With every month that passes I come closer to finding my peace. I am presently not pushing for anything, be it miles, relationships or hedonism and with this I’ve freed myself from the burdens of expectation and ambition. Any shackles of guilt that were hanging over my stunted progress south have been shed and my mind feels pure and sharp. This has not been discovered by cycling but by traveling. I am off the bike again, this time spending a few weeks working at Tierra del Sol, a Permaculture farm located about 20km east of Oaxaca. This is why I move, this is why I stop, this is not ‘time out’, this is my life.
My introduction to Tierra del Sol came through Jorge, a fella I met up in Zacatecas. Jorge spoke of the place with great fondness and suggested I drop in to take a look. I had been looking for something worthwhile to get my teeth into and the idea of some good honest farm labor really appealed. I emailed Pablo at the farm explaining my lack of farming experience but stressing my desire to work and learn. My requested was for a few weeks volunteering and to my delight, was positively received. At this time I was unaware that the farm was listed on Warmshowers and in prime position along the Pan American highway often takes in cyclists for a night or two. I then later read that Sarah and Tom of ‘Banff to the Bottom‘, one of my favorite cycling blogs, had spent some time at the place. It all sounded great, I’d ride into Mexico City, quickly fix up my bike and get down to Oaxaca for a few weeks honest and physical labor.
Things didn’t work out as I had hoped. My frustrating extended stay in Mexico City used up the time that I was going to invest in the farm. With a Mexican visa of only 180 days I would be unable to offer my services to Tierra del Sol and have time to explore the Yucatan before leaving Mexico for Cuba. Never mind, everything happens for a reason and perhaps being able to ride with Jens was that reason. I emailed Pablo to say my plans had changed but that I would pop in to take a look around on my way through. I therefore left Oaxaca a day before Jens so I could spend a night at the farm and catch up with him the next day to continue our ride towards Chiapas.
Things didn’t work out as I’d planned. Even before I’d reached the farm the seduction was in full flow; the Pan American highway picking a course down a gorgeous wide U-shaped valley in the broad bottom of which I knew nestled Tierra de Sol. After a few days in an under-inspiring Oaxaca the rural sights, sounds and smells were rejuvenating. I rolled into the farm agog at its idyllic location and within a few hours had decided I would stay for three weeks as originally intended. This means that for visa reasons, I shall now have to cycle directly into Guatemala then loop northwards through Belize back into Mexico in order to fly from Cancun to Cuba. On my return and third entry into Mexico I shall swing west through the Yucatan and then south again into Guatemala. A longer route that I am unperturbed by, it is not my job to simply progress, my course is one of freedom and it is the realization of this that prompts me to proclaim my peace. I am on a journey not just a ride and with the psychological barrier of a year away smashed and a contented rhythm of exploration discovered I care little for the lines on my route maps and much for the bigger picture of my existence and place in this world.
When I set out on this journey I had pretty much decided that it would mark the end of my career in documentary film making. Truth be told, I had been wracking my brains for a good while trying to figure out an alternative career path. Having pondered physiotherapy, guiding and generally anything that might get me a home in the mountains, I was still essentially clueless. I am certainly not afraid of hard work yet prone to quickly become disillusioned with the inherent pointlessness of many jobs. The capitalist system dictates that workers are often remarkably dislocated from both the fruits of their labor and the ultimate reason for their toil. The realities of documentary film making as an industry had alienated me from the true essence and power of the medium. Romance had over the years well and truly succumbed to reality.
As far as careers go mine was one of the better options; it afforded the opportunity to travel, meet incredible people and access places the average Jo wouldn’t come close to. My problem was that I could never shake an underlying guilt derived from various levels of exploitation. Allied to this was the arrogant perception of self importance that runs through the heart of the industry. No doubt some films change lives and are of incredible significance, but most are pure pointless and time wasting entertainment. I fell into a cycle of working in order to pay bills, any creative aspirations totally evaporated leaving me at the centre of an occupation that puzzled me. Why on earth was so much stress and heartache being so willingly poured into a process that resulted in nothing more than a televisual distraction that most viewers had completely forgotten by the time they went to bed? And why the hell did TV people think themselves so bloody important and special?!?
My hope was that as I cycled down the Americas I would encounter people and have experiences that might reveal my true calling in life. I’d read about people emerging from similar trips as professional photographers (Ribbon Of Road) or authors and speakers (Alastair Humphreys). Both of these professions hold a deep appeal but leave me uneasy, each carrying the potential threat of overhanging realities such as I ran up against in film making. My first flash of career inspiration came early on as I found myself associating with anthropologists in Alaska. My interest in anthropology started at university where I fell into anthropological study of a couple of villages in Mexico. I never pursued the course as academia left me fatigued and disillusioned and I had no language skills (and regrettably still don’t, even after 5 months in Spanish speaking Mexico). I have already accepted the painful truth that I am not entirely of an academic disposition.
Whether dirt or paved, I cycle on roads, many that are bordered by agricultural lands. I’ve seen vast industrial scale operations in the USA and tiny subsistence plots in Mexico; an eye opening spectrum of farming methods and approaches. As the human race tries its hardest to suffocate the world and the finite realities of fossil fuel resources start to bite I have had plenty to ponder in regards to a worthwhile future for myself and our planet. The subject of ‘Permaculture’ has cropped up multiple times on my way down from Alaska and gains forever increasing significance for me the more I see and the further my mind runs. Permanent culture, a sustainable form of agriculture and living where everything is recycled and an enclosed loop of self sufficiency the pinnacle, is the only future I can see. Adoption of these ways is not just a righteous cause, it is an imminent necessity, a fact that draws me closer and closer to the approach.
Have I finally and unexpectedly found something that could take me into a post tour future? Possibly so. I am loving the physicality and raw purpose of farm work and learning a lot about the complexities of building and running a Permaculture farm. If my passions are intact by the time I remount my bike then this is a subject area that could easily become a recurring theme on my tour. Now I am excited, comfortable in my touring lifestyle and free from external pressures. Whether my current passions survive beyond a honeymoon only time will tell, but the very fact that I am admitting to a life after ‘VeloFreedom’ is progress and another brick in my wall of personal discovery.