Mexico: Departure

Of course, it wasn’t quite over. In between dropping Kj off at the airport and cleaning the house, Casey and I squeezed a final surf in at Santiago Bay, picking off waves between local kids flinging themselves into the head-high barrels with abandon. And then we were done.

That would have been an elegant way to end, but at the airport I discovered I’d lost my immigration paper, which meant I couldn’t board the plane. They held it for me – thanks to Casey’s quick thinking – as I scrambled to pay the fine required to replace it. This was the second time an important piece of paper had gone missing while I was with Casey – the first was in a San Diego security line when we finally got to the front and I abruptly had no boarding pass – so her patience with the situation was especially commendable.

And then we were done.

Mexico: Day Five

I don’t have a graceful or subtle way to say this. Of course, what happened wasn’t graceful or subtle: I’d started my period and was bleeding to death. Cramps galore! Why my body has to kick in this way every single time I travel mystifies me. No matter where I am on my cycle, something about getting on a plane apparently alerts my uterus that it’s time to shed that unwanted lining. I wanted to cry. Not that I can’t surf while bleeding to death and falling over with cramps, but the situation is hardly ideal for flinging myself over pitching slabs of swell. So I sat on the sand at Paraiso and watched everyone else alternatingly tear it up and get munched. So it goes.

A boat tour through the mangroves cheered me up – and the value of having good friends along can not be understated. Even under the circumstances, gratitude to have two such lovely, kind, fun, responsible traveling companions along infused every bit of my being.

The days had grown in heat since our arrival and this one seemed the hottest as we left the turtle sanctuary. The ocean called. We leapt in. I swam out past the breakers (Everclear echoing in my head, natch), dove and let the waves roll me. The joy of being in this warm ocean buoyed me, brought me back to myself. Refreshed and rejuevenated, we departed for another taco shop. More fish tacos, more laughter.

Detoured at a Starbucks to jump on the wifi and check in with my poor, abandoned husband. Everything was fine. No emergencies. Having a great time. Love you.

Back home, we finished the tequila and I finished Peter Heller’s Kook, the story of a middle-aged guy determined to not only learn to surf, but to go from beginner to big wave surfer in six months. I’d been unprepared for how funny and poignant the book would turn out to be. The story peaks in mainland Mexico – I kicked myself again for not charging Pasquales – and was a lovely note to end vacation on.

Mexico: Day Four

I rose late, a nearby midnight drum session having interfered with my sleep – so late that Casey had to get me up, a situation greatly reversed from the norm! We headed straight to Paraiso, where I was determined to try the hollow waves on my rented board. The waves rolled in a few feet overhead, steep and pitching. A better surfer would’ve been barrelled for days, but for me, I was stoked to make the drops, repeatedly pushing myself into another and another.

We then ate the best tacos in the world. I scarfed down two chile con queso while Casey moved in on a third. Antonio and I teased her. La Nina es La Gorda! Off to Pasquales, an internationally known spot and the only place we saw other tourists. If you enjoy hammocks, a pool, well-muscled Australians and epic barrels, I highly recommend this place. The waves were bigger here, the surfing pro level. I hung out on the edge of things with a paunchy Canadian, finally caught a wave and called it a day, in part due to the fact that my board was de-waxing in the heat as I watched.

Back home, we made more silly Vines and dinner. I’d found a bottle of citrus liquor and made what I thought would be amazing margaritas. I should have made a test one first – the look of polite disgust on both Kj and Casey’s faces suggested “amazing” was not the taste they were experiencing. I sipped mine. Oh, puke. We returned to the tequila-Fresca combination that’d been working much, much better.

