Mexico, Photographs, Religion, Travel

Easter is a Big Deal in Mexico (Photo of the Week)

This week is Holy Week, and yesterday (Holy Thursday) I walked downtown… to find the Central Historic District completely transformed. There’s a small grassy park in front of the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, which is normally an empty, lazy place for teenagers to sit and chat and a few old men to read their newspapers. Instead, I could barely get into the square—food stands lined every pathway and paved area while crowds of people made their way toward church. Standing on a stone block, I managed to get above the crowd and capture this image:

Templo de San Francis de Asisi. Photo by André.

Yes, that is a Nacho stand in front of a church! Which is a brilliant idea that every church should implement. Also Hot Cakes, but who chooses hot cakes over nachos? Anyway, in Catholic doctrine I believe there’s a rule against eating anything just before or after taking the Host at Communion, so I’m not sure how Holy these Holy Thursday vendors are. Sort of the like the meat sellers outside that Thai Buddhist temple. My favorite picture is from behind the Church, in a little walled courtyard. This one officially gets the “Photo of the Week” title:

Families sitting on a fountain. Photo by André.

The alley alongside the church had become a sort of open air bazaar:

There are always some vendors here, but never like this. Photo by André.

I also met a smiling woman selling pan de nata, “cream bread,” a traditional treat for Easter:

Pan de Nata. Photo by André.

Each pan is decorated with candied fruit slices forming either lilies or a cross:

Close up. Photo by André.

The doña opened up a bag so I could smell it. It has a rich, almost fermented smell plus the scent of the sesame seeds. I bought one for 25 pesos, or about US $2 and had some later that night. It’s incredibly sweet, definitely fresh baked and the fruit is the best part. And Mamá, if you’re reading this… Happy Easter!

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My book Lúnasa Days is available in paperback and on Kindle. Get your copy here.

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The Heroic Life, Travel

How do you practice for a heroic life?

I write often about the idea of pursuing the heroic life: a life lived for high ideals, with a sense of purpose, and ultimately a life that changes the world.

But a number of people have asked me if there’s a practice to the heroic life: if you decide you want to live it, what should you do?

This question always startles me, because to me there has always been one clear answer for how to live heroically: go on a journey.

If you want to lead a heroic life, travel.

This is not the only way. There are many, many ways. But if you’re looking for a simple practice that will lead you to that sense of purpose, the answer is a journey.

Photo by José Cuervo Elorza

Tales of heroism are always tales of journeys, and there’s a reason for this. It’s because inner strength can’t just be given to you; it has to be learned through trials and experience. And a journey is the surest way to get continuous, long term, unpredictable human experiences that will challenge you and change you.

In stories, the hero must always go on a journey to develop the qualities needed to save the day. If they didn’t need that experience, then they could just meet a wise man early in the story who told them everything they need to know. The entire middle part of the story, where they try and fail and learn and grow, could just be deleted. They’d listen to the wise person and go directly to saving everyone. Then on to happily ever after.

But that isn’t how inner strength is discovered in literature or real life. And it’s also why the heroic life cannot be taught in schools, colleges, churches or temples: a lecture cannot replace the hands on experience of a challenging journey. A journey takes you outside of familiar surroundings and becomes instantly more immersive and thus more transformative.

No matter where I go, there’s a certain percentage of people who yearn for a life full of meaning. They’re uncomfortable because they’re stuck in a workaday life that compromises either their ideals or their sense of purpose. Unfortunately, many of them tell me they feel lost and unsure of how to start. In many cases that’s because they’re looking for their life to change without actually striking out toward something new. If you don’t change your surroundings, it’s very difficult to change anything else.

From the beginning I’ve written that there are four tenets to the heroic life. They are: to accept that you have a purpose in life, which you yourself must create; to choose your ideals and put them before all else; to pursue your purpose and your art with passion, until you can do amazing things; and to travel.

If you don’t know your purpose, your ideals, or your art: go on a journey. A journey will lead you to discover these truths about yourself, and how to live them, with an incredible rate of success.

