148. Nothing, Before Everything

Nothing, Before Everything: On the first page of my journal, on the day we first left the country, I wrote the words “WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?” because I thought that a year later, as we prepared to come home, it would mean something to me.

Instead, there are really just two things in my head these days, these two things more than any other things. The first is the song “ The End” by The Doors. No challenge in working that one out. The second thing though, is Alan and Robyn.

Alan and Robyn are British. In 2006 they quit their jobs and began a year-long tour of Asia. They didn’t make it a year, but a respectable seven months, which they unashamedly attributed to their inability to live the rusty cot and stale sandwich life of the budget traveler. We met Alan and Robyn in Malaysia, on a beach so blindingly perfect that I’m still not sure I didn’t just dream it into existence. They had one week left before returning home to restart their lives; we had ten months still ahead of us. All of us were filled with the wonder and hesitation of uncertainty. None of us really wanted to do anything other than live in that moment, on that flawless beach, listening to palm trees, hiding our valuables from monkeys. Waiting. That beach was in fact the most beautiful, monkey-infested waiting room constructed anywhere on earth. Alan and Robyn waiting for the end. Amy and I waiting for our train to Singapore. The monkeys waiting for all of us to go swimming and leave our bags unattended on the shore.

It occurs to me lately that Amy and I have become Alan and Robyn. And also that I really came to loathe wild monkeys during our time in Malaysia.

So we chose accordingly. Our happy ending, the place where we spent our last ten days out of the country, was in a cabana on the monkey-free beach of Tulum, Mexico. Our cabana was like all the others there – Cheap, thatched, leaky, breezy, without a single flicker of electricity but just steps off the powdery sand that begins Mexico’s diminutive claim to the Carribean Sea. Predictably, things got off to a crappy start.

Our first cabana was number 54. It was nicely located on a small rocky outcropping just above the beach, affording us great views in all directions and even greater proximity to the shared bathrooms. It was also, however, poorly located next to cabana number 53. Housed in cabana number 53 (for an undetermined number of days but what we assumed to be the last five years) was a schizophrenic man with a drinking problem, making him prone to frequent Nam flashbacks and booming, obscenity-laced tirades against whores, the devil and George Bush. Following an uncomfortably frank, after dark encounter with him at the shared bathrooms, we moved to cabana 40.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – why only move 13 cabanas away from a man who cornered you so threateningly at the sink, soap in hand, pores seething with the visible insanity that he intends to scrub away? Why not move at least 20 cabanas away? Or 50?

But we did! We actually moved more than 70 cabanas away from this man! Somehow, cabanas number 40 and 53, while relatively proximate in the real world of sequential numerals, are actually nearly a kilometer apart in the marijuana-hazed universe of the people who own and operate Papaya Playa Cabanas And Restobar (LLC). Groovy.

Back on track then, the next nine days were filled with exactly what we wanted from this place: Nothing, before everything.

Some days it felt like we were waiting for the end. Other days it felt like we were waiting for something to begin. The rest of the time, it just felt like Tequila. We each started and finished several books. We went to bed early and woke up with the sun. I grew a nice face beard and Amy grew a couple of feisty leg beards. We dared each other daily to walk naked on an adjacent “clothing optional” stretch of beach, which seemed to be unfairly full of fit men with enormous genitals and gorgeous women with perky breasts. We didn’t go buff but we did walk through, several times, for the sake of entertainment. Finally, the French start giving something back.

We also ate well, a great deal of fresh fruit, enjoying it at what I now know to be the best possible occasion on which to eat fresh fruit – that moment when you emerge from the salty ocean and are waiting for your skin to dry under the touch of the warm sun. We walked a lot, though never near cabana 53, and we talked more than ever. These days were, after all, our last opportunity to have the kind of timeless conversation that has become part of our daily routine.

Me: There’s a crab in the room and I need to get him out. Hand me the headlamp.
Amy: A what?! A crab?!
Me: Yes, hand me the headlamp please.
Amy: A crab! You gotta get him out of here!
Me: Really? Get him out of here? What a great idea!
Amy: Yeah, get him out of here!
Me: Give me the headlamp.

Poetry. Actually, I don’t expect this kind of conversation to stop just because we cross borders. I also do not expect this web page to stop just because we cross borders, because these may be the most adventurous days yet. There will be reunions, holidays, awkward adjustments, possibly some volunteering in New Orleans, and at least one more long road trip across the USA, from Florida to Oregon. Then there will be successes, failures, more reunions, more awkward adjustments, more of what happens next. What happens next? Hell if I know.


  1. furey says:

    I’m gonna say what everyone else is thinking…Sloan looks good in that picture.

    yup yup!

  2. Gabe says:

    Hey you two, it’s been fun living vicariously through these postings, despite the occasional pang of jealousy.
    I notice your website shows you still have 9 more reasons to wander. Enjoy!


  3. Just dropping a not to say hi. I’ve been following along since Dylan of Eat, Drink, and Be Merry mentioned you two on his blog.

    While so many of your travels are wonderful, and it so makes me want to take off again, what I’ve been drawn to the most is how well you two travel together, and how you do apart. I think it’s so great that you’ve been able to experience all these adventures with each other.

  4. Sloan says:

    Agreed – no way would this trip have been the same without having done it together. Solo travel is liberating, but incredibly lonely business despite all the new friends you make. You can’t beat a good travel partner and I wouldn’t trade Amy for the world. Even when she’s complaining again about how much sand I just dragged into the bed.

  5. Anonymous says:

    good luck coming back strictly nude…….

  6. GW says:

    while you were gone new orleans was fixed. way to go.

  7. Ron says:

    Thanks for taking us along for the ride. I’m kind of bummed its coming to an end, I cant imagine the adjustment you all are going through. We need you here though. America needs you!

    Welcome home.

  8. KB says:

    We have iguanas that size in Islamorada! I can see them basking in the sun from my office window.