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Jan 20, 2008

Mirrors -- Hostel Nómadas, Mérida, MX


Above, a photo from my first night at Hostel Nómadas, with an overcast sky which I am told is infrequent.  The sky is colored by the lights of a large radio tower two blocks to the north.

Details to note: (1) the round window at right goes to the room I stayed in from Tuesday through today.  (2) At lower left, you're not looking through an arch at more sky, but instead at the top of a large mirror -- the kind you might see in a ballet studio. I think that the hostel's owner (Don Raul, from Venezuela) installed it for their regular salsa lessons. 

Que dice? Salsa lessons at a hostel?  For sure, Hostel Nómadas has a reputation for being more fun and more communal than any other hostel in Mexico. But despite the salsa lessons (and live trova music), the place is far from fancy.  I suspect that the mirror was one of Don Raul's momentarily quirky decisions, rather than one part of an effort to make his a hostel luxe.  In any case, it is a unique attraction.*

I mention this mirror for other reasons, too.  In Blue Highways, William Least Heat Moon reports on a lesson he learned several months into his trip around the country's back roads.  I don't have the exact quote** but the essence is this: he never felt so low as when he realized that in all the time he thought he'd been seeing new things, he was only seeing himself reflected in different surfaces.

Today at breakfast I sat with two other 40-somethings: Olivier (from near Fontanbleu) and Josefine (from Hamburg).   Josefine works with foster children in Germany.  Olivier does... something else, we don't know what.  Earlier in the morning, Olivier had walked by several beggars without stopping, but one last pair of beggars somehow struck him so forcefully that he had to give.  He tried to tell us about them but had to stop because he was starting to cry.  He paused for a moment to recover his composure, and then he added, "...and everything is perfect." 

"Olivier, you are Buddhist", I said. 

"Yes," he replied.  "Or, well, something very much like that."

"What the hell are you talking about?" asked Josefine, and so began a long conversation about Buddhists, Quakers, poverty,  Samaritans, work and money.  And vengeance if someone should kill or hurt one of your family.  Olivier and Josefine talked and argued for at least a half hour. 

Josefine didn't want to hear Olivier's point of view (except she did).  And she didn't want to share her point of view (except she did).  Josefine accused Olivier of having philosophical contradictions.  Fortunately, she also recognized that she has behavioral contradictions.  I mostly listened and tried to absorb their viewpoints instead of comparing them to my own. 

Question: Can we ever see things for what they are instead of for how we react to them?  I once talked with a travel-writer friend about how people talk about their trips to new places, and how we wished that they (and we) would try to talk about about places for what they are, instead of how they compare/contrast with other places we (or our audiences) already know.

This is not easy, of course.  When I see small towns in Mexico, my mind quickly frames its impressions with what I've seen in the Philippines or Indonesia, ("Oh, this is like the town Mom is from, except for in Tarlac they tend to use cinderblocks instead of poured concrete for the small houses."). When I walk around Denver, it's hard not compare/contrast its proportions and neighborhoods with the ones I walk in San Francisco, the only other big American city where I've spent a lot of time on foot.

Olivier said something like, "the things you see on TV aren't real.  When the news shows package the images, the timing, the music, the emotion -- that's a made up thing.  That's not a fact.  I want to get my news of the world by seeing it in people, one by one, face to face."  Somehow I think this is relevant.  To what?  I'm not sure.  Maybe it's relevant to this first week's installment of what may end up as a "travel blog" (whatever that is).  I'll try not to "package" it too much.  Olivier might be right.  And he might be reading.

Hasta pronto.


*I fully recommend the Hostel Nómadas for your next stay in Mérida. Some of the other hostels have more amenities or are in more elegant buildings (Hostel Hobo is almost stunning -- it made me think of the place where the English Patient finally died, with Juliette Binoche's character swinging through the air on rope held by her dearest Kip). But from my brief visits, they don't seem nearly as amicable.  FYI: the swimming pool is currently offline but is supposed to be ready by March.

**For his vade mecums, William Least Heat Moon chose Whitman's Leaves of Grass and Neihardt's Black Elk SpeaksEn este momento I wish I had brought Blue Highways with me -- not only for the reading, but also so I could have given you an exact quote.  Instead, my carry-withs are travel guides and Spanish language textbooks, including the almost perfect*** Breaking Out of Beginner's Spanish by Joseph Keenan.**** Those, and an issue of Friends Journal on Quakers and Money.

***It lacks an index.  But I'm writing one into my copy.

****Of note (at least to myself) in these two choices -- by "coincidence", I wrote about them in some of my earliest blogs at the Archer Pelican, way back in the winter of 2003/2004.  And look, here they are, together again.  William Bridges wrote (in Transitions -- Making Sense of Life's Changes), "Rule number one: When you're in transition, you find yourself coming back in new ways to old activities."

11:19 PM in Mexico, Reviews | Permalink


Beautiful photo and awesome stories Phil. I so look forward to all that's to come. Keep it up! Doc. And btw, I know you'll forgive me if I turn your comment at my place today into the springboard for a post. I'm going to succumb to weariness before it's done tonight, but thanks for your thoughtful comments, both there and here. Safe travels. Doc.

Posted by: Doc | Jan 21, 2008 1:26:41 AM

Thanks, Doc! And I'm very pleased that my comment at your place is a blogseed for you. I was trying to decide how/whether to use it as a blogseed for me. I'll see what you do, first. Things will get beautifully recursive.

Posted by: Phil | Jan 21, 2008 1:34:09 AM

Holy crack -- TypePad and Google have a seriously strong relationship. This entry was the fourth Google result for Hotel Nomadas within a half-hour of posting. Can anyone explain why TypePad blogs get so well-regarded by Google, while my WordPress blogs at www.addexecutive.com and www.marsosudiro.com don't seem to?

Actually, I think that those two blogs seem to get noticed by Google about as much as I expect them to. It's just that my TypePad entries are consistently much higher than I would expect for a blog that doesn't get more than ~190 page views per day.

Posted by: Phil | Jan 21, 2008 1:37:46 AM

"I want to get my news of the world by seeing it in people, one by one, face to face."

Does Facebook count?

I made a similarly-themed post at my blog this weekend, albeit from the comfort of my living room sofa:

(And I see you've already posted a comment on that one, Phil. Great minds sleep in the same gutter!)

Posted by: claire | Jan 28, 2008 9:43:40 PM