Found: some self in a crowd

Mexico City, the federal capital of Mexico, is a strange choice for a hermit. One of the most crowded cities in the world, with more people in its metropolis than the entire Australian continent, it’s not a place to visit if you want to escape humanity, or are after peace and quiet. At all.

I don’t know what I was thinking when I picked Ciudad de Mexico for a destination, especially considering how terrified I was when I landed. Between warnings on the internet, and over-the-top reactions of family and friends, I was quite convinced that I was doomed to being fleeced of all my belongings, and/or suffer horrific physical hurt. 

I was miserable in the first week or so that I spent here. In addition to the fact that big cities tend to have this effect on me in the beginning, it was exacerbated by the frustration of not being able to have meaningful exchanges with people, because I didn’t speak any Spanish. This applied to more than the realm of deep philosophical conversations; more urgently on a day to day level, it meant simple things like asking for directions when lost, ordering food, or finding out where to obtain necessities like drinking water, became a real struggle.

I felt incredibly isolated, and for the first time in many years, profoundly lonely.


I had no idea what to do with myself, so I did the only thing that made sense: I walked. Eight or nine hours daily. It was my only defense against that particular variety of inertia that eventually sucks one into the inevitable black hole nearby. But even walking didn’t help all that much. The situation encompassed more than just logistical difficulties: this was also the point at which the magnitude of everything that I had done in the past few months, finally hit, in all it’s dramatic, burning glory. The most damning part, was the realisation that going back would be even worse than what I was facing then. I had made one hell of a mess of my life, sans salvation.

It was in such a frame of mind that I found myself in an empty cathedral one day, falling to pieces.

At that juncture, I decided I needed help easing into this going-it-alone business, and that drastic action was necessary – I needed to be social. Hang out with people I didn’t know. Find my feet by observing where other people laid theirs. The only avenue I knew for meeting other travelers was the CouchSurfing community, so it was there I went.

That was my first lesson in never underestimating other people. The travelers and locals I have hung out with so far have been great – open, generous, and much to my surprise, haven’t reacted  (too much) like I’m some alien from a hostile planet. Maybe I’ve just gotten lucky, but whatever it is, no complaints!

I started to relax. And things, downgraded from end-of-world alert status, started to right themselves. I finally started to shoot again.


It occurred to me that I might just be capable of doing this solo travelling thing without getting into untold strife. The shocking notion that I might genuinely enjoy solo travelling (as opposed to simply having to deal with it if I wanted to wander around for a long time) even popped into my head once or twice.

Mexico, which was a temporary, budget stop in between key USA stints, has become a priority, someplace I have to return to for an extended time, before my vagrant year is over, owing to some incredible connections made in the few days preceding this post, and the new world they have opened up.

From having no idea what to do with myself here, I have a compelling direction from which to work. And this is a direction which I would have shied away from, a mere month or two ago, owing to a lifetime of believing naysayers I shouldn’t have. It’s not to say I won’t crash and burn, simply, that it isn’t the end of the world if I do. I’m not used to having confidence in myself, and I must say, winning it by overcoming obstacles, big or small, is a nice way to go about it.

I had been told that I would learn a lot about myself on this journey. I’m very glad to find that I’m not too thick for this to be true.

Historic home of Hernán Cortés, Coyoacan
Historic home of Hernán Cortés, Coyoacan


  1. Erin Wilson says:

    Every inch beautiful.
    So appreciative of your transparency.
    And your last paragraph… utterly wonderful to read.
    Looking forward to seeing how it all unfolds.

    1. charlene says:

      I thought about writing a lighthearted Mexico City post, I really did. But I always remember getting depressed, reading other traveller’s blogs about party party party, fun fun fun, because that kind of thing makes me not want to travel – I’m boring!

      I look forward to hearing about how your crazy adventure unfolds as well Erin :)

  2. Nothing like blowing up and stripping away almost entirely everything from one’s life and completely unrooting oneself – I thought I knew a bit about myself 4 years ago, but turns out I knew nothing. It is quite the journey of self- and world discovery. Rough and awesome. Only way. Glad you are finding some self. Love the post.

    1. charlene says:

      I haven’t even been gone 2 months. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of loco lagoon creature I turn into by the time 12 months are through.

      And thank YOU for always being there. If anyone ever asks me how I got through the bad days, I will nod sagely and say “Tengo Jedi maestro. Su es fuerte en la Fuerza” :) (hope i got that right)

  3. sabrina says:

    Pleased to hear you are doing ok, Charlene. We never know what we are capable of until we try and succeed or fail. Even then as Ray says “Go too far and then go further.” Looking forward to where your new sense of a place to work from will lead.

    Take care,

    1. charlene says:

      Thanks Sabrina :) Yup Ray gives good advice. Funny thing about having come this far is, it just makes me want to go further. Discomfort is a good thing for me. I’ve been dying from a lifeless existence for a very long time!

  4. Cathy says:

    I didn’t realise you were having such a rough time. I’m glad you’re starting to find your feet and finding a direction for your work. Big, life-changing adventures aren’t always easy…but there ARE always worthwhile!

