Butterfly Effect

On leaving Nick at the airport I headed out to a small town on the fringes of Mexico City so that I could reunite with some old friends. In this entry to my journal I want to explain a little bit about the circumstances of how I first came to meet these people and what it was like coming back 5 years on.

Rewind nearly 5 years and I'm travelling down through California. With my time in the States fast coming to an end my attention was beginning to turn towards the next stage of my adventure which in the first instance involved heading to Mexico. Having at this point only travelled to Canada and the US, the prospect of travelling down in to Mexico was riddled in fear and one I captured I think quite well in this journal entry here (its worth the read if you haven't done so already). 

In a bid to mitigate some of my fears I put my faith in the CouchSurfing community and asked its members in Mexico City whether or not any of them might be able to help me out. The response I got was staggering and in just 48 hours I had received almost 20 offers of places to stay, places to go or opportunities to hang out.

One of the messages I received was from a guy called Miguel:
Hi Ben! 
I really like people that start a trip as if would be the biggest adventure in their lives and I think you are one of them. 
I can give you a couch (actually a bedroom) for 1 or 2 weeks but I should tell you that I live 50 kms away from downtown. The transportation is really safe and cheap, you can get into the city for only 25 pesos. 
I read in your request that you ll be looking for a job as an English teacher and I think you should meet a friend of mine who's starting a small English school, may be you can help her for a short time. 
Here is my Facebook account if you want to know a little more about me; __________@hotmail.com 
I hope I can meet you! 
It couldn't have been more perfect and after a few messages back and forth we had agreed for me to stay with him and his family for 5 nights about a week or so after I was due to arrive into Mexico City.

I remember meeting Mike for the first time like it was yesterday. It was early evening, not long after 7 and outside it was already dark. Mike had asked that I meet him downtown in Mexico City at a large shopping mall and said he would come find me inside one of the numerous fast food restaurants the centre provided. As always, I was early and whilst waiting I remember being distinctly nervous about the prospect of leaving the downtown area, with little to no idea what to expect. 

Having just finished work, Mike arrived in a shirt and trousers and was distinctly better dressed than I. He spoke very faintly, was straight-faced and perhaps just a little studious. The immediate connection I was used to feeling with new hosts was in that moment distinctly vacant and as we headed for the overground train to his hometown I had a real concern as to whether or not we would get on or if this whole idea was perhaps a mistake in the making.

Fortunately, those initial doubts were wholly misplaced. By the end of my stay, Mike had found me a job teaching English less than 5 minutes from his house and his family had invited me to live with them, full-time, for the duration of my time in Mexico. Consequently, I would end up living in Melchor Ocampo for almost 9 months.

Despite my inability to speak almost any Spanish, especially at the onset, everybody I came into contact with was overwhelmingly friendly and welcoming. Both the family I lived with and the community at large... they were just incredible... every single one of them... and never before have I felt such a sense of belonging.

My last night in Melchor Ocampo celebrating with friends and family 
The decision to leave Melchor was one of the hardest decisions I've had to make and when the day eventually came to leave I was unspeakably sad.

The decision to leave was taken shortly after returning to Mexico following a month long trip back to the UK. During this month I visited friends and family who I'd not seen in nearly 18 months, enjoyed a surprisingly good British summer, had a long stag weekend in Poland and was the Best Man at the wedding of my close friends James and Alex. 

Naively, I hoped this trip wouldn't cost the Earth but obviously it costed far more than I had set aside. In returning to Mexico, my bank balance was in tatters and in no way going to support me travelling both Central and South America as was planned. 

So I had two choices. I could either stay in Mexico teaching English and earn enough money to live well but not quite enough to save (at least not sufficiently) - or - travel back to the UK, take up a job offer from a friend, work hard, save hard and within the year be back on a plane with enough funds to get me down through the Americas. I settled - eventually - on the latter of the two options.

In theory, the plan was solid but of course it didn't work out anything like what I hoped. The work I had agreed to do was a little slow to get off the ground and whilst waiting I did nothing but run up a credit card bill which would take twice the time to pay off than it did to create. Eventually, reality kicked in and a year after coming home I was left with no choice but to find full-time work back doing the same job I had so desperately tried to escape just a couple years previously. Far from being a quick 12 months back home, it would be nearly four and a half years until I could eventually return with sufficient funds for this trip. 

Running buddies Carlos & Eduardo
Returning to Melchor after all this time felt odd. Out of what felt like nowhere, I was back sleeping in my old bedroom, eating my favourite foods and reuniting with friends and family like I'd never been away. But of course, I had... Lily - Miguel's older sister - now has a 2 year old daughter and is almost 8 months pregnant with her second child. Carlos - Miguel's younger brother - has grown almost a foot since I last saw him, now drives the family car and resembles far more a man than the boy I said goodbye to some 4, 5 years ago.

Whilst I was only in Melchor a week, it was more than enough time to be reminded why I fell in love with this town and its people in the first place. Those people, who for me now feel more like family than they do friends, gave me the best 9 months I've possibly ever had and the memories they've given me I will no doubt treasure forever. 

Enjoying lunch with Erick (a former student) and his family