Good Backpacker, Bad Backpacker, Worst Backpacker?

Bubbly, wide-eyed Valeria is working reception when I arrive. She leads me up to my room for the next three nights. My friend from Mexico City and Oaxaca adventures, Rose, waits inside. We hug in a flurry of jokes and expressions of how long it feels since we were last together, despite it only being six weeks or so. Our little travelling group of four parted ways in Puerto Escondido on the Pacific, and now the two of us are reunited again in another Puerto, on another Mexican coast: Puerto Morelos, on the Mayan Riviera. We’re meeting up to spend Christmas together in our next destination, Tulum.

A meme of ours resurfaces before long in our silly, excitable conversation. It’s this notion that both Rose and I, in our own special ways are “the worst backpackers ever”. We do both find ourselves blundering through various aspects of independent travel, albeit with no drastic consequences (so far, fingers crossed). Just small to mid-range fuck-ups or oversights, which we laugh at, because we feel like we’re low-key messing up our trips, and somehow not achieving some standard we expect of ourselves as backpackers. But why?

First I have to blame Instagram. I have to agree with social media naysayers on this (up to a point) – it can make you feel inadequate. If you’re comparing yourself to other travel accounts, it can feel like others are having the perfect trip with no blemishes or hiccups. That is obviously nonsense, since that’s impossible. A: what does ‘perfect’ even mean and B: it doesn’t exist anyway. Instagram is aspirational. It’s best used as a source of inspiration, as a positive tool to motivate you to travel more, or bake more, or pose for selfies with your top off more, whatever. It’s a creative platform and you should create things to share on it, not scroll through a photo feed feeling sad that your life isn’t as great as the ones you’re looking at. Those lives aren’t any greater than your own. Even if they might actually be, you have no way of actually peeling off the filters and getting the full 360 view of the whole scene, and feeling how the person in the picture is really feeling. So enjoy it, be mindful of what you like about it and how it inspires you, and make some pretty pictures yourself.

That said, the social media Big Bad isn’t really the main culprit here. In terms of the more specific ‘oh I caught a really inconvenient bus when I didn’t have to’ or ‘I vastly overpaid for that tour’ moments, it’s your interactions with your fellow travellers that can really enforce the idea that you’re doing something wrong, or just not very well, in how you’re approaching some of your adventures. And that idea that you’re doing something wrong, it doesn’t come from others, it comes from you. Nobody ever judges you for having done something differently, but you sure can judge yourself for it.

Meeting people in hostels, on tours or randomly on long bus journeys in the dark, is the one of the top reasons I travel. You’re choosing a lifestyle which opens you up to the most life-affirming, inspirational and entertaining conversations you’re ever going to have, because people are AWESOME and the ones living out of one or two bags are AWESOMER. You can learn so much from chatting to other travellers, whether it is in a in-depth discussion of a certain city and its good and bad sides, or a breezy chat about that funny quirk of the local dialect.

You can also gain valuable perspective on your own travel choices and plans. This can cut both ways. For plans you’re yet to pin down, you can get so many new ideas and tips to make it more fun / cheaper / waste less time. But, for the things you’ve already done, or are in the process of doing, you can suddenly be zoomed out of the moment and see from an outside perspective those things you’ve already done, and how you can see now how you really didn’t do them in the best way, in comparison to how your new Polish pal on the night bus did it. I experienced this A LOT. As I’ve talked about before, I tend to not research things too much in advance, and just kind of bluff my way along. This leads to lots of exciting detours and discoveries, but also sometimes wasted days or missed opportunities. It’s impossible not to compare yourself to others when you’re all doing more or less the same activities, just on different days and in slightly different ways.

