Chloe and I met Dan and Pete, two surfers in their forties, while camping in Paradise. I had never hung out with middle-aged men before. People I knew were my age or younger. The older ones were my parents’ age. Dan was a traveler and Pete lived in Puerto Escondido. I used his address for a delivery. The shipment had arrived, and I headed toward Pete’s house.
Puerto Escondido in April is a burning oven; impossible to sleep in the van. To stay overnight, I had to find a hostel or ask Pete to crash at his place. I reached Puerto at noon and parked in front of a green metal gate. An old gentleman greeted me:
-"Good afternoon sir! Are you looking for Don Pedro?"
I looked at him, confused, trying to make the connection. Don is an honorific prefix. Pedro was probably Pete’s alias in Mexico.
-"Yes please. Is Pedro or Daniel around?"
-"Don Pedro will be back this afternoon. Don Daniel is inside. Please follow me, it is too hot out here."
- “Thank you sir” I bowed and followed him inside.
Large boulders led the path through a flowery garden. Sprinklers on both sides cooled the air and sprayed fresh steam on our faces. We walked around the house to a swimming pool where two ladies were tanning. The deckchairs looked like antiques borrowed from an art museum. Half a dozen boards stood on a surf rack against the wall. Everything was pretty and colorful. Pete lived in a mini hacienda like in the Mexican telenovelas.
Dan introduced me to his friends, a couple of expats living in Honk Kong, and made plans to go surfing. I dreaded the idea of taking la Chichona through Puerto’s potholes and narrow streets. As I was putting the boards in the trunk, Dan yelled, “Leave your van there, we’re taking the cabriolet!”. My jaw dropped. A week before, Pete and Dan were shitting in the sand and showering with a plastic bottle. Now they were called Don, had servants, and drove cabriolets. Seasoned dirtbags are full of surprises.
Dan used to live in Toronto, where he worked as a caterer for the film industry. After years of slaving, he quit his job and bought a one-way ticket to India. He got a taste of the nomadic life and could not go back. He gave up the steady paychecks, the urban life security, and even his 7-year relationship. That was the sacrifice he made to keep travelling. When I asked him if it was worth it, his smile said it all.
Like Chloé, Penelope, and most nomads I met, Dan had not cracked the money code. He worked summers in Toronto and traveled the rest of the year. Pete was a different breed. He had a wonderful house by the beach and seemed as comfortable being a dirtbag as being Don Pedro. Whatever he was doing, it was working.
When we came back from the beach, Pete was chilling in a deckchair by the pool. I grabbed a beer and interviewed him about his life/career. Pete had owned a bar-cinema in Puerto Escondido for a decade. One day, he acquired new chairs, then a customer asked to buy them from him. He sold a few as a courtesy, but kept getting more requests. Word of mouth spread and he eventually decided to do that full-time. He sold the bar, opened an online boutique, and turned that random opportunity into a successful business.
Rich smells from the kitchen wrapped us all around the diner table. Dan came out carrying two large plates. He prepared ceviche with mango salad for the entrée, and grilled sea bass, with a garlic sauce served on a creamy risotto. Pete popped a white dry cabernet that perfectly matched the fruit salad on vanilla ice cream dessert. We feasted like kings. That was the kind of diner Don Pedro and Don Daniel were having, when they were not busy being dirtbags.
Dan and Pete were older and successful in their own way. Two role models who have chosen different paths, designed their perfect lifestyle, and lived by it. When they talked about their decisions, sacrifice was the recurring word. They had to make a choice everytime they faced adversity. Dan valued freedom. Pete valued comfort. And both did what it took to get there.
I wanted to be like them. Like Dan, I wanted a life of adventures. Like Pete, I wanted a comfortable situation. I also wanted to have a relationship like my parents’ and to write stories like Hemingway. It has not worked so far, but I am a stubborn dreamer who believes anything is possible. A fool’s philosophy maybe, a soothing one for sure. Because in this game, you are the one setting the rules.
In my game, you only lose if you give up.