“Tomorrow’s the last day!” – Kj

“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” – Me

Mexico: Day Three

We looked and looked and looked for waves. Santiago Bay, then through Manzanillo’s Centrale Historicale district to the power plant, the jetties. The heat oppressed us. I wanted to get in the water so badly, but everywhere was closing out. We took a break for tacos pescado and were restored. After, Antonio pulled over without telling us why. As we climbed out of the car, he pointed into the trees. Iguanas! We then walked inside this place that was part zoo, part iguana sanctuary. An exhibit of raccoons made me laugh – bastards used to show up on my porch every night and they get their own space here? The other critters made me sad – a pig tied to a tree, birds in tiny cages. But the iguanas roamed free. As I held up my phone taking video of the dozens of iguanas, one detached from the group and marched at me so quickly I backed up, tripping over a mound of dirt behind me and falling on my ass. That would have made an even better video, but the moment will have to live on in only my and Casey’s memories.

Having given up somewhat on the surf, we trekked over to La Boquita for some snorkeling. Ah, the blessed relief of bath water temperature ocean on a baking hot day! A shipwreck lies not too far offshore, so we loaded up the snorkels and goggles on the boards, then paddled over to where a rusty beam protruded from the water. Now, maybe it was my two recent rounds of X-rays at the dentist, but I found the snorkel mouth bit disconcerting. Wasn’t sure I could relax and get used to it. Nonetheless, I swam around the edge of the shipwreck peering through the cloudy water as the tide pushed and pulled. Suddenly, the visibility improved. Brightly striped tropical fish exploded into my vision. I gasped like a little kid and kicked closer. The experience repeated as I stroked across the top of the wrecked ship – silvery fish twinkled, sunlit under the water. More clown fish, so many others I didn’t know. I forgot everything in my delight.

After, I drug out the longboard and caught some peeling ankle-biters for a while. So far I’d surfed every day.

Later, we drank wine and tequila and read outside as a tropical storm brought a few hours of rain. I scrawled this in my journal:

“I am sitting on a patio in Mexico, half drunk in a thunderstorm, reading Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder while two of my best girlfriends sit drinking margaritas reading Jess Walters’ Beautiful Ruins and the thunder cracks and the rain falls into the pool and the wine sits on the table and we’re tired from swimming and snorkeling over a fish-riddled shipwreck and all the sun that came before the rain and has life ever been so wonderful?”

Mexico: Day Two

We searched around Santiago Bay, ended up at Boca de Iguanas luxuriating in the heat, delighting in the ocean. Antonio helped Kj overcome her hesitation at giving surfing a go. Casey played on the small closeouts while I opted to swim. At some point a fish leapt out of the water near me. I laughed and said a thanks for providing such delight. Antonio took us to another taco shop. I opted for the scallops a la Diabla. Mexican food in Mexico is the best.

We also took in the crocodiles. The place, which consisted of elevated walkways over the river, was closed for the day, so we walked along the chain-link fence instead, oohing and eeking at the sharp-toothed reptiles separated from us by such a flimsy barrier. One of the walkways was accessible and led us on a swinging bridge over the river. On the other side, the fence stopped near the river mouth and only yellow caution tape haphazardly slung between two poles suggested something dangerous was going on.

The strangeness continued with a stop at Antonio’s friend’s shop, an arcade/surfboard repair place located in an old theatre. In front, quarter mechanical horse rides. Inside, Guitar Hero and pinball. In the back, boards sprawled out on sawhorses and a stage upon which a carousel horse leaned, detached. Light filtered through broken windows. Within that surreal scene, I found a board more suited to me than the longboard I’d been using. We hung out, marveled, negotiated, then moved on to Barra de Navidad. I caught some waves on the new board and took a million photos while Kj and Casey read their own copies of Beautiful Ruins.

Mexico: Day One

Up and out early to look for what I thought would be friendly surf. Pulled in to Paraiso to discover beautiful waves and by “beautiful,” I mean, “slabby head-and-a-half barrels.” Now, at this point in my surfing life, I should be excited by such conditions, but our boards were long and my charging motivation was short. Nonetheless, I decided to paddle out. No wetsuit! Eighty degree water! The enjoyment stopped there, however, as the current shoved me down the beach while I was still on my feet. I tried again, made it about halfway to the outside before a wave collapsed on my head like a dynamited building. I came detached from my board and with panic bolting through me. Don’t panic, I scolded myself – never, ever panic in the water. I reminded myself that I’m a strong swimmer, rolled onto my back and kicked and dove and stroked my way to shore among the sets.

