Jesus. Where to begin.
I’ve always made a thing of challenging myself. If something seems difficult, or even remotely impossible, or there’s just a difficult way of doing a thing, that’s the thing I’ve gotta do.
And if someone says, Oh, you don’t want to go there. Oh, it’s dangerous. You’ll end up under someone’s floorboards. (cheers, Dad), then that’s the next stamp going in my passport.
And you know, sometimes, just saying you’re going to a place is enough to give you a bit of a buzz. Saying, I’m going to Pakistan/Iran/Syria/Ghana gets attention. You may not have thought through a travel plan, or even believe you’d do it, but putting it out there, announcing some crazy half-assed idea about going to some crazy place, that sort of thing makes people look at you with respect (perhaps) and go, Wow, really?
NOTE: I don’t want to go to Pakistan, or Iran or Syria. (Ghana is on the cards).
But, last year, when Mexico crawled into my brain, I thought, ooh, Mexico. Mexico. Colour! Food! Music! Catholics! Crime! Cartels!
Arriving at night, last Sunday, it was hard to see much. Buildings. Cars. Roads. Billboards.
Then, barbed wire. Tin fences. Graffiti. Cops. Shadows. Street stalls. Tacos.
My cheap hotel in Guadalupe – the ‘dodgy’ area – is lingering somewhere around 1974. The reception desk sells cigarettes, sweets and condoms.
That first evening, my legs cramped with six hours of air travel, I dumped my bags in my brown-on-brown habitación and went out. It was 9.30pm, it was dark, and I didn’t have more than seven words of Spanish. But I was really frickn hungry and there’s always food somewhere.
God, it was quiet.
I found a open-air diner and hovered like a dickhead around what appeared to be the service counter. Nobody paid me any attention, which was a nice change from being stared at, but also frustrating because I was hungry.
I took a deep breath and put forth my best Spanish: no hablo español. And pointed at meat.
The waiter said, “Oh, you speak English. You want a taco.”
So, that was okay. I got my taco. But that nice young waiter turned out to be the only English-Spanish speaker in the whole street, in the whole five-kilometre radius of where I stayed, in fact, as I was to discover over the next 24 hours.
I was also to discover that my three months of half-hearted DuoLingo training had not made me a Spanish speaker, and much less a Spanish listener.
A week in, though, I’ve done some homework. My vocabulary has picked up a bit. I know how to ask for the bathroom, and the bill, and how to explain I’ll come for my laundry the next day instead of tonight. I know lots and lots of Spanish words for foods.
I also know Google Translate is a wonderful thing. Most of the time.
But, well. While the food and murals and the random brass band parades are indeed wonderful and make for splendid Facebook posts, this past week hasn’t been all shits and giggles. It’s been a bit f**king difficult, a bit awkward, and perhaps a bit scary, if I’m honest.
It’s great, yes. But it’s really, really hard to understand rapid-fire Spanish when all you want is the bathroom. It’s also really, really unnerving to hear twelve times a day, “Be careful! Look after yourself! Don’t walk in such-and-such area! Don’t take out your phone!”
Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate that people give a crap. And yeah, okay, there’s danger. Perhaps not like the danger in Siem Reap or South Auckland, because it’s Mexico, and – stuff happens.
But I figure as long as I’m not walking about with a light above my head flashing VULNERABLE WHITE WOMAN CARRYING CASH and getting my norks out, I’m gonna be okay.
Anyway, difficult is what I wanted, and difficult is what I’ve got. But that will change. I will change it. Watch me.