There are many benefits to the practice of a journey:

  • You learn to make friends easily.
  • You become self reliant, overcoming obstacles far from your support network of familiar faces.
  • You learn firsthand that there is good in people everywhere you go. You learn to trust intelligently, and to be generous and open to strangers.
  • You develop a better instinct about who to trust and who not to.
  • You overcome prejudices and misconceptions. You start to see what unites all of us.
  • You learn new skills constantly, and you get better at learning.
  • Things that once seemed impossible now start to look merely like a matter of practice.
  • You get good at making quick, smart decisions in challenging circumstances.
  • You learn who you truly are and who you want to be.

A journey can take many forms. It can be a short journey, of 50 or 100 miles. It can be done by car, bus or plane. It can be around the world and last years, or it can be a road trip that lasts weeks. You can go entirely by foot, like Nate Damm; or refuse to fly like Niall Doherty. You might choose a destination or you might just wander.

It doesn’t matter what form your journey takes. Everyone’s journey is as good as everyone else’s. As long as you leave your familiar surroundings and face some element of the unknown, you are on a true journey.

Ultimately that journey will force you to change. Parts of you will dissolve away, and the parts that remain will become stronger. That’s why a journey always reveals your ideals and your purpose: because they are the one part of you that stays constant when everything else is changing.

If you want to journey together, I have 120 miles left in Texas and I welcome companions. We can bicycle together for a few days. It will happen this summer or fall. Leave a comment or email me at andre@roguepriest.net and we’ll start to plan. This is an experience that anyone can have and I’m happy to share it with you.

But it doesn’t matter if you come with me or do it some other way. Just journey. Journey and you will find yourself.

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My book Lúnasa Days is available in paperback and on Kindle. Get your copy here.

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Mexico, Photographs, Travel

Mi Perro Favorito (Photo of the Week)

This week I have several photos, but the first one is the winner.

Perro! Photo by André.

This dog lives several doors down from our house in San Luis Potosí. He’s always outside. He barks angrily at everyone who goes past, but I made him into a friend and now he’s nice to me. As I approach he hops up so I can pet him through the fence. Sometimes I bring treats.

I don’t know his name, so I just call him mi perro favorito.

Often when I walk past him I’m on my way to Tequis, short for Tequisquiapam, the local park:

Jardín Tequisquiapam. Photo by André.

The park is only 3 blocks from our house and it has some of the best street food in the evening. The monument is of a woman with two niños and the inscription reads, Homage to the Being Most Beloved, so you can guess who it’s of.

I’m not sure why the park is Tequisquiapam and not Tequisquiapan, which is how most Nahuatl place names end. But I’ve seen it spelled the other way in places, so it may simply be regional.

The monument was built by the Lion’s Club. At the edge of the park is the Centro Educativo de Montessori—a Montessori school—and two coffee shops. So to all the people who say “Mexico is dangerous,” I present Exhibit A.

(It’s not so much that we’re in a bougie area, although that’s true; it’s that half of the entire city is about this upscale. San Luis Potosí is a peaceful town, a state capital, with affluent citizens, lots of young professionals and a police force that basically does its job. Not every city in Mexico is like this—but it’s definitely not the only one.)

My favorite part of the park is this sign:

If I could I would! Photo by André.

The sign reads, “If I could do it I would! AND YOU—? Are you gonna do it or what?”

And this is why I don’t have a dog of my own.

Taking these photos has proved to be a challenge; it’s just not my instinct to whip out a camera everywhere I go. And you need to take a lot of pictures to get a few good ones. However, I have learned that the camera allows me to talk to strangers, asking them if I can take their picture and then making small talk. That gives me more Spanish practice, and more photo opportunities, so for now at least I’ll keep it up.

What questions do you have about San Luis Potosí? Let me know and I’ll do my best to answer!

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My book Lúnasa Days is available in paperback and on Kindle. Get your copy here.

