I’m not one of those women who does girlfriend trips. I never belonged to a sorority. I’m a happy introvert who loves traveling with my husband or my sisters—but I’ve never been drawn to girls’ trips, or worse: organized tours with complete strangers. So it came as quite a surprise when I found myself saying yes to Jeannie Ralston’s invitation to fill in a last-minute opening on the NextTribe San Miguel de Allende trip at the end of October.
I’ve actually wanted to go since she started these trips a few years back, but I always decide that it would be “too much” to leave for a week; too much money, too much time away from the kids, too much “scary” to do something on my own, too much for my husband to manage without me, etc. This year was no different. I found all the excuses, plus this year, I had the added excuse of my brother. He had just been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. This was definitely not the right year to say yes to San Miguel.
But just then my 23-year-old son called me on his drive home from work. Jeannie had been his beloved high school English teacher years ago. My son disagreed with my excuses. He said I only ever travel for work, or to visit family, or to attend conferences. But I never, ever do anything just for me. Plus, he said “Jeannie’s legit. She’s your people.” He felt that the trip would have a grounding effect, and bolster me for the rough months ahead as we faced my brother’s mortality.
It was probably a good thing it was last-minute, otherwise I would have certainly talked myself out of it. There are just so many things that could go wrong when you’re traveling a week with 12 strangers, and my imagination did not disappoint.
However, the reality turned out to be absolutely amazing. Each meal, each shopping excursion, each tour felt like another chance to get to know someone in the group. Everyone was open and curious. Our first dinner was wonderful; when we all eagerly listened to each woman share their story and their reason for coming to San Miguel. I said yes to the trip because I was curious about the city, eager to connect to other women, and ready to own my age. But one of the main reasons that I signed up was because the trip fell during The Day of the Dead celebrations. Knowing that death was looming in my family, I was curious to discover how death was dealt with in other cultures. I was desperate to find a way to ease the pain of my brother’s tragic diagnosis, as well as figure out a way of coping with losing him.
What I Saw at the Cemetery
I wish I could convey the emotions we experienced when visiting the cemetery. There was joy in the bright orange and fuchsia flowers adorning each grave, and in the mariachi bands serenading the visitors.
There were happy children being fed treats next to a photo of a lost loved one. There was industrious busy-ness of people carrying buckets of water to wash the headstones and graves. There was chatting and laughter all around. But there was also deep respect and solemnity in the quietly long queues, in the dedication to decorating the graves, and in the remembering of loved ones. I will forever see death differently as a result of this experience.
I do not believe that everything “happens for a reason,” especially brain cancer. But I do believe that good things can emerge from bad things, that hardship and sorrow can launch fragments of joy. My brother’s diagnosis made me stop and assess my life. And I came to the conclusion: I will not let his suffering leave me unchanged. How dare I not say YES to living? How dare I stay complacent and not take advantage of the opportunities that land in my lap? There are rich destinations that need to be explored, intoxicating colors waiting to be inhaled, unfathomable lists of things to be grateful for, people looking for kindness, people wanting to be kind, beautiful deep breaths waiting to be breathed, and I am blessed enough to have been able to say yes to an amazing week in San Miguel.
Other Voices From the Day of the Dead Mexico Trip:
My pre-trip image of group trips (admittedly uninformed):
- large tour bus
- filled with people I just don’t like
- led by a tour leader who likes to yap over the bus microphone about the schedule for bathroom break or box lunch menu orders (turkey or ham?)
- stopping for 15 minutes to allow people to jump off and see the historical site
My NextTribe experience in San Miguel (beautifully informed):
- lovely B&B with delightful hosts
- filled with engaging women whom I couldn’t have liked more
- curated by a woman who talks to you as a friend about her experiences living in San Miguel and the best art, restaurants, and shopping in town
- enjoying the days getting to know the city and its lovely culture, on a flexible schedule, through walking tours and visits to studios and homes of the leader’s friends.
But I probably should have drunk a little bit less tequila on Friday night.
One thing I loved about our trip to San Miguel de Allende was getting up before everyone else and walking the cobblestone street toward the Jardin [the main plaza] to get a coffee. I loved looking up at the potted plants lining the rooftops, breathing the crisp fall air and watching parents dropping their kids off at the school. I felt perfectly safe and perfectly content. (Inevitably, I bumped into another one of our group, Lou MacNaughton, who was up even before me.)
I felt like a professional photographer! But more accurately, the town is a professional model with its hills, vibrant colors, wrought iron, and cobblestones. It is impossible to take a bad picture.
The hike through the botanical garden provided a perfect way to get to know each other at the beginning of the trip. Walking and talking in frequently changing groups, shoulder-to-shoulder instead of conversing eye-to-eye. (Just like how the most revealing talks with your kids tend to occur in the car.)
On just the second day of the trip, we were having lunch at a rooftop restaurant and I struck up a conversation with a couple behind us. She commented that she had never seen such a large group of women having so much fun together. As she got up to leave, she asked, “Are you all friends?” Several of us chimed in “We are now!!”
I love costumes, and the cocktail party/face painting makeup session was so much fun! What could be better than twelve of us, all dressed up, forgetting our years and mugging for the camera? Our group being stopped on the street time and again by perfect strangers who wanted to take our picture! We were celebrities for the evening.
I was worried about traveling with a large group of women. About being liked. I did not expect to end the trip feeling like I’d met a bunch of sisters. I feel like I can reach out to any one of them if I need to. It’s wonderful, and I can’t wait for the reunion!