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snippetScribbled in various old journals of mine are the words I am Fortune’s fool. Not original, I admit, but my journals have the tendency to be melodramatic and what could be more melodramatic than a reference to Romeo’s romantic anguish? I have felt like a fool repeatedly in love, and until now, was not particularly happy about it. But I have experienced a synchronistic turn of events now having me think otherwise.

When I got my wisdom teeth pulled this summer, my wonderfully creative friend gifted me her newly printed zine called Snippet and a little black notebook to keep me entertained during the recovery. The theme of this first issue was “Journey”. A few pages into the zine I encountered a photocopy of the tarot card of The Fool, which I had never seen before. I was then prompted to locate and analyze the various symbols on the card and how that all relates to journeys.

tarot_foolThere is clearly the man walking towards a steep cliff, with his head held high and eyes closed, just one step away from falling off the edge. His posture shows no sign of fear or concern, and he does not pay attention to the dog next to him apparently trying to warn him of the potential danger ahead. The Fool carries a white rose in one hand, which I perceived as beauty and innocence, a ruck sack as he is clearly on an adventure, and the sun shines down on him from behind, illuminating his journey. It’s a bright, sunny day despite the looming threat of danger unknown to him.

I have since looked up the symbolism of this card, and it is more or less on par with this interpretation. But what I learned was that The Fool is an unnumbered card, or sometimes represented as a 0, either at the beginning of the Major Arcana or at the end. The number 0 being of unlimited potential. Anything could happen for the Fool, but only something can happen if he takes a step. He creates his own destiny. The Fool represents new beginnings and invites us to take a leap of faith and to trust in the Universe. He encourages us to believe in ourself and follow our heart, no matter how crazy or ‘foolish’ the impulse may seem.

All my life I thought being a fool was a bad thing. But now I was beginning to like The Fool.

At the moment of reading this zine, I was having a strong impulse pushing me towards San Francisco for both professional and personal reasons. I wrote in my journal mostly about how I wanted to be like The Fool on this new journey, this big move to San Francisco and everything it involved. I chose to trust in the Universe and focus on the beauty at hand.

I arrived and instantly headed out to the Burning Man festival, all full of excitement about my new life. There was a pending matter of the heart to attend to with someone out there, and I was looking forward to embracing that. Without going into much detail, I can just say that I didn’t see the precipice ahead, despite the fact there had been a dog beside me barking its warning for some time. Eyes closed, big smile on my face, white rose in hand, I took a leisurely step and suddenly there was no ground beneath my feet. I felt myself free falling off a cliff. I smacked the ground and it hurt. And, ironically, it happened while watching this beautiful sculpture called Embrace burn to the ground.

embrace_burn

I was, again, Fortune’s Fool. And there were ashes to prove it.

Later that afternoon I embarked on a different journey with my friends through a massive dust storm, in the hopes to reclaim my Burning Man experience and heal my fresh wound at the caring side of my lovely friends. The dust cloud was fairly dense, allowing just a few feet of visibility at times. There is something very beautiful and surreal about walking aimlessly through a dust storm. It’s quiet and calm and I am left with my thoughts. As I walked slowly through the whiteout, my mind returned to the events of the morning and the heartbreak. I kept thinking how foolish it was to open my heart and allow this pain to happen.

dust

Due to the lack of visibility we walked towards the setting sun that would eventually lead us back to our camp. The sun felt good on my skin, and I closed my eyes to soak it in. Since I couldn’t really see anything anyway, I kept my eyes closed and continued walking towards the sun. I thought about the Fool walking with his eyes closed, and I decided to embrace my new beginning. I broke off a bit from my friends and decided it was time for a self-love pep talk. Gripping the shoulder straps of my Camelback in each fist, I created a shield of armor over my chest and repeated to myself over and over again that I was strong. I envisioned my wolf-woman self, bringing me back to that centered, confident place where I sometimes find myself. My chin was up, eyes still closed, a smile finally breaking on my lips. I was a Warrior Woman, completely invincible.

And then, bang! I got side-swiped by a bicyclist. The girl he was doubling flew (safely) off the handlebars and both were quickly at my side, very apologetic. And I just stood there and laughed. I told them that I was walking with my eyes closed, so it was my fault. I told them about my Warrior Woman pep-talk and my invincibility, and we all had a good laugh. He brought out a bottle of tequila, and I took a swig. They told me a cute story about how they had just met thirty minutes before, and sent me along my way.

