Looking Forward and Back – Part One

Happy New Year! I hope your Christmakwanzaakuh was special, and I likewise hope you spent New Year’s Eve with someone special. As you may know, Loyal Reader, I spent my Christmas and New Year’s Eve holidays with family in Tennessee, and only just returned home to Mexico City yesterday evening.

The days between Christmas and New Year’s should be spent relaxing, of course, but should also include some reflection on the past 365 days, and on what you hope the next 365 will bring. Between hearty servings of zesty goulash, thin spaghetti, tender turkey, and light-as-a-feather mashed potatoes, (the turkey baked to perfection by my sister, who, as it turns out, is one helluva good cook) I did just that. I do just that every year, in fact, but I don’t always learn much. It’s time to pay closer attention.

2012 highlights and lowlights

I will grant you that my daily life lies outside the normal, 9-to-5 grind, and that it’s been that way for several years now. Still…2012 was the weirdest fucking year of my life.

In January I spent New Year’s with friends in Santa Monica and then jumped, feet first, into a long distance relationship. My third, as it happens. Believing that I get it “more right” each time, I feel confident that this one might actually succeed. Along with this relationship began a renewed love affair with Mexico City, the largest, craziest, most historic, all-around greatest city in the Americas.

February is largely a blur for some reason, but I remember doing a lot of hiking in the SoCal mountains. I re-hiked much of the Backbone Trail, which runs for 65 miles from Pacific Palisades to Point Mugu. I was smart enough to schedule a return trip to Mexico over Valentine’s Day, and this second visit was even better than the first!

March began on a promising note with some job interviews that left me with a feeling of confidence, although they ultimately led nowhere. More hiking included countless wanderings into the Cheeseboro and Palo Comodo Canyon extensions of the Santa Monica Mountains. There were twice as many hiking trails than were actually listed on the National Park Service-approved maps, so I finally conceded that I would simply never, ever accomplish my goal of hiking every trail in the range.

I began the month of April in my fourth Central American country, El Salvador. Pamela met me there, and it may be the happiest we’ve ever been. We spent our days exploring ruins, browsing chaotic markets, climbing volcanoes-within-volcanoes (really!), racing down zip-lines, lazing on beaches, and just enjoying each other’s company. With travels like these, who in their right mind would ever want to go back to work?!

In May I turned 37, and my actual birthday is a complete blur. Although I would like to say that’s because I did something fun, I’m pretty sure I spent the day alone and simply blocked out the memory. I did my first-ever hike to the famous Hollywood sign; do these damned Santa Monica Mountain trails ever end? The last two weeks of May were spent in Mexico. I visited Mexico City for the gazillionth time, but I also made it to the labyrinthine silver city of Guanajuato, my candidate for the dictionary definition of “magical” (oh, what a tired travel cliché!).

June began with unseasonably cool weather, extending my LA hiking season by two weeks. Temperatures were back to normal by mid-June, and I spent the second half of the month hiking road-tripping all over Northern Arizona. I did a Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim hike at the Grand Canyon, which may just overtake Yosemite National Park in my mind as the most beautiful place on earth. Photography here was a resounding success, making my 110-degree hike out of the canyon well worth the sweat and general misery. I also walked as far as you could along the South Rim’s Grand Canyon Village-area rim trails. Elsewhere in Arizona I photographed bears, bison, Navajo cliff dwellings, a petrified forest, and some of the most incredible red rock scenery on the planet – I’m talking about Monument Valley. Be sure to make it there once during your life.

I spent the Fourth of July in and around Page, Arizona. The town is no great shakes but it puts on an impressive fireworks display and is the gateway to Lake Powell, which in turn is the gateway to sacred Rainbow Bridge and Navajo Mountain. You can only get there by boat. My awesome desert road trip ended on a down note when the dreaded “Check Engine” light came on as I made the long drive back to LA; whatever the problem was, it and the 100,000-mile tune-up I had performed at the same time cost me $1,900. I managed to visit my parents later in the month, and as it happens, I looked out the window perhaps one hour into my flight east and immediately spotted Lake Powell and Navajo Mountain, 30,000 feet below! The month ended on a literal and figurative high note with a butt-kicking hike to the 11,499-foot summit of San Gorgonio Mountain, the highest peak in Southern California. I hadn’t seen my girlfriend since May – and that epic road trip was damned expensive – but all in all, July was a great month.