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Adventure, Bicycling, The Great Adventure, The Heroic Life, Travel

This is what I’m doing, here’s why I’m doing it, and I want you to join me

I’ve always believed in heroism. By heroism I mean the idea that a small group of people can have a tremendous effect on the world, that we can do great things and that the world is better when we do them.

More than that, I believe in adventure. I believe that you can go on a real journey and discover, in the process, not only yourself but your calling in life, your highest beliefs, and how you fit meaningfully into the world.

And heroism often comes from an adventure like that.

Everyone has an art, a skill, a purpose in life. But most of us feel like we’re lost and wandering. The irony is that by actually wandering—by leaving behind the familiar and surrounding yourself with new people and places—you put your calling in life into much clearer focus.

All travelers feel this to some degree. It’s impossible to change your surroundings without also changing the way you think. Parts of you fall away as you’re forced to abandon your assumptions. The parts that remain become stronger. You gain a more definite sense of self, one that you’ve forged on your own, on a journey.

Journeying together. Photo by Esteban.

That’s why I started my own journey. For me, it’s a calling to South America. I’m going there slowly, bit by bit, on foot and on bike. For someone else it might be North America, or Europe, or Kamchatka. It might be by train or motorcycle. It’s not that I need South America or a bicycle to discover myself. It’s that the journey, wherever you start and wherever you go, is the great spiritual practice. To travel is to transform—it is meditation without the monastery.

Is this heroism? No. Not on its own. But it prepares you. You become more willing  to be the first to act, to stand up and speak out for your principles. On a journey like this, you are on heroism’s trail. You find its spark, and that spark is generosity, and selflessness, and sacrifice. And most of all it’s the pursuit of your own excellence, of your own potential.

As the journey remakes you, you begin to do great things.

That’s why I accept companions on my adventure. I want other people to feel firsthand how even a small leg of a journey can so powerfully transform you. Not everyone is ready to go a thousand miles or more, but I believe that joining for just a short distance has a very real effect.

So I’m inviting you to join me.

This summer or fall, I pick up where I left off in Texas and head toward the border town of Laredo. That means I’ll have about 120 miles to go by bicycle. This is completely the US side of the border, and it will be delightful. It will be my final leg in the US.

This leg could be done in as little as two days or as long as four. We can set the pace to accommodate everyone who wants to come. You don’t have to be an experienced bicyclist, and the gear you’ll need is very basic.

If you want to spend a few days trying out the heroic life with me, this will be the last chance that doesn’t require travel outside the US. It’s a good way to experience the life of adventure, travel and self-challenge that I write about.

Bicycle adventure. Photo by Esteban.

Are you interested in joining me for this leg? Leave a comment and let’s start dreaming. What do you want this trip to be like?

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My book Lúnasa Days is available in paperback and on Kindle. Get your copy here.

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Mexico, Texas, The Great Adventure, Travel

How I Got to Mexico and What I’m Doing Here

The morning after my kayak expedition I was a new man. When Ken had gone to bed I was shivering, unshaved, salty, soaked and smelling like expired barnacles. Now I was groomed, packed and dressed to travel.

“You’re a real quick change artist,” he said.

He made us a terrific breakfast and then dropped me at the bus station. Online, Greyhound offers a ticket from Corpus Christi, Texas all the way to the city of San Luis Potosí, Mexico. But in person at the ticket booth that line doesn’t exist. It makes me wonder what would have happened if I’d paid for the ticket on their website.

Undeterred, I just asked for a ticket as far as Brownsville, the border town. I’d already been assured by a Mexican bus company that I could pick up one of their buses the rest of the way (this would also turn out to be a lie).

Me above the Emerald Gates. Photo by André.

Me above the Emerald Gates. Photo by André.

I was in fair spirits that morning. It would have been nice to go the full distance on kayak, but I felt good about my decision. It was the best decision under the circumstances. Now I have a new mission to pick up from Riviera, Texas when I resume my self-powered adventure—either by kayak or bicycle.

