Month: October 2015


Bacalar was the embodiment of what I wanted to happen in this trip.

I was not planning on going to Bacalar. I’d read that the lagoon was pretty but it was on the way to Belize, which I had already cut, instead of along the prescribed Yucatan route I had embarked on. But after I lost count of how many people told me I had to go to Bacalar, I remembered that I wanted to follow that kind of advice this time no matter what path I may have thought I was on. So I joined John and Thomas, my Valladolid/Merida travel companions, and went to check out this rumored lake haven.

What I discovered at Laguna Bacalar was serenity, comfort, good people, and good vibes. It was everything I was hoping it would be. When I arrived I booked two nights – I stayed four. That’s just how things go for me now.

We stayed at the Green Monkey, a laid back hostel right on the lake. When we arrived they had space in the bus – a yellow school bus whose seats had been replaced by bunk beds – so we booked two nights there. Because when you get a chance to play Lost and sleep on an abandoned bus you go for it.

The day we arrived it was rainy and muddy. The lake was nowhere near the color it was supposed to be and, since all the activity in Bacalar centers on and around the lake, there wasn’t much to do. But the point of Bacalar wasn’t to go go go, it was just to chill, so I didn’t mind the excuse to dig into the literary feat I had decided to set out with this trip  – Moby Dick – and chat with the other travelers who were sticking it out hoping for good weather. Day two had some patches of sun, just in time for our excursion to the swings on the lake and margaritas, but day three we woke up to a beautiful sunrise. It didn’t take much convincing to extend our stay another night, although we were forced out of the bus due to an influx of online reservations and had to settle for a hammock. When I extended yet another night I actually asked for the hammock even though beds were open; I loved sleeping outside in the breeze. Those last two days were perfect weather. John and I did a little boat excursion one morning, but otherwise I spent most of my time hanging out in hammocks or on the dock.

It probably doesn’t sound like somewhere that would be so hard to leave when the main thing to do is just sit around and look at how pretty it is, but that is just the foundation of why I stayed longer. The beautiful setting got everyone there, but it was the everyone that made us all stay. The travelers that were in love with this place were cut from the same cloth. Everyone wanted to take a step back from the pace of the Yucatan, relax in a lovely place, and spin yarn with other people who wanted to do the same. A group would form on the dock swapping stories before deciding to grab veggie burgers together for lunch in town. Three out of four nights I cooked dinner with a mixture of travelers. My last night we enjoyed rum punch and cigars while playing a dice game. The talented Irish couple treated us to a live performance of traditional music and Tenacious D. Friendships were formed, laughs were had, and memories were made that will live with us all forever.

The lake was a big part of it all though. I felt like I’d returned to a home in an alternate world. A dock, ample reading time, and the clearest turquoise fresh water lake – I was in the Wörthersee of Mexico. All those years I visited the lake in Austria came flooding back to me at Laguna Bacalar. No wonder I wanted to stay as long as possible, it was familiar and sentimental and relaxed me to the core.

I left Bacalar in a way similar to my arrival there – totally unexpectedly. I had gone under the impression that I would continue with John to Palenque in Mexico. Something inside me felt uncomfortable about the prospect of the night bus though, and after a couple of days of hesitating with the idea, combined with a great group of people I didn’t want to leave just yet, I came up with an alternative that allowed me to leave after one more night on a day trip. I would go to Flores, Guatemala.

Flores, the launching point for Tikal and El Mirador, two sites I absolutely did not want to miss, is not near the rest of Guatemala. But geographically it happens to be almost on the way from Bacalar to Palenque. And our hostel offered a direct bus to Flores. And then I picked up a new travel buddy, Cassidy, who also wanted to see Flores but probably wouldn’t make it if she didn’t come with me. So totally last minute I changed the pseudo-plan once again and the next morning Cassidy and I left for Guatemala.

So because of travelers I landed in Bacalar. Because of the idyllic setting and other travelers I extended my stay in Bacalar. And because of gut instinct and spontaneity I left Bacalar for Guatemala.


I’m Speaking German in Mexico

I’ve spoken more German in the past week in Mexico than I have in the past seven years.

