I was on the boat when this trip came calling.
The boat, a floating decompression chamber, a transition zone. My father lived on it for six years after he and my mom split up, moored in the heart of Lake Union. I say heart, but if you look at the Lake on a map or from a sea plane, it resembles a uterus, with the fallopian tubes of the Ship Canal and the Montlake Cut connecting the Sound to Lake Washington. It is a beautiful lake, fertile ground in the core of a city of hills. Lake Union. It was the sole drainage of Capitol Hill for many years; my dad told me once that people’s sewer pipes just led directly down hill. It still floats hundred of houseboats and speed boats and yachts and sailboats. For years now, my father has had the notion of focusing more attention on lakeside businesses, turning what is essentially a back door pond into a front door playground, with water taxis traveling between restaurants and evening clubs and parks, and the seaplanes landing colorful and the Tuesday evening sailboat duck dodge a city gathering to watch its sails unfurl in the sun.
The song “What do you do with a drunken sailor, what do you do with a drunken sailor what do you do with a drunken sailor – earlye in the mornin.” comes to me sometimes this last year, thinking of Tim on the boat, that first night he met my world. After the barbecue when people left he and I did a contact improv movement in the galley – that spooked me, seriously, at our potential for connection. Then the last night that we spent on the boat, in the hot tub sloshing over… (and by then the tumors were back and we were getting ready for the shit to go down, and that song would come to me, first thing in the morning).
I am the drunken sailor, or Tim was, or my dad is, or Cosmo and his ladyfriend. We have all been drunken sailors, and there is nothing to be done with us.
This is what makes the boat such an amazing place of transition. It rocks. And my father is very tall, and he wanted to live on a boat where he could stand up, so the boat is scaled nicely, and it’s a host’s boat, for my dad is the consumate Husky, a professional events man, a big thinker. His Walter Ward Morgan mantra is “He who dies with the most experiences wins.” And the boat is an experience of itself, but also a place to plan and imagine new experiences, and to reflect and come down from voyages that leave you out of time and space. The water rocks away the stressful bits and softens the sharp parts, and boat dreams are in a world of their own.
I was staying on the boat during a weekend Continuum movement workshop – so I was in the realm of my body, in with the cells and the connective tissue and I had been moving incredibly slowly and deeply all day and now I was lying on the bed in the back of the boat and letting the water move this new fluidity in me. I was playing.
And the phone rang, and it was a number I didn’t know with an area code for far away. I picked it up and it was Maureen, who I hadn’t seen since Albuquerque three years ago. She got on her bicycle and rode down the west coast to meet up with her boyfriend. And then the two of them spent a few months in the southwest getting ready to go to India and study yoga in an ashram with Casey’s guru. We’d spoken a few times on the phone since they’d come back, and I hadn’t made it to their wedding but she’d sent some photos and they were lovely.
She was in Hailey, Idaho, at work prepping silverware for the dinner rush. Our hellos both sounded surprised and quite pleased. But past the greetings and we were both a little unsure what happened next. She told me about her jobs, her house, her husband, and a vacation that she was looking forward to next month.
I must have told her about Tim passing and about the trip to California and the hard time being back in town. She told me there was space on her trip – that one of the women from her friend Donna’s herbalism school had backed out, and that she might be able to transfer tickets to me if I wanted to go. They were heading down to Mexico for a few days, before traveling into Belize to stay at the house of a healer woman who would teach us Mayan herbs and uterine massage. Ms Beatrice, was her name, and her father was friends with Don Iquito who was featured in ***’s book Sastun.
Did you see how quick it went from They to We? It would go back and forth like this again and again. I was instantly intrigued. maybe it was because I had been moving very slowly all day, that I was coiled to take action. But I was in, that quickly. I said yes, on the phone right then; she would look into some things around tickets, we would talk again soon. “I’m so glad that you called,” she said, getting ready to go. But I hadn’t called her. I’d only answered my phone ringing – and so there was this interesting giddy feeling riding along beneath the decision, a synchronistic tone.
The next month was blurry, dissolving space. I stopped practicing bodywork on people, I began to know that I was leaving. Easter Sunday we held a brunch at the Park Street House. Housemate Josh and co. created breakfast and we had a huge naked ladies & gents party: I gave away a good portion of my cd collection and my closet and the pile of clothes in the middle of the room was epic.