And this is something that people don’t get about adventure. There’s this idea that adventure is about taking dangerous risks, the biggest risks possible. Maybe that’s true for thrill-seekers but to me adventure is about minimizing risk. You’re choosing to do something challenging and unusual that will require planning, determination and endurance—why make it even harder? It’s hard enough out of the box. An adventurer’s most important skill is risk management and risk avoidance.

When I got deep into south Texas I had to transfer buses to continue on to Brownsville. I really liked the station in Harlinged because it felt like I was already in Mexico, right down to the family vending street food inside the bus depot.

Finally I reached Brownsville. The station is a giant multiplex of different bus companies. I quickly found out that no one offered direct tickets to San Luis Potosí (or anywhere); you take one bus to cross the border and then you do your bus shopping on the other side.

Well, okay.

That went well enough. No one in this station—the Texas station—spoke English, which gave me a good preview of what to expect ahead (jokingly I wondered if that meant all the station attendants on the Mexico side would speak only English, in a kind of cultural cockblock exchange, but alas international relations have not evolved that far). I grudgingly stocked up on pesos, hating to pay exchange booth fees but not wanting to risk being penniless if there was no ATM on the other side.

And I ate a giant sub sandwich. It would be my last American food for some time, and my only food break before a very, very long bus ride.

Illegal Alien

Eventually we loaded up and went over. Crossing the border was very easy and low-key. So low key in fact that no one stamped my passport. I didn’t realize it till after we pulled away, and then it was too late. All that happened at the border station was we waited around while people said they would search our bags but, as far as I can tell, did not do so. When a guard saw my US passport (the only one in the bunch) he told me to get back on the bus.

This all felt like a weird repeat of Haiti, like I’m in a pulp series and my schtick is I never go through customs right. I’m now living as an illegal alien in Mexico, I suppose.

(I could easily get work teaching English here, meaning I’d also be stealing their jobs.)

Looking out the window at the border town of Matamoros really lifted my heart. I recognized Mexican brands like Oxxo, which flooded me with nostalgia; even better, I could see home-made things and craftsmen’s shops and street food cooked by grandmas and brightly colored cement walls everywhere I looked.

At the Matamoros bus station I quickly put my limited Spanish to work: No, no taxi, thank you. No, I don’t have a ticket. San Luis Potosí. What? Wait, what? What? Speak more slowly please. Oh, you do? How much? One please.

Several hours later I boarded an express bus which would make a single all-night run down Highway 101—the most dangerous highway in Mexico, the US Department of State assures me—with Narco country on both sides.

But at least they give you a snack on the way.

Bushwhacked

Sometime around 1 a.m. I woke up, probably because of the narwhale-like snoring of the man in front of me. Staring out the window, I admired the empty scrub desert in the dark. There are no towns out there, no light pollution. It’s pretty.

The bus stopped.

I tensed up. There was no stop sign out here, and no traffic. Not even police lights as far as I could tell. I rapidly consulted my dictionary for how to say, Take the snoring man, he is very wealthy.

Then the bus tried something I couldn’t have expected: it turned around.

Bear in mind this is a two lane highway with high embankments on either side. There’s no side road or turnabout to use. The bus just sort of ground one end into the embankment, made a rocky little pivot and zoomed back out of there.

I spent the better part of the next half hour wondering what had happened. Did the driver see something? Did he get word on the radio that there was trouble ahead? Worse, is he selling us out? And even if not—then where the heck are we going to end up?

We reached a junction with another endless two-lane highway and turned onto it. I realized, then, what had happened: the driver took a wrong turn.

Chaaaale.

Rogue Cellar

I made it to San Luis Potosí. My friend Cintain just finished building his new house, lovingly dubbed the Palace of the Emerald gates—a sort of Batcave for a Taoist Bruce Wayne. I’m renting a garden level room for April and intend to use most of the time to write.

My days are slow and pleasant. It’s hard to believe that just a few weeks ago I was burning 6,000 calories a day and paddling through squalls. But this is the rhythm my life has taken on: short periods of heart-racing adventure interspersed with weeks or months of quiet, peaceful creating.