It started at the campsite in Tulum. Juan’s daughter lives in Vienna, so upon hearing that I’d studied German and have a desire to live in Vienna he switched our conversation into German. I followed suit and we carried on in a Spangermenglish mixture for the rest of my stay there. Also in Tulum, Juan introduced me to his friends who were Mexican and Swiss, so German came back into play. Then on my city tour of Merida the tour guide in training found out I’d learned German and, to my surprise, switched to talking to me in German. So again I carried on with him in German.

I haven’t used my German in years. Last year I was shy to admit that I even used to speak it, knowing that I had no confidence whatsoever in my abilities anymore. So why am I using it now in Mexico? I still lack confidence and don’t speak it with Germans I meet, but something about speaking it with other people whose first language is not German is encouraging me. I also think that since I’m attempting to pick up and use Spanish, the language part of my brain is very active right now. And in my attempt to speak Spanish, I often end up recalling a German word instead of the Spanish word. Hopefully this means that if I do end up in a German-speaking nation, I will be able to regain my faded language skills fairly quickly.

But if you had told me before I left that Mexico would make me speak German again I would have thought you were crazy.

Two Day Trips from Mérida: Uxmal and Dzibilchaltun

I’d read that Uxmal was a good day trip from Mérida but after Chichen Itza, Ek Balam, and Tulum I wasn’t sure I would make the trip out there. Then our city tour guide told us that Uxmal was his favorite ruin. So John and I decided to go for it.

Despite the weather. It was predicted to rain in the afternoon so I hoped we would make it before the daily downpour, but it started on the hour plus bus ride to get there. But we had committed, we were there, so we devised a way to both fit our belongs with us in our rain jackets. The weather gods must have appreciated our efforts; the rain trickled off as we started to explore the complex.

We quickly realized our guide was right. Uxmal is my favorite ruin so far. It is the largest site I’ve been to with multiple structures to explore, including temples and a palace. We were happy to discover that we could climb almost everything too (except what we assumed was the most important temple, for preservation reasons). The architecture was an interesting mix of forms: one temple had rounded sides and the rectangular palace was built on what appeared to be a man-made hill. Carvings adorned the facades of every building and ranged from geometric patterns to complex figure reliefs. It was the best detailing I’ve seen yet.

The preservation of Uxmal was impressive. How did these ornate details last so much better than the other places I’ve been to? Every new structure we came across was just as picturesque as the last. With at least three more ruins to go I’m curious how Uxmal will fare in the end, but so far it’s leading the pack.

I was fairly hungover when John asked if I wanted to join him in an excursion to a cenote, but the prospect of jumping in a cold body of water sounded to good to pass up. I picked up a pair of cochinita pibil tacos across the street from where the collectivos lined up to soak up the lingering mezcal and fortify me for the half an hour ride.

What I didn’t realize was that we were going to a cenote within another ruin. When we arrived we were both too distracted by the thought of swimming to really process where we were, so we beelined to the cenote. I jumped in and felt a wave of relief. The cool water was a welcomed refresher from the high humidity of the day. The fish that picked at my feet were not quite as welcomed. But still, the cenote brought me back to life.

Then I started to process where we were. We were swimming in a natural sinkhole surrounded by Mayan ruins. It may not be the best cenote in the region, but there’s something undeniably cool about that. After we got our fill of treading water we explored the rest of the site. It was a small complex but ruins are ruins so we took it in anyway.

Finding the collectivo back was more of an adventure. We had to walk a kilometer into the closest town, where we stumbled onto some sort of street fair that either was just starting or the remnants from the day before. A few stalls were selling corn or t-shirts and a band was playing on a small stage. Out the other side we found the random street corner where the collectivo back to Mérida would supposedly stop, which was happily confirmed after a short wait.

I wouldn’t rate this excursion nearly as highly as Uxmal, but it was still a good snipit of what the Yucatan has to offer.


Mérida was my return to city living. It’s the capital of the state of Yucatan and apparently the safest city in Mexico. As far as a city goes, it doesn’t have as much going on as I expected it to, but it was still a good stop for a few days.

A couple of people from my Valladolid hostel were also going to Mérida that day (although we all went on different buses) and had heard good things about Nomadas Hostel, so I decided to go there too. It is a large hostel whose main draws are the pool and lots of outdoor hangout space, which were unfortunately a bit wasted due to the daily afternoon downpour I experienced. But it was a good place to meet people and find out more about what to do in and around town.

