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Traveling alone in Mexico: An interview with Ellen Mcdonough

Ellen McDonough

Publisher's Note: This interview introduces Ellen McDonough, who will be a regular contributor in future Issues of Mexico Connect. Many of her articles will be reflective of Women travelling alone in Mexico, an area of interest to a growing number of readers. Welcome Ellen!

Original Interview with Seven Questions:
Reproduced with permission by Ellen McDonough Q1: What do you get traveling alone that you wouldn't get traveling with companions?

As much as I enjoy traveling with others, there are many perks to traveling alone that make the trip a much more profound experience. Here are just a few:

  • Freedom
    One of the best features of solo travel is that you can tailor the trip to suit yourself. You don't have to consult with a group, and you never have to compromise. You can go where you want to, when you want to and stay for however long you want.
  • Heightened awareness
    One of my favorite perks of solo travel is I begin to have "psychic" experiences. I feel as if my intuition is at its peak — my dreams have more clarity, I'll just "know" which road to take or who to approach with a question, etc. It's very exhilarating — I don't experience anything close to this while traveling with others.
  • Liberation
    In day to day reality, our perceptions conform to the machinery of our lives and you can lose sight of who you are and what is possible. Also, with the constant dictates of the mass media and current trends about what's "hot," it's easy to be on autopilot and obey the constant onslaught of messages. But venturing out alone in a new country and culture — with the only thing familiar being your luggage — there is nothing binding you to an old identity or way of life. You can be anyone you want to be.

I've found that once outside my "life structures," I once again remember what's truly important to me, and upon return can alter my life to align with it.

  • New perspectives
    When traveling with others I think it's easy to remain insulated from a new culture and merely observe it rather than be a part of it. While alone, I have a much greater tendency to "take in" the new surroundings — the food, the dress, the language, the customs — and interact more with the locals.

In doing so, my mind opens to new ways of living, and this always puts my old habits into perspective.

Again, I have nothing against traveling with companions; but venturing out alone, for me, offers offers unique benefits that make it all worthwhile.


Q2: Which of the places you've visited elicited the most magical or spiritual response?

Nearly all the places I've visited have moved me in some way, but two in particular stand out: Teotihuacan in Mexico, and the Glastonbury Tor in England.

Teotihuacan is an expansive site about an hour north of Mexico City; no one knows for sure how old the site is or why it was built. Two enormous step pyramids frame the site — the Pyramid of the Moon and Pyramid of the Sun.

As the bus neared the site I caught a glimpse of the imposing Pyramid of the Moon, and was instantly struck by an unmistakable feeling that I'd been there before. However, once off the bus and exploring the site on foot, it was the Pyramid of the Sun that affected me the most; I couldn't take my eyes off it — it was somehow so familiar to me.

Elusive visions of some ancient and mystical ceremony surfaced in my mind's eye — one of long lines of robed figures ascending and descending the pyramid steps in stately procession. I wandered Teotihuacan for hours under the hot Mexican sun feeling like I was in a dream. To my eyes the site was entirely unfamiliar, but to my soul I'd returned home.

The second place that elicited a strong spiritual response is the Tor in Glastonbury, England. The Tor is basically a steep hill with an ancient tower perched at the summit. Legends of King Arthur abound in Glastonbury, and the Tor is said to be the mystical Isle of Avalon because when shrouded in fog, this mound seems to float in the air.

All I know is that after making the arduous climb to the top — three times in the three days I was in Glastonbury — I felt such a peace I'd never experienced before. In addition to the spectacular views of the English countryside far below, I felt as if some powerful, harmonious electromagnetic energy engulfed me, aligning me with something larger than life.


Q3: Travelers often tell of remarkable coincidences -- seeing people or places on the road that have uncanny connections to people and places back home. What's your favorite such story?

Actually when I travel, I feel like I'm far removed from connections with people and places back home, so unfortunately I don't have any anecdotes along these lines. I have, however, experienced some remarkable coincidences, and my trip to California and Hawaii springs to mind.

California and Hawaii was my first solo adventure, back in 1988. Craving freedom, I boarded a plane to LA, where I spent a couple of days before heading to Honolulu. I'd never been to either place before; had no itinerary and no reservations and I took only a small backpack filled with some clothes, a camera, some money and a toothbrush. For whatever reason, I wanted to rely solely on the power of my intent to create what I needed.

Here are just a few tidbit coincidences:

  • Walking along Venice Beach, I struck up a conversation with someone who happened to have close friends — a married couple — living in Oahu. He gave me the name and number, so already I had a contact in Hawaii.
  • My flight LA-Honolulu left at 10 p.m., so I found myself waiting over an hour on a dark LA street corner for a cab. Worried that I'd miss my flight and being fearful alone on a dark corner, I visualized a taxi quickly driving me safely to LAX. Barely a few minutes passed when a taxi cab pulled up right in front of me. It turned out the driver was off duty, but he agreed to drive me to the airport where I caught my flight just minutes before takeoff.
  • Since I'd made no reservations, I had to find a hotel in Honolulu. Again I visualized what I wanted: a comfortable room near the beach for no more than $40 a night. As I wandered Honolulu, certain streets seemed "brighter" than others; I followed the "brightness" to a hotel where I got a room with a queen-sized bed, full kitchen, balcony, and only one block from Waikiki Beach for — what else — $40 a night.
  • Waiting for the hotel elevator, I realized I'd run out of sunscreen. Since I burn so easily, I pondered how I'd skip out to a drug store without turning into a lobster. Just then the elevator doors opened and there on the floor — to my amazement — was a half-full bottle of Banana Boat sunscreen.