That’s the life I’ve always wanted.

I’ll be exploring San Luis Potosí over the coming month, and doing my best to document it. What do you want to know about, or see? Is there anything about the city or my life here that you want to make sure I cover?

Also, I’m notoriously bad about taking photos when I find something interesting. Instead of reaching for a camera I just daydream about the stories I can tell (I’m a writer, not a photographer). But everybody loves photos, and honestly I do too. So this Friday I’ll post my first ever Photo of the Week… which hopefully will become a tradition every Friday from now on.

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My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. It’s about travel, adventure and magic. Get your copy here.

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Adventure, Sea Kayaking, Texas, Travel

The Rats Didn’t Bother Me

First night of my kayak adventure.

Me the first morning. Photo by André.

I awoke on my floating house at dawn. The wind had come round to the southeast, and the whole house had rotated—my view of the bay was different. Before I left Ken had joked, “Make sure you mark which way you were going each night, before you go to sleep.” Right.

The sun told me which way was which, and I had a borrowed GPS that I sort of knew how to use. I fiddled with it over breakfast while the sun rose in the east, her morning beams cutting onto the porch until I pulled off layers of nighttime clothing. I quickly applied sun screen and went back to eating.

It was a restless morning, the kind I’m used to from my bicycle trip, where I’d be up far too early but still not depart until far too late. Breaking down an entire camp, plus breakfast, cleanup, brushing teeth, changing clothes, loading the boat (or bike), and checking conditions/route is all too much for one person to do quickly, at least without making mistakes. I take my time, but the anxiousness of a late start always unsettles me.

(One crucial morning task is putting in my contact lenses with no mirror, a skill I had long drilled for exactly these conditions.)

By the time I cast off the sun was well up and the wind had intensified from the southeast, slowing my progress south. The GPS had confirmed that I was too wishful in my mileage reckoning—I had only gone 30 miles the day before, and I was destined to make only 20 more today. But I had high spirits and a great deal of excitement over another day of paddling.

Crossing Baffin Bay is beautiful, island homes and clusters of floating cottages on the approach, then an expanse of blue water too wide to see across. I aimed at the occasional markers of the Intracoastal Waterway, designed to guide large ships that weren’t there. Reliably enough they led me to sight of shore across the bay. Then came hours following a coastline of desolate ranch. With the wind ever shoving me back I spent the better part of the day in a slow, exhausting fight.

I pointed at the entrance to the next section of the Intracoastal: a narrow canal-like passage known as the Land Cut. Nature made this area a shallow, sandy marsh that vessels cannot pass, but engineers of the twentieth century cut their own channel right through. The result is a highway-like waterway, with cabins and mud banks to either side, deep enough that freight vessels can sail it—though with little room to spare.

Entering this channel brought me through a tight cluster of little fishing cabins, some rising on stilts directly out of the water. It looked like a village from some adventure game, a haven for pirates or frontiersman, and perhaps the den of a trader who sells rare goods to passing explorers. But the whole place was deserted, not even vending beer, fuel or bait to those few souls who might bother to fish the Land Cut. No worry; I had everything I needed aboard my little boat.

I will admit that this strange maritime environment triggered my oldest love of adventure, which is wrapped up tightly with imagination and fantasy. Normally, real life adventure is quite different than fiction, but I couldn’t help but see parallels between my actual surroundings that day and one of my favorite video games, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Sure, my boat requires muscle to pilot, and I can’t change the wind with a simple song, but I was out on the water discovering one island or floating house after the next, each one begging to be explored, each one different in its own way. I doubt I would have found a basement full of vampires, or a crumbling wall concealing treasure, but the magic of discovery and exploration was very real to me that day.

And so the spell of adventure renewed its hold over my mind. The last 700 miles of bicycling had become a slog, and I viewed it more as an act of jaw-gritting endurance than a fun adventure. I started questioning my purpose during those months. Adventure will certainly always be physically demanding, but that doesn’t mean it need be miserable, at least not outside of rare unexpected challenges. But my bicycle ride had become miserable, and it was the days that were pleasant and easy that were rare. I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep on.