    1. charlene says:

      I was expecting this to happen. I left too suddenly, too absolutely, without giving myself anytime to think about why I was doing it. But I am glad I went through it. Despite being down in the dumps for days, I still walked out of it not regretting having did all this. I don’t wonder if I did the right thing anymore. That made it all worth it.

      Moving to Coyoacan made all the difference for me. Made some incredible friends who have opened up a whole new world :)

      When are you coming back?

      1. Cathy says:

        Oh…I have no idea! No plans for hitting that side of the world at the moment. I’ll live vicariously through you for a while :)

  5. Charlie says:

    I remember travelling to Venice after doing my degree to hang out with this girl that I *really* liked, but things didn’t work out and I ended up there for 6 weeks pretty much on my own. I do remember that lonely feeling kicking me about really badly. I remember sitting on the steps of Santa Maria De Salute for almost a whole day wondering what I was going to do – not being able to come home, I set about walking around every nook and cranny of Venice on my own. But that emotional intensity in my head made everything much more colourful and I have such vivid memories that I really don’t have from all my other comfortable trips – maybe this will be the same for you?

    1. charlene says:

      Charlie, thanks for sharing that story. Yet again, you and I seem to have the same responses to things. I sat on many a step staring at people walking by, wondering what the hell to do with myself, and then walking aimlessly wondering the same thing, heh. But yes, absolutely, the emotional intensity has really brought this place alive, and it’s all intense, the good, as well as the bad. It’s a meaningful rollercoaster.

  6. Brian Miller says:

    ¡Andale, pues!


    1. charlene says:

      Andale? No entiendo… explicar, por favour? :)

  7. lynn gail says:

    Wow Charlene, so open, honest and truthful………you should write to Nat Geo Traveller…bet the would love your style…everyone can relate to the things you peel from the onion……very brave. take care C, Lynn X

  8. lynn gail says:

    Is there ever a right time to do what you are doing? It’ll be life changing, challenging………one day I would love to follow in some of your brave footsteps….big shoes to fill. Mexico no less! Powerful….

    1. charlene says:

      I don’t know Lynn, they’re pretty tiny sandals. The stupidity I have displayed just getting to Mexico from the US… I’ll have to tell you that over a coffee tho, somewhere in the world ;) Compared to some nomads I know, I’m taking the chicken path.

      But you’re right about there never being the right time. Just gotta decide, and do, although maybe not at the rate which I did it. I could have benefited from working another 3 months, however glad I am that I didn’t!

  9. Really great images and great write up of what you are going through. It is an amazing journey you are going through, one which is more of a self-discovery and finding out your “destiny”. Be brave, be of good courage, and I am sure that your journey is one which will be fulfilling, purposeful and will guide you to where you would have never thought possible before. Keep safe though. I can see your creativity once more flow through the images. Perhaps putting yourself outside your comfort zone is spurring your creativity juice.

    Take care and will always remember you in my prayer.

    1. charlene says:

      I’ll never forget you telling me to go and find my destiny. That was such a tremendous thing to say. Thank you so very much for giving me the “jia you” through all these years.

      And yes, we’ll see how crazy I go, being outside of my comfort zone (which very far away right now). You might not recognise me whenever I get back ;)

  10. Radek says:

    It is so great you’re sharing your fears and trepidations and how you come around them.
    I think we all appreciate your honesty here. I was thinking the other day how are you doing so far on a mental level as i’m always wondering what it would be like to do what you and Flemm are doing – will i be strong enough to not get lost in all this and most of all if i would manage to deal with depression of not having a steady place to return to. People saying, and your case seems to prove it that it always gets you at some point, some sort of a sadness and loneliness of not having your [0,0,0,0] in a Cartesian coordinate system, as Sheldon C would say :)

    Can’t imagine what it feels like. Yes, i do like go about my trips alone, there is sth about them i can’t quite get when i’m with someone but i’m not sure about permanency of that state. So far the closest i’ve been to what you’re writing about was my Iceland trip years back. I loved the raw vastness and people-less landscapes there, but i did start to feel the things you describe after only 3 weeks. Same thing happened in Rome when i spend way too long time and eventually did what Charlie wrote about. How i remember it now though is that even though the feeling was the worst, it made me somehow more aware of my time there, talking about that before mentioned emotional intensity – everything was very vivid and i remember every second of my trip till today – best memories. Hope it would be the same with you and you will remember every bit of your 12 month adventure (though i got a feeling you might extend the experience cause i’m not sure there is coming back from such living to a cubicle again).

    p.s walking for me is very helpful, a daily salvation as you said recently – especially in a situation of unfamiliarity. It might not help you this time because of what i’m talking about – you are just very aware of permanency of state you got yourself in now.

    p.s two last images are killer ones.

    p.s 2 i’ve been thinking heavily about joining couchsurfing, but i’m not sure what to think about this whole shebang – are you a member ? Any experiences ?

    1. charlene says:

      Radek, I’m the biggest scardey-cat in the world. If I can do it, anyone who wants to, can do it better. Everything has been extremely vivid, and will continue to be until I leave. There is just something about this place.

      Couchsurfing – I’ve not surfed a couch yet, just met people for activities etc, but I’ve not heard anything bad about it at all. As long as you keep an open mind I think you will be fine. Everyone I have met through Couchsurfing has been sensational, and I’m very glad a community like this exists.

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