There was nothing to plan for the trip: when the day came to pack I put some things in my bag, filled up my water jugs and stopped by the co-op for road food. I was neither nostalgic nor desperate, I was following along and making it up as I went. I was a lot inside myself at that time, feeling for Tim’s presence in my heart, and for the wide-open silent place I’d tapped into in California. I wanted to keep the flow of writing coming, and my imagination was like a feeler antenna, tuned into the land presence and the psychic detritus coming off the people around me. I liked the land feeling better; it was easier to respond to. Around people, I curled in a bit; it came from not being able to explain myself, I suppose.
I drove from town to my Grandmother’s house in Spokane. She fed me dinner and passed along an old bedouin wedding dress that she had picked up in Israel in 1970 – black and long with red rose embroidery down the sides of the front panel. I slept deep and dreamless and woke in the morning with a long beautiful drive through Montana and Idaho in front of me.
In Wallace, the cold hills begin speaking up with the song of a miner’s daughter and I almost made it no further, sidetracked on the scent of Molly B’damn, a redhaired madam from Ireland, who used to hold public “baths” in the alley behind her brothel. She asked the miners to gather around and when the gold dust from their pockets lined the bottom of the tub, she stripped for her audience and bathed in gold water. The old guy at the visitor’s center comes out to find me, scribbling notes off the map outside. He asks if I’m a relative of Molly’s.
[Hallelujah honey! The soiled doves
at the Oasis Rooms, whisky nips and washtubs
red door green door blue door brick door
red wagon rocking chair
Shoshone county home stills
the ladies, practicing their skills.]
“What, like you ain’t never been a hooker before?”
I hear Andrea’s voice in the jut of her chin, joking.
Oh but yes baby, some part of me can sing these hills, re-greeting
the inland frontier, an old time, timeless. I might have had a daddy
down in these tunnels, who raised me singing and tipping his glass
and I might have had a taste for miners, wanted to give them
something bright and colorful to focus on. The sound of my laugh
echoing inside them to soften the clang of metal on stone.
I don’t dally, I buy a book of recipes and one of remedies, and keep going to meet twilight in the Sawtooths, coming out onto the Snake River Plain, a fertile crescent spilling forth. Casey’s gone climbing so Maureen and I have a quiet evening, packing and repacking. She loans me a lungi – tunic fabric from their trip in India to wear as a kind of all-purpose wrap.
In the morning we drive east through Idaho and the Lava Flats and ENL lands, and south through Wyoming. We almost spend the night in a snow field outside Laramie, but I convince Maureen that we’re only at the beginning of our journey, and since Casey isn’t here, she doesn’t have to rough it. So we find the Best Value Inn, with old school casino carpeting in the lobby. Strangely enough, she’s stayed here before. We sleep well and warmly and make it quick into Colorado the next morning, to the Longmont house where Maureen’s old friend Donna and her partner Jake are spring camping so that Jake can farm this summer. There are baby chicks in the downstairs bathtub and a tent up in the family room. We meet the horses and snooze for a bit in the sun until Jake comes home from the horse show with Tucker and Isabella. Belle is a little gnome girl, with wild cut blond hair, blue round eyes, and light lashes. We say hi and hang out and then go towards town for an Indian food buffet lunch. Belle is a little carnivore creature, and she has on purple moccasin boots that she bangs slightly against the plastic kid seat as she chews. I cannot quit watching; I’m fascinated. The hair, I hear was recent: she locked herself in a closet with scissors.
After lunch we hang out in the park for a bit and I nurse a high bright altitude headache. Then we meet up with Donna at her school and meet the other two women we will travel with. One is easy – Megan, in her mid twenties and on the sloppy side of cool, with a simple “heh” laugh and easy to look in the eyes. The other, Gina, is seeking desperately for some kind of cure from Ms. Beatrice, for all sorts of back trouble, and looks to be requiring traveler’s maintenance. We stand in a circle in the parking lot outside their school and hold hands to make a prayer about the trip. The next time we see each other will be in Central America. We hope for smooth crossing.