The kayak trip repaired all that. By the second day, I knew that I was warm enough even in the coldest weather I’d experience, that I could rely on my camp gear and sleep cozy, restorative sleep in my tent. All the things I had feared would make this leg a slog were non-issues. Sure, I was fighting for every yard of sea I covered against the wind, but that’s just hard work—like going to the gym. Hard work during the day is not really that challenging if you’re warm, dry and well fed at night.

Photo by André.

Floating cottage in Baffin Bay. Photo by André.

My mind roamed as the beauty of nature intensified. I composed essays, I outlined books. I whispered ideas to herons. The cottages rose with the waves where they were built on rafts, and slumped and leaned where they were built on stilts. I was alone in a desert place, facing difficulty but overcoming it well. That is everything I want in adventure.

If I had one disappointment it was my slow progress. For the second day in the row I’d cover less ground than planned, but by evening it didn’t bother me much. I could keep going as many days as I needed, I thought.

I did have to keep a good eye for a camp site. There was always another cottage on the horizon, but not just any would do; to camp in the fierce wind, I really wanted a good wind block against both the south and east side. The Texas coast is stubbornly flat, and the cottages provide the only wind breaks—but since most here were on stilts, even they offered little protection.

An hour before sunset, I decided to explore a side-channel that extends off the main Land Cut, connecting it to a sandy gulf. As a sort of maritime crossroads, it had at least a dozen large cottages lined along its shores (all empty).

Paddling directly into the wind, I fought hard to ply the little channel. I inspected each house as I went by, to no avail. Only on the way back—leaning back on my boat, paddle out of the water, letting the wind and current send me along—only then did I notice a hidden feature on one large house.

There among its stilts was a wall. A windbreak. Facing exactly the direction I needed.

I put ashore, walking my kayak though mud and marsh grass. The site was perfect. There was a lower deck with a fish-gutting station walled on three sides against the wind. That was where I’d put my tent.

I had to use a maneuver I call the “mud hustle.” You walk your boat through the shallow mud as close to land as it will go, then unload some supplies (carrying it overmud to shore). This lightens the boat, allowing you to drag it further. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

The sun was down long before I finished making camp.

Even then, the closest point of dry land I could get the kayak to was hundreds of feet from the house. After I finished dinner I had to carry all my water and food overland to the kayak, and secure it inside so no animals could get it. Fun fact: a thirsty raccoon in a salt marsh will chew right through your water jug to drink what’s inside.

I received some alarming texts about weather from Ken, about which I could do little.

When at last I put my head down in my tent, I hadn’t even turned off the light before chattering, scurrying large rodents descended from the palm trees and canvassed my campsite. They had smelled my dinner, and went right to the spot where the stove was—but they found nothing.

Silently, I reached one hand out from the tent and grabbed my only unsecured water bottle, bringing it inside to spend the night with me.

I slept well, planning to wake as early as 4 a.m. to get a head start against another fierce headwind. I thought that if I paddled hard all day I could reach Port Mansfield, the only resupply point on my planned route and a good place to wait out a storm.

I was wrong.

You can read the earlier part of this adventure here.

The conclusion is here.

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My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. Get your copy here.

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Adventure, Sea Kayaking, Texas, The Great Adventure, Travel

Adventure, the Texas Sea and Ghosts

Andre setting off for his kayak adventure.

Me setting off. Photo by Winnie Shrum.

When I started my kayak trip I was nervous. I wasn’t scared for my safety; I had trained enough that I knew reasonably well I would get through the trip, with body and boat intact. But I expected it to be uncomfortable. I had gotten so used to discomfort on the last leg of my bicycle journey that I was sure my 100-mile paddle would be an act of endurance. And endurance, honestly, gets old.

