Sober van travels in Mexico

I Found Myself in Baja, Mexico

Graduate Blog: a travel, health and personal evolution lifestyle blog.

By Ryan Howsley Graduate
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Watching, reading, and listening to the media about the dangers of Baja can make the hairs on your back stand up and quickly stray any person away from even thinking about making the trip. I know this from my own, first-hand, experience. Before going to Baja I dug deep into the interweb to try and grasp what I was getting myself into — and I didn’t like what I found. The majority of what I was reading was horrifying and quickly had me second guessing my plan to venture into the desert paradise that awaited. Article after article said it was a “bad idea,” “stay away,” and “watch out for the cartel.” But the more I read, the more apparent a common theme was within these {mostly secondhand} tales of Mexico travel misfortune — people were obviously not attuned to their surroundings and therefore found themselves in bad situations. After much contemplation and realizing the majority of what I was reading weren’t direct recollections, I decided to take a chance and find out for myself.

Two months of traveling in a van with my girlfriend through Baja was a life changing experience that included an unexpected set of challenges.

The moment we crossed the border, it was obvious that I speak very little Spanish. Simply ordering food was a challenge all in itself. Take my lack of vocabulary and add in my internal battle to speak what little Spanish I knew perfectly and quickly I was scared to even try. That fear was short lived and after a week into the trip, I was trying my Spanish out on anyone who would listen… even though most of the time I’m sure I looked like I was playing a game of charades.

I have never been out of the county before, and on top of that the majority of the places we went were hours down sketchy dirt roads (the paved ones were sometimes just as bad), not very populated, and had zero cell service. So if something went wrong, it went really wrong.

My biggest challenge: traveling as a sober person amongst a sea of Tecate, Margaritas and vacationers. Every time I met new people, had a campfire, or there was downtime, drinking seemed to be the go-to for my newly acquired travel buddies. At first, I felt as if my sobriety put up a social barrier between me and everyone else; but in reality, I was wrong. People were intrigued; they were stoked to hear my story and to hear the reasons why drinking isn’t for me anymore. If anything, when a beer would crack open with people who didn’t know my background it turned out to be a good ice breaker. I got to share my story with so many different people and not once did I receive negative feedback – it turned out that everyone seemed to actually be supportive. I was blown away by the amount of people who had people close to them that were also sober and whose stories they could relate to my own.

Baja gave me the chance to really get to know myself. It gave me the chance to sink or swim, and I swam. My confidence has grown, my fear of starting conversations with strangers is gone, and all the safety concerns I had going into Baja have been put to rest. Not once did I feel sketched out or think that maybe this was a bad idea. I was able to attune to myself, the people around me and the environment to stay safe. Baja not going to bite you in the ass if your not pouring honey all over it. Respect the culture, the people, don’t go looking for trouble and you will be fine. If you are getting sketchy vibes, remove yourself from the situation — it is that simple. Listen to what your gut is telling you, and you will be just fine. I did, and came out a stronger, and more confident man.

“With great risk comes great reward.”
– Thomas Jefferson

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