The Fool is not so invincible, as it turns out. That cliff edge is a real thing.

The next day my friends and I rode our bikes out to explore the artwork and came across an installation involving a bunch of old, differently colored doors attached to create a circle.

The Wheel of Fortune

The Wheel of Fortune

We parked our bikes and I walked right up to it, opened one of the doors and stepped through. The inside of this space gave me the impression of an old brothel, and as I turned around in the circle I realized that behind each door was a tarot card. I looked back at the door that I had walked through. And, no surprise, I had unknowingly selected The Fool, who this time was depicted as a masked woman in a beautiful black and white image spanning the entire door frame.

The_Fool_Wheel_of_ FortuneI remember unhappily muttering, “of course…,” and a woman inside the installation laughed at (or with?) me. I teared up a bit, just wanting to go home and crawl into my clean bed where I could close my eyes and stop walking and be safe.

Days later I was back home and reflecting on my week out in the desert. Suddenly all the different moments of synchronicity came together and I thought, perhaps there was something behind this Fool thing. I did more research into the card, and decided that I am not Fortune’s fool, but rather I am fortunately the Fool. I walk blindly and trustingly through my life and always have. And, for the most part, that has worked out for me and I have lived such beautiful and amazing experiences as a result. I would much rather trust people, and myself, than to live my life full of fear and doubt. I am the number zero. I am unlimited potential.

I was so afraid that this recent experience would make me question my judgement or lose my faith. But I am realizing that the Universe is indeed looking after me. I fell and it hurt. But it was the landing of a huge leap forward that I needed to take. The sun comes up each day and I have the ability to begin a new journey. Had I not trusted in my heart and followed an impulse, I would not be here in San Francisco finally moving forward in my career path and reconnecting with my family, old friends and new.

I am not invincible, especially when I allow myself to be vulnerable and exposed (or when I walk through crowded, whited-out intersections with my eyes closed apparently!). But I will not be afraid to close my eyes, trust, and walk steadily ahead. It may be foolish, but I love being a fool.

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Just because I wander, doesn’t mean I’m lost.

I wonder how my life would have panned out if I had stayed on the little island where I grew up. Coronado is a special place. What was once an island off the coast of San Diego is now a man-made peninsula, connected to downtown San Diego by a two-mile long bridge resembling a blue Brontosaurus. Coronado is the typical small town from American films, with its perfectly aligned and gridded street blocks boasting beautiful homes and well-kept gardens. There are awards for the best gardens, and everyone wants a blue ribbon to hang proudly in their front window, just beside the post from which the American flag hangs proud. There are concerts in the park each and every summer, where everyone gathers religiously. Children play in the sprinklers and soccer moms lug their children in their SUVs to Spreckles Park for practice. Cut up orange slices and brownies for treats! Though everyone drives cars, it is not really necessary as you can bike ride from one end of town to the other in approximately 10 minutes.

As a peninsula, Coronado is naturally surrounded by water. There is the San Diego Bay to the east, full of sailboats and seals, windsurfers and wakeboarders. Across the bay towers the “toolbox” of variously shaped and shiny financial buildings and hotels of downtown San Diego. To the west of the island, waves from the more furious Pacific Ocean crash, where the sun sets just above the horizon and dolphins dance in the pounding waves, playing with the surfers and my Dad’s ashes.

I think if I had stayed in Coronado I would have been happy there. But I left. And as everyone knows, once you have taken a bite of the apple there is no going back. My first trip out of the USA was to Europe to visit my sister that was living in Germany at the time. We traveled around Europe for two weeks and then I met up with my Spanish high school teacher, and fifteen friends, in Spain for a summer language immersion trip. I fell in love with Spain. The second I stepped foot on her soil I knew deep down I would be back. I was only sixteen at the time.

Two years later, with a U-Haul packed full of my high school keepsakes and must-haves, my Dad drove me up to Berkeley, California to start my first year of college. If such a thing as “black and white” existed, the contrast between Coronado and Berkeley would come awfully close.

Coronado: Population – 24,100 people. Military town housing two major US naval and amphibious bases. Right-wing conservatives. In 2000 84.4% of the total population was white. Petty theft was the major crime.

Berkeley: Population – 102,743 people. College town known for its political activism and hippie movement in the 1960s. Radically left-wing. In 2000 59.17% of the total population was white. Homicide was right around the corner.