But a day later than planned, over-bundled against the cold wind, from a pebbly little shallow, I resumed my Great Adventure where I last left it off, and I paddled away. Ken, my mentor, and our friend and fellow adventurer Winnie watched from the shore as I went around an island and out of their sight. From there I reached the Intracoastal Waterway, a shipping lane that follows the coast toward Mexico with a string of barrier islands to protect it from the open sea. This would be my trail.

Once in the deep water of the Intracoastal I heaved a bottle full of offerings over the side, singing songs to the spirits of the sea and of mariners. I waited for discomfort to set in, with a north wind helping to propel me along, but I never did get cold. In fact, It was a very pleasant day.

The houses of civilization disappeared, and marsh became my constant scenery. The shipping lane itself is deep and clear, but the land to either side is mostly shallows with mud flats and salt marshes beyond. At seventeen miles I saw the clear yellow humps of “The Dunes” on my left, a clear landmark and one of the only sandy landings along the way. It would have suited for a camping place,  but I pushed on.

Although I spent most of my kayak trip without any human contact—only a wave to the rare fishing boat speeding by—the Intracoastal is not a trackless frontier.  Little floating cottages bob on their moorings at regular intervals. Others perch on islands. Sometimes these are scattered out over miles, and other times they cluster together in such numbers that it looks like a little town on the water. But all these houses are empty; no one lives there, and those who own them come only a few weekends a year to fish. The result was a more potent beauty than any empty wilderness. Abandonment conjures ghosts.

It was on one of these floating ghost houses that I chose to make my first camp. As the sun fell low in the sky I pulled up to a yellow cottage and clambered out onto her front porch. It was my first time leaving the kayak all day, and my thighs were numb. They woke up readily enough and I lashed the kayak to a post before opening the hatches and slowly, but methodically, pulling out all of my supplies for the night.

Out came water jugs, foodstuffs, a stove, camping gear and warm clothing in drysacks. I stripped naked and changed clothing on the porch, in full view of a handful of other bobbing raft-houses and an island full of vacation cottages. There was no one to see me, not a light in any window on the whole bay.

The joy of these floating refuges is that they are moored to a single heavy pylon, and allowed to pivot on that point with the wind. The front porch, therefore, is always downwind. This was a godsend to your saddle sore rogue priest, who had lost the benefit of his tailwind and had felt the chill of a strong cross-wind from the east for the last three hours. On the porch of this little landing place I had a perfect wind shelter, and organized my gear before at last I hoisted the kayak herself up onto the deck.

I tied her in place, even though she was above the water level, having heard too many horror stories of waking up to a rogue wave stealing away one’s boat.

My cottage perched at the edge of Baffin Bay, facing west thanks to the east wind, and the sunset over the bay was spectacular. But I barely observed it: I rushed to erect a tent and square away all my things before the darkness came.

It was in those last minutes, when the sun’s golden face slipped out of sight and her pink blush was fading from a dark sky, that I felt despair in my heart. It was my only moment of low morale on the trip. Suddenly the air was cold, with or without wind shelter; suddenly the bay, which had seemed like such a calm and pleasant place to paddle in the afternoon, looked endless and untrustworthy. I became keenly aware not only of how isolated I was, but that if something was wrong—if my gear wasn’t enough to keep me warm through morning—there was no way to leave at night.

The temperatures were predicted in the low 40s, even the high 30s (European readers: that’s really effing cold.) I thought of chilly nights in my hammock when it was ten degrees warmer than that, and I cringed. I wished I had someone to talk to, to cheer me up. But that was not to be.

It’s funny how the human heart changes with comfort. Resigned to an unpleasant night, I started up my cook stove. The first bite of hot food lifted my spirits. Once I’d eaten a full meal I had almost recovered from my sudden despair. And then I looked up.

The moon grazed across the sky, both her horns up, setting slowly from the peak of the heavens to the edge of Baffin Bay. I always salute the moon when I see her, but I have rarely seen her in such queenly glory as this. The Texas sky, far from towns and light, and the silent rippling bay made the perfect dark mirror in which to scry her.

