Reflection Internal: Six Weeks as a Backpacker
6 weeks and 2 days have passed since we quit our jobs, emptied our flat, waved goodbye to our loved ones, boarded a plane, got the hell out of London and into the big wide world.
Our first stop was Mexico City. CDMX was an easy transition for us. We found ourselves in this bustling maze of concrete and excitement, where we felt like we fitted right in. Bright lights, busy streets, amazing museums, great food and the familiar fast pace of city life. For our first week here we stayed in the “cool” part of town, Roma. There you’ll find a tight-network of colourful streets named after different states in Mexico. Hidalgo, Tabasco, Oaxaca, Jalisco. Each one differing slightly to its neighbour, but the same things remained: shops, takeaways, restaurants, hair salons, mechanics (LOADS of mechanics), bars etc. I loved it. “We could live here” we’d regularly say to each other as we went on our little excursions to museums, parks and coffee shops. Feeling like a local whilst travelling means you fit in. You know the best spots in town and where to avoid. You pay the same prices as the residents and greet people as you enter your new favourite shops, bars and cafes. You have an air of confidence. A spring in your step.
This self-acclaimed status was snatched away from me in an instant when I was pickpocketed on the Metro. Those scumbags had scoped me out a mile away. They must have seen that, just before boarding the train I had stupidly switched my bumbag to be fastened around my waist rather than across my body. Easy removal.
I am a tourist. A silly, blatant tourist with £ signs above my head. Mexico City’s pickpockets work in groups. One of them causes a commotion such as barging 15 people onto the train, whilst another swipes the bag or wallet. Then the rest of the group conceal the bag until the next stop. I realised my bag had been taken within 5 seconds of the train leaving the platform. As the train travelled to the next stop I marched up and down the carriage trying to search for my things under people’s bags and coats. That was the worst thing about this incident. I had to spend a solid two minutes on the same carriage as the thiefs that took my bag. They watched me cry as I realised I’d not only lost my phone, but my camera and my sunglasses - all of them gifts from friends - whilst they held them tight, under their jumper or jacket. A man recognised my plea for help and rang the alarm on the train. That man was Hector. We stepped off the train and the police told us they couldn’t do anything if we didn’t know exactly who it was. Hector, with barely any English and a heart full of gold offered to help us. He took us to the tourist police station in the centre of town. There he spoke to the police for us, made sure that we got to chat with an English speaking officer and waited with us whilst we filled out numerous forms. I don’t know what we would have done without Hector.
Never have I been so grateful for the global existence of Uber till we booked one direct from the police station to take us back to our Airbnb. Once we were home we told our hosts, Elias and Astrid what had happened and they offered to give me a phone. I felt almost buoyant from the kindness I had experienced that day. Warmth and generosity from people I barely knew. So far away from home.
910 miles, 3 cities, 4 beaches, 1 hostel nightmare, 23 hours of bus travel, 2 seasons of Curb and 3 bottles of hot sauce later and we’re now in our own apartment in San Cristobal de las Casas with a balcony overlooking the whole city. It’s after 8pm and I’m watching fireworks go off in the distance, wondering if they know that it’s Guy Fawkes night back in England. My phone arrives tomorrow. I’m looking forward to chatting with my mum and my friends, and taking photos again. In the absence of Whatsapp I’ve made new friends. Good friends. Come-and-stay-with-us-when-you-visit-London kinda friends. I’ve swapped my elitist wannabe-local persona for easygoing tourist and I’m getting used to sticking out like a tall, sore thumb. I’ve laughed more in the last six weeks with Will than ever before and I feel closer to him than I thought was possible. Our Spanish has improved slightly and our confidence has improved tenfold.
I’m looking forward to seeing more of Latin America: lagoons, cenotes, mountains, jungles, deserts, ranches and definitely more beaches. But I’m not wishing time away like I used to. This isn’t the “I am forever a backpacker” blog post I saw myself writing when my feet were firmly under my 9-6 desk back in Camden Town. Instead I find myself taking each day as it comes, with ease. Which is a skill I’d like to harbour forever.
I used to make myself physically ill with stress. Nowadays that word doesn’t even exist in my vocabulary. Nervous, anxious or uncertain - yeah sure. But never stressed. I used to say “everything will be alright” out loud to Will when we were starting this big new chapter in our lives, but now I actually feel it. Perhaps I haven’t quite settled into backpacking just yet, but I’ve settled into myself.