August was a real clusterfuck. A close friendship of 12 years ended over a nasty, ill-founded disagreement about money. It was clear that things would never be the same between my friend and I, and this really got me down. Pamela and I had plans to meet in Germany towards the end of the month, but to clear my head I changed my ticket and hit the road perhaps 10 days earlier than expected. Stopovers en route to Germany included Denver and Stockholm (cool cities both), and I mostly succeeded in bottling up my frustrations over the dissolution of that friendship…until arriving in Berlin, where a bout of crappy weather threw me off my guard and brought those hostile feelings to the surface. This unchecked anger, coupled with the fact that Pamela and I hadn’t seen each other in three months, really tested our relationship. We managed to resolve our differences, and I’ll concede that the occasional love spat can sometimes leave a couple better off in the long run. Emphasis on “sometimes.” 🙂

September was a roller coaster as well. Our last week in Germany was wonderful, and reminded me yet again why Deutschland is such an enchanting country. We shared German beers and talked about the future. At one point we even discussed opening a hostel somewhere in Germany, but ultimately settled on me moving to Mexico City on a “trial basis” of sorts. We parted ways at love-it-or-hate-it FRA (Frankfurt International Airport), and I decided to continue traveling for another 12 days. My ultimate destinations: Naples and Rome. My “Naples” hostel was actually in Portici, a tightly-packed suburb of hilly streets, roundabouts, and seaside trattorias. From here I was just 15 minutes by train to the ruins of Pompeii and just one mile by foot to Herculaneum, the region’s other archaeological site. Mount Vesuvius towered in the distance and was visible from almost anywhere. I am gonna climb that baby, I thought…but alas, it was not in the cards. Three days of torrential rain deterred me from bagging Vesuvius and from lazing on one of Portici’s beaches, though I still managed to visit Pompeii and Herculaneum. The cloudy skies made for some color-rich photos, one of which I’ve posted below. A debilitating stomach virus came out of nowhere during my third night in Naples and left me down for the count for the rest of my trip; I even went to the hospital! The physicians told me to give up beer, soda, and salty food, but hearing that news only made me feel worse. See, I’m one of those people who – knock on wood – almost never gets sick, so (at the risk of sounding like a drama queen) this miserable, endless week of consuming little more than pills, bread, and water seemed like the end of times. I eventually braved a local gelateria, and regained enough strength to hightail out of Naples for Rome, where I finally recovered my appetite, though I was still quite weak and had to bail on plans to visit my friend Lorenzo, who lives a few hours away. Sorry man. On my first night back in LA I slept for 15 hours, and was so exhausted it barely registered that I’d returned to LA for what was probably the last time.

Have you noticed that each month’s paragraph is longer than the previous month’s? Apologies, Loyal Reader, but to borrow a quote from Daniel Day-Lewis in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” once I get started I become too lazy to stop. I don’t have nearly as much to say about October; it consisted mostly of packing, online apartment hunting, and marveling at how much crap I’d accumulated over the past 12 years. The month ended on a confusing note: I had an amazing job interview (for a terrific position that would have required me to stay in LA), and on my final LA-area hike I met two brothers who ran an art gallery and seemed very interested in hosting a photo show on my behalf. Was I making the right decision by moving? And with so much suddenly in the hopper, was it a “sign” that I shouldn’t move to Mexico City after all? I had signed a lease on a new apartment in Mexico and I had moved most of my belongings into storage, yet suddenly it seemed both decisions were made too hastily. Pardon my French, but fuck, fuck, fuckity, fuck.

November came and with it came my decision to move forward with my original plans. Moments after landing in Mexico City I received a phone call that I did not get the job that seemed so promising. Moments after that I received a harassing phone call from the aforementioned ex-friend. I may have overreacted when I told him I ought to punch his mother in the nether regions just for birthing him, but the point was made and what was said cannot be unsaid. The apartment – which Pamela helped pick out and which I’d never actually seen before – was perfect, and it seemed I made the right decision after all. If you’re wondering, I never did hear back from that art gallery about a possible photo show.

December was a month of exploration, development, and gathering. I explored my new surroundings, amazed at how conveniently-located my apartment is to shopping, restaurants, and public transportation. I developed a closer relationship with my girlfriend, and together we learned so much more about what makes each other tick and about what pushes each other’s buttons. I gathered my thoughts on the strange path that got me here, and about the uncertain one lying before me. Likewise, a “gathering” of immediate and extended family ended the year on a happy note. I had my health (Naples and Rome notwithstanding). I had a photography portfolio bursting with diverse pics. I had my family’s emotional support. Perhaps best of all, I had my girlfriend’s love and affection.

And there you have it. My life (one year of it, at least) as an open book. Tomorrow I’ll share my thoughts on what I hope 2013 will bring. Thanks for reading.

Estero de Jaltepeque - Costa del Sol

Above photo: Pamela and I enjoying the warm waters of El Salvador’s Costa del Sol.

Lake Powell and Navajo Mountain from above

Above photo: Lake Powell tributary and sacred Navajo Mountain – as seen from above.

Pompeii and Vesuvius

Above photo: Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius, after the rain and just minutes before closing.

Author: gringopotpourri

Gringo - aka Scott - was born outside of Chicago and has lived most of his life in or around big cities. He spent two years of his adult life in Mexico City (talk about big cities!) and fell in love with Mexican food and culture all while weathering the challenges of life in a city with over 20 million people. Life's unpredictable journey has since brought him to Tennessee, where he is close to family and to the natural beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains. Scott also enjoys movies, hiking, top ten lists, and travel in general.

4 thoughts on “Looking Forward and Back – Part One”

  1. Nice summary. I feel like such a voyeur now. If nothing else you had a very interesting year. I can’t say I’ve had one of those since 2009.

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