Above: Las Tres Marias. A home away from home in Playa Los Cocos.
Travel is an exciting and important part of our human experience. Whether it be regional, national, or international, leaving our tiny pinpoint on the map is the best way of expanding our awareness of this planet. In my mind, being a world traveler isn't about how many countries you have stamped in your passport, but how you actually are when you venture out. It's not always easy to be away from the comforts of our home and usual surroundings, but being open to and respecting other cultures is important in being world-wise. And just because we have specific beliefs in our own culture, it doesn't mean those beliefs fit into others. Tolerance is crucial.
Above: The tiny town of El Cora up high in the mountains, then back to the beach.
Earlier this year I visited the state of Nayarit in Mexico. My pre-trip mindset of Mexico was unfortunately not so great. Stories of all-inclusives, tequila overindulgence, and foreigners behaving badly... we've all heard them. I had also gone to Mexico before and had a so-so time. Sure the sun and beaches were great - as was the food - but it was mostly just a blur of tourist activities that left me unfulfilled and are easily forgotten (to be fair, I will never forget the nausea that accompanied deep-sea fishing, however) . It's too easy to be in any country when staying in the "safe" resort areas that cater to our regular whims . But with that, the authenticity of the country gives way to "what us foreigners expect." Personally, I don't like being a tourist. And I'm starting to crave a little more of the unexpected when I travel.
Above: Fishing boats in Aticama; Enjoying the view on the way to a waterfall; Riches of the ocean; Trucks are used as trucks here.
Mexico Trip 2014, however, had the promise of something more. Authenticity and the unknown were on the itinerary thanks to a good friend who had started a business that was focused on travelling to a more rural part of Mexico. As a yearly, part-time resident in Nayarit, Brigitte wanted to share a part of the world she loved that was off the tourist track (is 3 hours away from the airport, by bus, off track enough?). And who wouldn't want to support a friend, especially when it involves sunshine and great adventure? If you're looking for a little of that yourself or would like to learn more about Nayarit, visit: Travel Con Corazon - where you can find all the lovely, travel-inspiring details. Just be ready to pack your bag!
Above: The many views of the playa at Los Cocos.
I didn't have my Looks at Life blog up and running when I was on this trip. Maybe that's a good thing. I would have spent a lot of time sharing the experience rather than experiencing it. There's a part of this trip that is hard to put in to words even now, so I'm glad I carried a camera for a different form of expression. Though sometimes, just existing in the midst of a journey - if that's all you are capable of - is okay too.
Above: The bustling and historic city of Tepic.
Nayarit is a beautiful state. It's green and lush and full of amazing wildlife. There are towns and cities - like the bustling state capital of Tepic - up high in the mountains, gorgeous waterfalls that you have to hike through the jungle to, crocodile sightings from time to time, and near-deserted, white sand beaches. It's also very real and a place where people live their daily lives. You will see the rich and the poor, the beauty and the garbage. There are economical, political, and social issues. There are people who care and people who don't. It's a unique location with a unique culture, but essentially people are people wherever you are. It doesn't have the strips of ocean-front condos and resorts, posh golf courses, or dog meet-up groups (I actually saw this in Puerto Vallarta) that is paradise to some. But if you are open-minded enough, it's very easy to enjoy for what it is. It happens to be paradise to many. Just ask the ex-pats you encounter, who now call Nayarit home and blend so well into the culture, as opposed to changing it. If I could say one thing from my soapbox on travel, it would be to stop expecting your home when you leave it. (I get seriously annoyed when I watch House Hunters International and listen to people getting miffed because "it's not what we're used to back home." Well guess what? You aren't back home.) If you're brave enough to throw yourself into a different culture, maybe you'll learn a thing or two that could change your life in a profound way.
Above: An amazing ecosystem exists in Nayarit.
I found that being local happens naturally when that's all you have. Local transportation, local accommodation, local grocery stores and restaurants. You set your pace to local life. Full immersion? You bet! You pay attention in your morning Spanish class when you know speaking it makes things much easier. Being rural creates an intimacy with those who live there and the surrounding countryside. It becomes part of your world and you care about it. We tend to fear the unknown and travel is a great way to get over that fear. How else does the unknown become known if we don't venture out or take a few chances? Leaving the expected allowed me to have the best pizza I've ever had in the small town of Aticama. It showed me that I could hold my own while driving the winding highway from the high mountain town of El Cora to our home base in Playa Los Cocos (only one incident with some overhanging jungle). I realized that nothing but chirping geckos were going to crawl through my open window at night. And I experienced a rhythm and routine in the local life - not unlike the tide - that became quite comforting. I got so comfortable with my new existence and new familiarity, that when returning to Puerto Vallarta for a couple nights before flying home, I was annoyed at too many Westernized amenities. I didn't want to see Starbucks just yet. It depressed me actually. What I realized was that the formerly unknown had actually become, well, home... and it happened in just over a week.
Above: Everything eventually becomes familiar and friends are everywhere to be found.
Of course, I came back to my tiny pinpoint in BC and was quite happy to do so. Home is home. But I returned a different person; somehow, in some way. This was an emotional journey which has stuck with me much more than any other travelling I have done. And, like the name of Brigitte's business, it was con corazón... with heart. I think I prefer this type of travel and, frankly, mode of existence. The unexpected and unknown is all around us really, and if we search for it occasionally, then it becomes less scary. Maybe it even becomes a little bit familiar. If anything, it helps us expand our world and, eventually, our pinpoint on the global map starts to connect with others. Who is to say we have to have just one pin?
If you would like to see a few (or lot) more photos of my trip, head over to my gallery page here. Hope you enjoy!