It is my last day in Tulum and between the chef, the view, the quiet, and great company, I have been spoiled. Though I’m not ready to go home, I am bringing these lessons back with me:
– Tequila has neither preventative nor curative properties against amoebic dysentery. I did the research so you don’t have to. Thank me later.
– If you hold a seashell up to your ear, it can hear your thoughts. Think it some good ones, and put it back in the surf. Customs is already suspicious enough of women traveling into the U.S. alone from Mexico. Conch smuggling is a pretty messed up thing to go to federal prison for. Especially in this day and age with so many nobler crimes to choose from.
– Cats meow the same in Mexico as they do in the United States, which is to say that if you meow at them, they ignore you in the same,’I heard you, but we could never be friends’ kind of way as American cats – unlike the Cats in Italy that ignore you in the,’I don’t recognize that sound as representative of my species’ kind of way.
– If you arrived with anything more than a tooth brush, you over packed. Scratch that. Those wash up on shore.
– Time is a constant, but not constantly. The week before you go to Tulum will take eons to pass, but the week you are there will fly by in seconds. In the end, you will still have only ticked off two weeks until your next trip.
I didn’t even know to imagine that a thatched roof has a scent, but it does. And for a North Carolina native, it’s distinct and familiar. The moment I entered this tropical cabana my nose dragged me three thousand miles and thirty years backwards to the tobacco barns that dotted my Appalachian childhood. An air-cured leaf smells like an air-cured leaf, no matter your latitude, apparently. It smells like September.
There have been few other surprises. Learning that the mosquito netting on my canopy bed isn’t purely decorative shouldn’t have been one of them – what, given that I am basically sleeping in a tree house that is only sealed against primates without prehensile tails, ladders, or sufficient motivation. Any living thing that is not lazy but is smaller than a Saint Bernard may come and go as he wishes. So far, this has limited my visitors to reptiles and winged creatures, but Cheryl saw a mouse. A mouse means there are no cats on the property. I was told there were cats so I would not need to worry about snakes. Of course, if there were snakes, there would also be no mouse, so I’m not sure where my sensibilities fall concerning the rodent sighting. I’m inclined to suspect she was pulling my leg – or maybe just herself mistaken, but I won’t outright accuse her of that; that would be rude, and I’m still hurt that nobody believed Laura and I saw a donkey on the ride in.
I’d like to say I figured it out on my own, but it was Cheryl who told me the mosquito netting is functional, though I think hers is serving a dual purpose and acting as a mouse barrier as well.
The first night I slept with only the screen door to my balcony closed. I thought I imagined things touching my face all night, but after sleeping with my netting closed, I realize that wasn’t my imagination. Those face creepies were real. Currently I’m weighting the benefit of bug protection against the blockage of Caribbean wind on my sleeping body. I’m not sure at this time which is going to win. More research is needed.
Also on the first night, I thought I imagined the squeal of the lonely ceiling monkey jolting me out of my almost-sleep. It turns out that was real, too, but it was a gecko in my rafters, not a monkey. By the time I hit the sack again last night, that was just one of the many ambient sounds of the jungle that I don’t even notice now.
There are monkeys in Mexico, as it turns out. It’s very unlikely I will see one. Spider monkeys, long time victims of the illegal pet trade industry, have become something resembling refugees in their own land. In the early 2000’s, a monkey sanctuary was opened by a retired native of Chicago. A couple of years ago, though, he was killed when a camel he kept on site escaped from his pen and sat on him; probably not how he ever imagined he would die. That sanctuary closed, and there is another in its place. Probably the same one, under new name and management, but either way, I’m not going to make it there on this trip, so my chances of monkey spotting are very low. In all likelihood, the squeals and squawks that I mistook for monkeys are reptilian or avian in nature.
Yesterday morning, I took my coffee on a short walk down into the Sian Ka’an, on the beach side. I didn’t see another human being, but could not shake the feeling that I was being watched. What is the Sian Ka’an anyway? Why is there a fence, especially one that looks electrified, keeping me from wandering into its jungle? Surely it isn’t the secret hide out of drug lords; too conspicuous. It could house a secret laboratory where scientists from all over the world are either creating biological weapons, or cures for them, but again, the placement is suspect. Why would you put one of those in a tourist town? That makes it ever more likely that it’s just a posh vacation destination for the über wealthy.
As it turns out, it is rumored to be all of those things, and it is guarded heavily by an armed militia. That feeling I had that I was being watched? It wasn’t imagined. I couldn’t see them, but they most assuredly saw me. God, I hope I didn’t pick my nose.
By dusk, we were all ready for a walk into town – such as it is – for dinner. We stumbled upon Nomade, a hotel / restaurant / purveyor of health service oddities. The staff was clad in peasant attire made from sheets of gauze; the women in white, and the men in shades of grey. Things were more complicated than necessary. There were at least two different menus handed out to our party, and judging from the fare we saw delivered to other tables, there was at least one other different menu floating around this establishment as well. After forty minutes and our third request to please take our order, we were obliged. Poached spider monkey wasn’t on any of the menus we were given, so I asked for the lamb, but they were out. I ordered the Sea Bass and they were out of that, too, so I pointed to Kitty and said, “Just bring me what she’s having.”
That turned out to be a smathering of fungi and the steamed roots of the roadside vegetation served on a bed of risotto made from local sand. The sandwich board out front did not display a daily food special, and after that meal, I can’t really blame them. Instead, it informed us of the activities going on inside of their gratitude tent this week. Because of course they have a gratitude tent. Don’t you?
