Travel is Political

I’m getting tired of people telling us to keep politics out of our page. Newsflash people, travel is political. Most things in life are inherently political, whether you want to accept it or not. Communities, schools, work, religious groups, sports, and even families all have some sort of political occurrences in their structures, interpersonal interactions, and more. Yes, it’s annoying and greatly concerning how much division and anger the uncomfortable topic of “politics” can create. We despise when people take sides, like sports teams, instead of seeing the need to help the most vulnerable or marginalized people.

So how is Travel Political? Let’s dive in:

1) Access to Resources: if a group has generational wealth or greater access to resources than other groups, they have greater access to leisure time to relax and more privilege and liberty to plan and pay for leisure like travel. Policies and laws established by politicians have historically impacted who has greater access to resources over others.

2) Immigration Status: people have traveled across oceans, mountains, and rivers to seek a better and/or safer life since the dawn of humanity. Animals do this to survive. It’s unfair to label someone as “illegal” and “criminal” when they may have had to uproot their whole family and life from one country due to war, poverty, environmental collapse, discrimination, disease, etc. The USA was founded by the colonization of European immigrant settlers who rampaged Native American communities and benefited financially from forced enslavement and migration of Africans. The USA has also created issues by meddling in other countries’ politics, like in Central America, or Palestine-Israel, of which has caused the huge waves of migration of refugees from those regions. People’s movement will never end so long as there are incentives and freedom to do so, whether it is for survival, or whether it’s for leisure. Topics of migration, immigration, refugees are travel-related and significantly impacted by policies and laws.

3) Saviour Complex: The idea of “saving poor unfortunate souls” is nothing new. Christianity wiped out indigenous tribes, their culture, and spiritual practices worldwide because they were deemed savage, inferior, and evil. European monarchies were closely allied with the Catholic and Protestant churches because together, they held greater power and wealth. Therefore, religion in those times was highly political. Nowadays, when most prefer to see a separation of Church and State, we still observe that people like to travel to feel better about themselves and get the feeling they are making a difference. Some examples of this can be seen by trips planned to convert Africans to Christianity or clean up trash with a non-religious organization. But how much are their efforts hurting versus helping and centering the more privileged person’s experience? Shouldn’t their wealth and efforts be used in political power to help sway policies that have a much more significant impact on people abroad? There are also highly political non-religious organizations that perpetuate the Saviour Complex, like the US government’s Peace Corps or the US Department Agency International Development (USAID). This mindset not only shapes a culture of what is seen as charitable giving through travel, but it also shapes foreign policy and laws abroad.

4) Passport Privilege: This one almost goes hand in hand with immigration status and access to resources. Are you a citizen who can afford to buy a passport and use it? Do you have legal status that allows you to receive a passport? Does your country passport allow entry into all countries? Or does your country’s standing in the world only grant you and your passport access to a select few countries? The citizens of Japan and Singapore have the most passport privileges as they are able to visit 189 countries each. In comparison, Afghanis have the worst passport privilege as they are only able to visit 25 countries. Politics shape the policies and laws that shape our passport privilege in the world.

In conclusion, there is no doubt that travel is political. We stand for ethical, sustainable, educational, and conscious traveling. We cannot stay silent about injustices, especially if they negatively impact our communities, vulnerable communities like BIPOC/ LGBTQ+ / low-income/ disabled, the environment, and ultimately ANY travel experience (whether forced immigration or for leisure). Many of us have a voice and ability to sway our political representatives, boycott unethical products or companies, and more. We remain a non-party affiliated platform with a strong desire to encourage holding our politicians accountable no matter which party – and even if one side needs accountability A LOT more often.

Did we miss any important subtopics to this topic? Please add your take on this subject in the comments below.

My Ultimate Travel Inspiration: Abuela

A note from the author: This is a tribute to my abuela who recently passed away on Friday the 13th, September, 2019. This article was made possible thanks to my family who shared their oral history, where I was able to match up parts of her story with photos and documents. She often would explain, “yo crucé montañas, rios, y oceanos para poder pasar tiempo contigo” to the grandkids in order to help us understand what kind of effort, distance, and sacrifice was invested in order for her to spend time with us. Clarita was a soul full of colors, love and forgiveness. She was magic with her unconditional love, like a poesía de alegría. She could lite up any room she walked into, filling a house with her energy resembling vibrant colors. To better understand why Clarita was the way she was, our greatest inspiration to keep going despite life’s obstacles, the following is her story.