Boom!
Reality check.
Everything and everyone was different.
It was scary.
And very, very exciting.
I found the differences fascinating …
… and wanted more.

With ants in my pants, I spent two college summers working in Germany and England, and traveled all over Europe on the Eurail pass – back when backpacking through Europe happened in sketchy overnight trains when you could not fall asleep for fear that someone would rob your bag. Nowadays these cheap charter flights make it much, much easier. Then I headed down south to visit my best friend in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I learned to get over my fear of speaking Spanish. That was when I realized I needed to live in a Spanish-speaking country. It made me feel really alive for some unknown reason. After “graduation” I moved to Barcelona on a total whim to study for one year, slightly upsetting my Dad when he asked to see my diploma at my graduation ceremony. “Uh, there isn’t one. I actually have one more year of school left…in Spain.” Just pack my bag, and go.

Pack my bag and go. Seems to me I am constantly packing my bag, and going.

Visiting a village in the north of Ghana while working with OrphanAid Africa (www.oafrica.org)

Barcelona has been my base for the past eight years, not my anchor. I move around quite a lot, sometimes out of need, sometimes out of want. Twice I have moved back to California, and twice I returned to Barcelona. I have been fortunate to explore other fascinating places, like Ghana, Costa Rica, Thailand, Senegal, and lived/worked in the south of Mexico just recently for five months. I returned from each of those places with a yearning to move there permanently. But of course I never do. I always return to my base. To Barcelona.

I first learned the word wanderlust through my good friend, and amazingly talented and open-hearted human being, Suzanne Hansen. It is her favorite word, and she was the one who finally named that uncontrollable, raging desire to pack my bag and go (minus the actual packing part. I hate packing. I am a horrible packer.).

Then there is wanderlost. I am sure that someone has coined this word before me, but it sprang to mind today as a new thought tends to do. And I started to think about the implication of wandering…it sounds a lot like moving without a purpose. Like being lost. Hence wanderlOst.

After giving it quite a lot of thought, I have come to the conclusion that I suffer from wanderlUst, and not wanderlOst. I base this decision on another word: “going.” This verb can be so easily misunderstood when used alone. “Going” usually implies “leaving.” But used as a phrasal verb it can imply something else entirely. My “going” of preference is when joined with another word, such as “forward” or “to” or “up”. It is a motion moving forward and upward, and not backward. It is positive, not negative. It means “searching for” and not “running from.”

Without a doubt, I am wandering, in the sense that my interests pull me in various directions, and that I am trying to work out quite a lot of things on both personal and professional levels. But I am not lost. I have direction, and each day just a little bit more. But there is no map and there are lots of little side roads that distract me from time to time. Side roads that end up adding to my life much more than if I had followed the signs and walked straight ahead.

Slowly and surely I am becoming more conscious of what I want. And when I want it. The problem, and where I struggle, is with the where? So until I figure it out, I just keep packing my bag, and going.

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Even in the best of worlds the soul needs refurbishing from time to time.
– Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D.

Five months ago I found my usually bright and energetic soul suddenly empty, drained, lethargic, unmotivated, and asleep. After a fabulous year I could not figure out what had happened. Why did I have the sudden yearn to seek and discover, to mend and fix? To be alone, and to sing?

As usual the Universe threw me a bone, this time in the form of Mexico. I followed that bone instinctively, without much thought, just like the Wolf Woman in the Mexican tale La Loba. There are many versions of this ancient story, but here is the general gist as told by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D. in her book, Women Who Run With the Wolves:

“There is an old woman who lives in a hidden place that everyone knows but few have ever seen. She seems to wait for lost or wandering people and seekers to her place….She is called by many names: La Huesera, Bone Woman; La Trapera, The Gatherer; and La Loba, Wolf Woman.”

“The sole work of La Loba is the collecting of bones. She is known to collect and preserve especially that which is in danger of being lost to the world…She creeps and crawls and sifts through the mountains and dry riverbeds, looking for wolf bones, and when she has assembled an entire skeleton, when the last bone is in place and the beautiful white sculpture of the creature is laid out before her, she sits by the fire and thinks about what song she will sing. And when she is sure, she stands over the criatura, raises her arms over it, and sings out. That is when the rib bones and leg bones of the wolf begin to flesh out and the creature becomes furred. La Loba sings some more, and more of the creature comes into being; its tail curls upward, shaggy and strong….and still La Loba sings so deeply that the floor of the desert shakes, and as she sings, the wolf opens its eyes, leaps up, and runs away down the canyon. Somewhere in the running…the wolf is suddenly transformed into a laughing woman who runs free toward the horizon.”

