Keeping despair at bay (part 10)

On this date one year ago, my partner and I took the first leg of our annual journey to San Miguel de Allende. Our bags were packed, our cat bundled off to her other people, instructions left for the house sitter, and we made our way to the train station for what would turn out to be our last train ride in – so far – a year.

Instead of spending my time packing this week, I pulled out my travel journal and photos to remind myself of some of the highlights of last year’s trip.

The journal is a beautiful purple and gold book given to me by friends when I turned 65. Perhaps they thought it might encourage me to retire and see the world. On the first page, I confidently wrote “2020 travel book,” because my partner and I had dreams of many places we might go before the end of the year. San Miguel, of course, but we also talked about hitting the road in the summer to make our way, slowly, to Yukon where we would put down roots for a month or so before making the return trip. I had figured out how I could work along the way and had ongoing work to do in Whitehorse. We thought we might rent some kind of trailer as a compromise between my partner’s enthusiasm for camping and mine for hotel rooms with comfy beds and big towels.

A book of lists

The journal starts off, as good travel books do, with lists. I know I can keep track of all of this information on my phone, but I find it satisfying to write it all down where I can see it without having to swipe my way across a screen.

My San Miguel lists were plentiful and covered a wide range of topics. Unfortunately, there was no listing that told me to relish every second of the trip – even the arduous dragging of too-heavy luggage through airports and on and off buses – because it would be a very long time before I would travel again.


The entries I made faithfully every day seem extremely mundane in hindsight: “Up at 6. Work. Market: limes, mangos. So well did I deny the encroaching public health crisis that there is no mention of the corona virus until March 11th, the day before we made the heart-wrenching decision to come home early.

Boring as those entries were, coupled with my hundreds of photos, they remind me of our time there. I can smell the tortillas at the market stand where I bought them every day, breathe the clear air of Parque Benito Juarez during my three times a week tai chi classes, feel the vibrations in the ground during the Indigenous people’s dance celebrations and see the bright, bright colours of flowers everywhere.

I don’t need either my journal or my photos, though, for the most important memories: sipping margaritas on our rooftop with friends; celebrating International Women’s Day in the streets of SMA with hundreds of women and girls; buying avocados from the man at the market who always asked “Hoy o manana?” and then picked just the right avocado to be eaten today or tomorrow; dancing with a friend for hours at a fundraising carnavale to support girls’ education; hearing Tommy Orange speak at the writers’ festival, eating the absolutely best breakfasts in the world at Lavanda Café.

Looking ahead

Will we be returning to SMA in 2022? It’s too early to tell. We left boxes of stuff behind when we left, assuming we would be back, but right now the end to this pandemic seems far away. On top of that is the political situation in Mexico, with the drug cartels having a bigger impact every week on the lives of everyday people and a government that seems unable to address serious social justice issues across the country.

If I set aside those concerns, would I like to be heading to San Miguel this weekend? Without a doubt. We had rented a wonderful house in my favourite neighbourhood of the city. The two extra bedrooms were already spoken for by various friends who planned to visit us over our time there. Transitioning my work from here to there is seamless after eight years of practice. I was looking forward to seeing friends; soaking up the sun; drinking freshly squeezed orange juice every day; stocking up on chocolate, cinnamon and vanilla to see me through the rest of the year back here; walking, walking and then walking some more. . . . 

Most of all, I was anticipating the emotional restoration and reinvigoration that I get from my time in SMA.

But, you know what? Yesterday, I went for a walk in my neighbourhood just as a snowstorm was starting. The city had the special quiet that only happens during a gentle snowfall, and giant, wet snowflakes had soaked my hair by the time I got home. It was a beautiful and restful outing. Early this morning, I walked through that fresh snow again, as it sparkled in the sun and before it was spoiled by footprints and dog pee, and I found myself thinking that restoration and reinvigoration can be found in many places.

Despair has been held at bay for one more week.

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