This notion of being the ‘worst backpacker’ also heavily involves the actual physical backpack itself. And how you pack it, unpack it, store it, and keep track of what’s inside it. Rose, for example, constantly loses track of everything, only for it to magically turn up wrapped inside a towel or in a secret pocket three days later. I never bother to fix the straps on my pack, so it is always tilting to the left and bumping people who try to pass me on the pavement. These little things feed into the idea that we aren’t ‘competent’, that we aren’t making things easy, effortless and effective for ourselves. We both have a tendency to withdraw into the internet world sometimes, when things around us in the hostel are a little quiet, and so we spend time randomly scrolling and watching freaky animations (Rose, you need help btw) rather than having the experiences that would make us feel like ‘good’ backpackers.

But everything isn’t easy, effortless and effective. You can’t have those incredible experiences all. the. time. Maybe if your trip is a few weeks long, and you do your research in advance, every day can be fireworks and waterfalls and laughter and madness, and it isn’t going to matter too much how well you handle your backpack, cause before you know it you’ll be home again and not living out of it any more. Yet when you’re backpacking for months, or even years, at a time, you need some downtime. And whether you want it or not, life is gonna throw some at you anyway. You’re not going to be able to justify that tour in your budget; you’re going to end up in a rubbish hostel because all the good ones were taken; you’re going to catch a stomach bug and have no energy for a week. The days you spend not really achieving anything Instagram-worthy or life-affirming are okay – they don’t make you a bad backpacker, they just make you a backpacker. A person.

So you missed an archaeological site, or a food you didn’t come across; you weren’t aware of a loophole when it would have handy. So what? You’re not a ‘bad’ backpacker. You may have some weaknesses sure, we all do. And although we laugh about it, there’s a voice inside that tells you you’re not good at what you’re doing. Well that voice can KEEP ITS UNHELPFUL THOUGHTS TO ITSELF. If you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing. You’re only ‘bad’ at it if you aren’t enjoying it, if you’re making decisions to keep other people happy and not yourself, if you’ve no common sense whatsoever and keep falling into dangerous or unpleasant situations over and over. You’re only inadequate if you tell yourself that you are. You’re not the ‘worst’ backpacker. Rose is not the ‘worst’ backpacker. And neither am I.

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Backpacking Latin America: What To Pack (and What To Leave Behind)

The dust is settling. My trip is over. It’s hard to see this as an ending though, when I know this is only the beginning of a lifetime of adentures in Latin America. In that vein, I’m taking the downtime I have back at home now to reflect and consider when and and how I will make the next trip happen. That involves not only the emotional stuff I seem to find myself writing about a lot here, but also the practical nitty gritty: the selection of physical items to bring which I pretty much obsessed over until the day I left to catch a flight from Manchester to Cuba.

No matter how well-prepared I believed my backpack to be before departing, it was never going to be perfect. Things would be forgotten, unneeded dead weight would be dragged around (shout-out to my travel buddies! KIDDING!!!) and the inventory of my bags would inevitably not look exactly the same when I returned home.

I knew this in September, so with a flash of dazzling foresight to my present moment, I made sure to write a detailed list of what I packed, to be compared to the list I would write of what I would unpack when I returned. So I won’t bore you with the full lists (“George, how many pairs of briefs did you take?” asked no one, ever)**, but I’ll note down what I got right and wrong in my packing, for yours and my future reference. YOU’RE WELCOME.

What I was especially thankful to have

  • Tin opener – this was part of my leaving gift from my work colleagues, as it is a useful thing to have when travelling but is not an obvious thing to pack
  • Amazon Basics packing cubes – made compartmentalising my big packpack (Berghaus Trailhead 65L, btw) super easy
  • Pair of scissors (small)
  • Shower gel (almost impossible to find out there!)
  • Tiger balm
  • Money belt
  • Resealable pack of toilet tissues
  • Selfie stick, because I’m awful

What I could have left at home

  • One of my two pairs of jeans. Except for occasional chilly evenings, and the whole 6 days I spent in San Cristóbal de las Casas, I really didn’t need the fashion option of blue or black jeans.
  • I had a bunch of mosquito nets and tropical medicine-type things as I didn’t know how rural / expedition-like the trip was going to get. As it went, it was not very much at all, but hey, it was good to be prepared for malaria zones etc, as I may well have ended up in some.
  • Two different water bottles. I could have left the filter one, as it was only ever going to get mouldy anyway (it did) and the other could be folded up when it was empty, so I’d have saved some space.

