This is thoroughly off-the-grid living. Apparently it’s paradise…We’ve been here less than twenty-four hours and I’ve already cried twice.
I love to holiday in rustic places where I can feel a connection to a simpler way of life; a life that feels more authentic and removed from the consumerism and pressures of London.
I seek out little tavernas known only to locals, with bare lightbulbs strung across the rafters, where the aesthetic is of utility and economy, and the little old ladies cook with the same recipes and pans their mothers used. I visit coffee shops in hilltop villages, unchanged since the 1950s, where the old men of the mediterranean congregate to play backgammon and smoke in homosocial silence. I pursue the makeshift cafes in shacks on Caribbean beaches, where the catch of the day is barbecued fresh from the sea on coals in the sand. I’ve returned again and again to the same roadside Mexican restaurant, where boxes of produce are piled up in crates by the counter, and the chefs cook by the light of their mobile phones, held aloft over their pans, when the power fails.
In these idyllic locations I imagine an idealised future self; a self liberated from all the desires of consumerism. This future self is not a slave to advertising, she’s mindful and present, she doesn’t oscillate wildly between anticipation and recollection. This future self has numerous cherubic children and smiles beatifically as they run around naked in the sunshine (probably in a rambling old Tuscan villa), whilst she writes another celebrated novel and effortlessly puts together all manner of wonderful dishes with produce from the garden. This future self will probably be multilingual and really good at yoga. This future self is a woman whose hair doesn’t look shit if she lets it dry naturally without the intervention of straighteners.
Inspired by the rustic life, I unsubscribe from Net-A-Porter emails. I delete Instagram. I don’t need any more ‘stuff’. Suddenly, and with horrible clarity, I can see myself for the awful conduit of consumerist desire that I am. Maybe I should get an allotment? Or live on a houseboat? Or maybe we should all just sell up and move to a little Bahian island?
Needless to say, the ideal of this homespun self is always dismantled incrementally when I return to the city. But I always continued to harbour the belief that, somewhere within me, I carried the potential for an alternative way of life, if only bloody awful London didn’t suck me back in.
Now we’re in Mexico, in the national park of Sian Ka’an, in a house so remote that an hour and a half of unmade road stands between us and the most elementary modern convenience. This is thoroughly off-the-grid living. Apparently it’s paradise. There’s no phone signal and the internet doesn’t seem to be working with any regularity. The air con is a hole in the wall. The shower is a cut-off pipe (outside). There’s an actual well, FFS.
We’ve been here less than twenty-four hours and I’ve already cried twice. During a tiny interlude when a shimmering bar of signal appeared on my phone I composed a message to my mother and father, reading ‘NO PROPER PHONE SIGNAL. UNRAVELLING.’ Then the ominous ‘no service’ reappeared and the text was doomed to the hinterland of my outbox.
I didn’t think I would fall apart so quickly. Whatever conceits I previously harboured about myself, I must now face the facts…I’m not a ‘nature guy’. Nor am I a ‘make-do-and-mend guy’. I covet things I don’t need. I’m hopelessly in the thrall of manufactured desire. I take my iPhone with me when I go to the toilet. Even now, as I gaze at my own child – only semi-corrupted by advertising; naked and laughing in the sand and surf of the Mayan Riviera – do I long for a proper flat white and a look at Facebook.
Being here, I realise that what I actually want is the quaint aesthetic of peasantry and antiquity, which makes me feel I’m somewhere ‘real’, but with bourgeois luxuries and a 4G signal. I don’t want to shed the shackles of consumerism, I want Tom Ford lipsticks. I want a theme park for the overprivileged, where Venetian villas crumble prettily back into the water from whence they came, as French pensioners cycle by on creaking bicycles with fresh bread in their baskets, and ancient fishing villages twinkle on the shores of Greek islands. I want to lay in this very hammock, in the dappled shade of this very palm tree, on this remote beach, with the illusion of seclusion rather than the actual state of total isolation I now find myself plunged into. And then I can take pictures of it and demonstrate to Instagram how spritual I am.
I want is the quaint aesthetic of peasantry and antiquity but with bourgeois luxuries and a 4G signal. I don’t want to shed the shackles of consumerism, I want Tom Ford lipsticks.
Yes, I’m really learning a lot about myself on this trip. The main and overwhelming discovery is that I’m a total cock. So maybe doing time in paradise will be good for me. Either I’ll return to London cured of my mobile phone psychosis and remain disinterested in the Net-A-Porter sale. Or I’ll paint my face in the blood of my companions as we re-order ourselves into a new, self-sufficient, wifi-less hierarchy…
(above) What I have to endure every morning: Sian Ka’an (near Tulum), Mexico