Anyway, the entire trip was characterized by little "blessings" such as these — so many more than what I've just listed.

To top it off, my flight out of Hawaii departed at 1 a.m. Sep 19th. I got confused with the dates and arrived at the airport a day later. Luckily, the reservation clerk just laughed it off and put me on the next flight, so I ended up with an extra day in Hawaii — free of charge.


Q4: What's the most instructive thing you learned touring the antiquities of the UK (by that I mean the castles and Stonehenge)?

It overwhelmed me to think of all that this tiny island has witnessed throughout the centuries — the hundreds of thousands of people who've lived here throughout the Celtic, Roman, Arthurian, Medieval, Tudor, Georgian, Victorian eras; the ceremonies and rituals; the countless wars and battles; the bloodshed, etc. etc. So much drama in such a small place...

To me, the ruins of Britain appeared to be encoded with centuries of happenings — as if they've been silent recorders of an endless drama. For example, walking through castle hallways it struck me how many people throughout the ages had been there also; what they were thinking, how they died.

Visiting Stonehenge, I wondered what secrets these stones might have have witnessed and if their purpose has been entirely misunderstood by observers. It seems odd to say this, but I almost felt as if these castles and ruins were eager to tell their stories, if only anyone could understand their "language."


Q5: One of your pages mentioned the ancient Greek ruins being held up by scaffolding. How close are those ruins to falling down, from what you've learned on your visit?

The Parthenon and Erectheion are roped off so I was about 20 feet away from any scaffolding.

Hard for me to say how close these structures are to falling down, but the fact they've weathered over two millennia — with most detailed carving intact — is quite a feat.


Q6: What were the main differences between your experience of the pyramids in Egypt and the ones in Mexico?

The most apparent difference is that you can go inside the Egyptian pyramids, but you can't climb them (it's too dangerous). Conversely, at Mexico's Teotihuacan & Chichen Itza pyramids, you're allowed to make the arduous climb to the top, but there is nothing to explore inside. So the ways of experiencing the Egyptian and Mexican pyramids are different.

Also different for me was the overall feel: the Mexican pyramids were much more "personable," that is, with their ornamentation, steps, layout, etc., they seemed to represent a place where ancient civilizations lived, worked, played, worshipped, etc. This was especially true at Chichen Itza.

In contrast, the Egyptian pyramids were entirely impersonal, exuding darkness and mystery. Even after standing for millennia, they coldly command respect. With the obvious lack of ornamentation and hieroglyphics inside and out (which beautifully adorn every other Egyptian ruin), as well as the unbelievably cramped inner passageways, these pyramids were anything but welcoming.

Their ominous presence suggested to me that they were far more ancient than most believe, and were built for some long forgotten occult purpose.


Q7: A lot of people get the blues after returning from an exciting vacation. Any tips on how to cure them?

I've found time and again, it all comes down to what you do before you leave. I have 4 tried and true tips that can make the homecoming one of the best parts of the trip — really! These are: Tie up all loose ends, clean up, set an intention for the trip, and schedule fun activities for when you return.

  • Tie Up Loose Ends
    This includes: paying all bills, returning videos and other rented items, complete small tasks at work, etc. With no loose ends dragging you down you'll be able to enjoy the trip with a clear head, and there'll be much less of a depressing "daily grind" when you return. It is well worth the effort!
  • Clean
    Cleaning makes for a wonderful homecoming — trust me on this one. Clean your home, clean your desk at work, even clean up your PC's hard drive. Do your laundry. Also, make sure you have favorite food in stock for when you return (you may be famished and you certainly won't feel like food shopping then).

Another favorite tip of mine is to make your bed before you leave; returning home to your own bed is always nice, but it's heaven if the sheets are clean, the bed is made and the pillows are fluffed, especially if you're jet lagged.

I know these seem like little things, but they make all the difference.

  • Set an Intention for the Trip
    Next, always set an intention for your trip such as: adventure, inspiration, relaxation, clarity on a certain issue, experience of a new culture, etc. Be clear on what you want out of the trip, and intend that however the trip unfolds, this is what you will get — and you will. When it's time to return home, you'll most likely feel ready, and you won't return feeling empty with nothing to look forward to except your humdrum "daily grind"
  • Schedule Fun Activities
    Lastly, schedule fun activities for when you return — dinner with friends, seeing a movie you've always wanted to see, taking up a hobby that interests you, etc. Even on the best of trips, in the back of your mind you'll be looking forward to these things, and returning won't be bad at all — I promise.
Published or Updated on: June 1, 2000 by Ellen McDonough © 2000
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