What I forgot

  • Moisturiser – my skin got dry and gross A LOT post-beach, I bought some in Mexico and legitimately kept me sane on a number of salty occasions.
  • Insect bite cream – I had various ways of stopping bites but nothing much to help me when I was bitten.
  • Maybe one more sweater or a warm coat or blanket or something. I was mostly pleasantly hot out there but when the random cold times appeared, I had to rely on just one sweater and a thin jacket. Brrrr.
  • More memory cards for my camera. It wasn’t a drama to have to buy another in Mexico, but it’s a problem I could have predicted.
  • Sponge

What I lost / broke

  • My good water bottle, the one that folded up when empty. Left it on a night bus in a befuddled 6am haze.
  • My convertible trousers (zip off the legs to make them into shorts, very fashionable and stylish for sure). Broke the zips so they became just a pair of shorts.
  • Correct voltage adapters. Had a freak out in Manchester airport (good thing I did) and bought like 3 different ones just to be safe, as it seemed I’d probably variously need at least 2 types in Cuba.
  • Remarkably little else?!?

I can say that overall, I did a pretty good job. I could more or less manage in a variety of different environments with what I had brought, or I could find cheap things locally to get by. Longer term, and branching out into more hiking / staying in more basic accommodations in more deprived countries, I may have needed to make some costly purchases to adapt, or got rid of stuff I couldn’t be carrying around any more. But for three months spent mostly in Mexico, my bags were well stocked. I will say that Cuba is its own game. Consumer goods are difficult/expensive/impossible to get hold of, so you really need to take everything you think you’ll need for the length of your stay, cause you really can’t count on being able to find anything in a shop there.

I don’t enjoy packing or unpacking particularly, but I did find it cathartic to methodically remove each item once I was back home, and remember how useful or comforting (or not) it had been during my three months away. I feel that next time I travel medium-long term, I have a much better idea of what I will want and need. And I have a new travel goal – to be able to fit everything into one bag. The smaller the better. Because when you really get down to it, you “need” remarkably few objects to successfuly travel. But then again, it’s nice to have enough.

 

** If anyone does want the full lists, I can totally send you them…

Adventures in Language Learning I

I step out and inhale my first humid Cuban breath. The sky is grey and my mind is clouded over with the collisions of expectations and worries the reality I have entered. Where do I go and what do I have to do next – the tunnel vision of the newly arrived foreigner. I’m here, I’m alone, I have no internet access (yet) to help me now and I’m in a uniquely puzzling land. And I have only a limited grasp on the language. But it’s better than nothing and I hope that even just a margin better than nothing will see me through these first hours.

Hours I have imagined and played through in my head over and over in the weeks leading up to now, and ad infinitum on the plane. I’ve been doing what I can to bring up on my Spanish but I know that nothing is a substitute for in situ conversation with native speakers. It seems that I have chosen the broad canvas of Latin America to paint my bilingualism on. I’ve been staring at that canvas, occasionally sketching some lines upon it, for seven years. Now is pick up the paintbrush time. It’s not heavy, but there’s so much mental weight attached to it. Will I pick it up or will I freeze?

“Taxi, taxi.” The national anthem of Cuba should just be some middle aged men saying that over and over again until you want to tear your own ears off. Maybe that is their anthem. Didn’t come up in my research.

“No gracias, tengo una reservación,” I mumble. And I’m not lying to get rid of them, I actually do have a taxi pre-booked. Or I hope I do. Who knows if I can trust the dawn-of-the-internet era Cuban webpage I booked with. Allegedly a man named Victor is going to be wating for me at the airport taxi rank. I have my doubts as I step outside.

