Sometimes, it’s less about where you’re going than who you’re with. Unless you really got to pee, then it’s all about that bathroom. Melina, Shannon, this one’s for you—Merry Christmas and cheers to 2020!

Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California

By the time we groaned across the border into San Diego, a welcome stretch of U.S. highway open in front of us like a first spring bloom, it was 5 p.m. At 9 a.m. one hot summer Sunday in Tijuana, our 4Runner pulled into a line leading up to U.S. border control that snaked around street corners and across bridges. And then we stopped, completely. We were optimistic, naive rather—maybe we’ll have time to squeeze in brunch before some of us continued north, we thought. After eight hours, interminable stops and starts, time wore us down, but not enough to wipe away weekend memories created just days before. While we waited, and waited, we dipped into this fresh well of memories from a long weekend in Baja California—the eponymous state and peninsula that slices through the Pacific and Gulf of California—to sustain us.

The sequence of the day’s events in Mexican wine country, for example, were like fireworks; bursting with joy and fueled by the ultimate mood-boosting trifecta—good food, good wine, and better company. It started benign enough, with an initial stop at Lomita, where well-dressed locals and visitors lounged on modern bohemian couches and egg-shaped swinging chairs, and snapped photos in front of an artsy mural or vineyards in the background, wine glasses raised. We wandered into the row of vines across Lomita’s entrance, which serendipitously, opened to reveal its open-air restaurant, Traslomita. We hadn’t planned to dine, but the inviting atmosphere was too precious to pass up, so we congregated around a long table in the shade as some of the best grilled oysters we’ve had anywhere rewarded us for our decision to stay.

Dust clouded up the rearview mirror as we rumbled through Valle de Guadalupe. Despite the turbulence, I felt comfortable in the backseat, wedged between Melina and Shannon, friends I’ve known for over a decade. There’s a sense of ease when you’re surrounded by people you don’t have to wear a mask for; it’s like exhaling after you’ve realized you’ve unknowingly been holding your breath. Yet getting to this stage takes time. Everything seems to happen on-demand these days, so recognizing the sheer number of years it took to build a solid connection almost seems archaic, old school (like talking on the phone, which we still do). Over time, friends like these see it all: Triumphs and transformations, and the struggle, pain, and confusion that make up the complex human condition and unpredictability of life. They bear witness to your journey, whether they’re riding along with you in the same Jeep, or from hundreds of miles away, from across time zones and undulating life stages. In between, connection is strung together by phone calls, texts, emojis, and all manner of social media communication.

Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California

At Troika, we gathered around a bottle of juicy rose and spicy octopus tostadas. Mountains loomed in the distance, the air dry and warm on our backs. By this time, the sun’s grip began to fade, and so did my energy. It may have been the wine’s mellowing effect, or the morning’s surf session catching up with me, but the day was far from over. I caught a second wind on the rooftop of Casa Frida, a winery with a restaurant and overnight accommodations. The bar and lounge, which sits above its tasting room, is the type of place where bartenders put little flowers in your cocktails. That evening, people mostly sat along the perimeter of the space and watched a handful of other people who seemed to be truly enjoying themselves on the dance floor, which in reality is just a sliver of open space near the DJ booth. A young woman (whom we’d run into in Ensenada the next day) with dark curls played a mashup of the latest Top 40 hits.

And since we three women are the type of people who like to truly enjoy ourselves, we danced and twirled and laughed our way through rounds of flower-adorned cocktails until the records weren’t the only ones spinning (in my case, at least). Before we piled back into the Jeep, a decade of nostalgia from our college days and our 20s washed over me like a wave and I felt as if I could pass out right then and there, between them once again, content. To my left, a carefree adventurer and peacekeeper, long hair wound up in a messy bun. To my right, an organized and methodical homebody, meticulously applied lipstick. Both openhearted, funny (in that subtle, quietly offensive way?), enduringly patient, voracious eaters and passionate life-livers. My kind of people. But I heard we were getting tacos, and well, sometimes there are opportunities one just can’t miss.

Our base for that long weekend in July was a beachy town called La Mision, and specifically an artfully appointed Airbnb that felt cozier and more chic than its internet photos expressed, which is like finding five dollars in your jeans pocket that didn’t get destroyed by the wash cycle—delightful. From La Mision, we bounced to Valle de Guadalupe wine country one day and south to Ensenada the next. In between, we surfed and sunned at nearby beaches, barbequed and made pizza, and made ample use of the community pool at our Airbnb (complete with oversized, inflatable swans, which most definitely made it onto my Instagram feed). Evenings in our rented, high-ceilinged townhome meant turning up the host’s bossa nova mixed CD on repeat and de facto soundtrack of the trip, turning on the baby pink salt rock lamp, and guzzling all the wine and beer we either brought with us or picked up during our days out. 

La Mision, Baja California

Increasingly, the travel memories I cling to aren’t wild, adrenaline-fueled moments, although when I feel restless, I close my eyes and I’m on the back of a motorcycle taxi in Colombia, scaling a lush, muddy mountain with Samantha. Or I’m repelling into rivers in New Zealand with Ayanna. Or cruising between the San Blas islands in Panama with Cynthia—it’s black-out dark, we’re plied with rum, cell service is scant. These days, my favorite travel mementos are quieter and almost as if, from the outside, not much is happening. They look like three older Millennial women, existing in each others company: Sprawled out on a sparsely populated beach in Mexico, flipping through magazines, reading a book, perfectly sedentary. It looks like sipping coffee on a cloudy morning and meandering conversation that traverses past, present, future anxieties, possibilities, and the overwhelm of reckoning with them all at once or contemplating the recklessness of never having to at all. And it can look like pausing for eight hours at the U.S.-Mexico border, surrendering to what’s next.

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