I haven’t seen another gringo in Tuxtla Gutierrez all week, except for the spouse. When we told people we were going to that Mexican city for a week, they asked, “Why?” You see, Caucasians don’t seek out Tuxtla – the capital city of the state of Chiapas – on their travels, unless they need the airport just outside the city, or maybe they want the Walmart and they drive over from San Cristobal, which is about an hour away.
But not seeing another white person all week is exactly why Tuxtla appealed to us. Why not go where tourists don’t venture? We are slow traveling ‘tourists’ in early retirement, and we have the time to explore. I want to see how locals live. I want to go where most people don’t take the time to see. I want to step out of my comfort zone now and then.
Sometimes, I feel… a little uncomfortable walking through throngs of people who look different, who speak a different language, who have a different lifestyle reality when there is no other gringo in sight. Logically, I know people are generally kind and genuinely happy to see a “white” tourist here, even if the locals look confused when they see this silly chick strolling through their neighborhood alone and smiling, and greeting them with Spanish hellos.
My solitary morning walks were pleasant through the neighborhood where we stayed, several blocks from Marimba Park. I observed people heading to work, people taking kids to school, women with bins or baskets of goods for sale headed to the market. I saw men selling newspapers on street corners, policemen walking their beat, shop clerks selling fresh tortillas or juice. Different lifestyle realities; same human condition.
Maybe uncomfortable isn’t the right word to describe how I sometimes feel when I know I’m the lone Caucasian. Overwhelmed might be more accurate. Or a combination of the two words. I often wonder how did I ever get so lucky to see all of this? Why was my soul born into comparative riches? When will I fully accept this is now my lifestyle reality – to travel and see how people live outside the U.S.?
I belong to a Facebook group called Girls Love Travel. It has hundreds of thousands of members. It seems the majority of the main group are young women who travel alone. (There is also a 35 years plus subgroup, of which I’m also a member.) Every now and then, there will be a young woman who is overwhelmed by travel. She will be overwhelmed at living in a culture that is so different from her own. She will reach out and ask for help and support through this group because she feels so out-of-touch in her current lifestyle reality.
The first time I felt “overwhelmed” was when I lived alone in Tulum, Mexico, for several months back in 2015. I lived alone in a working class neighborhood in town away from the beach. I learned from that experience video calls with my sister and spouse Tedly (this was before he retired and joined me) really helped. To see and hear them grounded me back to my different lifestyle reality – which is one of continuous travel – slow, budget travel in early retirement. So that’s what I now suggest to single female travelers who go it alone. Make a call. If reaching someone is an issue, I tell them to call me and we can chat about our adventures.
Luckily, these days I don’t feel that sense of being overwhelmed often. In fact, it hardly ever happens. Just now and then. It’s likely because now I have a travel partner, and we usually stay in places that have an expat community. Americans are everywhere on this earth – but there aren’t too many in Tuxtla, that’s for sure. But again: that’s exactly why I love to visit places like Tuxtla, and also places like Tecpan, Guatemala.
It’s in these places where I’m out of tourist zones, and out of my nurtured comfort zone, I can more clearly see – ultimately, we are all the same. Whether someone sells goods at the market to make money to pay bills, or goes to an air-conditioned office job to earn a salary, the result of each is the same: score enough money to buy some comfort and simply have a good day.
When this white, privileged woman comprehends this as a witness to different lifestyle realities, she grows, and she becomes more comfortable in her own skin.
There are some great attractions to see and activities do in and around Tuxtla. I’ll write up other posts on those points of interest soon – because they definitely are worth experiencing for anyone visiting this cool Mexican city.