Rediscovering Me in Magical Mexico: Tales of an Epic Solocation, Pt. 1
The Backdrop Before Booking
After graduating with my PhD, pouring my all into completing and birthing an entire brain child called my dissertation - I was suddenly void of the meaning of my existence for the past few years. While certainly momentous and cause for celebration (which did take place of course), I was still left with NOTHING to do after that. No love on my fabulous resume, time passing me by, the broke monster descending on my psyche. As a busy-body in the most germane sense—with all that free time, no spending power, and no job prospects, I almost slipped into a serious depression.
All the free time I now had was filled with thinking, over-thinking about the bills, running out of jobs to apply for on job boards, and being shuttered in—during the best season of all, summertime. My best friends swooped in to literally check on my mental health (that was the text my wingwoman literally sent me daily) and my other Dr. boo urged me to get out of the house. So, I tapped into my teenage hustler spirit animal and went the fastest route where I knew I could get some fast cash: retail.
I got a seasonal gig filling web orders that was barely helping financially ($14.46 an hour)—but helped keep me active, with some type of routine after the routines I had were gone. I even went to work the day after my graduation party because...well, it’s work and there’s money to be made with hours that ultimately add up. The months of June and most of July passed by quickly, and then the end of July/start of August came with a tempest that sent me literally running out of the country for a reprieve from capitalism, and the heavy ass load of poverty being criminalized.
Bills coming out of nowhere - literally. No taxes or refund in sight (despite doing MY part to communicate), an unknown lapse in car insurance - and no financially viable solution at the time to reinstate it (middle finger to you NYC for making everything basic cost-prohibitive) - I tried to sell my car. I refuse to be a slave to things, but clearly, a car that is 2 years old, being financed for less than a year isn’t worth much. Dealers also weren’t offering anywhere near what they would’ve sold it for, after I naively signed on the dotted line earlier that fall.
I felt dejected at what was supposed to be the most joyous time in my life. I was fed up with the fact that I was being reamed in every direction by life. After literally finding monetary solutions faster than a professional mathematician for most of the summer, I had had enough. I’ve always been proactive in nature, but this season felt like I was in the first Rocky fighting Apollo Creed. I just couldn’t get a shot in edgewise. The only glimmer I had was a 3rd round interview, but I still desperately needed a getaway to keep my own mental state stitched together to make it to the next season with some semblance of self.
Booking My Solocation
July 30th, 2:00 am . . . In the words of Jidenna in his song Trampoline “What the fuck we got degrees for?//If we ain't flying overseas more...//If we ain't puffing on the breeze more” And so I jumped on a plan. After going to secretflying.com I saw roundtrip flights from LAX to Guadalajara, Mexico. Now, I had never heard of this place (neither did my people when I told them), but after a quick Google search, I surmised it looked pretty enough for a visit I would enjoy. I had also previously set the intention to revisit places I had previously traveled to. So knowing Mexico City is one of my favorite places in the world, I set out to rediscover Mexico on a deeper level, by going further south.
Logistically, I also had a credit I needed to use from LAX to JFK + a gang of points I could apply for the flight home, and points for all my hotel stays. That math was working that night. By 3:30am I was ready to go, having done full on research on what to do in Guadalajara and nearby towns.
After the thorough booking of most of my run-away-bride type solocation, I slept and woke up 6 hours later. “SHIT.” I thought to myself after realizing I definitely forgot I had a professional development workshop to run the last week of the month. Luckily, it was within 24 hours of booking, so I simply cancelled and revisited my escape plan. I used my paycheck to pay for the fare difference for the credit from JFK to LAX, re-booked my roundtrip flight to Guadalajara from LAX for $260, and used my Delta Skymiles to book my flight to return from LAX to JFK. That travel math budget situation added up to an affordable situation quick because it had to okkkayy! It was also time to treat myself to hotels, which is not typically where I stay—but free is the wave. So, I flexed with the points I had sitting in my Chase account. I was finally able to see the light at the end of my personal tunnel of true R&R, and reconnect to my core as travel always does for my soul.
In order to understand Mexico a bit better, it actually helps to know that the country is organized like ours! Mexico is comprised of states and is actually formally referred to as the United States of Mexico. This knowledge goes a long way if you ever go past the common destinations of Cancun and Cozumel, since travel within Mexico is pretty easy! I started my first few days in Guadalajara, exploring the city in Jalisco state, getting acquainted with the main square, and going for epic walks throughout the town before two scheduled day tours over the next two days.
What I love about Mexico, is that each major city typically has a square or plaza, with a large church, and tons of local life buzzing by. When I travel, although I am connecting with myself, really my main mission is to connect with culture by soaking in the nuances of other people’s daily lives. I do this by walking, a LOT, criss-crossing neighborhoods, hearing live music in the squares, and simply diving feet first into discovery mode.
