By Prinnie McCourt
Long before passports and airline tickets came into my life, I had National Geographic magazine. It was my iPad, my Kindle, and my Bluetooth – long before they were even thought of.
With National Geographic I could dream, plan, plot and escape. With it I traveled to Borneo, New Guinea, and the Galapagos Islands before I was ten, and my parents had no idea I was gone.
But soon even that magazine wasn’t enough. I grew up, got a job that involved world travel and lived my dream. For a while. Then I got married, settled down on the East Coast and reverted back to National Geographic, my secret vice, marking time until I could once again become a citizen of the world without boundaries or borders.
Suddenly it was time to retire with a husband who’d once traveled the world (with the Marines) but had no interest in relocating and no desire to spend his leisure years as a “foreigner.” So, short of divorce, how does one who’s travel hungry compromise with one who is all traveled out? If you live on the East Coast (New Jersey, to be specific) you GO WEST!
It was amazingly easy at first. My husband spent his youth in movie theaters watching Westerns then spent his adult years sublimating his desire to be a desert rat or prospector.
When our first Social Security checks arrived we packed his nostalgia and my National Geographics into our new RV and headed west, which by New Jersey definition is anywhere left of Pennsylvania.
We searched diligently for our perfect compromise – exotic, exciting environs within the contiguous 48. We almost settled on riverfront property in Arkansas but the sight of all of those cute little tornado shelters in every backyard persuaded us to reconsider what we considered exciting.
We ended up in Albuquerque, home of Navajo jewelry, Spanish Colonial Churches, and tourists. Then we hooked a left and drove south until we ended up in Mexico – or as close as we could get without a passport – Luna County, New Mexico right on the international border or Frontera, as on our Mexican neighbors’ license plates. Since culturally, historically and linguistically the border is blurred, New Mexico’s license plates include the letters USA.
This is just the beginning of exotic overload. Southwest New Mexico has become the Land of Compromise for us – the foreign adventure of my dreams and the familiar embrace of the USA for my husband. It’s the ultimate tradeoff.
There are few trees in the desert; disorienting to those from states where trees are taken for granted. In exchange you get unimpeded views of the sky including stars, constellations, meteor showers, lightening displays, sunsets, and 360 degrees of horizon.
Then there’s the language. Back East you hear English. Out here it’s a Spanish immersion course. Trips to supermarkets are as linguistically effective as the Rosetta Stone Program and cheaper.
Other tradeoffs include: Legal highway speed limits, 75 vs 55; Twenty five brands of tortillas vs five of white bread; Salsa instead of ketchup; Mariachi vs Rock or Rap; Coyote serenades instead of police sirens; Whiffs of roasting chilies vs airborne petrochemical fumes; Open range vs urban sprawl.
So, you see, here in SW New Mexico, USA, you can have your international pastel and eat it, too.