But, in my first taste of his nation’s reliability (which I would soon come to lean on) Victor is there. He greets me and leads me to his car. And yes, of course: it is from roughly the USA in the 1970s  (I didn’t see the make) and is falling apart. The leather seats are ripped and padding plumes out. I reflexively reach back for my seatbelt. “Estás en Cuba,” he laughs. There is no belt.

OK, so I’ve secured a ride to the town of Varadero where I will stay for two nights. Cool. But now comes the bigger hurdle, the one I’ve been shying away from for years, until I decided to force myself into a situation, this situation, where I would have to tackle it. A conversation in Spanish, with a native speaker.

It seems weird looking back now, but at the time I just wasn’t sure if I could do it. I had just never felt like I’d had a real conversation, one where any question could come up and I would have to compose answers spontaneously, before. I suppose I hadn’t. It had been this scary barrier for so long. I knew I had the linguistic knowledge in my brain to communicate, I just hadn’t ever fully made the connection (quickly enough to converse) with my speech organs. I was scared of sounding stupid. I was scared of feeling like a child again, who can’t express himself. But I’ve been refusing to let fear hold me back since 2014. That was why I was here in this moment, in this beaten up cab.

Victor asks me where I’m from, how long I am Cuba for, what cities I’m going to visit. And… I answer. Simple, short answers, but I am understood. It’s an anticlimax. I’m not laughed at, or met with blank stares. Because I know some Spanish. Enough to pass the time of day. Enough. And it isn’t scary. A little draining, sure, to have to concentrate so hard just to receive and convey such basic information, but I would get used to that. I have crossed a border, a line, that I had perceived as though through a telescope from a distance. It had seemed huge, but in reality it was tiny. But I have crossed over, into Cuba, into nascent bilingualism. I relax into my tattered seat, a rogue cloud of cushion against my shoulder blade. I look out at this strange new land.

A horse and cart is being driven from the jungly fields I goggled as my plane landed. Cars pass it on the road, and a man on a bicycle, motorcycles, a bus. Low scrubby mangroves lie to the right, with random coconuts and stray dogs litter the roadside. A big lazy seabird swoops across the road, from right to left. The Florida Straits dissolve into the blue-grey wall of sky to my left.

It’s not as though any of these things are drastically foreign, but I suppose I’ve never encountered these things in this particular combination, like the vocabulary, questions and phrases I’m sharing with Victor. Familiar sights, familiar phrases, combine with the new in an experience as quietly intriguing inside the car as out.

*

City number one turns to two, three, four. Each home and family is distinct, but they all have one thing in common: they don’t speak English. The kind of conversations I imagined and practised years ago in a Scottish classroom come to life in Cuban living rooms, kitchens and streets. I’m not sure if there was a “lightbulb” moment with my Spanish use. Rather, each time I could see in a native speaker’s eyes that something I had said to them in their language had resonated with them somehow. Maybe I gave them a rare and fascinating glimpse into my utterly foreign life, or maybe I made them laugh. But as the days passed, those moments gradually became more frequent – a slow drip-drip-drip of communicative competence. And that is how you learn a language – small victory after small victory, which you cling onto as tiny badges of honour as you otherwise blunder around not understanding or being understood.

And those moments of connection you achieve in your new tongue, those are the true essence of language. It was wonderful to be humbled in this way. I studied linguistics so I have a passion for the academic details of how language functions, but my first conversations in Cuba reminded me of the simplicity of what language means for us: it allows us to share thoughts, feelings and emotions with our fellow humans, so we may expand our hearts and our minds and gain new understanding of our riotous, vibrant planet. Learning a new language expands our ability to do this even further, into new regions and cultures, and it is simultaneously easy and difficult. Engage brain. Open ears. Open mouth. Say something. See where it takes you.