Clara Beatriz Rey was born on July 29th, 1934 in Bogotá, Colombia, although the date is debatable. This stereotypical vivacious Leo personality argued that her real birth date is unknown since she has no birth certificate to prove it. Her family’s life took a turn when she was 4-years-old because her dad Guillermo Rey Chacón passed away due to Tuberculosis, leaving behind Clarita, her older sister of 7 years-old Maria Helena “Nena”, and their Mami Maria Helena Vazquez.

They moved in with her mom’s 14 siblings, 5 tios and 9 tias who helped raise the young girls. Her mom was the oldest of the 14, therefore she was known as el gran poder, or the mighty power, also due to her affability and kindness leading to a certain don, or gift, she had liaising with people. Clarita would later acquire this same don and impressive ability of connecting with people in a way that even a stranger on the street would love talking to her.  Furthermore, Maria Helena had a distinct ability to play the piano that her parents ordered from Germany.

Clarita finished up to 7th grade (2do de bachillerato), then went to work at a Kodak 100_4407shop that some of her aunts worked at, as well as a laboratory where she packaged medicines. Cue meeting her future husband Carlos Jaime Chavarriaga (pronounced Hi-meh) on a bus towards downtown, both of them on their way to work in 1954 when Clara was 19-years-old. Jaime worked at the Manhattan store, a clothing line for men. By the end of 1954, Jaime and Clara wed at the Iglesia Santa Teresita, and then by 1955 their first daughter Martha was born.

 

First Trip Abroad, 4 Kids, and Career

Clarita y Martha - Culver City, California

Clarita & Martha in Culver City, California

By the end of 1955, a tia of Jaime offered the family of three their first trip to the United States. They took a short stop in Cuba for a couple of days, and they stayed in the USA for about 5 months. Since they stayed in Culver City, California outside of LA, Jaime tried out for various roles as an extra for several movies searching for “Hispanic” actors. He wasn’t able to find a job, so they returned back to Colombia. However, this trip must have made on impact on her first born (and possibly the second born too since she could have been conceived in the USA), which later on it will make sense why.

Shortly after, the brood grew to a total of 4 kids with Maria Clara (1956), Carlos Jaime (1958), and Claudia Rosa “Rosita” (1960). In order to not confuse Carlos Jaime Jr with his dad, we will refer to Jaime Sr as “Don Jaime.” Most family trips consisted of long weekend “Puente” holiday trips to warmer climate and lower altitude pueblos outside of cold mountainous Bogotá a couple of times a year. Girardot, Melgar, and Utica were the most frequented spots. Don Jaime’s brother, Guillermo, was a pilot, therefore the couple or the whole family sometimes got to travel thanks to his benefit. By airplane in Colombia, they visited coastal locations like Barranquilla and Tumaco both on the Caribbean and the Pacific coast respectively. 

 

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Clara on her way to Tumaco, Colombia on the pacific coast in 1971. Her brother-in-law Guillermo was a pilot, so he let her take a quick photo opp.

Family Trips in Colombia:

Entrepreneurship ran through Clarita’s veins, as did her nurturing and healing essence. In 1962-66 she started a fashion design business out of their own house where she had a couple of seamstresses on her team. In 1964-69 she created a cake and dessert business overlapping with the other business. Fast forward a bit of time in 1983, she supported Carlos Jaime’s travel agency business which later turned into a catering and events business, Banquetes Pablo VI, which still continues to this day 36 years later. However, her love for working in the healthcare industry prevailed.

Clarita found an internship working as an instrument nurse at the Hospital San José in 1968. To the dismay of her husband Jaime, who like many men at the time felt she should stay at home to child rear and tend to housework, she went against his wishes as she discovered her passion for working in healthcare and continued with it. At the time, Don Jaime had been working at Abbott as a pharmaceutical drug salesman who visited different Doctor’s offices, a job he held until retirement when he created his own related company Disfarma LTDA. Throughout the years, Clara worked seasonally or part-time at several different hospitals: Clinica Palermo, Clinica de Marly, Hospital Militar, and Clinica del Country. She specialized in supporting heart surgeries from about 1968 until about 1988 usually on part-time or short-term based assignments. She took two separate breaks between those 20 years, once in 1977 and once in 1981.

