I get back from Saturday morning yoga to a sad and sorry man, who couldn’t work out today because he hurt his neck, again. This time on the other side, through doing nothing in particular except for his regular cardio work out at the gym. The guy just can’t seem to catch a break lately.
He is doing absolutely everything right, except for his excessive consumption of salty and sugary snacks, but it’s been either third degree sunburn, or a torn muscle in his neck, or an ex-boss that won’t pay him for work he finished months ago.
These things are building up and wearing him down, wearing us down.
“Let’s go get some lunch,” he says to me wearily, then I ask the question that threatens to unhinge the day, the one that despite the fact that we are surrounded by restaurants, is sometimes tough to answer.
“Where should we go?”
“Maybe down to those taco stands, you know down by the bus station, that we went to ages ago?”
“But it’s right in the center of ‘tourist town’ and I really can’t be bothered with all that right now, I never feel good down there with all those guys hassling us along 5th avenue.”
“Well, let’s just go, I’m sure we’ll find something.”
We walk down the main pedestrian thoroughfare of the tourists’ Playa del Carmen.
“Hey whiskers,” a guy calls out to Tyrhone, whose tattooed arms and bright white tennis shoes must scream ‘tourist’.
“You want some mariwana?” he calls softly, knowing that those that do will pick up on that magic word.
I’m pissed off, egotistically resenting the fact that we get called ‘honeymooners’ or ‘lovebirds’ by the tour operators, handicraft shop owners and hammock peddlers along 5th Avenue, despite the fact that we live here and are not interested in buying their crap. But at this, ‘Hey whiskers, you want some marijuana?’ I have to laugh. It’s a new one.
Still, I have to get off this street. I know they are just doing their thing, and it obviously works for them, but I just can’t get into this bizarro world that only exists within the confines of ‘La Quinta’. It is so vastly different from every single other street in town, where people go about their business normally and don’t shout at you or call you ‘whiskers’.
I need to be in that part of Playa, the part I love. Not here. It sounds conceited, but I can’t do it today.
We hang a right towards an outdoor restaurant on 10th Avenue we spotted a few days ago. It looked okay from the outside, but today, we sit down at a table covered in a filthy plaid table cloth, flies buzzing around the salsa bowls and the staff staring at us nonchalantly from their seated positions in the corner that don’t look likely to change anytime soon.
“Nup, let’s go,” I say, thinking there is no way the food is going to be any good given the atmosphere and the fact that there are no locals to be seen.
Tyrhone is pretty used to my restaurant exits by now, as frustrating as he may find them, but I’ve never regretted leaving a place, only staying.
It’s really hot now. The sun is beating down as we stride along the road towards a taco joint I was taken to last year. I remember it being really good, so I hope it is still there.
We negotiate our way across busy 20th avenue, dodging scooters and vans and tiny cars. There it is, a simple white washed place with red-painted wooden chairs. The plastic table cloths are clean, the menu is painted on the wall and a guy grills meat in the corner. We get a smile from the petite waitress who looks about 20 but could be older. The tacos are 8 pesos (75c) and I hope to God they are good because I’ve dragged Tyrhone all the way here on one of my fussy food missions, again.
They are. So. Good. The grilled onions on the tacos are sweet and soft, melting into the meat which is cradled by two thin tortillas; one for back up, should the filling explode through the first layer.
We guzzle freezing orange sodas as though the elixir of the Gods, saying not very much to one another as we enjoy this much needed tasty food. While we wait for our next order, Tyrhone tells me that a family is seated at a table in the corner behind me and that they have brought their own giant bottle of coke.
“I think it’s Grandma, treating the Grand-kids and her wayward son to lunch,” he commentates to me because of course I can’t turn around and look.
We do this sometimes, make up stories about people in restaurants, lest we become one of those couples who have absolutely nothing to say to one another over a meal.
“It’s a cheap meal,” I say, adding that if I had kids I’d bring them here all the time since they can only probably eat one taco. Bargain.
Satiated and quenched, we walk along 4th street towards the beach. The shimmering blue-green slab of water presents itself in the distance and something hits me, changes me. It always does. The sharp blue that shines like a jewel reaches into me and removes me from myself, turning my little little worries inside out.
I glide toward it like a zombie, wanting to preserve this feeling I have for this glorious sight. Hardly a breath of wind, the deep blue of the horizon turns turquoise as it moves towards me, then a translucent topaz, revealing the alabaster sand of the shore underneath.
We strip off and we’re up to our ankles; the water is cold today. Tyrhone shivers and squeals as it reaches his man bits. I think, “What a wuss!” and though I’m cold too, I take a big breath and dive under the aquamarine into the blackness of tightly squeezed together eyelids and wet, muffled sounds.
I emerge; renewed, cleansed. I laugh at Tyrhone who has not yet taken the plunge but is in the torturous stage of the water at his waist, his arms bent and shivering.
A man in the water watches us and is amused by Tyrhone’s sensitivity to the cold.
“Muy fria,” I think I hear him say (very cold), wondering why he says ‘a’ at the end instead of the masculine ‘o’. Maybe he thinks Tyrhone is a wuss too.
The man is dark and glistening, his teeth shining like pearls from the deepest depths of the Caribbean sea, a smile I recognize immediately as being from someone who knows a thing or two about life, knows how this thing goes.
He eggs Tyrhone on to take the plunge, in Spanish, and we needn’t understand his words. We know he is saying, “C’mon! It’s fine once you’re in!”
It’s the language of the sea.
Of course Tyrhone obliges. A deep breath taken, his arms are brought together in an arrow head, which slices through the water that envelops the rest of him.
He emerges, breathless from the cold, and we all smile, sharing in the joy of this simple moment.
I bob in the water on my back, surveying the cloudless sky until my eyes ache from the excess light they’ve taken in. I look around me at this exquisite sight, trying to inhale as much colour as possible. I want to take this blue with me wherever I go so that when I am tired I can take a peak and be instantly rejuvenated by the sheer take-your-breath-away beauty of it.
The white sand, the clear sky, the painfully blue water. I’ve seen so many beautiful things and yet today, I know I’m witnessing something magical. I’m certainly not the only one who notices.
We share the sea with kids and old wrinkly men and leather-skinned women. We share it with tourists and locals; fat, skinny and everything in between. The sea is not our secret, and yet being here, in this water, we are privy to some ancient knowing. I try to work out why, or how, these elements are coming together to remind me of something I had forgotten in all my muddling over meaningless problems; I’m alive.
Having been reminded, I emerge, dripping, to be warmed by the sun. I watch as Tyrhone floats around on his back for a while before striding through the translucent shallows towards me. I know that the sea will have taken some of his worries too, because that’s what it does. It engulfs us in its buoyant embrace, and while we are distracted by the gesture, whips our problems away from us with its rhythmic tides. It steals our worries as deftly as an expert thief, dissipating them in its great, wide, depths until they are diluted into nothing.
“Look! It’s Santa Claus!” Tyrhone teases me, and I take the bait like a child, whipping my head around, looking.
The man is the spitting image of the Santa Claus depicted on Australian Christmas cards, minus the Akubra hat with swinging corks to keep the flies at bay. We chuckle far too much at Tyrhone’s marginally funny ‘Dad joke’, and I’m not sure why, except for the simple fact that the sea solves everything.
And on some level, everybody knows it.
He definitely knows.
They’ve always known.
Even they know.