The evening is a hectic scramble of kids and dinner and packing and jangly feelings. Jake will be staying with Belle, Tucker is getting on a plane in the morning too, to go stay with his dad in Florida for a few weeks. Everybody is nervous, excited.
I leave my ditty bag in the bathroom of the Longmont house during our 3:30 am exodus to the airport. Nothing essential, but plenty of convenient items gone missing. I begin to feel woefully unprepared. I’ve got Dale’s red shirt from the Naked Lady party exchange, my trusty purple skirt, my orange shoes, and a white and rainbow star around my neck. This is where improvisation comes into play; I’m cultivating a dream of myself, a future with connected action, intuitive movement, open communication, resolved unto myself around the way that my heart loves and clear about the source of my faith.
[Go lightly, some voice says, and remember that there is always more to lose.
The pride is cracking off in chunks.]
19 April. Tulum, Mexico
Flying in over the Yucatan, the roads straight slashes of white sand hacked out of the tangled jungle, ending arbitrarily. We meet up in the airport, catch a bus to Playa del Carmen and another to the beach town of Tulum, where a candle lit cabana waits for us, with princess-style mosquito netting around the beds, and round bathrooms sculpted in clay and stucco. We wander the sandy paths for a bit and enjoy an outdoor dinner lit by hanging gourd lamps, little bits of clay and bone. Lime soup with chicken, strawberry margaritas.
After dinner we wander down to the beach, where there is an oddly intimate exchange with a stranger waiting for me in one of the swinging beds for sunbathers. I am not this man’s friend, but as it is dark and the moon and the stars are singing to the waves, he asks if he can sit with me. I prefer my own contemplation, and he moves on down the beach, a dark shape seeking companionship. The senoritas come down to the beach and we all stand in the ocean for a while and soak up the moonlight and stars and surf sounds.
The sleeping is fine and the desayuno is spicy with green chilies and tortilla chips in the eggs. We claim a beach palm and take our clothes off. There is a round dark dreadlocked Mexican man wandering the shore, making animal shapes out of palm fronds. He becomes our special friend, and we siesta instead of making any kind of tourist tracks in the afternoon. I stay shady in a sea cave and pray to the god of this particular sun. I ask benevolence, turned over on my back in the ocean, floating on the back of the waves.
20 April. Megan’s Birthday.
Two friends of mine with 4.20 birthdays, what are the chances of such a thing? The ladies didn’t stay so shady yesterday, and we spend the day feeling inflamed. Daughters of Mary Magdalene, four women walking the roadside, a pilgrimage of bloody feet and burned shins, we still the air and there is a faint whoosh in our passing. We flit from one shady spot to the next, strange butterflies with our skirts flowing and our shawls over our foreheads. It is a long straight walk down the coast road to the Tulum ruins – a trading site for the Mayans, linked to the network of “sacbeob”, the white roads leading into the Yucatan forests. Still occupied when the Spanish landed in the early 1500s, it is mobbed by tourists all huddled in the shady spots. At sunrise, still and lit up in the morning rays, the morning star Venus must bless this place beautifully. And the evening star rise to follow the descending sun. And the people come and gone by then. I’d like to see it lit by bonfires, with a masked priest chanting down from the top of the steps.
Shakti, the goddess spirit of tantra, Shiva’s consort, the embodiment of female electricity. Maureen’s meditation practice in India, to embody the spirit of the goddess in her many forms: Kali, Mary, Shakti. Here she is Ixchel – goddess of medicine, Lady Rainbow, queen of all the goddesses, guardian of the forest plants and queen of forest spirits – she oversees the four domains: childbirth and weaving, medicine and the moon. Four is a holy number here. And we are four, mother and herbalists and yoginis and poet.
We are here to learn the ways of gathering medicine from this land, where plants are know to have spirit and you must ask for their help. The spirit of the plant will follow you home to strengthen your healing if you remember to give thanks. Otherwise, the spirit will stay in the ground. It is only just beginning.