Clara was always savvy to find or create opportunities anywhere. She landed a job as a live-in nanny for two Cuban girls in the Miami, Florida area (Coral Gables) in 1977. She was there for about 5 months, where she would send her earnings as remittances back home to the family. At the time, the eldest daughter Martha was 22, therefore she helped run the household in Colombia. She later had to go home for unexpected reasons the family does not like to talk about, however the experience served as preparation for exciting opportunities to come in the USA and abroad.

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Clarita’s Beauty Battle Scar

She took almost a year-long break in 1981 after she severely broke her right arm in a freak mini elevator accident at the hospital, when a small container (aka dumbwaiter or lift), that transported medical supplies and other materials between floors in the building, fell on her arm and broke skin and bone. Around the same time, Don Jaime and Clara separated since they spent most of their time fighting. It was a very tough year for Clara due to her arm, her failed marriage, and her eldest daughter had left to live in the USA for good. Once her arm was fully mobile again thanks to healing and physical therapy, she persisted with her seasonal work at the hospital. This is only one of the many examples of Clarita’s strength and resilience. It wasn’t until the birth of her first grandchild in 1988 that she decided to drop everything and leave Colombia for a while.

A New Chapter – Grand-parenting All Around The World

At the wedding from left to right: Clara, Richard, Martha, and Don Jaime.

Her eldest daughter Martha met a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer, Richard Tracy, in 1978. They wed by 1980, and moved to the U.S. by 1981 after Richard completed his volunteer service. By 1988, they were living in Richard’s hometown Toledo, Ohio when Alexandra was born. Clarita decided by the time that Ale was 3 months that she was ready to be a full-time grandmother in the USA to help while both parents worked full time. A year later, and still the only birth of her grand kids she ever witnessed, Michele was born in 1989. Just two months after that, her 3rd granddaughter Diana Carolina or “Caro” was born in Bogotá to Carlos Jaime and his wife Diana Patricia. Because of this, Clara spent most of her time traveling between Colombia and the USA for the rest of her grand kids’ youth until the U.S. grand kids turned 18. For 19 years, her visits to the USA would usually span about 3-6 months each, about once a year, all depending on her Visa and who was able to cover her flights.

 

The most exciting birth of a grandchild occurred in the outskirts of Milano, Italy. Clara’s second daughter Maria Clara received a scholarship to study Opera in Italy, and she was there with her partner Carlos Yañez who was also studying his PhD from 1987 to 1994 for 11 years. In 1992, Clarita’s only grandson Andrés was born, providing her another way to explore outside of Colombia and help rear her 4th and last grandchild for a full year. In addition, she landed a job as a nanny for twin Italian girls. With her youngest daughter Rosita, who at the time worked for the Colombian airline Avianca, she was able to travel very easily due to perks and benefits from the job that were extended towards family. The two traveled throughout Europe together while they spent most of the time in Milano. They traveled to London, Paris, Madrid, Lisbon, and all around Italy. Maria Clara and her family lived in Italy until 1996, when they moved back to Colombia.

 

Rosita and Clarita always traveled together when Rosita worked for Avianca

Again thanks to Rosita and Avianca, Clarita got to travel all over Latin America for the rest of the 90’s and early 2000s. They traveled to Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile, Rio de Janeiro, Caracas, and Quito. Maria Clara and Rosita spent a lot of time going to visit the USA to accompany Andrés and Caro throughout their youth, but not as much as Clara traveled there with the them. Thanks to Clara’s dedication and guardianship, as well as Rosita, Maria Clara, Martha, and Jaime’s funding and hard work, the four cousins grew up like siblings and all became fully bilingual Spanish-English.

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The 4 primos/siblings: Alexandra, Caro, Michele, and little Andres all together for the first time ever at the Bogota Airport.