I only came across this tale last night, while reading myself to sleep. And I dreamed of Mexico. And of wolves. And a wild woman resembling me running with the wolves. Today I woke up with a new insight to my Mexican experience. It makes sense now. I went there, was drawn there, to collect bones.

Mexico did something to me. I try to explain to people all the ways that I have changed in a matter of five months, but it never comes out right or I sound way too “New Age”. I feel more spiritual, and connected to nature. I feel more at peace with myself, and calm, no matter how brutal the storm. People now smile through their eyes and not so much with their mouths. I want organic compost and a vegetable farm. My brain is in dire need of constant stimulation. And I want to study midwifery.

So, what happened to me in Mexico? In Women Who Run With the Wolves, the author says one way that a woman can reach this “world-between-worlds” is through intentional solitude. If there was ever a time that I intended to be alone, it was in Mexico. Despite having an amazing group of friends in Oaxaca, I chose to spend the majority of my free time by myself – reading, traveling, writing, hiking. And yes, singing when no one was around. I wrote a blog about the first trip by myself, as I found it so difficult to be alone. There were friends that wanted to travel with me almost every weekend, and yet I tried to arrange plans by myself and scurried around their hints to accompany me.

Solitude was quiet and insightful. And I mostly found it in the mountains of Oaxaca. Julie Andrews was right when she sang that the hills are alive with the sound of music. In the mountains, the silence is so strong that all you can hear is the songs of your own head and heart. I sang and sang until the bones I had unintentionally come to gather formed a creature that came to life. From the tip of a mountain, I watched as this wolf creature took off running over the twelve layers of mountains in the distance, or down the long white sands of the Pacific Coast. Towards the end of my time in Mexico, I was conscious and aware when this live and vibrant creature transformed into a laughing woman running towards the horizon. She was me. All bones put together, the Wild Woman in me was set free. And damn, did it feel good.

Dr. Estes refers to this as the “crack between the worlds – the place where visitations, miracles, imaginations, inspirations, and healings of all natures occur.” She goes on to say that, “Though this site transmits great psychic wealth, it must be approached with preparation, for one may be tempted to joyously drown in the rapture of one’s time there. Consensual reality may seem less exciting by comparison. In this sense, the deeper layers of psyche can become a rapture-trap from which people return unsteady, with wobbly ideas and airy presentiments.”

I’m afraid I’m now in this consensual reality that she speaks of. I am no longer in Mexico. And I am no longer in intentional solitude. Suddenly, I just hear noise. Not music. And it is confusing. My bones are still strung together, but as I explain to people how I was sculpted in Mexico, I feel like my skeleton could disassemble at any moment. Perhaps it is part of the cycle. In order to collect bones, there must be bones to collect, right?

Either way, I want to keep this Wild Woman – the one that ran with wolves in my dream last night – alive for a while longer. She makes me feel good. And if she falls apart once again, then it’s back to collecting bones again I guess.

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Indigenous Detox

As instructed, I removed all clothing, despite the freezing cold mountain air seeping in from the between the cracks in the log walls. I waited for her to remove her clothing too. But instead, the woman kindly put down a mat on the floor for my bare feet, wrapped her head in a huge wool scarf, and disappeared behind a small, square carpet curtain – on all fours. The door to the modest room opened and two younger girls entered. One handed me a sheet with colorful balloons on it and told me to wrap it around myself. I followed her orders happily, as I was head to toe covered in goose bumps. The woman called to me from behind the small hole in the wall. “Ya puede entrar Usted.”

I was not really sure what a temescal was all about. The first time I heard this word was at the Oaxacan coast. A friend invited me to go do a temescal with him and his friends. What I had heard, or understood, was that he was inviting me out to drink some local mezcal. Since I had sweetly declined, I did not realize the major misunderstanding on my part. Tequila’s cousin, Mezcal, is many things, but it is definitely not a tool for detoxing.

