pozos and termales that I hadn’t yet visited, that I wouldn’t now have a chance to. Every evening here is still the same, the jardins and parques bathed in golden light at eight o’clock. It’s only me who sees it differently: the golden hour gilds everything in a shade of nostalgia. I’m learning that time is finite, all over again. The most difficult thing about leaving a place you love is knowing that you can never go back to it without this sentimentality; it’s also one of the best things. I remember that my enthusiasm for London was so much stronger in my fourth year of undergrad than my second. I’d already left it once, and knew I would do again. The streets grew grander, the Christmas lights shone brighter, and even the grass was greener on my side of Regent’s Park.

Nostalgia is dangerous, because you spend too much time in the past, or the future. 

If given the opportunity, I would travel for the rest of my life. That optimism I feel en route is matched in intensity only by the excitement I find in exploring the destination. However, the cost of travel is relentless restlessness and a yearning both for past destinations and future discoveries. Some people who propose travel as a way to ‘live in the moment’ will find themselves, ironically, spending more time dreaming of the future or delving into the past. I may be one of them.

So that’s why the altitude caught me up there over the volcano. When the past, present and future came together so suddenly, I was bound to feel a little sick at heart. Could I have done more with my time here? I want to make the most of life – but. The problem with all those aspirational, seize-the-day articles that I devour on Refinery 29 is that they don’t really apply when I have to do the ordinary tasks, like drafting and sending a boring admin email; it’s difficult to persuade myself that it’s a carpe-DM. These emails and those deadlines can be found in every time zone from CDT to GMT. Moreover, the seize-the-day mentality has a paradoxical effect on me, in that I find myself overwhelmed by everything that I could be doing, and relish the guilty pleasure of not doing it instead: Day Two of my plan ends inevitably in bed, gorging on episodes of New Girl. One of the best pieces of advice I was given, by one of my closest friends, is this: “your life is only a collection of todays”.And that isn’t an injunction to catapult yourself into living as though it’s your last day on Earth. It’s the opposite. You live an ordinary day, working when you can and taking rests when you’re tired, appreciating the small things that happen. It’s a two-fold process. First: you learn that any life, however exotic, contains some ordinary days, some filler. Second: you do things anyway. This process also involves a paradox, but this time it’s a good one: while you are busy living, drinking tequila with friends and working on the volcano, things happen to you. 


I still haven’t fully taken this advice to heart. There are days when I wake up and think I’m going to smash it, and by four o’clock will have settled back into ‘nah’. Hopefully, however, you recognise some truth in this blog post. I don’t think it’s perfect, or I am, and I am certainly very far from achieving the presence of mind in the present that I aspire towards. I know that it’s a long process, though. In this spirit I’ve decided to leave this post as it stands, without additional obsessing. It took me three hours, and it’s a decent post – not perfect, not terrible. I just did it. Make of that what you will.

This post is partly inspired by a post on the excellent thoughts-written WordPress blog, which was recommended to me by a friend. I advise you to check it out!

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