Clarita en Santiago de Chile

Clarita and Rosita visiting Maria Clara and Carlos when they lived in Santiago, Chile

In 1991-1997, Martha’s family was living in Texas for 7 years, therefore Clarita had visited enough times to establish relationships in San Antonio, TX. She was able to acquire jobs with her Visa at the time working as a maid at a hotel, as well as babysat from time to time. When Martha’s family left for Mexico in 1997, she decided she was going to try to acquire U.S. citizenship. She continued work at the hotel, found a job at McDonalds, and helped care for disabled people. Whenever she had some extra time, she traveled to Mexico and was able to see some of the states of Coahuila and Nuevo Leon with Martha’s family. Perhaps due to viewing the USA as a ‘superior country’, Clara worked hard to acquire U.S. citizenship. She studied for years for the citizenship test to prepare for once she qualified to actually take the test, especially this visibly worn list of 100 questions in English. Although Clarita had the help of Martha and family to bid for citizenship, benefited from white privilege, and she worked very hard at several jobs, sadly her dream did not come true. It could have been the political and cultural nature of Texas, it could have been her broken English, but unfortunately U.S. citizenship was not granted to her after her test in 1999.

 

 

An Adventurous Life

Clarita Passport Photos

Clarita’s Passport photos through the years

Nonetheless, Clarita lived the last 20 years of her life traveling everywhere with her family. It was always her family connections who made it possible for her to travel so much, and on occasion she was able to save her own hard earned money from different jobs in order to be able to travel. Martha’s family moved to the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan in 1999, Maria Clara and her family moved to Chile for a year in the early 2000s, and then her sister Nena’s family moved to Montreal, Quebec, Canada in 2006, so there was still a lot of traveling. By 2012, all of the female grand-kids graduated from college, and so the family started traveling more together to new places. Alexandra moved to California, where it was the first time Carlos Jaime and Diana Patricia traveled to the USA in 2014 with the rest of the family. After that, different family members traveled with Clarita everywhere including an epically captured trip to Cuba.

Cartagena, Colombia:

Las Vegas, Nevada and the Grand Canyon:

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Clarita was very modern for an abuela, savvy with her cellphone, especially Whatsapp. Here is a picture she sent Alexandra about her piece of luggage she kept just because of the memorable trips Alexandra took with it.

Clarita was a resilient, independent, adventurous, and a vivacious soul. Her love for exploring new places almost matched her greater love for her family. For about 3 years, she begged Diana Carolina for a trip to Aruba. That trip did not occur because her 3 granddaughters thought they had way more time to plan and save up for the trip. Clara passed away unexpectedly in September of 2019 due to catching bacterial meningitis which sparked sudden rapidly deteriorating health. Thankfully, she did not suffer as she was in a coma for 11 days straight, 3 of which she was half-awake to what the family deems a miracle chance for her to say her goodbyes before she passed. The whole family was convinced she would live past 100+ years just based on her positive, magnetic, and vivacious attitude. Nevertheless, the family holds Clarita’s spirit in their hearts, and are currently grappling with how to move forward with this new void in their lives.

 

Stay tuned for our trip to Aruba which will pay tribute to Clara Chavarriaga Rey! Who knows when it will be planned, but it will happen!

Montañas, Rios y Oceanos

Possible tattoo inspiration found by Michele. Clarita, a Leo with the Sun as it’s ‘planet’ (star), would often say “yo cruce montañas, rios y oceanos para pasar tiempo contigo.”

Introducing: Elizabeth Garcia

Her name is Elizabeth Garcia, but she goes by Elisabet or Lisa. A young U.S. based multicultural Latina with family dispersed throughout the Americas, but originally from México and Chile. From East L.A. and coming from two consecutive generations of immigrant women, Lisa has travelled very little for just tourism, but more so for her studies and to meet her families, on a mission to connect herself to them and her roots. This mission has led Lisa on a journey of logging her families’ oral histories, and conducting genealogical research and ancestrological work, which she does as side projects that consume her interest in understanding and resolving intergenerational trauma on an international level. 

After two years in total of studying abroad in Brazil, México and Chile, this coming year she will be completing her fifth year in college and receiving her undergraduate degree in anthropology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Lisa’s dreams and goals include becoming a novelist and published author, working to help others realize their right to move freely between invisible international borders, and someday coming back to permanently live in her countries of origin – ideally spending half the year in México, half the year in Chile and skipping winter altogether (or spending the winter holidays with her family in Southern Califoria, which is still skipping out on the cold). 

