Wednesday, May 17, 2006

early 70s- i was hitchhiking through mexico as a 19-yr-old and found myself in pelenque, home of overgrown mayan tombs to the sun, made of stone from who knows where...but this place had a few too many americans and foreigners, and i began to feel unease at that- for one thing, the locals would treat you differently, in inverse proportion to the number of americans/foreigners they had regular contact with. another thing i noticed was that the days were so hot and steamy that it was really much better to travel at night- while i ordinarily did not want to appear as one who traveled only under the cover of darkness, it really was more of an evolution toward survival and living better- but you saw much less at night, of course, at least until your eyes became adjusted.

so it happened that i found myself at chichen-itza- another magnificent & glorious ruins, i'm sure, in the middle of the night, locusts screeching, me at the side of the road, wondering whether to wait until daybreak to enter with what little money i had left. knowing full well, of course, that i'd never pass this way again, probably. a grass hut stood in front of me, perhaps the entrance to the tourist section of the ruins. ten, twenty minutes passed- this was about 3 in the morning- but i was wide awake, having slept in the afternoon, deeply, somewhere in the shade.

a car of americans/foreigners gave me a lift to the coast- this was probably an hour and a half- but i remember being quite alienated from them. i could barely understand them though it was the same plain english i'd spoken for many years. they were friendly enough- but i remember feeling that if i were to leave mexico at that point i would feel this way- unprepared for reentry into my own culture. they let me off on the coast- not far from what is today cozumel- and i was immediately approached by a middle-aged man, clean-cut, who wanted me to sail with him up to florida from a boat he pointed out from that beach. he said it was a 23-foot sailboat (true), he knew the way (not so true), had a good navigation system (less true), etc. told him i'd do it but only on the following day, after i'd met up with my parents at isla mujeres (true)- they were scuba diving, worried about me, glad to see me alive & well & healthy, though dirty through & through. before i left the coast i spoke to an old mexican guy who pointed out a single crane in the distance on the cozumel beach and said that someday this entire beach would be luxury hotels (this of course turned out to be true also). i thought to myself that he was probably a b-s artist, but what did i know? i was glad to speak spanish, to get back into just talking to people and finding out what was going on in a place.

we set off on the 23-ft. sailboat which turned out to barely manage the stiff caribbean waves; i threw up & this did not endear me to the guy as i didn't quite make it to over the side and this smelled bad for a few days....he wanted me to sail while he slept and taught me how; he of course would listen to the radio, figure out our location, and steer accordingly or tell me where to steer. he was afraid of cuba and swung way wide of it, but this put us in the gulf where we lost the benefit of the gulfstream current and flailed around for days trying to find it again. one night i almost lost him...and myself, as a storm was so bad we had to take down the sails but that wasn't easy and required skills i didn't have. his navigation turned out to be not so good, either that or he was delirious, either way i began to lose confidence in his general abiltiy to know where we were. i specifically remember he once said we were now south of marathon key, he was pretty sure of it, but i didn't believe it. and he stopped eating, since we only had ten days of food, three more than we were supposed to need, but quickly running out on our eighth day, with the last two or three entirely fruitless. meanwhile the caribbean sun beat down and the radio played "b-b-b-benny and the jets" over and over again- my only connection to our mainland goal, miami. i tried talking to the guy about mexico, about florida, about anything, but we had almost nothing in common, i now think he was a smuggler, but he certainly wasn't an expert sailor or an upright citizen. we finally found a small group of shrimp boats which hovered around what turned out to be the dry tortugas, the key west of key west, actually a key that was under water, and after several days of trying to get past them (fruitlessly) we asked them to call the coast guard (this guy didn't really want to do this, but i was beginning to fear for my life- this was the tenth day- and said that if this was an option, this was the one i wanted. the only food we had at that point was what my partner had refused to eat for 4-5 days. i however had eaten normally and was quite lucid, though sunburned. the coast guard did in fact tow us into key west, where some hippies were on the dock watching the sunset- i kissed the earth and asked them where the nearest shower was- and set off hitchhiking- this time from key west to la- with seven pesos in my pocket, and some very dirty laundry. i felt the peso coins in my pocket- they were the only things i'd brought with me, besides the memories, from mexico. and the place was not exactly full of peso-exchange type places. sunny, though, and with a sense of the wide-open seas that stretched out from its beaches.


Blogger Peggy said...

Fantastic story Tom!

9:56 AM  

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