My First Christmas Abroad

Tinsel wrapped all the way up smooth palm trees. Shiny star piñatas everywhere. A municipal Christmas tree overlooking crystal blue waters. Sunshine. Christmas in Mexico is mostly the same gaudy icons and imagery a Westerner is used to, just slapped onto a beautiful tropical backdrop. It seems like such a mismatch, which is how it feels to be here right now, over the festive period, and not back home. I know it’s Christmas because I can see it, but I don’t really feel it.

I’ve never spent Christmas outside of the UK, or away from at least my parents. It was a weird feeling to wake up on the 25th and to not feel like it was a special day. The hostel would continue more or less as normal and the backpackers would continue their backpacking. Even with voice calls and a deluge of social media posts, the Christmas I know feels very far away. However, I had a suspicion this would be the case and that I would be OK with it, and I was mostly right.

There are some major aspects that I missed about Christmas at home. Most important of all is family. I was able to speak to them but those 30 minutes don’t make up for a whole day of togetherness and warmth. It felt wrong in a way that I had fully chosen to be away over the festive season, when I absolutely didn’t have to be. I also of course missed the catch-ups with friends, as we all return back to where we grew up for a week or so.

I also really missed the delicious spread of food my mother always puts on. Turkey and all the trimmings, trifle, bacon sandwiches, chocolates, fine wine, many other alcohols… The veggie burger I ate for my Christmas meal this year was tasty, but nothing special, and the cookies and snacks I ate through the day were the same old.

The combination of family time and lots of good food leads to one thing that was really impossible to recreate out here in my Mexican hostel – cosiness. I was warm, sure, even uncomfortably hot a couple of times through the day, but not cosy. Nothing compares to knowing it’s chilly outside but being indoors, sitting close to people you love, with the soothing glow of tealights illuminating the table.

 for the first time I wasn’t connected  to the sense of community you feel from knowing that basically everyone in the country is doing the same as you that day. It’s a comforting predictability to see on social media that everyone else is with people they love following their decades-old traditions. When I looked at my Facebook feed yesterday, I was kind of sad that I wasn’t also playing a silly board game or drinking one too many glasses of port.

All of that said, I can’t pretend like the Christmas I did have this year wasn’t actually quite lovely, although drastically different. I had great company in the form of my good friend Rose, who is now a firm travel buddy. It felt really nice to know that for today, we were each others’ family. We went to the pristine beach of Tulum and a had a rare restaurant meal. It didn’t differ wildly from our regular backpacker days but that meant it was another fun day in paradise, which is something to be thankful for. So I didn’t have the cold weather/cosy indoors vibe this year, but I did have 30°C, white sand and azure sea, which I imagine a lot of people would be jealous of.

I still enjoy giving Christmas gifts that I’ve really put thought into but I’ve never enjoyed the stress of shopping for them. And as I left my teenage years behind I stopped caring much about receiving gifts myself, as all I ever really want these days is food or money/gadgets etc to aid travel.  On a wider scale I enjoyed an escape from the consumerism of Christmas present buying this year. 

In a more general sense again, I’ve  increasingly felt over the years a cognitive dissonance between feeling celebratory in the run-up to Christmas but also not having an actual reason to celebrate Christmas specifically, since I realised as a teenager that I am definitely not religious. For many people Christmas  is now a secular holiday,  but from my perspective it seems a little bit arbitrary to put up the decorations, sing and the songs and buy  the presents just because we’re used to it. I do enjoy much of the preparations, and the day itself very much, but I can’t help but wonder these days, why are we celebrating the 25th of December?  

Lastly, although I didn’t have that sense of community with the people I know and love, I had a different community. That of the wandering travellers, a global community of people who may not know each other well but are connected by the fact we are all abroad on Christmas for whatever reason.

