by Sarah Cobb
Mexico was an absolute gift as a writer. Our first family road trip to Mexico in the winter of 2009 was also my first serious attempt at blogging. The H1N1 virus was making international headlines and so were the Mexican druglords. Blogging, I thought, would be a good way of keeping the family posted on our whereabouts and an even better opportunity to try my hand at capturing what we were experiencing in words. For my somewhat memory-impaired brain, the blog would also be a keepsake — one that wouldn’t let me forget any detail of our adventure.
There’s something about knowing when I wake up in the morning that, before bedtime, I will have tried to capture the essence of what I saw, that heightens my attention to every single thing. I make constant mental notes about the images I see. When we drive through a hulking mountain range, I think about the shapes of the peaks, the negative spaces of the sky, the texture and colour of the soil. When we stop for lunch, I roll the food around in my mouth, savouring the soft, toasty flavour of the fresh tortilla, the soapy punch of fragrant cilantro, the bite and friendly heat of the jalapeño. When we talk to people I watch their mannerisms, I think about the friends they remind me of, I watch their eyes dart and notice how they gel their hair, how carefully their shirt is pressed. When we putter through villages and slow down to drive over topes (speed bumps), I watch the vendors crowd the car clutching plastic bags bursting with orange juice or slices of crispy white jicama sprinkled with lime and salt and chili. I try to guess their ages and who might be waiting for the money when they get home. I watch indigenous women dressed in sheepskins and vibrant colours pass one another on the street and notice the gentle way they stroke each other’s palm in greeting.
I suppose blogging is a bit like meditation for me, keeping me very firmly planted in the present moment — which can be both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes the running voice-over in my head describing what I’m seeing makes me feel a little bit removed from what is happening. When things are extraordinarily good it can temper the bliss because it can feel as though I’m experiencing it secondhand. When things are extraordinarily bad, however, (as they are fairly often when your van is in its death throes in the deserted high plains of Mexico), you know that the worse the situation gets, the better the story will be. Let’s just say the stories got pretty darn good in the end.
Writing about travel is a breeze. The second you set foot into uncharted territory you have all the material you’ll ever need. Even if you stay put, you need only open your eyes and heart (and stomach) to what is around you and you just might find yourself happily putting pen to paper at the end of the day. If you’re very lucky you might just find that when you’re done, there are people waiting to read it…