21 April. Belize
The adventure began yesterday in the border city of Chetumal, when the bus lost its transmission for a while at a busy stoplight. It was out of commission just long enough to deposit all of us on a corner, where we waited for a taxi while the driver drove off. Oh these little glitches, where coyote creeps in and plans change… Our taxi dropped us off at a pink and white hotel by the train station manned by an implacable old Mexican who refused to understand our Spanish. Chetumal was sketchy, Megan ordered a birthday pizza and we stayed in for the night. We were up early to catch transport for the border, only we were locked in our hotel. Locked in? This is a new one. We make small fuss and all is resolved. Eventually. When wandering outside comfort zones, omens become more likely.
Today’s morning was a crazy mix of taxis and border crossings and buses. The border was deserted at 7am and we learned from a glum border guard that the country is in a state of civil unrest – the phones and email and cell reception have been out for a week now. Yesterday there were riots in Belize City and police fired live rounds into the crowd on the main bridge. Three people were killed. The people are angry at the corrupt prime minister and his government – the teachers and utilities workers are striking. No phones.
We were nervous anyways about Belize City, but it was very mellow and we found an angel cabbie at the bus station. The driver, Jorge, took us to the airport to meet Gina’s (the herbalist with back trouble) flight and our car to the village of Santa Familia. Ah but the airport was heavily patrolled, perhaps to make sure that the president did not try to sneak out of the country, and all US flights were cancelled, so Gina got detoured in North Carolina, and there was nobody on time to meet us.
So Jorge took us out to San Ignacio and we asked around to find the road to Santa Familia and Ms. Beatrice’s place. When we got there we found soldiers stationed in the community center building at the base of her driveway, which unnerved us a bit as well. They’d been camped there for five months, since some people started hijacking buses in the countryside. Ms Beatrice made some muttering about how they liked to spy on her, and how they came by the swimming hole to watch the gringas dip in the river. We soon enough fell into her muttering too: four Americanas in sarongs trying not to flash the natives, who jumped from high branches into the Macaw River and ate green plums with salt while treading water.
In the village of La Familia there are many chickens and ducks and dogs and flowering banana trees. The dogs still have their cojones, and the hillsides are full of smoke from the fires that people set on their land just before the rainy season. There are palm trees blazing like wicks in the humid dark air, across the many hillsides steeped in dark green and rutted brown.
Belize was British Honduras for many years, and missionaries from all faiths and places have attempted to leave their impression on this place and people. The Chinese community is strong and segregated in the countryside, but there are Chinese food restaurants in every town of any size. And the Rasta flavor is strong in descendents of African slaves called Garafungi. The German Mennonites, Jorge told us, are responsible for feeding most of Belize with their uncompromising work ethic and their agricultural know-how. The Mayan families predominate. If there is a craziness here, and there is – it is a slow spreading frustration. The Prime Minister is a thief who owes the IMF $50,000 a day they say, and the people want him gone.
Ms Beatrice turns out to be a formidable lady, with a few fancy clothes and eleven children, most of them grown, eight of them still living with her and going to school in San Ignacio. The girls help her with the business of herbs. Her sister is a large woman who cooks for us in the upstairs kitchen with the sink draining down in a waterfall to the chicken yard. They toss scraps out the open window for the dogs and birds alike. Her youngest daughter is playing in a soccer game the evening we arrive. One of the older daughters, Miriam, has a boyfriend with a truck, and we find ourselves suggested into the back of the truck and heading to the village sports field, where we drive in a a bit of a paraded circle to deposit the girl to her team. And then the quick question: Miriam is going into town while the game continues, would we like to check email or shop for anything?
So we keep going, perched on the wheel wells and spare tire, our lunghis covering our hair. Daughters of Mary Magdalene, riding a rutted road lined with torches of palm trees. I have a tire iron in my right hand. We’re talking about god in one of its many variations, in each of us. What’s rising in me as we wander more deeply into a world that I’ve never imagined, on the coat tails of an insurrection of sorts, is a sense of my own holiness; and that of my companions.
Embody the four directions we do.
Black north silence I am, forgiveness,
and Maureen the eastern glow of Christ consciousness, white light.
Momma Donna the feminine rising, red in the west,
and Megan the blue south, manifestation energy of joy.
The four portals of consciousness the four cardinal points, the four doors of purification.
We aim to test out Ms Beatrice’s remedies immediately, it seems.
