Last January I came to Carrillo for the first time to see if I wanted to move here. At that point it was just an idea—a strong idea—but still liquid. Did I want to relocate to the third world? Did I want to sleep in a hammock? I wasn’t sure I did.
I visited and I slept in a comfortable bed and I got a good vibe. Dogs barked all night and I found them strangely soothing, if less so the tropical hair sheep bleating outside my bedroom window. But overall it was relaxed. It was so much more relaxed than New York.
I spent the months before I moved in a whirl of “Operation Move to Mexico” tasks: learn Spanish, sublet the apartment, find someone to watch my cats, quit my job, get vaccinated, book doctors appointments, buy rain gear/bug spray/sun block/head lamp/quikdry everything.
And once I’d run through my to-do list and was mostly just hanging out doing the New York things you do when you’re unemployed (weekday brunch, Central Park, Saks Fifth Avenue for the hell of it), I started think of the departure date like a warp zone, that I was in New York and then one day pip! I’d drop through and be floating in the unknown and all the people would be upside down, sounding like they were under water.
With the exception of the upside down part, what I experienced on arrival wasn’t that far off. There was a whole lot of unknown and sounds I couldn’t decipher.
I’m a good language learner but I’m unusual in that I’m far better on production than understanding. My sister points out this is similar to how I communicate in English (sweet) but in any case, when I got here my comprehension was somewhere between minimal and tragic.
I also spent a lot of my first few weeks completely lost. I have an abysmal sense of direction which was exacerbated by the fact that my primary work when I arrived was going to schools by taxi to hand out fliers publicizing our language program.
Since every school here looks identical, surrounded by white walls with red-and-green stripes, the experience was quite Groundhog Day; it seemed like we were taking different routes yet always ending up at the same place.
The result was extended disorientation. I would note landmarks on the taxi rides (man statue, creepy clown mural, magazine store, gas station) but later when I’d ride my bike around town I’d keep being surprised when those things materialized in what seemed to be completely the wrong places.
Complicating things was the fact that my attention was constantly being thrown off by things that were new. I’d get distracted by a white horse grazing next to a basketball court and zwing I was back at the creepy clown mural.
But slowly, once the novelty dissipated, the spatial relations clicked. I started to be able to take stock of where I was.
I would bike down streets I’d likely been down dozens of times and notice that what had seemed like a house was actually a house and television dealership, or that what looked like a walled off park was actually a cantina, and that meant I could never go there because the only women who go to cantinas are hookers.
I figured out where I could buy things that people normally don’t cook with here, like ginger and paprika, and learned how use the ingredients that everyone cooks with like achiote paste and ground pumpkin seeds.
I developed grocery shopping routines that involved multiple stops (produce market, tortilleria, supermarket for Kraft Mac and Cheese). I started to catalog the places that could come in handy eventually like hardware stores and nail salons. I learned to avoid purchasing chamomile-scented toilet paper.
Now, after four months, I wouldn’t say I really get Carrillo. But now that I’m oriented and have functional Spanish, I’d say I have the tools to really get started.
On Friday I fly back to New York for the holidays. I’m beyond excited to see my family and friends, incredibly curious how I’ll react to my freezing, spazbot of a city now that I’ve acclimated to slowness and warm weather.
When I return in January, I have a million places I want to go (Merida, Chiapas, back to Belize) eat (cochinita pibil, papadzules and huitlacoche) and try (slacklining. It’s like tight rope walking and we’re buying one for the backyard).
But mostly I want to better understand where I am, to spend more time getting to know people and buying more food out of tricyles. I want to get a real grasp on Spanish, to move past functionality to be able to have extended conversations. To learn the past tense and the other past tense and to learn more verbs than the 20 or I so I currently contort to make myself understood.
When I return, I’ll be ready for the next installment. But for now Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad y Prosperos Año!
Hasta pronto Carrillo Puerto. And from Muchas Donas, hasta 2015!