Still chilly, still sore, I was suddenly aware of the great beauty in every direction from me, and the incredible rareness of the scene. How many human beings will ever have a chance to do as I did, to paddle out onto the bay as silent as a gull, to camp alone on the deck of a forgotten house, and to watch the heavens put on their display with not a single soul to share it with?

When I crawled into the tent that night, I discovered it was warm and luxurious. I didn’t even use all the blankets. Waves lapped beneath me and, sometimes, a bird would cry out. Wrapped in a borrowed sleeping bag I fell into peaceful dreams. In the morning I would move slowly: there was no better berth in the world.

Andre on the first night of the kayak adventure

Me on the first night. Photo by André.

There’s more to tell about the kayak trip, and I’ll tell it soon. What do you want to know?

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My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. Get your copy here.

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Adventure, Mexico, Sea Kayaking, The Great Adventure, Travel

Riding the wind from Texas to Mexico

Traveling by Kayak

Kayaking with a friend. Photo by Ken Johnson.

One thing I’ve learned on my Adventure is the need to accept changes, to follow the wind. This entire excursion in Corpus Christi has been a lesson in patience, starting with unhappy times that forced me to question my journey. It followed an uncomfortably familiar arc: arrive at a new place with no friends but lots of high hopes, find all my plans difficult to implement, and grind to a frustrating halt—only to make friends and build a happy new life.

This is hard because, as my friend the Wandering Dragon points out, I like to be in control of my life. In fact, I like to be in control of things generally… which leads to a lot of tussling with the people I like the most. An iron stubbornness is a good quality when you’re forcing a plan to work against all odds, but it doesn’t make life easy. Over and over, I tend to choose the hardest way to do things.

Want to travel the world? Let’s do it all on body power. 

Want to leave New Orleans? Fall in love there first. 

You get the idea. I always have a vision for how I want things to go, and often I lay down a route to that vision that includes, well, challenges. Then I get frustrated when the plan derails. (Though I’m also relentless and patient in nudging it along till it finally works).

Recently I decided to try something different. My guiding principle for the last month has been, what’s least stressful? 

So when my one-week return to New Orleans turned into two weeks, I just shrugged and enjoyed it. Sure, I needed to get back here to plan a kayak trip that was quickly falling apart. And I needed to vacate my rented room by the 1st, so the trip had to be planned by then… and I needed to reach Mexico by March 5th so another plan would work… but I just took it as it came. If I had to, I would cancel the kayak trip and do this leg by bike, which would be faster and take less preparation.

It wasn’t what I envisioned, but things had changed. Instead of agonizing over my damaged plans, I decided to enjoy the extra time with my friends and sweetheart. And I did.

I went with the wind.

And it turns out I had no reason to fret over the proposed kayaking trip. Sure, my paddling partner for the next 160 miles pulled out—but that means he’s offered me the use of his (far newer, higher performance) expedition kayak, the Epic 18. I get a free upgrade.

Meanwhile, since I’m going it alone I can choose my own route, and I get to take the sheltered, lonely, meditative Laguna Madre instead of battling down storms on the open Gulf. As Ken pointed out, between the boat and the route I’ve removed the two biggest risks from the whole plan.

Before I even got back to Corpus, my roommate texted me to say that I can stay a week into March rent-free. And my host in Mexico? Their schedule changed from “get here before March 5″ to “get here March 8 or later.”

Thank you, wind.

So here’s the plan for the foreseeable future: Monday morning I depart Corpus by kayak with a tail wind. I make my way along the Texas coast for four or five days, camping out at night. When I reach Port Isabel and the border, Ken meets me in a car. He takes the kayak and I get a bus ticket, heading onto Mexico.

This bus trip won’t erase any miles from my body-powered expedition—eventually I’ll be right back at the border, ready to walk or cycle—but it will serve as an advance scouting run, followed by a sabbatical to write, focus on my career, and master my Spanish. Those are the things that will help make the next leg less stressful.

At least, that’s my plan for now. But, you know… plans change.

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