In 2013, I travelled from our sun-soaked, comfortable country to equally sun-soaked but not-so-comfortable Mexico, on the (literal) other side of the world. Aside not speaking a word of Spanish and being completely unprepared for hurricane season, it was the best decision of my life, and here’s why.
Having done the compulsory Contiki the year before, I left a somewhat worldly Australian teenager, and was not prepared for what Mexico had to offer. I went as a volunteer on a conservation project situated on the Western coast of the state of Colima, just outside of a small town called Tecomán. Together with between five and sixteen other volunteers from across the world, I spent two months reclaiming turtle eggs, surveying local bird life populations and caring for—wait for it—crocodiles. Typically, the other volunteers (none of whom were Australian) made me enter the enclosures if needed, usually invoking the name Steve Irwin as justification. We worked during the early hours of the morning and the later hours of the day to avoid its hottest parts.
Our typical day started sometime around 6.30am or 7am, depending on the day. We would then work around either the campsite, to construct the new bunkhouse, or the crocodile farm on Wednesdays. About 10.30am we would put down the tools and head into the town to buy things, have a coffee or contact our families. Then we’d come back to the camp and have a lunch cooked for us by a local Mexican woman—Thursdays were definitely the best because we ate burritos! After a lazy afternoon, we would recommence work at about 5, at which point we took to the local lagoon to survey bird life or continue construction projects. During the night, two people were chosen to go out on the quadbikes with one of the workers and help to collect the turtle eggs—one at 11pm, and the other at the godawful time of 3am. Each day was something new, and it was a valuable character-building experience to which nothing else has compared.
But without a doubt, the purest memories came from the end of the work day. It would be about eight in the evening and we would walk down to this bar in the middle of nowhere, nestled between the lagoon and the black sand beach. There, we would order Corona Familiars (1L bottles of Corona), tostadas con ensalada (small toasted tortillas with tomato, cilantro and red onion) and spin some great banter for a few hours. From our seats we had an absolutely breathtaking view of the sunset over the Pacific Ocean.
And here is where the beauty lies. Every sensation ingrains itself in your memory: The absolute serenity of the landscape in front of you, the kaleidoscope of colours which is the sunset, the sounds of the ocean and lagoon birds washing over you and intermingling with the laughter of your companions, the stifling and somewhat suffocating humidity, the thirst-quenching taste of Corona as you take a sip, the crisp freshness of the cilantro as you snack on the ever-present tostadas.
Life is perfect in that moment because despite the fact that you’re tired, you’re homesick and the country is an effective sauna 24/7, all of these experiences are fundamentally changing who you are. For a moment, you become aware of these changes and in this awareness you turn to regard everyone and everything. The people surrounding you become more important to you than you ever imagined, and you see them drenched in gold.
But then one of the others asks you something and the moment is over. You take another bite of those ever-present tostadas, another sip of the never-ending Corona, and smile to yourself as the sun sets and the night falls.