 I don’t know if I’ll be sharing Christmas with this community again next year, or my usual one back home, but I’ve learned now that wherever you are in the world and whoever you are with, you can still find a Christmas spirit, even if you don’t really know why you feel the need to have one. Merry Christmas, or whatever else you may be celebrating!

Not Knowing

A pelican swoops overhead, high above the coconuts hanging a few metres above in my eyeline. It probably has a destination in mind. I lie with my palms in the sand, grabbing handfuls, scrunching them up tight into a ball then letting them trickle back onto the beach. I generally struggle to sit completely still for any length of time. I’m not sure why. Even when I’m genuinely relaxed there seems to be an underlying nervous energy jumping through my arms and fingers.

I’m really relaxed right now. There’s a light sea breeze, and a warm sun. I’m secure in this moment, this day, but that nervous energy lies underneath it, buried somewhere below the sand. As certain as I may be about where I am today, any mental projection into the future throws up a number of question marks. 

On the one hand, I’ve always embraced the randomness of travel and I’ve been open to letting whatever will happen, happen. But I suppose I’ve met so many people in the past couple of weeks who are on shorter trips, and have definite end points. I don’t envy them returning to jobs and routines, but I do envy the clarity of certainty. Beyond the 28th of December I don’t know where I’m going to be, and what I’ll be doing. I know what I would like to do, but it remains a possible, if not likely, idea in my head rather than a tangible plan. And beyond, beyond is a greater mystery that I’m happy to address when it arrives.

All of this is OK. I never wanted to burden myself with commitments to medium or long term plans. But part of me yearns for them, to know that I will definitely be doing something I want, since factors such as money are constraining my freedom at the moment. I’m grateful for how many options are still open to me, but with Christmas fast approaching and everyone back home returning to their familiar settings, I can’t help but feel a little adrift. I signed up for this. I wouldn’t change anything I’ve done. But I’d like a few more knowns and less unknowns right now.

Travel Family

I’ve been travelling for two and a half months now, and moments of homesickness have been creeping in, stealthy and sometimes out of nowhere. Especially given that it is almost Christmas (my first one abroad) and that the entertainment during my most recent coach ride was a documentary about Scottish wildlife and landscape. Crazy.

The wonder of WhatsApp and Facebook do mean I can call home for free anytime, but it’s no substitute for being with the people I love in person. Of course I was prepared for this, and generally the excitement of exploring new countries outweighs any longing to be home. This particular trip, though my longest yet, will be over before I even realise, so I am living in the moment as much as possible, while looking forward to reunions in the UK soon.

What I wasn’t expecting was the extent to which family life would feature and follow me around on my travels. Obviously not the family life I’m used to, but that of adopted local families I find myself part of on the road. I did know that in Cuba, by staying in casa particulares, I would be physically staying with families but I didn’t anticipate how included I would be in their lives. Being a solo traveller with no set plans meant I was able to see one of the greatest of many lovely characteristics of Latin American people – the willingness to welcome strangers into the heart of their lives. I was able to practice my Spanish and get to know my hosts and the details of life in Cuba well, leading to some lovely friendships and the chance to relax as if I were at home.

Before Cuba I had never experienced a homestay, and it’s certainly a fascinating way to get to know a country and its people. It also gives you a level of comfort which I really appreciated in a country as frequently confusing and challenging as Cuba for the first time visitor. This comfort has a flip side though – an occasional lack of privacy and independence, since you now have a Cuban grandma worrying about where you’re going and have you eaten yet?!? Anyone who has lived with their family beyond childhood can relate. But you know it comes from a loving place, and ultimately you are a traveller passing through so you can still do what you want, with respect to the house rules of course.

To start my trip in casas particulares was interesting as it gave me a taste (certainly exaggerated by the Cuba-ness of Cuba) of what I’ve found to be the case beyond the island. I made a Mexican GBF while in Cuba, and was adopted by him and his mum for a week or so between Trinidad and Havana. The family vibe continued from there to the big big city, as Andryk got there a couple of days before me and was helpfully waiting for me at the airport when I arrived. We then quickly formed a travel family with Jo and Rosa in my hostel and went on to enjoy the Andryk City Tour experience, including being welcomed into his family’s restaurant like random distant white primos, then all go on to Oaxaca and explore together. 

