Fans of Arrested Development know the moment I’m talking about, but even if you’ve (wrongly) never watched the show, I’m betting you’re still familiar with what I mean. It’s that moment that comes after you’ve made a big decision or change, that moment when you feel like everything you’ve been working towards is crumbling and life just seems impossibly hard. It’s the time when you feel like you’re teetering on the edge of catastrophe and the only thing left to say is those infamous words: I’ve made a huge mistake.
Since leaving Minnesota, we’ve experienced more than a few of these “oh shit” moments that cause us to doubt whether we’re totally crazy and wouldn’t just be better off packing it in and heading home. Our first day on the road, we rolled into a town in Nowheresville, Nebraska where we were planning to spend the night, only to find that the guide I’d been using to find pet-friendly lodging was years out of date and all of the places in town that would accept dogs were double what we were expecting to pay and, what’s more, would only allow our pooches to stay with additional hefty pet fees. So we kept driving until we saw the glowing lights of the bastion to all budget travelers with pets in the States: The Motel 6. It wound up being the most expensive place we stayed during our travels (apparently western Nebraska is kind of a wasteland of affordable lodging…) and by far one of the dodgiest places we have ever stayed. As we walked the dogs through a parking lot where broken liquor bottles and cigarette butts littered the ground like fallen soldiers on a battlefield, I hoped that things would look better and brighter in the morning, that we would look back and see that night as the ignoble beginning to an otherwise incredible adventure. Nevertheless, I went to bed feeling unsettled, anxious that this might very well be a harbinger of more bad things to come.
Of course, things were—as they always are—better in the morning, and we hit the road with renewed enthusiasm and optimism. But that didn’t mean we were out of the woods and that it would smooth roads ahead for the rest of our journey. Both literally and metaphorically, our adventure really was only just beginning.
I expected, upon arriving in Mexico, to be thrown for something of a loop due not only to its foreignness, but its utter unfamiliarity to us as travelers. Despite its proximity and accessibility to the U.S. and Canada, this would be both of our first times visiting, meaning—apart from glowing stories and gorgeous photos from other travel bloggers—we really had no idea what to expect from the country and how we’d take to it.
That said, although this stage of our travels is full of firsts and novelties, it’s not like this is our first time at the travel rodeo. Even before arriving at the skeeviest motel in the hinterlands of Nebraska, I knew setting off to travel again wouldn’t be all sunshine and rainbows. I remembered acutely just how hard it was when we left for our first set of travels back in 2012, how we were exhausted and overwhelmed as we raced through Japan (sniping at and resenting one another) and then Hong Kong and then hit the big bad beast that is China. I remember thinking that this wasn’t how our trip was meant to be, that long-term travel really wasn’t all it was cracked up to be… namely because it was sometimes fun, but sometimes really not fun. I worried that maybe this thing we had planned and saved for and looked forward to for years was a dud and a poor choice on our parts, that we would head home after just a month or two of exploring, not because we hadn’t saved or planned enough, but just because we didn’t like it and couldn’t hack it.
Obviously, that didn’t happen. We adapted and learned a new way to be, but it took time. We had about two months of “GOB Bluth” moments during our first set of travels, so I suppose I’m not really surprised that we’ve been in Mexico for two weeks and—lo and behold!—we’re having them here.
Now, don’t get scared that we’re thinking of throwing in the towel. We’re not! But that’s not to say that we don’t have moments of doubt or that we haven’t been having our share of rough patches since arriving. We spent our first week in Mexico in San Blas, a sleepy surf/fishing town that, if it is known for anything, it’s known for its voracious bugs. There isn’t tons to do there apart from taking gentle strolls around town or heading to the beach to frolic in the waves or read books, getting one’s abysmal Spanish up to speed impressively quickly, and eating true blue Mexican food (all the better to provide a feast later on to the local No See Ums). If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you could go visit the ruins of an old Spanish fort, or head out on a mangrove tour, but… we weren’t feeling ambitious and we specifically chose to spend our first week in San Blas because we figured it was the kind of place that wouldn’t overwhelm us. The most we managed to do was head about 15 minutes out of town one day for lunch at a nearby-but-supposedly-more-beautiful-though-no-less-bug-infested beach where we ate cheap seafood, drank a huge beer (Fun Fact: Big beers in Mexico are called ballenas a.k.a. “whales), and splashed about in the ocean.