I started out by exploring the city itself. The city offers a free walking tour on weekdays at 9:30 am, which was a great introduction to Mérida and its history. Our guide was informative and showed us all the main sites in the historical center. I followed this up with more local history and art at the free Museo de la Ciudad. I wandered the chaotic Mercado Municipal Lucas de Galvez, which has a section for random merchandise like jewelry and party favors next to the produce section packed with fruit and vegetable stalls. Throughout the market people are playing music on loud speakers. It’s a sensory overload kind of place that everyone should experience. I grabbed a cheap lunch of an empanada and the spiky lychee-like fruit that I thought only existed in Southeast Asia before wandering around the rest of the historic center highlights.

Mérida went through a few phases of development that caused a strong European influence in its architecture. First was the Spanish conquest, then it experienced an economic boom during the 19th century due to its henequen fields, which coincided with an attraction to the cultural epicenter of the time, France. Because of this buildings appeared with iron balconies and a wide avenue was lined with chateau-like homes, a Mexican ode to the Champs-Elysees. Once henequen was replaced by synthetic materials Mérida became inconsequential, and was subsequently left to itself. Not much has changed since.

Mérida grew on me. At first I was a bit disappointed, since it had received such high reviews from other people, but the longer I stayed the more accustomed to it I became. I give its street numbering system major points though – streets are all numbered, with evens running north/south and odds east/west. It’s easy to navigate and so sensible.

I also finally had my first real night out in Mérida and it was a great one. We got a large group of travelers together from the hostel – Brits, Aussies, Germans, Quebecians, Kiwis, Dutch, Norwegian – and went to the Mezcaleria. In my mind we would be at a cool bar taste-testing mezcal; in reality this nightclub promoted mezcal shots and dancing the night away. Our MX$50 entry included a mezcal cocktail, and for the reasonable price of another MX$50 you could get two shots of mezcal and a beer. We were there till the 3 am closing time, dancing our asses off to a mix of salsa and international music. Just so fun.

Four nights was plenty though. With a day and a half exploring the city and two days on excursions to nearby attractions, I felt like I got a good impression of what Mérida was about.

Valladolid, Chichen Itza, and Ek Balam

When I left Tulum I felt ready to launch into a couple of weeks of moving around to see the sites of Mexico. This would start in Valladolid.

The point of going to Valladolid was its proximity to Mayan ruins, primarily Chichen Itza, one of the New Wonders of the World. What I discovered when I got there was a charming colorful town with a laid back attitude. I was surprised by my instant fondness of this place and joy at simply wandering the streets on my first day. I also knew once I checked into the Hostel La Candelaria that I would extend my stay to two nights. With varied hangout spaces both indoors and out and a great included breakfast that changed every day it was the kind of place I was happy to come home to.

But I was there to see Chichen Itza, so I woke up at 7 am to catch the beginning of breakfast and the earliest collectivo I could get myself to. I joined together with two American girls and a German guy from the hostel, and by 9 am we were at Chichen Itza. Going early is the best advice I can give you – it was not crowded at all, the sun wasn’t strong enough to make it oppressively hot like it would be by noon, and the vendors hadn’t totally set up yet so we weren’t bothered to buy things the whole time. Once the tour buses showed up at 11 the entire experience changed and it became a market place. Everywhere we went stalls were selling the same kitschy things for “cheaper than Walmart, almost free!”

We took our time exploring the site, which had more buildings than I anticipated. It’s most known for El Castillo, the giant perfectly constructed pyramid. It has 90 stairs on each side, totaling 365 to coordinate with the Mayan sun calendar. On the spring and autumn equinoxes, the position of the sun creates a mystical effect, casting a shadow on the stairs that looks like a serpent. It was impressive – although we were disappointed that we couldn’t climb it – but it’s one of those sites that looks just like the pictures. Exploring the whole place was interesting but I couldn’t shake a feeling of neutrality towards it. I knew it wouldn’t be my favorite ruin.

The next morning I went to the other main ruin in the area, Ek Balam, and actually liked it more than Chichen Itza. It’s quieter, still surrounded by jungle, and you can climb up everything. I was earlier than tour groups again except for one, which at first was a disappointment but ended up being a great coincidence. For whatever reason, this tour guide was friendly to me and actually invited me to come along with them. Free tour! Why not? He was a great guide – I learned a lot about Ek Balam and the Mayan culture then and now.

