In July my partner and I packed our bags and left the U.S. for Mexico. Like many Americans we had watched from March onward as the country came grinding to a halt and then slowly reopened on the path to the “new normal.” Days were spent with family and friends, we were in the woods or at the beach as much as possible, and proactively approached our furloughs from work with more cooking, reading, and exercise than normal. It was time well spent given the circumstances but something ominous still hung in the air as people clung to the terrifying, yet literally unbelievable, narrative being broadcast 24/7. Our original plans had us in Central Asia come August but after scrutinizing what countries were open we knew a plan b was needed so off we went to Mexico.
TRAVELS IN MEXICO
The first days of roadtripping around Baja were spent in an uncanny valley where the world was as close to normal as we’d seen since February. However, we hadn’t fully escaped the covid hysteria. Most people walked around in protective gear, several beaches and parks were cordoned off, businesses that should have been open weren’t, and a slight anxiety still hung in the air. That said, we were headed in the right direction. Nobody thought twice about those not wearing a mask, there were plenty of beaches and public spaces not closed (or better yet, the caution tape had just been ripped off), and live music and full restaurants were part of the fun. We even found someone to take us out for a day of illegal snorkeling.
Ultimately, what we were experiencing amounted to just a little more freedom than back home. Nonetheless, the differences were remarkable as what seemed to be missing here was a sense of opposition among people. There were no maskers and anti-maskers, nobody staked out socially distanced territory on the beach, police weren’t on the prowl for a new class of rule breakers. Most businesses followed the mandates handed to them from on high but on average everyone seemed to be doing what was best for themselves without trying to force their ways on anyone else.
As the days progressed we slipped into this new reality as the pandemic propaganda dissolved. It helped that we were free from the barrage of the propaganda from back home. We’re disconnected from the 24-hour news cycle here and social media is all but ignored. The topic rarely comes up here in person beyond occasionally getting asked if everything is okay back in the States. Thankfully the upcoming presidential selection has not once been brought up.
It was a breath of fresh air accepting that nothing in the world had really changed, only the approved messaging, and we were free to return to a larger degree of normalcy with those around us. This transition wasn’t made possible by denying certain realities. Each life lost as a result of this novel disease is tragic and unfortunate and there are still many traumas the living will face going forward but a government-approved one-size-fit-all solution to mitigate this is not the answer.
Everything snapped clearly into focus one night while sitting in a plaza about a week into the trip. We had stopped by to grab a dessert and the plaza was alive and everything as it should be. Children were running around as adults looked on. Groups of friends sat drinking beer while young couples strolled by hand-in-hand. Later on some people assembled with drums and began singing and dancing. The Orwellian concepts of social distancing, new normal, and wearing a mask were mostly disregarded and laid bare as the mechanisms of propaganda they are. These were just people getting out of the house on a Saturday night. Nobody had any intent on doing anyone else any harm.
This night out was long overdue. What had been missing in our lives for months now was publicly sharing in other people’s joy. There had been plenty of private joyful moments at home with friends and family but public spaces were nearly barren of happiness as people largely avoided eye contact let alone sharing space like this.
I also had the feeling that what I was witnessing for the first time in months were people exercising their rights to choose what is best for them. Most of the crowd wasn’t abiding by any mandates but there were also people wearing masks, using sanitizer, and all the rest. Either way nobody was made to feel like a pariah. This was a small but welcomed example of voluntaryism come to life at a time when freedom of association, expression, and movement are nearly verboten.
We’ve now been traveling in Mexico for two months and have seen many more signs of a world not gone mad. Watching on as children bash open a pinata at a birthday party, witnessing ancient Mayan-Christian religious ceremonies, sitting in packed plazas, enjoying dinner without masks, hand sanitizer, or temperature checks, making new friends, gathering with half the town to watch the sunset into the sea, and listening to the thumping music from nightclubs to name a few. Mexico isn’t as open as Nicaragua or Japan which never locked down or without it’s protocols like the Nordic countries where masks are far and away the exception but it seems like a far cry from many people’s realities at the moment and we are happy to be a part of it.
NEW NORMAL, OLD NORMAL, OR SOMETHING ELSE?
At different times throughout our travels I have felt overjoyed, greatly saddened, and sometimes both simultaneously. Elated by what we had found in Mexico where the official narrative didn’t have a stranglehold on everyone while coming to the realization of just what was at stake. It isn’t just jobs and businesses at risk and it isn’t just birthday parties and cookouts being canceled. Everything that underpins our social structures at risk.
It’s much more complicated than that though. The idea of the old normal v. new normal is often portrayed as a false dichotomy: either we return to the old normal wholesale or entirely reorganize society around the technocratic new normal. The truth is that we live in am imperfect world that needs change. Equally, the dehumanizing new normal, or biosecurity paradigm, proposed by the would-be elites should be fiercely rejected.
Instead, we could opt-out of this false paradigm and embark on a path together where power is decentralized, voluntary association is the norm, and the future is bright. These last few months have proven as always that humans are resourceful, entrepreneurial, creative creatures. Death will one day conquer us all but the human spirit remains unbroken so in the meantime let’s celebrate this with new clarity and vision on the road ahead.