That night, after a dinner of tamales, coleslaw, and plantains, we settle in to the guesthouse for the night, still sunburned and hot. Donna and Maureen were sharing a smoke in the hammock we had tied to the Spanish Bayonet tree, when the branch broke and crashed down on Donna’s head, and they both fell to the ground. It was a very big fright, and we did some reiki and home remedying, and today Ms B. gave Donna some herbs for an cleansing bath and began to talk about spiritual healing. She showed us her healing technique on Donna, burning Black Copal resin, praying to the plant spirits, and praying over Donna’s pulses.
After lunch of curry chicken and rice and beans, Megan and I try to get some cash at a bank in town, but the banks are still closed because the phones are still down. So we catch a cab back and sit in the hammocks, watching blue-headed turkeys peck around the plantains.
Ms Beatrice is a superstitious and matter-of-fact teacher. We begin early in the morning and we spread it out over the whole day and end late at night with massages of her family members’ abdomens and feet. Way back in the jungle, she tells us, during the eclipse: the people would gather and make noise together, banging on pots and drums and singing to keep evil spirits at bay. While the sun was eclipsed, they believed, things could turn into monsters and eat you. Babies born during eclipses were marked, with lips or part of their ears gone, as though they’d been nibbled at on their way between worlds. The two weeks following an eclipse, she claims, the vibe is off. People behave strangely and say things that they don’t mean. This is less evident during lunar eclipses, but still happens.
She tells us how to make amulets and how to cleanse them using water, white rum, and sea salt under a full moon. Always, the copal swirls in spirals at the door to her thatched roof hut, with a massage table and two benches and a stone floor. And because this is her world and we have come to visit it, we hear her teaching and accept it as truth.
The next night we hold a Primicia: a ceremony to honor God and the 9 Mayan Spirits. Silent Night plays in Spanish as the insects and grasshoppers sing to the moon, which is full in the sky. We dress in white and step over the copal at the hut door. Ms B blesses us with plant crosses at head, shoulders, and knees. We repeat old Mayan prayers to the four directions and to the altar, where we have placed photographs and folded notes with prayers in them. Then we meditate outside under the moon in private prayer until it is time to come in and drink of the sweet corn atole mush. Ms B gets a cell phone call during this part of the ceremony. We are left to finish for ourselves.
I saw a firefly tonight! Bright green out the window of the healing hut while the full moon hung behind it, orange and smoky above the bamboo fields burning across the river. The river is so still – it is a black snake sleeping in the heat. The rains are not coming before sleep, although we could all do with the relief from our many complaints, and are wearing each other’s ears out on them by now.
The papers in the morning read: “Total Anarchy”. Ms B delivers a pretty concise political breakdown on the country, involving widespread corruptive influences and a Prime Minister who’s been selling off public infrastructure to international bidders, in order to help fund the Pakistani resistance efforts. We talk a bit about Fujimori in Peru. Not quite the same situation, but similarities show up. It is a wacky and complicated world, this global community.
It doesn’t sound much more violent in the city, just dysfunctional on purpose. Out here in the country we are untouched, the well is here, the hundred chickens, the village continuing whether the electricity goes out or not. It feels pretty safe, as far as civil unrest goes. Strange to come upon it unknowing – to wish to support and yet to know it is not ours to fight…
Ms Beatrice arranges a field trip for us on Sunday, so she can go to church and be with her family, and we can see a nearby Mayan site, Xunantunich. She hires a Rasta from San Ignacio to drive us there and then float down the river back to her place in canoes.
David’s Adventure Tours occupies a bright tri-colored Rasta building in the center of town, just across from the market. David himself is beautiful and perpetually blissed out, perhaps. Ms B gives him an earful when he shows up, and sends her son Abemal along with us to keep an eye on everybody. We climb in David’s van and ride down along the Mopal river to the portage across, a platform strung on cables that the river man runs – hand over hand. He takes us first, and then the van, and we climb back in up the hill for a bit of further driving, to the Stone Lady, Xunantunich. The original site dates from 400 BC.
Ms B has told us that there are some beautiful copal trees on the grounds. Our guide at the site is a mestizo woman named Rosario, who shows us the copal and the poisonwood, and the bombabillo trees, as well as a tree that she just refers to as “monkey balls.” There are gringos getting married when we arrive. We climb up El Castillo as they are coming down, and can see into Guatemala from this 600 AD addition, where the royalty performed their ceremonies of sacrifice.