For example, Ek Balam got its name from a local jungle inhabitant: Black Jaguar. Ek means black, balam means jaguar. The romance languages would put the descriptor, black, after the noun, jaguar, so it would be jaguar black, or balam ek. But Mayan language is structured liked the English language, with the adjective preceding the noun, so it is black jaguar. Because of this, children who grow up with the Mayan language learn English easier.

Having seen Ek Balam and Chichen Itza, as well as the lovely town of Valladolid, I felt satisfied with my time there and ready to go. I jumped on an afternoon bus bound for Merida.

One last thing about Valladolid – it ended up having a major effect on my trip trajectory. The people I met at my hostel there turned into my travel buddies for at least the next two locations, and they probably will continue to be for the rest of my time in Mexico. I’ll let you know once we get there.

Travel Friends for Life

So who is this Karim character that brought me to Tulum? We met last year at the Matterhorn South Hostel in Wanaka, New Zealand. He was the reason I played frisbee golf every day and tasted delicious home cooked moussaka. A couple of weeks later we met up in Sydney for a day on Bondi Beach and a night out in Newtown. We missed each other by weeks in Southeast Asia and again due to his food poisoning in California. So when we realized we would both be in Mexico at the same time, we had to make it happen, and Tulum was the perfect place for a reunion. Coincidentally, this reunion happened on our one year friendaversary!

Any time people asked us how we knew each other they were surprised by our history. We are truly travel friends. But now that we’ve hung out in three countries on opposite sides of the world, I don’t doubt that we will see each other again. With any luck, we’ll actually make our fantasy of an Africa road trip happen in the next two years.

Karim is one of those people I met in my RTW trip that confirmed that travel friends are life friends. We may not see each other all the time, but when we do it’s like we’re old friends catching up on life. And thanks to him, I got back into the swing of this travel thing.

See you again soon my friend, on one continent or another.

Tulum, More About the Cenotes than the Ruins

Tulum was one of the most highly recommended places in Mexico owing to its white sand beaches and picturesque oceanside ruins. I enjoyed both as well, although they each had their own negatives too. The beach was great for an afternoon swim, but unfortunately was overrun with seaweed during my time there, which clouded its typically turquoise color. The ruins were beautiful, but by 11 am they were brutally hot and overcrowded with tour groups.

My real highlight of Tulum was the cenotes. There are plenty of these natural sinkholes around the peninsula, but Tulum was the only place I went diving in them. The first day Karim and I snorkeled in one and discovered the appeal of its crystal clear water and fascinating cavern formation. We also saw how much more the divers were able to explore. So we checked out a couple of dive shops in town and decided to go for it when we found one that would let me dive in two too (Karim is advanced certified but I am not certified, so finding one that would let me do two cenote dives was tough since technically it’s not allowed).

We started in Casa Cenote, where they take all introductory and refresher divers since it’s always possible to surface in case anything goes wrong. We barely got any lessons before the dive started, something that was fine for me having done this a couple of times already but surprising given how Discover Scuba dives are supposed to go. The point of this dive was to test our buoyancy control; cavern diving requires a much more controlled, even dive style than open water does because there are rock formations above, next to, and below us. The first moment we went into a cavern I had to check myself mentally. “Oh right,” I thought, “this is what we’re doing, diving in a cave, with solid rock around me.” Luckily my next thought was, “This is so freaking cool!”

Our guide judged that we all did well enough on our first dive so he took us to Gran Cenote. This time we would really be in the caverns. Air was never too far away, but most of the dive we were surrounded by stalactites and stalagmites and frequently had to use flashlights to light the way. It was awesome. There’s something so uniquely cool about exploring caves in water. It’s another world down there. It’s not about reefs and wildlife like open water diving is, it’s about natural architecture under the earth’s surface. When we got back on land we were all stoked about what we’d just done, and I personally vowed to return once I’m certified to do more dives like this.

The next day Karim dove in El Pit, a huge deep cenote where advanced and cave certified divers can go down to 40 meters. Visibility is 100 meters and light rays that penetrate the water looked like something out of a sci-fi movie. One day I will go back and do this.

The Campsite I Couldn’t Leave

After Mexico City I jumped to the coast. Originally I thought I would start in Oaxaca and work my way up to the peninsula, but once I cut Belize (budgetary reasons) and learned a friend would be in the Playa del Carmen area I changed my mind and flew to Cancun. The airport bus landed me in Playa for two nights – an okay experience that doesn’t merit its own post – from which I took a collectivo to Tulum to meet up with Karim.