Follow her on IG @elisabet.raquel

Why Travel is So Important in the Age of Immigration Issues

It’s no secret that I love to travel. Sometimes I like staying at hotels instead of my usual preference of hostels (or a local couch). I buy souvenirs to bring back for family and take pictures for my IG/Blog.

Sometimes, I even forget that this is a privilege and I definitely take it for granted.

If you’re new here, I’ll give you a little background. I was born in Sfax, Tunisia to a Cuban-American mother. My mother gained her American citizenship after my family fled the communist regime in Cuba, and was granted asylum in the United States. Which means I was automatically an American citizen at birth, despite the fact I had never been to the country. Something that has bothered me my whole life.

I came to the States as a small child and I do not remember the country where I was born. If my mother hadn’t been granted asylum I’d be a dreamer. Instead, I was given a passport and a privilege I did nothing for.

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With this little blue passport, I have been able to travel around the world hassle free. I have been able to experience other cultures, new food, and the incredible natural beauty this earth holds. I often forget that many people, even friends and family members of mine, do not have that option. For many people in the United States, going back home means risking your life.

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You see, people come to the States in order for a better life for their children and new opportunities. For many crossing the border is life or death. I often struggle with this fact, especially because the last few years I have been working in immigration. I hear these stories firsthand, mother’s beaten and raped by partners and the police do nothing, or kids escaping gang violence and brutal killings of family members.

Woah. Yeah I know, heavy stuff. You may be thinking, what the hell does traveling have to do with this? How could this help? We have a responsibility when we travel. A responsibility to respect whatever culture we are experiencing and to learn from it.

We also have a responsibility to use our privilege for good. When you travel, immerse yourself fully within the lifestyle and culture you are lucky enough to experience. Only then can you understand and respect the journey. Immersing yourself as much as you can also help us get rid of biases and assumptions we may not even realize we have.

You can also help share the stories of marginalized people that society has deemed unimportant or not valuable. Those people that are scared to speak up, and are constantly taken advantage of.

You can also tell the stories we don’t see every day or on the media. You can show either the gruesome realities of some communities that, again, do not have that voice. Or maybe it’s painting a good picture of an otherwise stereotyped community or culture. we can even take it a step further and travel to places you might not normally have gone to. Stay in locations that make you uncomfortable, that may lack the usual luxury you are accustomed to. When you put yourself in someone else’s shoes is when you will truly be grateful for your own life. Maybe it will even motivate you to do something about it today.

And if you want to do something about it today, how about traveling to the U.S./Mexico border with No More Deaths and volunteer with this amazing organization. Help those traveling through the desert in search of safety and freedom.

Or maybe be an advocate for The Young Center, and give a voice to children who have come to the United States alone.

Whatever you decide remember that what you take for granted, someone is praying for. You may not even realize that your friend, your neighbor, your co-worker is undocumented. You may never understand the everyday fear that you may lose the only place you have called home. Use your privilege for good in this world, and the world will repay you.

Traveling While Undocumented on Election Night 2016

“Does anyone else see what’s going on?!” I wanted to scream in Palenque, Mexico’s bus station. It was election night, and Trump was winning.

A sea of red spilled over the U.S. map on my iPad while Miguel and I waited for our overnight bus to Mérida. We found a shiny, round, metal table where we could rest our bodies and backpacks under the fluorescent lighting. Miguel and I had three things in common: we loved drawing, we were born in Mexico, and we came here to explore Mexico after growing up in the USA. I had traveled up from Nicaragua after serving there with the Peace Corps for two years, and he’d flown down from Chicago. We met by chance in Oaxaca and we were traveling up the Yucatán Peninsula together.

“Stop looking at that thing,” he said, side eyeing my iPad. I couldn’t. He scribbled Mayan artwork  into his black sketchbook, but I wondered if he was screaming inside, too. “I’m not surprised he’s winning,” he said. “Americans are racist.”

My mom thought Obama wouldn’t win in 2008 because of this racism, but he was elected. Twice. I desperately hoped that this sort of irony would unfold once more. I slumped in my seat and drank my cactus, pineapple, and celery flavored Activia drinkable yogurt. White, European-looking backpackers played cards next to us, as if it were just another day.

