People you meet on the road Part I – The man who sits on a fortune

Often when travelling around the world you meet the strangest people. These are the sort of people that spuriously defy categorisation. You often meet them in the most random of ways, and in all likelihood you’ll never meet them again, as they’re also on their life path, which may take them somewhere completely different. Nevertheless, the lessons and the stories they pass on to you, often stay with you.

I remember meeting this man in a hostel several years ago, in a nondescript town in the south of Mexico, not much happened in it, one way or the other. The most interesting thing that it had going for it was that it was home to ancient Maya ruins, and the fact that there were great underground rivers, that when dived into look like the very bowels of hell.

For the vast majority of people though, this remained a mystery, and they were in no rush to find out. I, on the other hand, really wanted to explore them as I was training to get my scuba diving license. I remember it so clearly, these vast underwater caves almost seemed like magic, whenever you took a breath, the bubbles that came out of your scuba gear would get trapped on the ceiling, and they shone like diamonds when you focused your light on them.

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The man laughed when he saw my excitement, he’d been living in this town for several decades, and he knew the caverns far too well to get excited – he reacted to how a parent behaves when their sons race to the Christmas tree to open their presents. “No, amigo” he told me “you’ve seen nothing yet, come with me to a tour you organize and I promise you that you’ll sing a different tune”

I asked him about it, and he told me that he often organizes tours on a river near his house, deep within the jungle. If I was interested, I should just talk with his friend, the owner of the hostel, and he’d sort me out with some others on the tour. Half bored, I decided that I might as well go kayaking, and see whether he was talking shit. So the next day, I went to his friend, who I never actually saw wearing a shirt in over half a month of living there. He had a saying, “never do more than one thing a day, but do it good”, so he could usually be found hanging out on a hammock enjoying life.

Long story short, I booked the tour and went on a bumpy jeep ride through the Yucatan jungle. Excitedly, he told us about the history of the place. Thirty years ago, this had become a nature reserve, and no more property was allowed to be sold from the jungle. As such the land, already in the hands of private owners, skyrocketed in value, and now mostly millionaires live there in their McMansions there.

It was then that we arrived at his house, which was situated just off the coast of the azure sea. The term “house” is a slight overstatement though, this was a closet with a roof, the toilet barely worked, there was little to no electricity, and the roof had holes. It was quite the stark contrast when we compared it to the mansion besides it, which looked like something out of a science fiction movie. It turned out he’d bought it just before it had turned into a nature reserve, and he was of the last few people that held on. We climbed up a palm tree as he told us the story, cut some coconuts off and enjoyed watching the blue waves crash on the beach. “This, my friends, is paradise” and I believed him.

Shortly thereafter, we walked to a river that led to a lagoon that stretched for miles. We climbed on a kayak and started rowing. The water was clear, the sun was bright, and little else could be heard but the tweedling of the birds, the chirping of the insects, and our paddles rhythmically hitting the water. Hard to believe this still existed in the 21st century. You looked to your left, you saw birds with magnificent colours, look to your right and you saw even more amazing birds milling about.

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At one point we were even told to stop paddling, as crocodiles were nearby, and we didn’t want to incite them to attacking us. So with hearts racing, we looked over where they were likely to be. Sadly we didn’t catch a glimpse of them, but we did see storks flying up above us.

Finally, we paddled back ashore after a few hours of crocodile hunting. The elusive crocodiles would have to wait for another time to be found. It was late in the afternoon, and the sun was about to come down, so we shared a beer whilst watching the amber sunset set down on the scene. To this day, that is one of the most amazing sights I’ve seen in my life.

In either case, we soon got on the bumpy jeep back, and we talked about what led him to live in the middle of the jungle, where it is not unheard of to be wary of jaguars in the night. I asked him why he didn’t sell, he’s told us that the land alone of his house was worth north of $8,000,000 USD with that money he could live anywhere he wanted. He looked at me, smiled at my naivete and said “Why would I like to live anywhere else with that much money? I’d only try to recreate what I already have here. If you find something that makes you happy, why trade it for money, if you already have happiness?”

It struck me then, this man lived in a veritable shack, and only knew civilization because every so often he stayed at the hostel, gave tours of essentially his backyard, and he was as happy as can be. I realized that we have an obsession with having “the best” but we do not appreciate the value of “good enough”, and are willing to sacrifice it in our ongoing search for inexistent perfection. I’ve got to hand it to him, this man actually managed to succeed in life and found exactly what made him happy, he did not succeed based on the artificial metrics that other had impose on him. Happiness lies in the eyes of the beholder and noone else.

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