Monday, February 20, 2012

Sayulita, Mexico: A Walrus and the Whale Tale



Every generation believes it is the first to enjoy insight and enlightenment. Millenials, now taking their places in the workplace where jobs are scarce, seem to think that older folks should move over and may even need custodial care. My own daughter held that opinion of us, her parents, when we told her about our plans to visit Mexico. She was not alone in discouraging us.

My mother, my husband’s best friend, and many more urged us not to go. Responding to the media, these people believed that venturing into Mexico was dangerous. But my spouse had read about ex-pats living in Sayulita; he wanted to experience their life so I agreed, after I ran out of excuses, to go for two weeks. We leased a house and made reservations for flights in September--during the rainy season.

Before we arrived, Sayulita experienced the heaviest rains since records have been kept. The river swelled, washing away two bridges, one leading out of Puerta Vallarta and the other in Sayulita itself. A restaurant that stood on the Sayulita riverbank twenty-five years was swept away, the family business destroyed forever.

Water dripped and drained from the mountains and jungle, down the steep streets, filling holes large enough to destroy car axles, then ran onward and into the sea. Pipes broke, letting sewage merge with rain, transforming the waters off shore into a toxic brew unless fishermen motored through and beyond the breakwater.

Every night, the rains sheeted straight down from heavy clouds upon our casa. Lightning flashed, and one night, thunder cracked so close and so loudly that I woke to run for my life, sure that an avalanche of mud was bearing down upon us. Yet each morning, the sun broke through and sent steam from the jungle floor; sweat sprouted from every wrinkle and crevice on our bodies and soaked our clothes through and through with damp. I loathed it there, but my husband, the cockeyed optimist, still charmed by the idea of life in a small village, smiled through it all, content to be there no matter what the weather wrought upon us.

He even wanted to march to the sea and let the waves wash over him so off we marched. I had the forethought to put our passports, his wallet, his hearing aids, a cell phone, and a camera inside a brand new Ziplock bag and then inside a zippered healthy back bag. This proved to be the only good decision I made that morning.

When we found our way from the road, down the hill and onto the sand, a feat in itself, we stood upon water-soaked sand, giving us a solid foundation. I was slow to recognize that such sand indicated the long arm of the rising tide, slower to realize that the water would be strong and deep once it reached the point upon which we stood. As all of this came into focus for me, I noticed my dear husband had almost reached the water’s edge. I called to him, telling him to brace for the waves, to beware of this surf and riptides. He half-turned to my voice, and I saw the wave rise behind him, as high as his shoulders.

“Run!” was all I managed to say, and of course, he couldn’t hear me. The wave hit him and carried him down and out. One of his shoes floated away, toward me.

I laughed. Oh yes, laughed. The expression on his face as he went down was priceless, and I am that woman that no one wants to depend on in a sudden crisis. I will laugh so hard that I'll pee my pants, and I did, then decided to chase his shoe so that he’d have it when we retreated.

After running down the beach, zigging and zagging like a sandpiper dodging the wave’s edge, I reached for the shoe too late and went down with the water myself, but I am more experienced in water and just the tiniest bit more agile so I was up quickly, running diagonally away from the water before the next wave arrived--toward the shoe, now waiting, beached high upon the sand.

When I turned back, my dear partner struggled still, and I understood that he could not get up without help. I ran to him as he crawled up the sand only to be carried him back toward the water with each new wave. His knees were scraped and bleeding from being dragged along shell and sand. His hands were lost deep in the sand, trying to hang on.

I was useless in helping him stand. The sand disappeared below my feet each time I tried to find my stance and reach for him. The poor man had to crawl until he reached Nature’s sea wall: a vertical rise of sand sculpted by the previous high tide. With that, he found enough support to pull himself erect, and we staggered off the beach, back up the hill under the sultry sun.

At the outdoor shower, we marveled at the great heaps and quantities of sand that we washed from secret places: our pockets and body folds. Exhausted, we finally made our way to a hot shower and an afternoon’s rest.

Later, my husband revealed that he thought he might die in that place that he had long dreamed about visiting. No matter though. He would go to Mexico again and dare the waves again.

As for me, I cannot imagine bearing witness one more hour to the desperation of Mexican dogs, a life form that literally starves to death under the watchful eye of Mexican families, many of whom do not have enough to feed their own. I could not listen to the rain for thirty-plus days in spite of the fact that the other months, especially October and November, are perfectly dry and comfortably warm. I could not drive the two-lane roads that lack curbs or shoulders, the jungle encroaching upon them, road crews constantly striving to beat it back.

We were the awkward walrus and the beached whale on the sands. Our days were numbered in Mexico and its weight is heavy in my memory. My daughter predicted that I’d hate it there and that we would put ourselves in danger. I hate to admit it, but she was so right.