I took the hop-on/hop-off city tour from the main plaza which was a few blocks from my hotel. I took the Spanish speaking bus because it’s always good practice for me and my middle-of-the-road skills (based off school lessons that stuck), and I prefer local experiences to outright English ones. I realized that many Mexicans travel within their own country and are proud of the beautiful heritage they have. The Plaza de la Liberacion features statues of Mexican poets, writers, and other native contributors to its history. Since I was visiting in the summer, there was a pop-up restaurant in the middle of the square, and free music being played by an orchestra as well. It’s the kind of place where you could easily people watch, and while we have Washington Square Park in New York City—sometimes our own routines prevent us from enjoying the simple pleasures of summer and life!
I never hopped off the bus I was on, but made mental notes to return to certain areas on foot after getting an orientation of the city. For example, I learned the University of Guadalajara was the start of the hipster part of town, complete with local bars, a beer garden, and other cool restaurants and shops. In fact, areas where there are universities are usually the place to be for cheap eats and young culture vibes.
Walking back towards my hotel, I found bargain shops, and a street that reminded me of Brooklyn’s own Flatbush Avenue. I was immediately reminded of why I love Mexico so much. Simple, affordable, urban life that is navigable and welcoming to a native, 99-cent store loving, city-slicker like myself. Another benefit of staying in the city was the ability to take day trips to experience more of Mexico.
Exploring More of Mexico: Chapala & Ajijic
On any solo trip I take I usually book a few day tours so that I can get a healthy dose of socialization and exploration. For this trip, I went with AirBnB experiences and LOVED the tours I took outside of Guadalajara. The first day trip I took was to Chapala and Ajijic. Mexico’s largest lake, Chapala, known as Love’s Lake, provided the perfect sun-drenched, boardwalk backdrop to make new connections with those on my tour. One of the guys even bought me a local beer to try :-). In Chapala, I enjoyed pristine views of blue water poised against Mexico’s untouched verdure— calm washing over me in the simple serenity of strolling along the lakefront. It was also, of course, perfect for taking pictures during our hour of free time to explore.
After visiting Chapala town, we went to El Carnal to enjoy lunch (not included in the price, but delicious nonetheless), and a serenade. Food is such a beautiful opportunity for fellowship and over lunch I bonded with my new friends along the journey (which is what I call people I meet during my travels) hailing from Mexico, San Francisco, and San Diego. We shared morsels of ourselves, explaining our love of travel, Mexico, and whatever bite-sized event that brought us to vacationing together, in that moment. We toasted to a birthday, laughed as two best friends shared their experiences abroad, finished a bottle of tequila at their urging, and enjoyed some fresh seafood with Lake Chapala as our backdrop.
After lunch a beautiful boat ride followed. While we were on our tour, we shared our boat ride with a lovely Black couple from DC I met who shared their love of traveling together around the world. I am definitely THAT Black person who connects with my people overseas, and it was beautiful to hear of their #BlackLove and celebration of their anniversary. The free margarita also was a nice touch for all of us as we simply let the lake laze our boat about to enjoy Chapala’s lush landscape from the water.
The day was far from over, even though we all agreed that it would have been a serendipitous close. Instead, one of the most charming little towns I’ve ever encountered, was up next. Ajijic felt like a town suspended in time—ripe for hand-holding with that special someone, sauntering, and keenly surveying all the ways antiquated places maintain character of days gone by. Cobblestone streets surrounded by colorful building facades and small shops offering their own specialties. I went for the ice cream, enjoying a hand-crafted, lightly sweetened, handmade creamsicle that served as the perfect sidekick to what felt like a summer day, back in the day. Artisans offered unique crafts I hadn’t encountered anywhere else and without any sense of urgency or drive to sell. I found this even more magnetizing as a worn-out American buyer abroad, who somehow usually has dollar signs affixed to their heads when we take to browsing anything in most places. So I scored a few jewelry pieces for myself and took the cards of other artisans, taking mental notes of pieces I could get for my house later on. Walking down to the Ajijic boardwalk, I encountered more colorful and unique shops along the quiet cobblestone streets—vowing to come back and stay overnight with future bae. Partially to share unspoken love and connection in these tranquil moments, but also selfishly. I ended my time curious to see if and when Ajijic’s sleepy volume ever turns up to whizzing and buzzing, instead of the subtle summer breeze I experienced later that Friday afternoon.
With Ajijic the last formal stop on the day tour, my day ended with a social, yet still personal reconnection to me at my core.. Lake Chapala flowed throughout the course of my day, as a reminder that the ebbs and flows of life still contain undercurrents of you throughout it all. Soaking in the sun, being a blip in nature’s yard, actively communing with others, and sharing in the reception of places. Unknown to all of us before that day this day brought me back to the Anne that loved the simplicity of seeing new things, with new eyes, and seeing the beauty in humanity through the simple acts of smiling, drinking, eating, and experiencing one day in time together.
That was the magic I found at the start of my Mexico vacation, and that was just the beginning! Stay tuned for part two of this epic solocation tale, with more of magical Mexico...