I didn’t use to think much of shitting in the woods. Or carrying toilet paper out of doors.
But in these times where the white fluff is in such high demand, I’m reminded of a woman I dated who wilded me. For the first time, scatting outside was temporal.
Those were the days when toilet paper was abundant and antibacterial gel was a small bottle one of your germ-conscious friends touted around on their backpack or purse, attached by that silly little plastic lanyard thing. It always struck me as excessive, until you really needed it.
Gel and TP. These consumer products have become symbols of basic needs gone unmet. They are the tip of the spear; the trifling consumer-end of an axis with a lack of healthcare and job insecurity at the other. When people worry about their long-term viability we compensate by hoarding the graspable representation of safety. Think cash runs on the bank or re-stocking your “french toast” supplies ahead of hurricanes.
Anyways, let’s talk about pooping outside.
I’ve been outdoors.
I go hiking, backpacking, and climbing. I was in the Scouts.
Still, I can’t remember ever pooping in the woods. I’m not sure why, but there are some guesses: I’ve held a slight aversion; There has always been access to an outhouse; Strong bowels. Really strong bowels?
Then a funny thing happened.
A few years ago a woman came into my life that liked to relieve herself outdoors. Dang it if every time we went on a trip to nature did she take advantage to plop one down in it.
Take Poland. 16km outside of Krakow is a valley with lots of old rock. We stayed at a well-made campground with a restaurant and plenty of toilets. A road winds through the grounds to access the climbing areas. One morning, we decided to go further afield. The path was quiet beside the clanking of metal carabiners that matched the tempo of our stride. Then, abruptly, she handed me her gear and darted up the hill. “Don’t look this way,” she called as I milled around. “And maybe walk on a bit.”
Take two, in Turkey. We had a routine at camp: Morning coffee, breakfast, and milling about. We’d wait for the sun to warm the rock and stir our souls. She had a routine at the crag: Harness on, about to rope up, and a dash off to the woods. It was uncanny and consistent, no matter the efforts made ahead of time. “I think it’s something about the walk here,” she’d begin. “And knowing I’ll be high up on a wall.”
I found it amusing, a touch annoying, and often preposterous in that, “Really? Again, really?” kinda way. But shame on me for expecting a different outcome. Call me mad.
Still, you have to hand it to her. She was always prepared. In the least, she had a package of tissue—a roll of toilet paper at best—and one or two of those fiddly transportable antibac bottles.
Even then, in the presence of an incontinent conspirator, I can’t say I took advantage of the opportunity.
Her preparation has stayed with me.
Now, always a package of tissue paper in my bag. Rarely antibacterial gel. It seems like a waste of plastic. But certainly water. Always a bottle of water. Which is close enough.
Alas, the time came. (Drumroll, please). A few weeks back I did the deed out of doors. (I’m waiting for your applause).
Walking about an expansive high desert mired by red dusty dirt swirling about red dusty spires, my stomach became tense and fraught with discomfort. There was no way I was holding it in.
I plopped down behind the cover of a dry dusty shrub. Seek if you will, under pine needles and small stones, lays my forever accomplishment.
In this time of seriousness and tension, her mannerisms for relieving pressing personal needs makes me laugh. That she was ready, inclined, and consistent speaks to her comfort and adaptability in the outdoors. Which I always did admire.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some duty to attend to.
The sun sets over the hills northwest of the city. Where I’m staying.
A darkening sky fades into a dusty crimson. Mojave red and carnation pink simmers at the edge of the light, before settling below the tree-less mounds. I watch from the steps at the Plaza de la Alhondiga, as has been the case the past few days.
I get sick of being cooped up. Walking sets my mind free and clears the day’s mental cache. It’s the simple movements, I think. Like molasses spilling over the edge of the kitchen counter and pooling on the floor.
Yesterday, the trees across from the OXXO shone brilliant in blooms of robin egg blues. It’s an indication that spring is here. Or on the way.
Already the flowers are falling. Perhaps one-quarter of all that have blossomed have fled. They sit on the grey sidewalk, browning.
The grass, too, is starting to green. Interspersed as it is among the low stalky chaff, the color stands out. Again, spring is here. Or on the way.
Yesterday, they mowed the young grass. You know the smell.
Anyways, through the park with the fresh cut you eventually get to the grandstand where I watch the sun downing and people milling. Some are smoking, none are social distancing. Twenty steps up, or so, I sit.
The plaza opens below, and a young boy is dancing. Or rather, he’s half-running and half-whirling dervish. His mad cavorting is a public display of irreverence and imagination. He’s wholly smiling in ecstasy.
Part of me wants to join him, and then I see his mother (or is that his sister?) eyeing me. She’s far, and you can’t really make out the details, but something says she’s cute, and probably too young.
I go back to watching the sun slowly smolder behind the hills. The shadows grow long, and the boy keeps twirling. Keeps smiling.
I think, spring is here. Yes. And with it, fresh air, flowers, color, hope. I pause, get up and go on my way.
When I left for México in December, Coronavirus wasn’t a thing.
I took a news break for awhile and went about my day only vaguely aware of what was brewing in China. A few weeks ago, a curious increase in conversation and posts about COVID-19 started to populate my Facebook feed.
So the news sucked me back in. Whoa, what a wild time we’re living in.
While China was on lock-down, freely moving travelers (for business, commerce, personal, and otherwise) precipitated a long tentacular spreading of the virus around the world.
Ever since the numbers have risen across the state, the region, the country, and the globe.
Before moving to Guanajuato, a university city where I’m currently based, I researched whether students were returning there from China. In early February, 18 students came home from study abroad, though none of them had been in the city of Wuhan. Zero cases ended up positive, so I went from Querétaro to GTO a few weeks later.
