January 22, 2017
I hear Clémence unzipping her tent and she asks if I’m awake. We camped somewhere in the middle of 90 km coastal Biosphere Reserve Río Lagartos. I wanted to keep sleeping next to Oscar, but I dragged myself off of the inflatable mattress in time to see the thin white line of light curve at the horizon of the dark ocean. The waves sounded an undisturbed rhythm and the wind was salty.
We brushed our teeth and stumbled over the dune to the ría, 15 steps away, and we saw the first light reflecting off of the flamingos’ feathered backs. We found a narrow bank that jutted into the ría like a peninsula and sat on our hoodies. Clém told me about her family back in France as the sun slowly rose, as if it had been cut out of a piece of pink construction paper and pasted there. Hundreds of flamingos fed and flirted, moving through the sun’s reflection.
That night we drank wine under the overwhelming stars of the new moon. Allie took long-exposure photos of Clém and I writing “Amor” with our camping lamps. There were no other humans for miles, and the whole world was ours.
Even if you don’t keep a journal in your everyday life, I would like to challenge you to keep a travel journal. Travelers seek to experience things with all five senses. Write down what your senses tell you, to relive the emotions, thoughts, and conversations from your trip years later. I have been journaling for ten years, and today my journals are my most valuable possessions.
Treat your journal like a scrapbook, packing along some tools (scotch tape, glue sticks, clips, pencils, and pens). Paste in ticket stubs, receipts, maps, and instant photos to trigger memories later. Keep in mind that journaling is not exclusively solitary. Build your journal together with your travel partner, taking turns recording your favorite moments—and even your arguments.
On a previous trip, my friend Arielle scribbled a note that said, “Let the words be your picture.” If you feel the urge to take a picture, challenge yourself and write three or four sentences to describe the scene instead: The Earth opens up into a cave and reveals a fresh-water pool almost 15 meters below the ground. The electric blue water glows from beneath the surface, and when I slide into the water the cold hits me so hard that I can’t stop laughing. The cenote feels like it must be miles deep, and I am fascinated.
Build your memories using adjectives. Descriptive writing helps you to remember how juicy the Cochinita Pibil tasted and the way that the whole world seemed to vibrate beneath your feet as you looked out into forever on the pyramid at Ek Balam. Write your plans so that you can change them and document your questions so that you remember to resolve them.
Write down your favorite quotes and dialogue to help process your experience. Keep a list of the Spanish you’ve learned so far, so that you can connect with local people as deeply as possible. Collect the names of people you meet and what they taught you. Writing can help you interpret new experiences and interactions in an unknown culture and language.
My friend Allie said, “Traveling to Yucatán for the first time was such a sensory overload that I had to write everything down to understand.” Her experience in Yucatán changed her life, and keeping a travel journal helped her to understand and embrace these changes, making the most of her trip.
Yucatán writes a story with each traveler who visits. Beaches, archaeological sites, cenotes, traditional pueblos and restaurants dot across the map of the entire state, and each traveler connects the dots in her own way. Pick up a notebook and start writing so that years later, you can remember your story.
*ALL PHOTOS: Allie M. Jordan