Crossing the border at Tecate is like finding a magical door at the back of a wardrobe. When you step through, you are suddenly and instantly in another world. A strip of corrugated metal with an opening wide enough to accommodate a single car separates one country from the other. You slip from rural desolation into a little city of densely packed homes and businesses crowded together with a giant expanding brewery, which stands at the edge of things like some red giant.
I clutched the steering wheel and commanded Adam to navigate, because I had no idea where I was or how to get where I was going, and this not knowing terrified me. It was my second ever time driving in Mexico. The first time is occluded behind the gauze of memory, which is itself speckled with holes, incomplete and porous like a sponge.
That time was two friends in my mom’s truck, federales with machine guns on a flatbed laughing at our monolingual-ness, and finding a surf spot based on referential directions, which may have been something along the lines of “take the third right after the rock painted white”. This time was google maps, a detour, and a long line of stop signs and stoplights stuttering us out of the city. And then Interstate 3, winding through sable-coated hills toasted warm with the coming summer and singed with the desert slinking in from the distance. The emptiness of the long ribbon of pavement, going somewhere correlated with a position on the map, comforted my angst.
I think this might be one of my hidden reasons for traveling. Yes, I will confess it is to see something new, to understand life outside of all of my norms, my expectations and biases. It is to peer through the curtain, and like a little voyeur revel in the shapes and textures of another life. But that is only part of it.
Slipping into another place, especially a different country where you don’t speak the language, where everything feels disjointed and like shadow or imitation of what you know—familiar enough, but still so different with its hand-painted business signs, the awkward shape of its streets and the composition of the road beneath the tires, even the chemical smell of the cleaning products—a hundred subtle things say, “this is not your home. You don’t know this place,” and my brain at the same time insists that it must know because, besides the murky similarities, knowing is the best way to survive. This is the dissonance; the jolt that brings fear and shakes me out of my complacency.
I hate not knowing. I hate being wrong. I hate failing. But THIS is the stuff of growing. We can never be more than what we are, or different than what we are if we are never challenged. Living in the safe center of our lives is like living in a wax museum. Artificial. Constructed. Perfectly the same. We have to touch the edges of our capabilities in order to expand beyond our limitations. These experiences, uncomfortable though they are at times, provide the space to be challenged, to cast aside preconceived notions and to see the world through a different filter. It is a spark to ignite the evolution of being.