Like Alice, I followed the rabbit on all fours into the curious and mysterious hole at the bottom of the living room wall. One part of me was relaxed. In general, I enjoy any type of healing, care or attention given to my body. On the other hand, I had heard more negative experiences than positive ones about the temescales, as the boiling temperatures and cloisterphobic dimensions usually unnerve people rather than relax them. But I vowed I could not leave Oaxaca without trying chapolines (fried grasshoppers), seeing a baby donkey, and experiencing a temescal. I had already accomplished the first two, and with two weeks left to go, decided to check the third one off the list!

As the ceiling of the tiny clay room was low, and my head is much higher than the average Oaxacan’s, the woman had me lay down flat. I asked her to explain to me what this process was all about. She simply answered, “To clean you. To remove your fears.” She kneeled at my side, spat water into an even smaller hole in this dark, miniature cave, forcing a huge wave of steam and heat into the room. It burned slightly as it touched my skin. But the most difficult part was breathing. I imagined the sensation was something similar to what a Dragon might feel if it breathed back in its own fire. Or when you stick your head out of a car window while going 100 mph and it’s hard to catch your breath. It is not necessarily painful, but just a bit awkward and uncomfortable.

It appears the woman had a cure. Using a huge bouquet of herbs she beat me in the dark, in long sweeping motions. Head to toe. Up and down. She turned me to each side, and belly down, belly up. All the while she breathed heavily and sighed quite a lot. Surely she was suffering the heat much more than I was, as she was dressed in thick layers of clothes and wore a woolen scarf around her head. She took a few moments to lay down and catch her breath, and then even once left me alone in the steam chamber to sweat it out all alone.

I was led to this woman during one of my hikes. We were examining various medicinal plants in the forest, and the guide mentioned something about how the local midwives use these plants in their healing and birth practices. As I have developed a strong interest in midwifery lately, I asked if I could meet the local midwife. He said she was too old now, but that her daughter was studying with her – that, in addition, she offers temescal ceremonies and that I should go to her. Secretly I had hoped to meet her 85-year-old mother, but turns out she was ill. So I asked my healer about her experience with midwifery. She looked shocked and responded, “Midwifery? Are you crazy? I’m way too scared of that. Someone else will have to carry along the tradition.” I found it odd, being that she cures fears and all. But I guess it is possible to cure and not be cured?

Anyhow, as everything, it’s all about mind over matter. Once I let myself relax, I imagined that each bead of toxic sweat that exited my million pores somehow added valuable hours to my life. I asked the woman to spit on the hot rocks again, the more burning steam, the better! The amazing, healing scents of the herbs laying next to me (and now smothered all over my body) added to the relaxation. And though I can probably find many of those herbs at the local supermarket, there is something about home-grown plants carefully cultivated with a healing intention that somehow is just not comparable.

Once the sweat bath was over, I crawled back into the bright room all slimy, light-headed, herb covered and blind – not too far off from a newborn baby! She asked if I wanted a massage, and I obviously accepted. Right as I got comfortable on the bed, a huge thunder-storm began and the rain pitter-pattered on the tin roof during the whole healing massage.

Too calm and too relaxed to head back to Oaxaca on a second-class, windy road bus, I opted to stay the night in the woods. As everyone else in Mexico was visiting the beaches during Semana Santa, the community gave me a cabin meant for 4 people, about an hours walk from town, set in the middle of a forest. As they dropped me off and said good night, I looked around at the darkness surrounding my cabin, and listened to the howling dogs (or coyotes) not too far off in the distance. I laughed aloud when I realized that I was not scared. All alone, in the middle of nowhere, with wild animals and who knows what around, I happily snuggled up near my fireplace and read for hours and had a great night’s sleep. Fully detoxed, and fearless, the temescal must have worked.

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Easy Women

Rumor has it that American women are easy. Men here in Mexico, and men pretty much worldwide, look at an American girl abroad and think “it’s in the bag” – or in the “sack” in this case. As an American girl having spent the last eight years abroad, I can openly say that these rumors are…well, true. I am not saying that all American women abroad are promiscuous, but when it comes to courting we usually push fast forward – and it’s not always because we have a plane to catch the next day. So why is it that American women do not play hard to get?

Simple answer: We are not to get. We are not hunted nor gathered – we are the hunters and gatherers!

That’s where American women get the “easy” tag. We do not hold back when we want something. We are forward. We have been raised in the “Land of the Free” to take initiative and to consider ourselves as equals with our male counterparts. High school girls ask the boys to the school dances. American girls rule at football (soccer), whereas in most developing, football-crazed countries a girl never even touches the ball. We backpack through the world unaccompanied, explaining to astounded locals that yes, we are single (or yes, our boyfriends/husbands allowed us to travel alone).