In the meantime, countries the world over enacted various forms of preventative, and catch up, measures. According to Wikipedia, “245,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in over 170 countries and territories, resulting in more than 10,000 deaths and 87,000 recoveries.”
As the number of confirmed has jumped upwards, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), México’s populist leftwing President, has been gallivanting around the country to fundraise, raise spirits, and kiss babies.
Alan Miranda, who was making his first visit to Vive Latino and especially wanted to see The Warning, said he felt many people are overreacting to the potential danger of contagion at large gatherings.
“Because I consider it is more a collective hysteria than any other thing. In Mexico we have a culture of a little bit more of hygiene that helps us to limit this kind of transmissions,” he said.
From what I’ve seen, and people I’ve spoken with, their attitude has been comparably casual. Until this past week anyways.
The streets have been unusually quiet. At first I thought it was the crowd dispersal post-Rally Mexico (an international rally car race through the streets and mountains around the city, and which assuredly increased the odds of transmission). Yet, a few days on and it’s the quietist I’ve seen the place since arriving.
Speaking with a barista at a cafe yesterday, I asked about the downturn. She told me there were fears, people were staying home, and the shops downtown might close up as early as next week.
Event cancellations have been on the rise of late. The Guadalajara Internatioal Film Festival, originally planned for March 20-27, was halted, school vacations were moved up and extended, and some businesses are taking their own precautions by closing or letting employees work from home.
Hell, Uber has been more proactive than the government. They suspended 242 user and driver accounts who had contact with an identified carrier of the virus. Back in EARLY FEBRUARY! This was before there were any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country, showing the forward thinking possible.
Still, no real official word on what to do from the President. So far, States have been the ones to take the mantle for delivering a response.
Luckily, México is known to have a strong healthcare system compared to most of Latin America. They have some of the best medical schools in the region, well-trained epidemiologists, and a basic public healthcare system for all. The population is also quite young, with just 7% over the age 65 (compared to almost 16% in the U.S.).
Ruy López Ridaura, director of the National Center for Disease Prevention and Control Programs, said Tuesday that 0.2% of Mexico’s population, or more than 250,000 people, could catch COVID-19 if there is a widespread outbreak.
Most will have only mild symptoms but more than 24,500 people would likely require hospitalization and just over 10,500 could need intensive care, he said.
Further, most of the hospitals are in urban centers, while much of population is widely dispersed, poorer, and far from the resources they’ll need. States like Oaxaca, Tabasco, Chiapas, and Guerrero may be at a higher risk than others.
You might ask, why the chilled out attitude from the government?
One theory is it’s the economy, stupid. Mexico is heavily reliant on tourism dollars, and they are already facing flat growth. Last time they shut the economy down for a virus, the 2009 swine flu, the economic pizza pie contracted by 5%.
Mamma mia, that’s a lot of dough!
I can see this on the day-to-day. Last week, I noticed the cost of my morning coffee has been going down steadily. When I first arrived, the Peso was converting at around 18 to the dollar. Today, it’s about 24. Good for me, bad for the economy.
Seems like the writing is on the walls. And with the closing of borders, I most likely need to leave now or stay for 2+ months. Yet I’m still uncertain.
Stay here and wait it out? At this point, I’m probably more likely to encounter the virus by traveling, and I have a nice little one bedroom apartment perfect for self-isolating. I’m not a major health risk to be a drain on the system, but…
Head home? In a worst case scenario–a shit hits the fan situation–the U.S. is probably the safer bet.
A little worse for the wear and with a smashing headache, I made it to the apartment in el centro de Queretaro. It’s been nearly 21 hours since I started traveling. I need a cervesa.
So far my Spanish is enough to navigate, and to ask silly things like, “what’s the name of that mountain with the snow on top?”. I spent much of the time on the plane(s) thinking through sentences that would be useful, and which are probably grammatically incorrect. And which most certainly contributed to my headache.
It was a different game when I had to say things out loud. Mumbling and timidity are not for the language learner. Like many con-games, I found speaking with poise more effective than quietly whispering in the wind.
Why am I here anyways?
Over the past few years I’ve been returning to the question: “Is this all there is?”
It started with a crisis of confidence when I left startups in 2015 and I’ve been trying to figure out what the hell this is all about ever since.
It has little to do with startups themselves and a lot to do with a search for truth and meaning. In short, I bought the bullshit of silicon valley entrepreneurship and realized I was living according to a value system I adopted, but which learned I didn’t agree with.
It was a bit of blind faith; I let a tool shape the user, willingly at first, then sightlessly, and that’s the issue.
After the fallout, I started to wonder, “what else have I been following without much thought?”
This brings us today: I’m in Mexico for the foreseeable future to write and climb.
Basically, I don’t have many answers from these past few years. But I do have more clarity.
I know that I value independence (of spirit, mind, inquiry) and that I care about the essence of a thing. The pursuit of writing is about having freedom of location and choosing how I make money. In the spirit of journalism, it’s also about presenting truth. Climbing is a simple, if contrived, unadulterated act that is aesthetically pleasing, and physically enjoyable. I like it a lot.
Another observation I’ve come across is that you’re probably better off pursuing things that fill you up and get you excited about the world, than not. Hence, even if climbing is nonsensical at face value, so are most things in this world when deconstructed. Or, you might as well enjoy it.
Everything hasn’t been roses and glory, though. Admittedly, I’ve become much more inward (solipsistic, trending towards selfishness) and isolated. This isn’t the right path either.
We’ll see where the ledger balances out. Viva la Mexico!
Feature photo of La Peña de Bernal. Source: pixabay