Rosario tells us about the Rubber Ball game, which lends some curious insight into Mayan cosmology, and sheds some light on the notion of sacrifice, which is always a touchy subject in western civilization. They got the rubber from the chicle trees on-site, and played one-on-one tournaments perhaps, where the winner lost their head.
The Mayans wanted to win passage to the underworld. What sort of faith is this? What sort of afterlife?
Rosario mentioned that some people believe the Mayan temples will crumble at the end of their calendar time, which she dated at December 23, 2013. Given what is happening with the scale of erosion at many ancient temples sites worldwide, it’s conceivable that the temples will crumble whether or not the world as we know it disappears. The limestone is a very crumbly stone.
Rosemary asked us what we were doing in Belice, and when we told her about studying with Ms Beatrice, she shared that she was an unlicensed Mayan healer, and offered to show us some points to open the body. She sketched out Donna and Maureen, but she looked me right in the eye when she shared her healing wisdom, about spending 33 days in the jungle looking for the herb that cures snakebite, and I believed her. If you can find it, she said, then you have tremendous power allies in the plants themselves.
When we got back down to the parking lot, we saw that some park employees had captured a boa constrictor and were keeping it in a cardboard box and taunting it with sticks. Rosario waved her hands over the snake, a bit like a woman with powerful snake energy would… On the way back, I bought a piece of slate carved with the image of Ixchel holding the plant medicine to cure snakebite, from a young man who had carved it, down by the river.
We returned, and David dropped us off at a Chinese food restaurant in time for lunch with Abemal who was young and savvy already, and afterwards we walked back to David’s rasta hut down by the market square. David has a cave – his mother was also a mayan healer and passed along her knowledge – he is a shaman of sorts, leading expeditions into a river cave that he discovered near Xunantunich. The cave is the universal feminine.
Is everybody around here a shaman, or just the folks we met today?
We walk some canoes down to the river shallows near the town bridge. It is Sunday afternoon and whole families of people are gathered lazing on the banks. We get into the boats and begin our slow passage. Megan jitters about going under the bridge and swamps us almost immediately. The people are laughing and clapping. We get right back in, nothing wet that won’t dry, and keep our shallow pace out of town, where the river begins to swiften. Megan thrilled half the population by wearing only her bra down the length of the Mopal River. At the confluence with the Macaw, we pulled up the boat and went swimming for a bit. We made it back in time for a siesta. And it was somebody’s birthday up in the kitchen and everybody was laughing in the late afternoon light.
A hot ride into town the next day by bus, but still no luck with the bank situation. The country could be stalled out indefinitely. I check emails and there is one from Dayna telling me to enjoy the full moon in Scorpio, which helps to explain my particular vibe lately. I keep thinking of my friend Zac’s comment from just before I left, as we were contemplating a map of the San Juan Islands:
“Doesn’t it just make you want to leave it all to fall apart on its own?”
The reactionary part of me can be pretty convinced that I’m not society material, and would thrive in solitude, or in a partnership tucked slightly away from the world. Another part of me suspects that my fate leads in the other direction right now, further into the lands of people. Part of my frustration is tugging from an old tangle: lack of respect for teachers unless I feel that they’ve earned it. And Ms B is a gossip, full of old wive’s tales. I am not so impressed with her teaching style, although her presence is certainly impressive. Always and Never, she spouts as over and over again, she is the center of stories involving other people’s foolishness and her own infallible opinions.
It is hot. Megan has taken to swimming laps across the river. Maureen is climbing the trunk of a tree to jump off its overhanging branch, the way the kids do it. The kids are impressed, although they’re climbing like monkeys way up high in the branches, and dropping like ripe fruit into the river.
We learn the uterine massage this afternoon. My irritation eased a bit once I was on the table. Ms B diagnosed a “Big fright, and lots of little ones” in my pulse. I tell her that I have lost my partner and she tells me to “go fishing”. I’d been fishing in my dream that morning: Dale and I on a shallow river with a stick and a string, and I caught a fine blue-backed fish with circular markings and an otter’s face, looking at me – some sad. Dale pulled the skin off it whole and I took the head. She did some uterine massage and found mine all the way to the right, tucked under my hip bone.