There is nothing about the modern American woman that says she is weak, submissive or shy. So I have my doubts about this word “easy,” as it implies a negative connotation. What does it mean to be “easy?” That a woman succumbs to the charm of a man? That she “gives in” and “doesn’t resist”? That sounds like bull to me. Has no one ever read Cosmo Magazine? Do people still actually think that men are they are the only ones that have needs to be met?

It is time to set the story straight. We need to redefine the word “easy.” Who the norm considers an “easy” woman, I consider a “liberated” woman. Liberated women act on their desires, just like men do – if not more often, then more successfully.

To sign off, I have a few tips for foreign men trying to score a gringa. Although American women may be “easy” we:

1. do not like to be hooted and hollered at. I do not know of one single case where that has led to something besides a kick in the groin.

2. do not like to be called anything related to “mommy,” in any language – it’s just weird.

3. prefer that men aged 30+ do not still live with their parents.

4. prefer that men earn it – be kind, open a door, listen, call us from time to time, make us laugh (mainly – just don’t be a jerk).

Follow these basic rules and perhaps scoring an American girl will be…well…”easy.”

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The Cloud People

I’ve my got my head in the clouds…

…in the Oaxacan clouds to be specific. There is something magical about the Oaxacan skylines, and it has taken me a couple months to pinpoint what it is that I love. It’s the nubes, the brilliantly dramatic and dynamic cloud formations that hover in the horizon between the mountain peaks. I find myself on the roof of my office in a full stand-still, fascinated at each curve, shape and color of these amazing puffs of water just waiting to pour down on some lucky village.

My obsession has even tickled my subconscious toes, as I now even dream about clouds. The other night I dreamed I was in a large field looking at the horizon during a pink sunset. In the cleavage between two distant mountains, a woman’s face appeared in the grey clouds. Both her face and her features were short and wide, and she was so peaceful. She had thick, pursed lips that smiled at me, as if to say “don’t worry, yes I am a cloud woman – totally normal, carry on with your day.” I whispered something to her, or breathed perhaps, and her lips mimicked mine. I opened my mouth wide, and she parroted me. I remember laughing in my dream; it was a beautifully surreal, yet comforting encounter. As I walked to work the next day, I looked to horizon hoping she would smile at me again. Unfortunately, she did not make an appearance. I guess my dreaming mind is much more imaginative than my awake one.

As most things in my life, my new-found infatuation with clouds, and my consequent dream, are not coincidences. Today, while researching indigenous populations in Oaxaca for a grant proposal I’m working on, I came across an interesting piece of information – I’m living in the land of the Zapatecos. Although the name in the náhuatl language means “the people of Zapote,” they called themselves “be’neza” meaning “the people of the clouds.” Little is known about the origin of the Zapotecos. Unlike most indigenous populations of Mesoamerica, the Zapotecos had no tradition or legend of their migration; only that they believed they were born directly from the clouds. Hence, there are known as “cloud people”.

So apparently it’s not just me. There is something magical about these Oaxacan skylines, and it is not a recent phenomenon. Their nubes contain a magic that has survived over thousands of years despite conquests, migration and marginalization – a struggle which has not been so easy for the Zapotecos.

I’ve always been a bit in the clouds anyhow, but now my woolgathering moments personify into cloud people. If it is true that the Zapotecos were born directly from the clouds, well then I guess I met their mother in my dream! Perhaps her smile was one of content, that this guera in Oaxaca stops to ponder her wonderful creation.

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Traveling alone is like dancing. At first you sit on the sidelines, sipping your beer nervously and watching as everyone enjoys themselves. Once the buzz hits, you sway softly from side to side hoping that someone will notice that you want to dance. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you are taken by the hand and led to the dance floor and a stranger smiles and swings his hips along with you. Other times you are destined to just sit there and watch as the world dances in front of you.

Partners change. Rhythms change. Just as you get the knack of it, the song changes and you start all over again.

For me, that is what traveling alone is like. When I said goodbye to my friends in Mexico City on Christmas Eve, and hopped on a 15 hour bus ride to Palenque to embark on my short journey through Chiapas, I was as excited as a single lady heading to the disco. Fresh clothes, neatly packed backpack and ready to take on the world.

