Friday, June 7, 2013

When You're Surrounded by Ex-Pats

. . . one day you wake up and realize how utterly dull you are.  Cases in point:

I'm out at a lovely Indian retreat center, Shanti San Miguel, with 10 women celebrating Kathryn Matchett's three years in San Miguel before she returns to Little Rock (former Peace Corps volunteer in Niger, with years of follow up work in Mali, West Africa). When you're with a group of ex-pat San Miguelenses, invariably people talk about their travels, where they've been, how they arrived here, not in a bragging manner, but just in the way people reveal their histories, talk about their pasts.

Take Caz Stuart, a British TV producer and documentary film maker.  When Monica Wadsworth, a Swedish journalist and writer for the dairy council, mentioned wanting to buy a van and travel down to South America with David, her English sculptor husband; Theo, their trilingual, tri-cultural son; and Basil, their enormous and enormously lethargic Bassett hound, Caz piped up, "Oh, it's a brilliant idea.  I did that when Tom (now 10) was 18 months.  I bought a van, got a welder to fit it with a bed, and Tom and I drove around Mexico for four months."  

Rather incredulous, we all said, "Just you and Tom?  For four months?"  Yep.  I know women who won't take their kids on an hour's road trip, alone, at that age.  Who are nervous about going to the grocery store with a baby.  But Caz and toddler Tom hit the road, driving through the Yucatan, the mountains, Oaxaca.  (I recently met Tom's dad, Johnny, a charismatic. Peter Pan-type from London who came to visit Tom and stayed with Caz and her partner, Natt, a Congo-playing soccer star from Paris and Togo. Johnny told me, "I really pissed Caz off the other day.  She found me one afternoon wearing her dress and shoes.  She was not pleased.")

Johnny aside, Caz had only one scary night on the road.  She had parked on a bluff above a beach on the Pacific and had all the doors and windows open to catch the ocean breeze.  Soon headlights in the dark, and a car with five men pulled up.  She thought, Now I've got trouble.   With flashlights sweeping over the dunes and music blaring out of their truck, they asked her what she was doing there.  "Just spending the night," she told them.  "And could you please keep it down because my baby's asleep."

So then they asked her, "Who else is here with you?" and and she countered, "Who are you?" When they told her, "Police," she said, "Well, OK, it's just me and my baby." They shined their flashlights through the van's windows to see if she was joking.  She wasn't. Then they lectured her on how crazy she was to be sola, sleeping outside and driving around Mexico alone. But they left.  And she carried on.

Then Monica said, "If I didn't travel by van I'd love to go by horse and wagon.  I once rode in Ecuador.  Started in Quito and went down the coast.  It was brilliant."  Someone asked how many days the trip was.  "Three months," Monica answered.  The woman rode a horse through South America for three months!  "Were you alone?"  someone asked, and Monica said, "No, I was with two French guys."   And that seemed totally normal though there was no follow up on who they were.

We have another friend named Violet Feldt.  If ever I write a novel I'm stealing her name. She has a son named Milo and a cool husband named Corvus (crow in Latin), who's a native American with a pierced tongue, permanent, nickel-size holes in his ears, a six-inch braided goatee with a silver bead at the bottom, and hair that when he takes it out of his ponytail goes down to the middle of his back.  (He wants to cut it by Violet finds it too sexy.)  He also wears those alarming webbed slippers that have a slot for each toe.  I get scared when I see people in them; I hope the fad passes quickly.

So Corvus and Violet spent a year traveling Canada and the United States with Milo, looking for a place to land.  They eventually found San Miguel.  But they traveled only by bus, staying in youth hostels or with friends, for an entire year. This is after they left Lopez Village, an island off the coast of Seattle where they had no bathroom in their home.  When they showered, they went to a friend's house. Eventually they did buy a claw-foot bathtub and installed in it their backyard.  When they needed warm water they started a wood fire underneath the cast iron.  Though it took ages to get ready, the water stayed warm for hours.  This is what Milo told me.  He is now nearly 13 and has his own business,, repairing phones, iPods and other small gadgets.  He's self-taught and really good.  

1 comment:

  1. very nice story i enjoy you journey in blog. and the part of welder is great, its a good option.