It gets real real real hot. We dip in the river before lunch and take soporific siestas.
111 degrees is too hot; the brain swells and thinking stops entirely. The chickens here are carnivores. One just ran by with a baby vole, and yesterday we saw two fighting over the body of a dove. We had some small concern that they were cannibals and fighting over one of their own, but we checked and it was a dove.
We’ve decided not to head out to the coastal Quays after we’re done here; the teachers went on strike saying that they won’t return until Prime Minister Musa leaves – he promised them pay raises two years ago and it hasn’t happened and now he wants to tax them more, and they aren’t going for it. They went on strike in January, and now again. The university students have their course outlines and are doing independent study. The high schools are out – the elementary schools have a national exam in a few days, and they’re staying in session until then. We’ll head back to Tulum for some beach time instead of mucking about with sticky travel possibilities on a slim budget in a country whose water and power may go down with the phone lines soon. The situation doesn’t seem to be resolving itself smoothly. PM Musa has two more years to his term and has said that he isn’t going to step down. Meanwhile a high official just got caught trying to leave the country with a large amount of money and speculation abounds about the amount Musa may have stashed in the Cayman Islands and Cuba.
My inner idealist started a long nap some time ago, but she raises her head occasionally for new places, people, possibilities… on this trip though, there is the practical, undeniable reality of human nature and behavior on display. It is evident on global, as well as national, village, family, and traveling group scale, that simple dynamics prevail: the world is rough and people are full of themselves. And for all the wonder and surprise that we may bring to each other, I do long to be in my own world again. When last I was there, I cannot remember any longer, but I will know it when I am returned.
Part of this is coming from Ms Beatrice’s stories about Ixchel farm. Whether Ms Beatrice is speaking from a grudge or from a place of blunt truth, the backbiting righteousness surrounding human fallibility makes me uncomfortable. She has no good things to say about Rosita, and says that the farm itself is fallen to ruin and will soon become parking lot for a neighboring hotel.
The sagas, the opinions, the intrigues, the calamities, and the simple everyday tedium – I don’t feel hooked into the way I should – and right now no future lingers out on the horizon to keep my hope alive. Instead I am receiving confirmation of some No right now, which hopefully will leave me free to choose my own Yes. In many ways, this uncomfortable feeling is quite helpful, for it brings me back to how it felt to be young, and to what I believed about the world before I learned what it felt like to feel safe and belonged. That young voice is clamoring to thrive: to be seen and loved and nurtured. And a gentle voice responds that it is mostly God who can and will, and to ask it of people is to go disappointed through the world. Dammit.
An herbal bath and Ms. Beatrice’s pebble prescription this afternoon: I oiled my hair and threw my pebbles of fear over my left shoulder. The first pebble I had to throw was my fear of throwing. After that, a slew of them, about being seen and about being strange and being too much and being misunderstood. And then – the fear of men; I had to sit with that one for a bit, and then the fear of being taught and the fear of being bad at my core. Once you begin , the fears are remarkably compliant. Throwing pebbles is a good one. We were all feeling calmer that evening, sharing songs back and forth by candlelight in the guesthouse.
Five baby chickens hatched during the night, and the dove is gone free. The sky is grey this morning and drizzly, a welcome respite. Yesterday it was 108 degrees and we couldn’t drink water fast enough before sweating it back out again. There was lots of singing in my dreams. Ms Beatrice said that if a man is singing in your dream, it means someone will propose to you. If a woman is singing, it means death. Bellingham had a little of both elements to it, and it was Bellingham that I was dreaming last night.
It is the day of Tamales. We are quite excited. The morning is full with the last class information, certificates of apprenticeship and ingredient lists for herbal remedies. There is a bit of siesta around lunch time and then, Tamales!
Maureen and I walk with Abemal down to the grainery where a little woman feeds our bucket of corn into a grinder to make masa. The machines are big and old and she needs to stand on an overturned crate to get to the On switch. Out past the shop door, the pavement ends and the road weaves through fields of palm, everything hazy with smoke from the farmers’ burns.
