It was time to leave Oaxaca city. Against the better advice of our host Martha, who suggested we take the route from whence we came, we headed over the Sierra Madre mountains toward Puerto Escondido. We knew better, we really did, but sometimes the stubbornness of not wanting to backtrack overrides sense. A new adventure, however uncertain, is always more alluring to us than the road we’ve traveled before.
It started out beautifully. We followed the valley through fields of marigolds which were being gathered and sold from roadside stands. I bought a bunch and plopped it on the cooler next to Mum in the back seat, because I wasn’t sure what sort of Day of the Dead festivities awaited us and I wanted to take some of the magic of the capital with me.
We climbed higher and higher via winding roads carved into the mountainside. They occasionally crumbled away, leaving large, gaping craters which were signed by a few tree branches placed on the road before them. I wondered who took the time to warn us, and was thankful to whoever did.
I was also thankful to the people who cleared the roads of the huge boulders which had tumbled down mountainsides. I willed the other huge, car-crushing lumps of red rock perched precariously above us to stay exactly where they were.
Large vehicles carrying heavy loads indicated to the left when it was safe to overtake. Waving wildly out the window, they encouraged us to pass them and I got a kick out of the camaraderie between drivers on such perilous roads.
A few hours later, at the time Google Maps suggested we would arrive at our final destination, we were still in the mountains. The roads degenerated further. The deluge of rain which fell this past September must have taken them with it, though I’m not sure who took all the road signs. My smartphone with the GPS went flat, and for the first time on the trip, I was a navigator without a little blue dot signalling our place in the world.
Deep down I knew there was only one way out of the mountains and down to the coast, but without any signs or my blue dot, I began to fret a little. Thankfully we approached a village and asked a local tuk-tuk driver (yes, they have them here! I could get a job!) for directions.
Another couple of hours and some strained muscles (from bracing ourselves around hairpin bends) later, we arrived in Puerto Escondido in time for a late lunch. We made our way onto the sand and plonked down at an oceanfront restaurant, letting out a huge sigh of relief. As we feasted on a whole fried fish, rice and salad, Mum confessed that for a while there she thought we would never, ever find our way out of the mountains.
We felt like we were home free, with our final destination of Huatulco just south along the Pacific coast. We were wrong, but we didn’t know it then and often, ignorance is bliss.
Three hours on winding roads in various states of dis-repair saw us arrive in Huatulco at dusk. We ate burgers by the pool of our hotel, spent, exhausted, and so, so grateful to be out of that bloody car.
We knew nothing about Huatulco except that my sister Holly’s cruise ship would be docking there on November 1st. As we drove towards the Santa Cruz port the next morning, I thought back to Holly’s last visit to Mexico when I had looked at the map and said naively, “Huatulco is just down the road from where we will be in Oaxaca City, of course we will come and meet you!”
Like I said, ignorance is bliss.
The buildings and paved pedestrian walkways comprising the orderly tourist town of Santa Cruz shone brightly under the morning sun. We parked the car and wandered through a waterfront restaurant which was being set up for breakfast. An altar stood in one corner, decorated in the traditional way. A faded photograph of a young, smiling woman was positioned in the center of the arrangement, her sun-kissed skin radiating health and happiness; someone’s friend, wife, mother, sister.
My moment of melancholy was interrupted by the emergence of a huge, hulking ship in my field of vision.
“Oh my God! That is IT!” I cried excitedly, stating the obvious.
We sat down at a restaurant on the bay, with the ship looming before us in all its glory. The sun glinted in the panels of glass, fiberglass and metal, mesmerizing me by the sheer sight of it.
This was exciting.
I knew two of the three friends Holly was traveling with, Taunia and Jen. They had both taken such good care of me when I traveled to Las Vegas for my nephew’s memorial, and I was so excited to see them again. I had heard so much about Holly’s other friend, Lesley, who lives in Saudi. We had become Facebook friends and I was so happy to get to meet her in person, in Mexico of all places.
I spotted them coming off the ship. Tyrhone and I ran along the sand waving and calling out. Holly heard us and began waving as they made their way down the long pier to land. We greeted each other with hugs, tears and laughter and I welcomed the girls to Oaxacan shores with necklaces made from painted beans and corn.
We made introductions, then bundled into the car, heading towards a bay we saw on the map. Huatulco is famous for the seven bays which comprise this area of natural beauty; we picked one on the fact that it was close enough to drive to with seven people jammed in the car (Holly and I were in the back) and far enough away from those pesky cruise ship tourists. Ha!
The water of Maguey bay glistened like a heap of emeralds, reflecting the green arms of jungle-clad earth which cradled it in a huge bear hug.
We took to the water, chatting, gossiping and repeating, “This is beautiful!” over and over.
We dined on piles of ceviche, tacos, guacamole, and buckets of fizzy drinks garnished with lime. This was the life. The drive to get there was but a distant memory, and the smiles on the faces of those girls I love so much made it more than worthwhile.
We just happened to choose a restaurant on the beach with a beautiful, colourful altar built on the sand. It was November 1, the day honouring the spirits of children who have passed away, and the significance of seeing my sister on this day after the death of her son was not lost on me. The evening before, I had erected my own, makeshift altar in honour of Mason, with thoughts for my Nana, grandfathers, cousins, my father and other family members who have passed away.
In the rush to meet the ship, with no idea how the day would pan out, I’d bundled all the items from the altar into a bag, along with a letter to Holly about what it all meant. The only thing missing was the flowers, which had already wilted. On my way to the bathroom at the restaurant, I saw a bucket of water with a large bunch of marigolds in it, and quietly asked the waiter if I could buy some. He gave me a small bunch, which I bundled up in my sarong, and hid them from Holly on the drive back to the port.
Throughout the day I had not-so-subtly pointed out every altar I could see to Holly, and tried to explain the significance. In the tangle of rushed goodbyes, I thrust the bag containing all the goodies at her, explaining that she-didn’t-have-to-do-it-but-I-made-an-altar-for-Mason-and-I-thought-she-might-like-to-make-one-on-the-ship-but-she-didn’t-have-to. It was awkward and embarrassing and I felt stupid because it isn’t our custom and I thought she might hate it, but I trusted that my heart was in the right place and that maybe, just maybe, on the cruise she was meant to be taking with her son, it might be exactly what she needed.
She burst into tears and so did I, then we watched the girls walk the length of the pier to the ship, all the while hoping she wouldn’t get her flowers confiscated by customs.
To be continued tomorrow (i.e The Fandango!)…