Monday is essential oils. I don’t know if it’s a lecture, or a baptism. Tuesday there is a talk titled, “Intro to Energetic Lovemaking.” And as tempting as that is, we aren’t going back until Wednesday.
Wednesday is Sound Healing. There was some excitement among those in the know in our group about this. I didn’t understand, but Anne described it this way: You know what a hummer is, right? It’s just like that, but you’re the dick.
But I already knew I was a dick, so I kind of feel like my imagination failed me yet again.
Cloud cover moved in, but I suspect the palm canopy over the road would have blocked any celestial light, anyway. The first quarter of our walk back home was lit, albeit dimly, by the candles and low-voltage bulbs at the entrance to other boutique properties and I wondered if any one of them might serve a decent taco or a margarita made with plain old lime juice, not the pulp of some exotic, furry fruit and simply rimmed with salt, not chipotle seasoning. Probably, I’ll never know. But once we passed those other establishments, it was the darkest of dark and in no time at all, I felt again like I was being watched. I frequently turned around to try and catch what I could feel stalking us and wouldn’t you know it? I found it.
A four legged beast was sneaking up behind Key, so I shrieked an obscenity. In the time it took her to throw her cigarette at it and run, my brain registered that it was canine, probably el chupacabra, or it’s mother was, that I frightened it and it had a collar with tags that made a tinkling sound as it slinked off. Immediate guilt rushed over me “I’m sorry, baby. I didn’t know you weren’t going to eat us.”
But he’d had enough of our shit and left us to walk the rest of the way home, alone and unprounprotected against the jaguars, panthers, and crocodiles. I lost the chance to make a new four legged buddy and I chalk that up to another failure of my imagination.
This morning, right outside of my bedroom, there is a man with a wheelbarrow on the beach, picking up seaweed with his hands. Where’s he going to dump it? His efforts are futile; the ocean is depositing more of it with every wave. I can’t imagine why he’d even bother, but I do wonder what he lists under ‘job’ on his tax returns. Does Mexico have tax returns?
Tulum is definitely a place of wonder and awe, but it is impossible to let my imagination run wild here. Nature and culture is always several steps ahead of me. Every bizarre or unlikely thing that my brain can conceive is just everyday life.
What if I told you that every ideology that your favorite politician wants to sell you as the key to making America great again has an actual body count, a human story behind it?
American Airlines flight 605 was fully boarded this morning, as far as I knew. Any minute, a flight attendant was going to walk up the aisle, shutting the doors to the overhead storage, and it wasn’t going to matter one bit that I didn’t get my customary, complimentary bump to first class; one row behind was just fine because my seat in row 5 was the only one that had a butt in it. I had the whole port side of the plane to myself for my flight to Cancun, Mexico, where I still had a two hour drive ahead of me. Until.
Instead of readying the plane for takeoff, the flight attendant backed herself down the aisle and motioned to someone I could not see yet. What does one call an airport candy-striper? A porter? A people transporter? Whatever his job title, a strong man dressed in an ambiguous uniform that was part pilot and part maître de wheeled a feeble Latina woman to my aisle and stopped. They were followed by a señorita with a wavy black mane and dressed in a Marine Corps tee shirt. My seat mates had arrived.
And you know what? It didn’t suck, not having a whole row to myself. I had the window seat and it was barely even a three hour flight. It would have been hard to find something to complain about, even if I’d really been in a mood to. Not that I’m in the habit of quoting Kanye, but how you gon’ be mad on vacation?
I struck up a conversation because going to Mexico to hang out with authors and screen writers can really only change a girl so much. Or so little, truth be told.
My very up close neighbor asked if I had gum. She hit the jackpot because I had a bag of 180 pieces of Trident White in my laptop case. Realizing this, she asked for two. She wanted one for her grandmother, too. I know the trick; that’s why I was prepared. Chewing helps keep the ears clear during ascent and descent.
I wish I asked her name. She was from Detroit, but we ended up on the same flight out of Raleigh this morning on account of her family moving south a couple of years ago. She lives down near Fayetteville now. The Marine Corps tee shirt, she told me, was something she picked up when she went to her cousins graduation from boot camp at Lejeune. He, like she and her sister, were born here. In the US, I mean. Not here. That was hours ago and I’m in Tulum now. She was definitely not born here. This was her first trip to Mexico. She was a little cagier about her parents’ origin, but it didn’t need to be said. While she filled out the customs declaration forms for the two of them, I noticed that Grandma was traveling on a Mexican passport.
Grandma, coughed and her granddaughter doted. Grandma drifted off to sleep and she resumed our conversation. She told me about oversleeping and how rushed that made everything because she lives about seventy five minutes from the airport. It was hard, she told me. They were already running late but they had to hurry through security and it fell to her to break up the final hug between her mother and her mother’s mother. “I’m sorry that I had to tell them to stop, but we had to go!” She was still justifying, but she didn’t need to.
I asked, but I don’t know why. “Can your parents maybe go to Mexico to visit her?”
My God I’ve never seen so much sadness on such a young face – and I have daughters.
They can’t, she told me, because they wouldn’t be allowed back into the US. They’ve lived here twenty five years, guys. That’s longer than my own three children.
My seatmate told me she’s turning nineteen on April 15th. Tax day.
Today, a woman who’s probably about my very age just had to hug her own mother goodbye. She won’t be there to hold her hand or hear her last words. She won’t be at the funeral.
There’s already a wall, and there are a million other families just like this one who have been making payments like this for a hundred years.