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Finally, the answer to the question:
Q: Why did two Americans and a Canadian cross the border?
A: There’s this band…

This was one of the funniest and most memorable conversations during my recent 10-day trip to the US and Mexico. But as usual, let me start at the beginning.

With family and friends spread across the US I knew it would be impossible to visit everyone during my trip at the end of 2011 so I did my best to guestimate how much time I could spend each place. As it turned out, only 2.5 days in California with my dad’s side of the family wasn’t enough so I quickly decided I’d come back mid-year 2012 for a longer stay. It just so happened that one of my favorite events of the year also falls during the summer months so two birds, one stone and all of that. Barely into 2012 I had set my dates and began planning a trip to California and Mexico for June.

The time in California was exactly what I needed. Over five days I was able to visit with family, catching up on what they’ve been up to and vice versa. I was able to disconnect from work, relax and enjoy that California sun. As I thought back, I realized I was so immersed in this whole experience last year not knowing how long it would all last that I didn’t allow myself to think too much about what I was missing on the other side of the pond. After the visit in December and once I got over things like having to drive everywhere and everything being so big I realized what I missed – family, friends, familiar landscapes, sunsets, etc. I’m not sure I could have made it through 2012 without a visit and without getting homesick.

Once again it took a couple of days of readjusting to the American way. For example, living in Amsterdam there are so many languages spoken around me all day long that it’s easy to tune out side conversations, radios, advertising, all of the noise going on around me. When I do hear someone speaking English, especially with an American accent, my ears perk up and I look around to find out where the familiar voice is coming from. Going back to California and immediately out into the public I felt overwhelmed by everything going on around me. I found myself alert and attentive to the conversations of strangers, understanding far more than I was used to in the background. It was exhausting. It took a couple days to get used to everyone speaking English and to tune out the background noise. This was something I hadn’t anticipated, just one of those funny little things I guess.

After time with family, I hopped down to Phoenix to meet up with a group of friends and spend a long weekend in Mexico for a music festival on the beach – Circus Mexicus hosted by Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers (RCPM). Seven of us flew in from all points (including a Canadian living in Vietnam – my people!), converging in Phoenix on Thursday evening and driving across the border Friday morning, once arriving immediately dipping our toes in the sea then ordering tacos and beer. Ah, Mexico!

2012 was my ninth year making this pilgrimage (2011 was the first I’d missed) and I’m continually amazed by how fun it is, how much it grows each year, and how it nourishes my heart and soul. When I’d say I’d drive three hours or fly away for a weekend for a concert to see a band no one has ever heard of, people thought I was crazy crazy. Now make that a flight from Amsterdam plus a drive from Arizona to Mexico and it isn’t hard to see the question marks floating above most people’s heads. But it isn’t just me. I’d guess about 5,000 people made the journey down south that weekend from all over North America, at least another one from Europe and one from Vietnam. The people, the music, the atmosphere – it’s such an amazing feeling of community to be a part of this group and this event, it’s near impossible to describe. It’s not for everyone, but the people who get it just get it. And thank goodness for that.

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Finally, for the payoff – Why did two Americans and a Canadian cross the border? This is the question asked as we drove back from Mexico to Arizona on a Monday afternoon.

I used to get nervous when handing my passport to the boarder guard, but after 18 months of passport control on a near weekly basis it’s become old hat. This time, as the driver, I collected our passports and handed them to the guard. Mine, thick from travel around Europe, full of stamps and extra page inserts. Kaysi’s with stamps and visas from recent trips to South America. And Jenny’s, the most impressive, with visas and stamps from all over most of the seven continents. These were not skinny, crisp booklets.

The guard took our documents into his booth and before long looked into the car with a questioning gaze. First he asked where I live to which I provided a brief explanation. Then he asked if we all work together. No? How do you all know each other? Jenny replied: There’s this band… We all laughed. He continued to flip through each of our three books looking at the stamps and trying to make the connection. I must say, he looked utterly impressed. Most people cross the AZ/MX border with an empty passport only used for this drive, some with only a passport card (cheaper and quicker than a full passport and good only for driving across the border). To see three well traveled girls in one car with no obvious connection must have been a first for him. We drove away smiling and laughing. I will remember that for a long time to come.

I could have easily been just another American with an empty or near-empty passport crossing the border that day. I was that person just two summers ago. But somehow life presented me with an amazing opportunity to grow and develop professionally and (more importantly, personally). In that moment, crossing the border I felt the significance of the past 18 months and it felt great. Not just the stamps or pages, but the life experiences, stories, people, memories that have come as a result. I could easily be the same person I was in October 2010 but I’m not, I’ll never be that person again and I’m good with that. Just so long as this new person makes her way down to Mexico again in 2013. Somehow, as great a time as I have every time I make this trip, each year somehow manages to be better than the last.

If you’ve made it this long I’d like to leave you with one last thing. I’ve written about RCPM more than once in this blog and will likely incorporate them somehow at least once more. There’s a good reason for this and I’d like you to find out what it is for yourself. These guys are constantly touring so if you’re lucky enough to be in a city where they’ll be making a stop, I highly encourage you pay the few bucks and catch a show. They are not to be missed.