I looked more like them than I looked like Miguel. My family is made up of Mexican-born European and American immigrants. When I was little, I asked my dad why we couldn’t go back to Mexico to visit my dying grandfather. “If we go, we might not be able to come back. You were born in Mexico, but don’t tell people that. Tell them you were born in L.A.,” my dad and his blue eyes told me. He’d try to hide our identity in public, but as a homeschooled kid, he’d often teach me in Spanish. I had no idea then how much my white skin, last name and accent would shelter me until much later.

Miguel kept drawing, his eyes fixated on the thick, white paper that needed the stories from his imagination. His drawings reminded me to look further within my creative self and to be present. He sipped his NesCafé as he did every night to go to sleep, and I took a dramamine pill I’d saved from my Peace Corps service. It would make me less motion sick, but I don’t really get motion sick. I just wanted to numb everything and deny the fascist takeover at “home.”

As our bus pulled in, I read a friend’s Facebook status: “At least California did it’s fucking job.” I hoped other States would do their fucking jobs too, but all I could do was recline my seat and wait for my panic to subside.

At 6 a.m., my anxiety and the city of Mérida greeted me as we rolled in on the carretera. “I think Trump won,” said Miguel, “I haven’t checked but I have friends telling me that whatever happens, they’ve got my back.”

You see, Miguel and I were both undocumented immigrants. The only difference between our status was that at age 21, after living in the U.S. for eighteen years, I became a citizen. Miguel, though, moved to Chicago at age twelve, and over a decade later, despite lacking U.S. citizenship, he returned to Mexico with an Advanced Parole travel document under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Miguel planned to return to the states the day before Trump would be sworn into office as the 45th president. I felt petrified. Not for myself, but for Miguel and all of my friends of color whose fear I will never feel at the thought of what Trump might do. I still don’t think he’ll build a wall, but what would he do? Hopefully he’d be too distracted by learning about checks and balances and adjusting to life in a house that’s not named after him to worry about Miguel.

We pulled into the bus station, stretched our legs, and sat down to stare at our phones in disbelief. The U.S. had just elected a tweeting fascist who brags about sexually assaulting women and who called Mexicans “rapists.” It was as if Moses Lake, my conservative hometown in Washington State, invaded America to spite those of us existing outside of the white heteropatriarchy for eight years under a black president. Those confederate flags waving from my high school classmates’ trucks were a testament to many white people’s fear of becoming outnumbered in a land that was never theirs to begin with.

Physically and emotionally exhausted, we checked into our hostel in Mérida. The staff asked us if we were friends because they offered for us to stay in a private room as opposed to the dorm beds we’d booked. As a lesbian who is used to traveling alone, this was a new situation for me. We jokingly called each other “babe” because everyone assumed we were together. If they only knew that I hadn’t dated a boy in over ten years.

Miguel and I stumbled into our room, exhausted, blasting the air conditioning to combat the intense humidity that made our clothes cling to our sweaty skin. Out the window, people crossed the Cathedral’s plaza and went about their days as usual. I just stared out at them, imagining them wondering “Does anyone else see what’s going on?!” There they were, calm on the outside, but I wondered if they screamed on the inside. Not just here, but in all the streets in every city.

Near the end of our journey together, Miguel and I spent a few nights in Tulum, Cancun’s sleepy neighbor. Nighttime crept up on us, and Miguel wanted to go for a bike ride. “Isn’t that dangerous? What if we hit something we don’t see?” I asked. “Don’t worry about it. Nothing’s going to happen.”

So, we rode into the beachside road past the Mayan pyramids which were dozing off in The Caribbean’s salty humidity. It was surreal to feel the cool air brushing against my once sweaty skin as we floated by.

The hum of our pedals broke the stillness, and we sang along to Manu Chao’s Clandestino:

Soy una raya en el mar,

Fantasma en la ciudad,

Mi vida va prohibida,

Dice la autoridad.

I couldn’t help but feel afraid for Miguel’s future as we sang along. After he left Tulum, I went swimming under the stars and the orange supermoon.

The moon’s light reflected on the white sand, but not onto the shaded road back to my hostel. I got on my bike anyway, because there was no point to worry. Then, a sparkle in a tree to my right. Another to my left. Hundreds of sparkles.

Fireflies illuminated my path, and they, like Miguel, reminded me not to fear riding into the darkness.