All I knew from him was that he’d found a “gem” of a place on the beach near the ruins where we could camp. I looked up as much as I could about where this Pancho Villa Bar and Campground place was, which only seemed to exist on a Facebook page, and based on the Facebook map and his vague description set out to find it. Turns out the bar is only a year old and the campsite less than half a year, which explains its seeming nonexistence; the first tourist post at the ruins didn’t even know about it, but the second one proved more helpful with the advice to turn at Playa Maya. I actually found it easily, although by the time I got there I was sweating so much you’d think it poured rain on my walk, and secured a tent at a bargain price for three nights.

The campsite was a gem. It was right behind the bar on the beach, so every day we could walk out to the ocean whenever we wanted. Along with multiple plots where you could pitch your own tent or sleep in one of the ones for rent, there was a hammock area where we hung out for daytime naps and nighttime chats, a kitchen of sorts (if you don’t mind cooking over an open fire), and a bar/reception/hangout area where the activities happened and the guys who ran the place spent most of their time. That’s where I learned how to shoot a slingshot and make a dreamcatcher, which is now hanging in this area amid the collection that Juan made.

Juan, the owner of this campsite, has traveled the world learning things. He built every structure on this site, wove every dreamcatcher decorating the hangout area, carved every decoration including the totem pole at the beach bar entrance, and made his vision of this place a reality. He plans to do it again on an island next year. He is one of those people that you meet only in places like this, where good vibes matter and time does not. “Manana” was his favorite word. I stayed up late talking with Juan about travel and life in a mixture of English, German and Spanish. He taught me how to make the dreamcatcher, his new nickname for me, and I drove his stick-shift Jeep down to a friend’s place on the Zona Hoteleria for conversation over beers and tacos and an impromptu soccer game on the beach. He took me in and I promised I would return one day.

Everyone who worked at the place accepted me into their friendship, despite my inability to converse in Spanish. Owing to their good English, we still were able to have conversations ranging in topic from sculpture in ancient Rome to typical Mexican humor. I passed hours sipping beers shooting the shit with these guys, and if it wasn’t for the sand flies that decided I was the tastiest thing since pastor tacos I probably would have stayed longer. The sheer quantity of bites earned me the name Crocodile Woman, so after my fourth night I decided it was time to leave.

I have come across these chill types of places around the world – Nicaragua, Colombia, Laos – and have always moved on before I felt ready, having to be somewhere else. This time I didn’t have that need, I had all the time in the world. I was curious to see how long I would actually stay in a place like this. When I first arrived, I thought I might stay for weeks and just disconnect. In the end I lasted four days. I have openly blamed the oppressive heat and hungry bugs, but inside I just knew it was time. And the fact that I could come to that decision just by feeling instead of by schedule is what this trip is all about.

Pancho Villa was an important place for me. A place where I finally felt like I’m into this new chapter, and where I let the logistical traveler go. The people and the place came together at the right time for me, and from then one I knew I would be in the mentality I hoped for when I left again. As of writing this it’s been a week since my departure from Tulum, and I can say that it’s going well so far. And I sincerely believe I have the Pancho Villa campsite to thank for that.

Thoughts from Tulum

October 11, 2015.

“Just over 2 weeks into this trip I feel like I’ve gone through a lot of transitions in my thoughts about what I’m doing now.

First was the feeling that the phrase “this trip” was incorrect. I am traveling, but don’t want to set an itinerary. As soon as I shed the idea of this being a “trip” and started thinking of it as just my life, the lingering logistical tendencies from last year started to fade away. Recommendations are great but I don’t have to do them all – I can change everything as I go.

Second followed that idea: all the ways I was documenting my trip, little projects and things I always did or collected, I don’t have to do anymore. The food project is done, ticket stubs are expendable, if I don’t write down a town or city in this notebook that’s ok. I am not extending the RTW trip but living a nomadic life, so I don’t need to keep up with things I did last year, they are also done. This extends to pictures too. I find myself just being places more and leaving the camera in my bag.

