There and back again

There and back again

The East Cape road heading to Cabo Pulmo. Around 2012. Photo: Ryan B. Anderson.

It’s fitting that I’m writing my last post for this site in Cabo Pulmo, Mexico, where I’d did all my doctoral fieldwork. That was back between 2009-2012.

I joined the previous incarnation of this site, Savage Minds, after a guest blogging stint in 2011. That was right when I was finishing up grad coursework and getting ready for fieldwork. So fieldwork and blogging were all enmeshed with one another. It was a stressful but productive time, and I found it both freeing and comforting to be connected to a wider community of anthropologists as I worked my way through it all.

I’m writing this post on my cell phone and an iPad here in Pulmo. Back when I first started my fieldwork here, there was no cell service and just a few folks were getting (somewhat) reliable internet service. I used to have to drive out of town to this hill to get cell reception to make calls, check in, try to see if/when my grant funding would be coming through, etc.

Despite the slow and sometimes spotty internet, I kept up with blogging at Savage Minds.  I was also editing and organizing posts for the anthropologies project, which I’d help start with friends and colleagues in early 2011. We all find our ways to take breaks from everything that comes with fieldwork—for me blogging was one of those things.

As some of us remember, the online anthro community was pretty diverse and vibrant in those days. It had its problems, but could be, at its best, a good network for support and sharing. What I found the most valuable, especially as a grad student, was that I could be in touch with other anthropologists all around the world—and actually communicate with them. Blogging and the internet helped cut through some of the divisions and barriers in academia. I mean, you could actually talk to people across those barriers. It was amazing.

I remember one post I wrote at Savage Minds about the trials and tribulations of grant writing. I got some great responses and advice from professors and others who had already been through the process. Pretty cool.

Granted, much of that old anthro community we once had is gone. Anthrodendum closing down is one more link that’s going to be lost. There’s been a lot of change with the rise of new forms of social media and the habits and patterns that come with them. Thinking through all this change and loss can be disheartening.

But I had this thought as I was driving into Cabo Pulmo a couple of days ago…and I think it applies here. Bear with me here for a minute. So, I wrote a paper about the roads to and from Cabo Pulmo. Long story short, the argument is about looking into the histories, politics, and varied consequences of infrastructure—in this case roads and especially ‘bad’ roads. In Cabo Pulmo, the roads aren’t paved. The closest paved road ends about 10 km north of town. Or you can take the long, dusty, unpaved East Cape road that heads south out of town until you reach the edge of Los Cabos about two hours later.

The dirt roads have pros and cons. They work to keep some things the same here in Cabo Pulmo, since the vast majority of tourists are deterred by the mere sight of dirt roads. For some community members, those bad roads help keep a certain sense of community, peace, and quality of life. At the same time, they beat the living hell out of everyone’s vehicles and make life hard in many other ways. At some times of the year, the roads can be downright dangerous.

Cabo Pulmo has grown a lot in recent years. More tourists are coming here again (especially since we’re on this side of the pandemic). Local dive operations are growing. There’s internet and cell service. There’s lot of change all around. New people coming here, long-time residents are gone, many of the rentals are now on sites like AirBnB, etc. Internet and cell service help make a lot of these changes possible; they bring in new possibilities for communication, business, making connections. Still, as powerful as they are, they still come and go and they can be fickle. With one big storm—boom—these things can be out of commission.

But the roads heading into town are still there. That’s what really struck me when I was driving. For all the talk about change, it’s kind of amazing that the roads coming in and out of town have stayed largely the same for the past couple of decades or so. Of course there are changes, new things along the journey, but the overall shape of the road here to Pulmo remains remarkably similar to how it was years ago.

Just like any infrastructure, these roads can be cut off and disrupted, of course. But the roads are sort of the basic level of infrastructure that keeps life going here in Cabo Pulmo. If they get blown out by a big rain storm, people find ways to make things work in the mean time, and then get them back up and running as soon as possible. Roads can also be neglected, forgotten. Sometimes you have to check back on them, make some repairs, remember the possibilities that come with them. And sometimes you just need to make some new ones.

I think those roads—that basic form of infrastructure—are akin to the old internet and the various communities it has sustained over time. It’s all still out there. Many of those ‘roads,’ even if we haven’t used them for a while, are in fact still working. Sure, that old internet infrastructure, like old roads, has bumps and rocks and may be out of commission here and there. There are dead-ends and dead zones to be sure. But there’s still a lot of life and possibility.

Anthrodendum has hit the end of its road. Now it’s time to check on the old ‘roads’ we have and make some repairs. We could also use some new ones. The more we have, the better (as we’ve seen with the mass migration to Twitter, consolidation is not our friend). I have ideas, but I’d like to hear what others out there are thinking. Let’s keep in touch. You can find me here in the meantime. Onward.

2 Replies to “There and back again”

  1. Don’t close this site down. Let it live for the nostalgics among us who will surely want to revisit some of these “old roads”. Savage Minds, and what it then became, was my escape (and support) during my MSc degree in social and cultural anthropology. Whether “alive” or “frozen”, I dare hope it will remain a valuable resource for all anthro students out there, looking for answers or, in fact, for better questions. Don’t shut this blog down, let it be.

  2. Thanks for your comment Crina. I’m glad to hear this site and SM were a good escape and source of support for you. Our plan is to archive this site just like we did with Savage Minds. So it won’t be live but it’ll still be here.