I arrived to Palenque on Christmas Day; a cold, rainy day in the jungle. I had planned on heading out to the see the Mayan ruins, but due to the rain was encouraged to snuggle up in my little cabana over the creek. “What a great time to write in my journal, or read!” I thought. Pen in hand, Casa de los Espiritus by my side, I sat there in the silent jungle and enjoyed the serene and the solitary peace. That is what I came for after all.

My beautiful, long-wished for moment lasted about 40 minutes and then I was desperate for some company. Rather than enjoying the privacy of nature that I came here for, I took a bus back in to town to find an internet café so I could get in touch with my friends and family. Needless to say, I felt like a failure on first day traveling alone. Note to self: next time bring someone.

That night I decided to try on my social pants and headed to Don Mucho’s Restaurant for dinner. There were a few free tables to sit at. The others were full of loud groups of friends getting tipsy, and couples getting snuggly. I strategically selected a table in close range to the bar (where perhaps other lonely souls would dwell) and checked out the menu.

I find eating alone extremely difficult. It is not enjoyable, I eat too fast and then I don’t really know what to do when I finish. Drinking, on the other hand, seems to work out just fine when in awkward situations with no one to talk to! Note to self: order another one.

A few micheladas into the night and I started to loosen up and tap my feet. If you want to make friends while traveling alone, it is key to make eye contact with people as they walk by. Smile at them. The most likely scenario is that they smile back and walk on – kinda like being the white girl on the sidelines of a Cuban salsa club. But to be honest, this tactic ended up making me quite a few…ummm… acquaintances during my stay in Palenque.

Within a few hours at this restaurant, I met some very interesting people: a Mayan descendant who offered to give me a spiritual cleansing of some sort (I nicely declined and offered to listen to his drumming instead), the author of the books Breaking Open the Mind and 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, which deal with the use of psychedelic drugs and their influence on Mayan superior knowledge, and a Mexican world-traveling vagabond that brought me a bag of fruit to my cabana at 5am, surely with other intentions than giving me vitamin C. For some reason all seemed inclined to pass me some friendly words of advice: that I was distrusting, full of fear, and sleepy. Note to self: never talk to strangers.

Of course, without my pocket-sized friends Kate and Emilie there to boost my self-esteem, my first night of adventure turned into a long night of tossing and turning and worrying – why did these strangers all think I was so reserved and closed? I think the opposite of myself! True, a foreign girl sleeping alone in the jungle should and must take her precautions! But they hit on something and made me realize that I do have an inherent fear and I do always doubt people’s intentions. And yes, perhaps I have been a bit sleepy this past year on an intellectual level. Note to self: rid of the fear, put my brain to use again and let down my guard!

Don’t get me wrong – they were nice and I did like them. But if we had been on the dance floor, I’d say those were the guys with good moves, but stinky breath and bad B.O.

Luckily, partners changed and over the course of the next few days I met some truly brilliant people, including but not limited to: a doctor living in a Zapatista community, who looks exactly like Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean (!); a Spanish musician who made an instrument out of water pipes and somehow produced beautiful songs; lovely Caro that learned quickly that I didn’t like eating alone and invited me to join them at meal time; an adorable couple from Berkeley that also got excited when “Pump Up The Jam” blasted in the club on New Years Eve; and most importantly, all the nameless indigenous people I came across everywhere I went. I wish I knew their names and their stories.

By the end of my short journey, I felt comfortable, confident, open, AWAKE – and I zip lined hundreds of feet in the air above a waterfall, just to help kick that fear factor from my system.

Suddenly, being alone was easier. I DID start writing in my journal over morning coffee in the colorful streets of San Cristobal. And I wandered the streets at night, filming old couples dancing in the plaza and children inventing games with palm leaves. Suddenly, making buddies was also effortless and there was someone from all walks of life ready to join me in activities from all walks of life.

You may know how to dance salsa, but when cumbia comes on things get a bit complicated and you trip all over yourself and the guy dancing with you. It’s humbling, at times embarrassing or frustrating, but mostly inspires you to dance more! With practice, you DO get less patosa.

In summary, this is what traveling alone is like for me – a traveler’s dance that only with time, patience and confidence can twist and turn you in ways you never dreamed. And in one week I shall embark on another lone journey for a short 5 days…destination still to be decided, but it’s not the location that matters. It’s the company, whether my own or with new smiling and sometimes criticizing faces. As long as I’m open to both, the band will play on…

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