Three months of travel: a reflection on old Mexico

I’ve been on the road for three and a half months at the writing of this post. There have been surprises around every turn. I never thought I would gather up enough guts to do this solo travelling thing, and truth be told, I’ve been scared everytime I’ve had to pack up and get myself somewhere: Seattle, La Paz, Mexico City, Albuquerque. My fears were realised during the last border crossing from Mexico into the US at the start of April, which had me convinced, at certain points, that I wasn’t getting into the country. 

Death awaits, somewhere the Zocalo, Mexico City

My vagrant journey has so far been marked by some brilliant experiences as well as some horrible ones, but the single constant through it all is my failure to get the actual travelling part of travelling, right. Asi es la vida!

I’ve connected with a few people, which amazes me to no end, as I rarely meet people I relate well to, and of those, struggle to get in sync. They have lifted my spirit in remarkable ways, and this has made me realise just how little I have appreciated those already in my life. Being kicked out of my comfort zone has delivered the resounding truth that as much of a hermit as I am, people are what bring richness to my world.

I’ve spent the majority of my life trying desperately to get away from other humans, so this is a very fresh, and shocking realisation.

Old Mexico

(I can’t seem to give up this habit of calling Mexico, Old Mexico. Billy the Kid’s reference to it as that in the movie Young Guns, is unshakeable.)

Pedestrian, Mexico City

Mexico was my first proving ground. Wanting to start my solo journey somewhere I’d never been, where the rules were different, where I would have nothing familiar to draw reference from, it seemed the perfect destination. Especially considering the regard John Steinbeck had for it. And Steinbeck, in my head, can do no wrong.

I got what I wanted.  A little more than what I wanted.

La Paz

Carnaval reveller, La Paz

In La Paz I got to thaw out from the bitter Seattle winter that had chilled me to the bone. People who experience harsher winters will be scoffing at me for this one, and you are welcome to. I still haven’t figured out how to handle cold, having lived in far warmer climes my entire life! La Paz was let-my-hair-down town: Carnaval, salty breezes, sunshine and crazy drives along the Baja California highway in my host Steve’s old Triumph Spitfire, with Primitive Radio Gods fueling the exhilaration.

Ciudad de México

The view from Monumento a la Revolución, Mexico City

Mexico City was about making sense out of madness, resolving the startling cohabitation of cosmopolitan modernity and ancient history. In my former life, the inescapable order of technology, math and logic took precedence. Here, for me, the delightful capriciousness of art, literature, history and philosophy reigned, as did chaos of every description. I am still astounded at how much literary output comes out of Mexico. I am entirely ignorant of Mexico’s history and its place in relation to the rest of the world, so it was a pleasure to discover.

The main highlight was most definitely getting to know the four people that gave my stay in the federal capital, the depth that it had. There is a lot to be said for being open to people and opportunities, and I am just starting to understand just how much maintaining this outlook adds to my life.

Getting comfortable with portraiture

Cowboy, La Paz

Mexico was where I learnt to get (more) comfortable shooting people. I’ve always been too intimidated to throw myself headlong into portraiture, which I have mentioned here, and this applies to both strangers and people who are familiar to me. A combination of really getting to know people who didn’t seem to mind my constantly pointing a camera at them, and having the space and time to think about what/why I was doing this, and then doing so repetitively, has been a great way to learn how to make a portrait my way. While I haven’t shot anything award-winning, I am learning to make better portraits, which is a helluva boon.

The not great stuff

Carnaval performer at rest, La Paz

It hasn’t been all great connections and rainbows though. I did get very sick for four of the eight weeks I was there. Battled a couple of rounds of flu and then had an encounter with bronchitis. I spent days being too weak to get out of bed, rasping laboriously with the cough of death. In this, I owe lasting gratitude to my host Jose for looking after me with the diligence that he did. I’m not entirely sure how I would have managed otherwise. Trying to learn Spanish during this period, fatigued and addled with drugs as I was, also proved frustrating and unproductive, but thanks to a great teacher, I did actually manage to absorb something.

Iztapalapa, Mexico City

I have been making blindlingly stupid mistakes this entire time, a pattern I suspect (with substantial dismay) that won’t be changing anytime soon.  Through it all, Mexico has been a patient teacher. She has delivered some hard lessons, but without the severity of consequence I might have experienced elsewhere in the world, and for that I am thankful. With my general propensity for getting into strife, I wasn’t expecting a flawless travel experience at all, but there have been many moments where I’ve sat with my head in my hands wondering how I made it this far in life.

(I’m convinced at this point, that much like a cockroach, I don’t actually have a brain, and am operating solely on my nervous system. It is the only explanation.)

I am going back to Mexico for more. I’m surprised to have found the capital city as compelling as I have, despite my oft mentioned dislike of cities. I’m aching to see more of the country. It will happen.

Playing in the fountains of Monumento a la Revolución, Mexico City


  1. Charlie says:

    Sounds like the hermit is having fun :) really love the last two pictures – the contrast and light are awesome!

    1. charlene says:

      Thanks Charlie. Yep… I think I’m finally relaxing enough to have fun!

  2. Some great images in here! Nicely done..

    1. charlene says:

      Thank you :) And also for stopping by.

  3. Great story Charlene.

    Go and see Flembotaruny in Denmark…he’ll look after you!

    1. charlene says:

      I think he’s a little busy playing Fuji superstar at this point Mark. In another couple of months though… *rubs hands*

  4. Johannes says:

    Great to about your adventure!
    Take good care of yourself, …and keep taking awesome images!!

    1. charlene says:

      Thanks Johannes!

  5. Erin Wilson says:

    It’s good to hear about your journey. The brilliant and the difficult. Wouldn’t worry too much about not doing it perfectly (no brain?! lol. Hardly!).

    And you’re making beautiful work. That last image is a stunner.

    You continue to inspire me.

    1. charlene says:

      There have been many days, where I have wondered “can anyone be this stupid” in deadly earnest. Pero, es lo que es. I guess we’ll learn along the way.

      I’m touched Erin. You are not doing so badly yourself on the inspirational odds. At this point, I want to break into song about how sisters are doing it for themselves ;) Stay awesome!

  6. sabrina says:

    Isn’t it wonderful when a place calls you back? Whether it’s a constant whispering or something a bit more like someone banging at the door, we have to heed it. I suspect you might have found more than what you wanted in Mexico, perhaps something you did not know you needed?

    1. charlene says:

      Those sound like the words of someone who is being called somewhere herself :) And yes, Mexico defined a few of the vague, nameless longings I’ve had for a while. My 2 months there, despite setbacks, really were a gift. Which is why I have to go back… and also, the whole country celebrates my birthday, so I have to be there for that!

      1. sabrina says:

        Yes I have to admit I know first hand what you are experiencing ;) Your gratefulness for even the challenges is like money in the bank of life and you can spend it anywhere!

      2. charlene says:

        In many ways it is the challenges that throw the blessings into stark relief, with a bit of icing on top. I hope to hear you’ll be heeding the call of what/where calls to you at some point (soon?) :)

  7. Fandme episk! I cannot wait till we do MMR Mexico. Just wait till the whole country celebrates your birthday, I am making preparations for you, hero.

    1. charlene says:

      It’ll be fandme chingonas, amigo. Heh heh heh. Oh boy it’s gonna be good.

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