Journey to San Miguel

Reality leaves a lot to the imagination. John Lennon

Be who you are
And say what you feel,
Because those who mind don’t matter
And those who matter don’t mind. Dr. Seuss

Canadian writer Farley Mowatt dreamed of studying wolves in the wilds of Alaska, and his book “Never Cry Wolf” is based on his research expedition. The film version’s character is a bookworm named Tyler who has never even gone camping. He hires a crazy Alaskan bush pilot called Little to take him and his equipment to a remote valley in the dead of winter. Flying over the most rugged and dangerous wilderness in the world in his small single-engined Cessna, Little tries to get TYler to divulge the secret of his mission:

Little: Tell me Tyler…..What’s in the valley of the Blackstone? Manganese? ( Silence ) Can’t be oil. Is it gold?
Tyler: It’s kind of hard to say.
Little: You’re a smart man, Tyler….you keep your own counsel. We’re all of us prospectors up here, right Tyler? Scratchin’ for that…that one crack in the ground…and never have to scratch again.
( After a pause )
I’ll let you in on a little secret Tyler. The gold’s not in the ground. The gold is not anywhere up here. The real gold is south at 60, sittin’ in living rooms, facing the boob tube bored to death. Bored to death Tyler.

Suddenly the plane engine coughs a few times, sputters, gasps..and then simply cuts out. The only sound is the wind over the wings.

Little: ( groans ) Oh Lord.
Tyler: ( panicked ) What’s wrong?
Little: Take the stick.

Little hands over control of the plane to Tyler and starts frantically rummaging around in an old toolbox, and unable to find what he wants, empties his tools all over the floor.

Tyler: ( more panicked than ever ) What’s wrong?
Little: Boredom Tyler, boredom….that’s what’s wrong. How do you beat boredom Tyler? Adventure. Adventure, Tyler!

Little then kicks the door open and disappears outside the plane, banging on something…The engine kicks back just as they’re about to fly into the side of a mountain. Little grabs the stick and pulls the plane into a steep ascent, barely missing the ridge.

Little may be crazy but he’s also a genius. He knows the secret to what ails a person whose soul yearns for the real gold. Little refers to adventure. Deep in our hearts are fundamental questions that can’t be answered at the kitchen table. We all wish, not so much to know more, but to experience more. For me adventure brings wonder which is the experience of mystery, or a fascinated recognition of beauty where a morning before I noticed only routine. Like art it causes amazement. It also helps me see my life from another point of view:

The king visited a prison. Each prisoner
asserted his innocence except one who
confessed his theft. “Throw that scoundrel
out’, he screamed, “he will corrupt the

For me it’s a withering struggle, this tendency of mine to be bound to the familiar, this way I have of seeking security from my environment, caught up in my own little world. But on a road trip to San Miguel de Allende a few weeks ago things changed; and while my friends are experienced travellers with maps, audio books and gps., ours was, except for accommodations, no step-by-step travelogues with each day’s activities carefully planned out. There was room for adventure. At the best of times I felt like a child responding to the movement, the colours and the odours of the world. I enjoyed looking at the many cacti out the car window, studying them with fresh eyes, attempting to be the observing presence behind my thoughts and ideas, allowing things to be just as they are, like the imperturbable cactus against the sky. They stood like sentinels, sharp and angular, uncompromising. I could somehow see ‘beyond’, like a kind of peekaboo with reality. I think it began with an inner kind of listening. It occurred to me how badly I suffer from cultural autism – maybe I don’t have the ‘ears to hear’ or the ‘eyes to see’ – but what I enjoyed was a sense of being-at-home, past and future no longer dominated my attention and hampered my body’s capacity for self renewal. Being the traveller suited me just fine and allowed me to connect with being, instead of doing. Adventure, with its requisite dangers and wildness, was a longing in my soul.

My mind though, conditioned by the past, forever seeks to recreate what it knows and is familiar with, forgetting that conditions are as they are. I’m a teacher and I teach Spanish in a school in Barra de Navidad. My mind thinks in Spanish and has, like most I suppose, conditioned patterns, and whenever I let it run my life during the journey I corrected my friends’ Spanish until one of them finally yelled at me.

There once was a couple who had been married
for 60 years. One day the wife became ill and
was bedridden. Her husband, who had during their
marriage been curious about the contents of a box
stored in her closet, finally asked her: “Wife,
I think it’s time you let me look inside that
box you have in your cupboard, may I look inside?”
The wife relented, and eagerly he seized the box.
Inside were several doilies, and $250.00.
“What’s this?” he enquired, and she answered:
“Before we were married my mother told me that,
whenever you got angry over something I should
crochet a doily instead of arguing, so here
are some doilies.”
“But that doesn’t explain the money, dear!” he said.
“Oh that..” she replied. “That’s the money I got
for selling so many of my doilies!”

Living in my head broke the spell. Gone was the meditative experience that forced me into intense and present moment awareness. The experience of release was not there. Gone was that other reality, glimpsed rather than seen clearly or directly, where the geography leaves room for the soul. As children most of us were subjected to other people’s attempts to map out our lives. All too often we learned to be whom we were told to be. A lesson in re-mapping – for me, travelling in Mexico ( many doilies later ) – serves as a handrail to help the adventurer back from the precipice.

Remember “The Gods Must Be Crazy”? It began with one of the ‘primitive’ tribal men of s.w. Africa crossing a tall sand dune and stumbling across an unfamiliar object in his world, a Coke bottle. To us the bottle represents a piece of glass manufactured by an affluent culture, dropped from a plane, but to him it must have come from the gods. The viewer was left wondering what he’d do with the bottle. Maybe he would invent his own meaning around it. We might consider possible insights that are no longer intuitive to many of us. After all, the tribe’s highly developed skills enable them to flourish in a region that would starve and dehydrate most of us within days. Whose vision of reality is the right one? Why do we feel the world needs to be mastered by us? How do we tell the difference between a dead end and a mountain top?

Opening our eyes may take a lifetime. Like learning a second language: no shortcuts.
But seeing is done in a flash.