When we eventually went our separate ways, it felt like setting off from home once again, casting out alone into the unknown. I caught the long (sweaty, uncomfortable) bus to Chiapas, sad to be leaving behind my travel buddies but with no idea that the very next day I would meet someone special who would also go on to bring me into his family home. I ate (so much), drank and laughed with his extended chiapaneca family and be instantly accepted and cared for. 

That’s not to mention my hostel in San Cristóbal where a happy product of the hostel’s near-emptiness midweek led to a lovely, close atmosphere with the mixture of locals and foreigners who lived and worked there. I’ve been able to see and live like locals in most cities I’ve visited, even if just for an evening, and that’s the priceless kind of experience I’m always looking for. 

I packed a small cuddly toy, as sad as it sounds, partly to remind me that I’m not alone, if it ever felt that way as I travelled. However, I haven’t needed it once, since without really trying, I have repeatedly drawn to me, and been drawn to, travel families. Some lasted for a few days and some might last forever. Nothing can replace the family I left in Europe, but it has been enriching and comforting to find groups of people over here in America who have made me feel loved and looked after. My backpacking adventure has been elevated beyond the transient hostel friendships (of which there have been many, shout out to all the cool people I’ve met, you guys rock and see you in the next hostel probably!) to something more heartwarming and meaningful than I could have predicted. Muchísimas gracias everyone, for making me forget how far I am from my roots.❤

Amber

You hang around my neck every day, a smooth flat oval on a silver chain. I know you’re real, as you’re faintly warm to the touch. Energy from millions upon millions of years ago is frozen inside you, never to be free but forever to shine. 

You hold tiny, suspended palaeoworld, a portal to an ancient past, a world of marvellous mystery and astounding discoveries. You’re a light, the middle of the traffic lights, wait, pause, hold still. You are chiapeneco gold, but you hold flecks, shimmers of richer caramel – your preserved cargo that you’ve carried silently for all human time, and beyond.

Tendrils of steam or smoke rest like the milky way, peppered with dots of dirt or plant matter. And there, forever falling through space and time, the fractured body of a primordial insect. You are its open mausoleum, it’s jewel tomb. You are a testament to a miniscule life in the distant past, to which you give an eternal afterlife. I can begin to imagine what this little bug saw, through the cryptic relics you display in a thumbprint-size diorama.

You’re more precious than any jewel. You’re a tableau of life, a unique window on more than just the legacy of one animal but also it’s environment. You have persisted through a bafflingly long time, up to now. Somehow you lasted, to keep telling your story and to one day tie me to an era I can scarcely otherwise relate to. Now you rest just above my heart – past and present, side by side. I can now carry with me always a shard of the world of Chiapas.

Chiapas, a land of towering cliffs and lazy crocodile rivers. Spider monkeys screech in the distance, like a primal scream, their eerie taunts carrying from Sumidero Canyon to the jungle of Palenque, where they echo off monumental Mayan pyramids. Waterfalls cascade and crash in the highlands, creating rainstorms of vapour which soak me to the skin. Coffee and chocolate grow in abundance and their deep, rich and complex flavours are emblematic of the state – natural, pure, layered, intense. A happy place of tinkling marimba music and delicious recipes. 

This small piece of Chiapas comes with me for the ride, to new caves, new ruins, but I leave a piece of my heart behind in exchange, in Chiapas.

And I gaze into my brilliant amber eye, I see everything, not only the past but the present and the future. This small memory has persevered in perfect condition for all this time, so who can say “nothing lasts forever”? Time is a circle, a loop, and the energy held inside you, my amber, is proof we are all share the same matter, recycled over and over, forever.