I swam to Mexico and back

By On February 04, 2018

I swam to Mexico and back

I swam to Mexico and back

Learning how to call an audible and plan for spontaneity


As I leapt back into the cold and fast-moving waters of the Rio Grande in an attempt to quickly dart back into the United States, the only thing I could really think of was, “Swimming to Mexico, on balance, was an extremely poor decision.” Struggling against the current, I got glimpses of my travel buddy John being absorbed into a rapidly forming crowd, amassed to watch what had now become somewhat of a public spectacle.

The reactions I saw were mixed. A woman of about 60 was worryingly screeching, “Somebody come grab him!” In fairness, I am not a graceful swimmer. A group of college-aged kids chuckled between sips of thei r beers and the high school teacher from Galveston, who jokingly urged me to swim across the river shook his head in mock consternation. When I safely made it back, the crowd dispersed as quickly as it formed. Left shivering from the water and the rapidly approaching Texas winter night, John rightfully asked, “What the fâ€"k are you doing, dude?”

Great question. What the fâ€"k was I doing?

Well, I was road-tripping across the Southwest. And after a colorful night sleeping in a two-door sedan outside a Dallas Wal-Mart, John and I arrived in our current location of Big Bend National Park. We hiked for two days and decided to wind down at a hot spring, nestled on the banks of the Rio Grande. While there, I struck up a conversation in which I learned that it was possible â€" although extremely frowned upon â€" to swim across to Mexico. One thing led to another and the next thing I knew, I was in my boxers, chest-deep in murky international waters, r eally hoping that my passport was in my backpack on the other side.

There’s really not much else to that story. I didn’t have an ill-fated run-in with border patrol, a life-changing revelation about the nature of the lines that divide us or even a chance encounter with drug runners, who would offer a savvy consumer such as myself a domestic discount for their exclusive wares. But, for the rest of the trip, I did try to get in the habit of acting on whims and breaking from our planned course.

And, looking back, the best parts of that trip were the parts we didn’t plan.

I remember the absolute thrill of driving through the night so that the next morning we could skateboard down a famous highway in Monument Valley. And I remember, after pulling over for gas in the tiny Texas town of Marfa, how pleasantly surprised I felt in spending the day checking out the minimalist art scene and making the town’s so-called obligatory pilgrimage to the Prada Marfa. And after driving to Mesa Verde only to realize that it had been closed for at least three months, I remember the childlike wonder of finding a discarded mile marker sign and using it to sled through the park’s abandoned and surprisingly snowy campgrounds.

But I’m not here to wax poetic. I’m sure there are dozens of clichéd Instagram captions, motivational posters and discount self-help books you could find that push “going on adventures” and “being spontaneous.”

I’m just here to point out that our time in college is short-lived and the utter freedom most of us have now, untethered by jobs or real obligations, means that you can end up doing some really cool sâ€"t â€" and it’s up to you whether that means swimming to Mexico, going out four nights a week or staying in to binge Stranger Things. As my time at the University and the last of my wonder years go by, it is those unplanned, visceral moments that stick with me.

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