While we are gone, Ms B goes into the barn and pins four chickens against the wall. She pins their wings behind them and then she cuts off their heads. We get back in time to help pluck them over the courtyard sink, and then Ms B slices them open and pulls out the intestines and organs. She takes them upstairs to hack into pieces somewhat at random, while we strip palm leaves from the banana trees with Marilyn. The ladies of the house love to laugh at us – I wonder how much they are used to watching and laughing at Americans on tv – it seemed so natural for them to laugh at us as entertainment while we were in their hands.
We take a break to go swimming. Megan does nine laps and I find a small golden shell floating on the far bank. Some local girls are stationed on an inner tube in the center of the river watching us gringas and whispering. I have adopted an agressively benign presence. I race some of the fellas to the far side. Pretty soon everybody is racing Megan and the inner tube girls want to set up a match for the following afternoon. We all jump out of the tree branches. I think that we scored some points at the river among the locals today.
At the grainery, we asked Abemal if other groups had ever wanted to make tamales. You girls are one in a million, was his reply.
When we came back up, Miss Humes ladled up the masa and the chicken sauce and the salsa and we folded them into the palm leaves and foil for baking. Upstairs they were making “boyos” to match our tamales, with corn and oil masa, less water and so less fluffy than tamales. I think I prefer them on the grand scale. I can only eat one tamale a day. Dinner was late. And we woke early the next day to cross the border for Tikal.
7am and we are once again climbing into the back of a Toyota minivan, the universal combi, barely holding it together over long expanses of rough road, worldwide. The initial impression of Guatemala: the roads suck, lots of smoke still, the houses are similar to the roughshod concrete Belicean homes. None of the British stilt wood versions that bring colonial charm to the roadside, lots of cows. We pass el Ramate, a beautiful lake. I’m thinking about rickshaws, in the back of the combi, the street-level autonomy of three-wheeled taxis, carving a thin route through the chaos. Eris Rickshaw as a nom de plume: Eris for the discordian queen of chaos, rickshaw as the teetering ride straight into the heart of it, and out the other side.
There are three synchronicities involved in this day:
-On the drive toward Tikal, Megan reads to us from The Cosmic Serpent about Anacondas, the river snake and Boas, the complementary land snake.
-Donna tells us a story from the tsunami in the Phillipines and SE Asia: of the Anaconda washed to sea, that became a raft for people to make it safely back to shore.
-In Flores, later, I see the sign for The Anaconda restaurant, winking at us.
2. Isla Mujeres – the island of women
-a tip from the Argentinean jewelry makers who hitch a ride back from Tikal with us, about this island off the coast of Cancun where you can watch the sun set over the east coast of the Yucatan
-again on a young woman’s shirt at the mejor market, and
-again that night on the map in our room
3. Calendar Girls. This is a movie about British women who pose nude for a charity calendar
-Playing on our bus ride from Tulum to Chetumal last week
-Jorge. our angel cabbie, has US calendar girls mounted on the dash of his minivan
-During our walk around the Tikal grounds, Abemal, ever the appreciative Belicean teenager, begs the question, “Which month are you?” during one of the photos we ask him to take.
And at the top of Temple 5, Megan can’t help herself. She poses like a vamp for the group of Guatemalan men who have followed the gringas up to the top of this temple to see what they can see.
As for Tikal, I am floating along satiated but unstirred until we come upon El Mundo Perdido, the Lost World, where excavation is continuing. Here the trees still cradle the stones in a living protective embrace. We can see the job the jungle has to do, and the scale of excavation is out in the open as well. There are piles of stones , each marked with chalk. In one place scaffolding extends with rough planks out into the jungle floor. I am at ease here for some reason. I break from the ladies and curl up in the exposed roots of a tree growing in the plaza across from the excavation of the seven temples. It comes clear, what Ms Beatrice has been somewhat explaining and what I’ve been feeling all week: the plants are sentient and will communicate if you listen, if you pay your respects to them.
Plant sentience is higher than any in the animal kingdom; I’m not speaking the language of hierarchy here, but the language of holons, nestled within each other. Plant sentience is beyond human sentience, beyond dolphin sentience, in the psychic realm of stones and mountains, but highly individual. Humans may learn to tune in for moments of communion, but we can really only hope to be accepted, not to teach the plant families any kind of civilized wisdom.