Our hypothesis that San Blas would be a good place to ease ourselves into Mexican life and gently begin to learn the ropes to traveling and living here was a sound one. Initially we weren’t overly impressed with the place—it is small and pokey and while not offensive to the eye, not immediately quaintly photogenic—but with each passing day, we came to like it more and unearthed more of its charms. The locals are friendly, life feels easy, lodging was cheap and the food was good. By the end of our stay, we had well-established favorite places to eat and could easily understand how some people get sucked into the San Blas vortex never to leave. If it weren’t for the bugs (which really are as bad as we had been led to believe), we could have easily stuck around for a little longer.
But the bugs came not just for us (I am a mosquito—and, apparently, a No See Um—magnet, so this was not a surprise), but they went after the dogs too, and it became very clear that remaining would result in two very itchy pups. We decided to push further south and continue our trend of being beach adjacent and found a pet-friendly casita in the Riviera Nayarit town of La Peñita. Located about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta, we figured it would be a good, affordable place to base ourselves for a month, giving the dogs a stable base, allowing ourselves to catch up on work, and also providing us with plenty of interesting and popular places we could visit on day trips (plenty of expat-friendly beach towns like Sayulita and San Pancho are within a thirty minute drive). It seemed like the perfect place to encourage both work and play.
We moved in a week ago, and it hasn’t been the easiest transition. We adore our casita, but we’re in a very local neighborhood, and we’re quickly coming to understand what that really means here in Mexico. It means pitted, potholed roads that make walking the dogs a nightmare and just driving to the end of the road is enough to get you nauseous. It means roosters crowing at all hours of the night, punctuated only by the yowling yips and snarls of dog fights (the presence of which, makes walking our dogs an even more stressful proposition). It means noise at such a volume at such a frequency that we have yet to sleep more than a few hours in a row and so wander around feeling constantly sleep-deprived (don’t mistake that for mellowness!). It means no “proper” supermarkets, such that I’ve exhausted all possible combinations of cooking: eggs, rice, beans, onions, green peppers, tomatoes, avocados and tortillas/tostadas. It means waiting for the water truck so we can brush our teeth because we are giving our guts enough of a work out with all the street food as it is. It means looking up a translation for “Another dog attacked and bit my dog,” before heading to the vet (sadly, something we had to do today).
It also means delicious Mexican food at ridiculously low prices. It means a comfortable place to call home at an affordable price. It means beautiful west coast sunsets. It means friendly locals who tell us our dogs are beautiful and that Rory looks like a bunny (¡conejito!). It means perpetual sunshine and shorts and skirts and sandals while friends and family continue to shiver away in Minnesota and Toronto. It means cool nights in the central square, listening to electric xylophones and snare drum bands get their groove on while nibbling on fresh flan.
All to say that life in Mexico continues to challenge us, but it’s not all bad. We’re still squarely in GOB Bluth territory, feeling like we’re in over our heads and often overwhelmed, but that’s part of the journey. We are getting comfortable with being uncomfortable once again, and even if we’ve made some choices we wouldn’t repeat again if given the chance, I take comfort in knowing every decision we have made thus far was the right one given the information we had at the time. The longer we are here, the more experiences we’ll gain, and those will allow us to make better, more-informed, decisions in the future. We’ll figure out how to make this lifestyle and Mexico work for us. Though I don’t know that life will ever be easy, I am confident that it won’t always feel quite so hard.
So that this post doesn’t come across like one big old whine fest, let me close with this: We often like to believe that deciding to make a big change is the hardest part of the process. This may be true, but that doesn’t mean that things won’t still be hard… it’s just a matter of degree. This is 100% true for long-term travel. Though few people rarely talk about it, nearly every person we have met who has done something similar to us mentioned how they had their own “GOB Bluth” moments shortly after starting their travels. You think the hard work happens before you get on the plane, but the truth is, that’s just the preface. Get ready to be thrown for a loop, to feel un-moored and out of your depth, to have second thoughts and to doubt yourself. Know that those feelings are normal; long-term travel can be exquisitely un-fun at times, especially when you’re still figuring out how to take the trip you really want. Just give yourself time to adapt to you new reality and find your new rhythm. With a little time and patience, your huge mistake may just turn into something great.