I’m starting to think of my holiday adventures as pieces of memory art. Each one with their own feeling and flavour. Each one coloured by people and landscapes. In my portfolio, there are those trips where I learn a lot, like the time I studied yoga with the Iyengar family in Pune, India. Working trips, such as volunteering for the Ghana Homeopahy Project when a distant land and its people invited me to participate in their world. There are family holidays, and holidays like Bhutan, where I travel with a group of strangers and discover a country through the eyes of a guide. And then there is another kind of journey. A break from every day life with a spiritual connection.
So, far, I've had two of the latter experiences. The first one happened in the summer of 2011, two years after I lost my soulmate, suddenly, one night to a thoracic heamorrhage, and a couple of months after our family home was ravaged by fire.
Those two traumas sent me spinning into a dark numbness where I could neither write nor feel. My instincts told me that no-one in the UK would be able to help reconnect me to my emotions and the magic of creativity, and so it was, that I was reunited with those wonders by way of a Shaman who lives just outside Sedona in Arizona, and who also enriched me with a little knowledge about Hopi ways that I take with me every day of my life.
But I never really thought I’d be blessed with another spiritual journey and one I didn't knowingly embark upon as such. The seed was sewn last summer when I was sitting chatting with my first husband’s brother who I have known since I was twelve. We were talking about our teenage years and I just happened to ask him, ‘Whatever happened to Michelle Tomaselli?’
He said he didn’t know, but my first husband, who is now my brother (sorry if that sounds weird, but in my heart, it’s true), suggested I look her up on Facebook. We had only been friends for a short while when much, much younger but I remembered Michelle as being interesting and having a lovely energy. So, having found her, I sent her a message to say, ‘Hi!’. She replied with her phone number saying it was good to hear from me and if I ever came to Florida I should give her a call. At that time, I couldn’t see myself ever getting to Florida. I seek out underdeveloped places and places of cultural interest to hang on my memory wall.
However, when I discovered that I had to go via the States to get to Bolivia, I asked Michelle if she’d be able to meet up with me if I came via Miami. We met up, ate lunch together in Hollywood, Florida, and walked off our meal along the seashore promenade. At one point, Michelle mentioned that she'd like to go to Mexico, and I said if she wanted to explore the country off-piste I was interested in going with her.
I have recently returned from that adventure, and I must say that I was completely unprepared for the sheer beauty of Central Mexico.
Every city we travelled through had a historical district: streets lined with attached, square, flat roofed, buildings. Their external walls painted terrocota and sunlight, or lime, rose, or azure. Many of them with no windows looking out onto the street, only giant wooden doors to gain entry. It was thrilling to find courtyards, and elegant large rooms steeped in Spanish influence once inside, each infused with its own individual character. In the plazas, Churrigueresque churches stand proudly surrounded by restaurants, shops, hotels and sculpted trees.
During our stay we were bowled over by the beautiful things to buy in the market of San Miguel Allende. In Guanajuato, we ate what we considered to be the freshest and tastiest vegetarian food in Los Campos and Midi Bistro, and even became part of a congregation during evening mass in a Catholic church, a first for me.
We also swam through caves in warm natural spring water at La Gruta about half an hour outside San Miguel Allende. And in the region of St Luis Potosí, three hours by car from the city centre, we went through the longest tunnel ever, opening onto the old mining town of Real de Catorce.
Real de Catorce was a bit of a highlight. We went there on a weekend and had to push our way through local crowds buying commercial gear close to the entrance. But as we made our way past them, we discovered inclining cowboy streets, artists selling their wares, stunning hillside architecture, people in Stetsons riding horses, kicking back dust and surrounded by golden hills — and caves, which we unfortunately didn’t have time to explore. A little utopia under a royal blue sky; we have vowed to go back there.
So, one day towards the end of our trip, we are walking down a road in San Miguel Allende, looking for a roof top restaurant to have a beer and a portion of guacamole with nachos, and the watering hole just appears. We reflect on, how actually, our whole trip has been like that, stumbling across whatever we wanted to find or buy, and never getting lost despite our self-confessed lack of sense of direction. In that respect, my late husband, Jon, always led the way for me.
This was the first time in eight years I had travelled with a friend. Michelle and I, not having been in contact for over forty years, could have been a disastrous combination, and yet we weren’t. Michelle turned out to be the most unbelievable travelling companion and confidante.
Whilst we were sitting there in that rooftop restaurant dipping our nachos into guacamole, sunning ourselves and sipping ice cold beer, something suddenly became obvious to me and I said to Michelle, ‘I bet Jon’s had a hand in all of this.’
‘Ask him for a sign.’
‘He’d say, “What more do you fucking want!”’
‘No, I’m serious, ask him for a sign.’
So, I looked up at the sky and said, ‘Jon, can we please have a sign?’
I don’t know what made me start flicking through a 'What’s On' kind of journal that Michelle left on the table, but I did, and when I came upon a full page photo of a building sporting a Star of David as if it was a synagogue, I showed it to Michelle and said, ‘That’s weird.’
She replied, 'That’s the sign.'
I flew to Queretaro from London via Dallas with British Airways and American Airlines.
Michelle travelled on United Airlines from Fort Lauderdale via Houston.
Whilst in Mexico we travelled by taxi.