Sometimes I wonder what the hell I’m doing. It’s supposed to be winter right now. Why am I missing my favorite season of the year to ride my bike through 80-degree heat? I’m having plenty of incredible experiences, but it’s hard not to think about all the snow I could be sliding on. Like a spoiled kid on Christmas, life is obviously awesome, but it can be tough not to dwell on what’s absent. The hole in my heart that is supposed to be filled with snow, forces me to recall why I am on this trip in the first place.
In the years leading up to this journey, I developed a deep itch to see what else was going on in the world. But beyond just scratching the tingling curiosity, a big motivation for this trip was to look for solutions to perplexing questions. My university education exposed me to a lot of complex issues regarding the human condition and our place in space and time. I now catch myself thinking a little too seriously about this situation at times. When my mind wanders it often gets wrapped up in questions about the fate of our species. I find myself contemplating huge, global scale problems and how I could possibly do anything to contribute solutions.
The film project we are working on, documenting examples of localization and sustainability along the Pacific Coast, is in large part a response to these woes. By sharing stories of people living good place-based lives, I feel that I’m making a small contribution to humanity without having to sacrifice too much. It can be a little overwhelming at times to think about how many incredible stories I am passing by without capturing, and how long it’s going to take in the future to edit the ridiculous amounts of footage that we’ve already obtained. But for the most part, I’m happy to have the obligation of the film project. It gives direction and purpose to a journey that would likely lack specific objectives otherwise. It’s nice to always be looking for documentable examples of localized lifestyles as we pedal down the coast. I enjoy attending to a thought process in the back of my mind that filters observations as they arrive.
But sometimes the brain machine gets bogged down with the challenges of traveling and I realize that I need to regain my composure. It’s times like these when the only solution to staying centered reveals itself from behind that next bend in the road. Wandering blindly through a maze of disorienting thought, “fun” always comes at the right time to save the day.
Rancho El Sagrado in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico, was the perfect opportunity to level the balance with some moments of pure fun. We connected with the place through an online network called WWOOF, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. It’s a program that allows travelers to visit cool places without blowing out the bank account, exchanging labor for food and somewhere to sleep. A variety of different operations can host WWOOFers, from large scale gardens, to hotel businesses, to industrial agriculture plantations.
Rancho El Sagrado is ecotourism focused, with permaculture and a self sufficient food system as one of their primary goals. The managers of the property, Lalo and Ale, rent out cabins that they built on the land and lead the team of employees and WWOOFers in developing tourist activities that they hope will attract more visitors. After an unprecedented hurricane eight months ago, much of the property is in the final stages of the rebuilding phase.
Between tending gardens, fixing the chicken coop, clearing trails, and building a playground for the children, we explored the surrounding jungle with our afternoon adventures. One day after work, Lalo guided us on a hike down the river where we got cascade massages from a waterfall, floated down narrow channels, rock climbed and jumped off big fluvial carved granite cliffs, and swam through the clean cool mountain water. When we returned from the river, as with every night, we played a game of lightning on the basketball court, followed by an evening of pool and chess. On our last day at the rancho, we went to work up on the mountain with intentions to clear some trails. We ended up just bushwhacking around, navigating the ridges and climbing trees. We enjoyed some much needed mountain time for our beached bodies that had been stuck at sea level for so long. There’s something about gaining good elevation that can neither be anticipated, nor clearly remembered from down in the lowlands.
On top of all this fulfilling work and healthy “fun,” we captured a ton of great footage for the film project. Our week of connecting with the El Sagrado crew gave depth to our recording sessions, inspiring trust and confidence on both sides of the camera. We embraced the challenge of our first ever Spanish interviews, happy to have friends to practice on. The local employees, German, Armando and Dimitria, were excellent individuals for the film, having lived their entire lives in the valley, watching the changes and participating in the healthy development of the land. Friendships formed in the kitchen and on the trails made for comfortable conversations and a lightness that is hard to achieve without a few days of warming up to one another.
After such a solid experience, it was tough to leave the place. But eventually we remembered our whole idea about going to South America, and so we cut ourselves free. The long, fast ride back down to the coast pushed the corners of my mouth up towards my cheekbones. It was a great day to be alive, as always.
To help heal the wounds left behind from our El Sagrado amputation, we dipped in to our Aurora Projekt funds to go surfing at Puerto Escondido. Playa Zicatela is a well known spot on the global surf tour, known as the “Mexican Pipeline,” it’s perhaps the most famous break in the country. The thing that we’ve learned about surf spots with big names is that you can always find two things there: good waves and big crowds. With about 50 other people floating out in the swell, we fought for waves, focusing intently on trying to figure out the break and how we were going to get our fix without getting run over or yelled at.
After many hours of dodging local rippers and missing good opportunities, I finally found my sweet spot in the lineup and got that good old fashioned feeling I was searching for. Some call it “being in the zone” or “finding the flow,” but whatever it’s called there’s no doubt that it’s composed of pure “fun.”
I find it interesting how some of the funnest times in my life come not from a separation of serious attention, but instead from diving into the intensity and embracing a task or thought with full engagement. Perhaps the trick to satisfaction can be found in the process of identifying and portioning different types of “fun,” whether it is intellectually-based fun, physically-based fun, or somewhere in between. Maybe “fun” can be added to the top of the noble podium, toward which we are supposed to strive. Why couldn’t it be up there with happiness, consciousness, or love? Interesting indeed, but for now, I’m not going to dig too deeply into the philosophy of it. It’s just for fun after all.
• Kanaan Bausler is a member of A Trip South. Follow their adventure to the tip of South America at atripsouth.com.