Which brings me to three: the blog. Do I have to blog about everything? I went through a weird two days in Playa that really don’t have to be explained, so can I just leave that part out? Separately but along the same idea, do I now try to monetize my blog? It’s always been for friends, family, and myself to keep track of where I went, but now it could change just like my experience is changing.

Fourth, my budget. I started out with the same spreadsheet, tracking every dollar I spent. Then I got to Tulum and lost track and didn’t care. I know what it costs to travel the world already, what does it matter this time? And as a new friend asked, “Doesn’t it get exhausting worrying about money all the time?” Yes, yes it does. So if I want to go diving in a cenote, fuck it, I’m going diving in a cenote. Maybe this time I will see what “till I run out of money” actually means, and in the process I’ll have the time of my fucking life.

What all of this means really is that I’ve totally put my RTW travel behind me, sealed as a complete trip. What happens from here on out only time will tell. But I have released myself from all the pressures of my previous experience. I am truly just wandering. Maybe I should change this to my WanderAbrodge.”

A Quiet Morning at Teotihuacan

Monday morning I woke up to the sound of rain. Damn. Today was the day I had planned to go to Teotihuacan. Located just an hour outside of Mexico City, Teotihuacan was the largest Pre-Columbian city in the Americas, and a must-do for me. I would not let the rain deter me – I was going.

It was early enough that the Metrobus wasn’t crowded, so my commute to the Terminal del Norte was painless, although the walk between the Potrero Station and the Terminal is not one I would suggest to the uneasy traveler. Finding the blue triangle sign that signaled the bus to Teotihuacan was easy, and after paying MX$88 for ida y vuelta I was told my bus would leave in 5 minutes. 15 minutes later I boarded the bus marked “Piramides.”

I had almost forgotten what taking a bus in Latin America was like. Someone greeted me by putting three chocolate bars on the seat next to me, then came back around asking for money for them. Someone else walked the aisle offering nuts for sale. Halfway through the journey a duo boarded with acoustic guitars to serenade us. I smiled at it all.

By the time I arrived at Teotihuacan the rain had stopped, and I realized I had timed it just right. Whether it was the morning rain, the 10 am arrival, or the day after Sunday, when it is free for Mexicans, or a combination of all three, I was practically alone. There were a handful of other people taking their time exploring the ruins, but for the most part it was a peaceful morning there.

I proceeded down the Avenue of the Dead, the main thoroughfare of the ancient town. I could see the gigantic pyramids lurking ahead but I took my time reaching them. Along the way were brief informative plaques and other subsidiary ruins to climb around on. The whole procession required climbing up and down over staircases into plateaus, a system devised to combat the incline of the site.

Then I reached the final plateau. To my right was the towering Pyramid of the Sun. As I approached I looked up at the daunting staircase I was about to climb. Without a break in my step I began the ascent, and about halfway up remembered that Mexico City is at elevation. At least that’s what I’m blaming for the quickness with which I lost my breath. But I powered on and made it to the top, where the view was beyond rewarding. Not only could I see the extent of the old city and the Pyramid of the Moon at the Avenue of the Dead’s end, but I could see the entire valley around me and the mountains in the distance. The top of the Pyramid of the Sun was believed to be a sacred place with strong energy, and there is no denying that it felt special up there.

After taking it all in and having some lovely conversations with an Australian couple and an American man – a welcomed reminder of how easy it is to meet people no matter where you are – I moved on. The hawkers were starting to appear and I wanted to make it to the Pyramid of the Sun before it was too crowded. The road ended in a square surrounded by the ruins of temples. It was a humbling space. I climbed the shorter ascent up the Pyramid of the Sun and looked back out at the town I had traversed. Even though it is in ruins, it is still impressive.

I liked it there so much that I decided to linger for a while, so I found a temple on the main square but off to the side where I could be alone. I sat at the top and took it all in. I meditated. I wondered at the ancient civilization that had built such a place and the beauty of what remained.

When the jovial Chinese tourists came up my pyramid to take a picture in my spot I took that as my sign to go. I had enjoyed a relatively quiet morning in Teotihuacan, but the masses were coming. I walked out and a bus back to the city was waiting in the parking lot; it left just a few minutes after I boarded.

Teotihuacan affected me more than I thought it would. I was in awe of it, and I recommend everyone go there. But beyond the site itself was the moment I had at the top of my pyramid, when I looked out at the spectacle below me and said to myself, “I’m back.”