Thus chastened, we left for elsewhere, grabbing lunch along the way – my first sign that vegetariano was not a common option in these parts. I had a quesadilla and salad. We then drove north to a spot frequented by locals and accessible only by a dirt road that’d been washed out by the rain in spots. Antonio’s car scraped over rocks, ricocheted through gulleys. Once, we had to get out and push. But when we reached the overlook, perfect longboard waves awaited. Kj relaxed on the beach while Casey, Antonio and I took turns zipping down the rights. Antonio had warned us about La Tigre, a rock we shouldn’t surf past as it meant we’d end up on the reef. After a couple hours, Casey and I decided we’d catch our last waves. Mine was the best one I’d had all day, head-high, fast, peeling for days. Caught up in play, I forgot to watch for La Tigre until too late – I’d stoked myself right into the rocks. Banged up my toe, my knee, didn’t care. The happiness coursing through me kept the bruises at bay.

Mexico: Getting there

Packing

I’d packed in my head multiple times: two swimsuits, sundress, sunscreen, SPF 30 lip balm, etc. But a half hour before departure, I had yet to do it in reality. So I packed under duress, always a bad idea since it leads to forgetting things and arguing with one’s husband as one is heading out the door to leave the country for a week.

Things I Forgot

daypack
tampons
extra pen
underwear
tank top

Thing I Remembered

magazines
sunscreen
rash guard
floss
sandals

Vines

Making Vines amuses me. Making Casey make Vines with me generates the kind of giggles that continue the rest of the day. She’s the best subject: cute, silly, totally committed to the project. We’ve traveled together several times now and I love her more each trip. She embraces adventure. She shrugs off inconveniences. She’s flexible, but not indecisive – there’s none of that protracted, maddening “What do you want to do?” back-and-forth. In other words, the perfect person to bring along on a trip.

San Francisco

An aquaintance referred to Mexico as a place where “brown people wait on white people.” I thought of that as the Asian woman scrubbed my feet and clipped my toenails before polishing them turquoise. I’m not sure if I overthink these things or don’t think about them enough – should I cancel my trip, give myself a pedicure nowhere near as skilled? I have no answers to the complex questions surrounding race, culture and class issues. I just want to take a vacation and be a good person and hoping the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

Thus prettified, Casey and I ran errands – sundress shopping at Goodwill, rash guard shopping at Aqua Surf – then popped over to the Tenderloin to meet my friend Donna and her gang for a drink. Oh, the Tenderloin! My brother lived their for years, so I’m familiar with it, but wow, the level of trash and insanity still jars. But the area – while not gentrified – has grown more hip. I saw a magazine headline referring to it as “The Trendyloin,” which the 620 Jones bar bore out. We were underdressed in our hoodies, a fact that didn’t stop Mr. “I’m In High Tech Sales!” from hitting on us. Oh, San Francisco. The good, the bad, the inevitably cliché.

At some point, Casey nudged me into departing for the airport. Smart, as we were now running a bit on the late side for my flight – hers was a couple hours later. A rental car mixup delayed me getting to the flight I was already late for. My stress level shot up until I remembered all the other times I’d run late for flights and never missed them. I hugged Casey goodbye-for-now. I rushed off to hand my boarding pass over to the attendant, who alerted me to the wonderful news that for some reason I’d been unexpectedly granted a pre-approved TSA clearance, allowing me into a shorter security line that didn’t require me to take off my shoes. I made the plane.

Flying

A middle seat on a redeye flight sucks as much as one would expect.

The Houston airport will always be remembered for two things. One, it’s the first airport I’ve slept in. Two, the guy pacing the length of the gate, talking nonstop at his laptop held arm’s length in front of him. Facetiming, I suppose. His Texas accent began to run like sandpaper on sunburned skin, so I tried to pretend he was Matthew McConaughy in a movie role, but did not succeed.

At the Mexico City airport I was reminded how incredibly stupid it is to not speak Spanish. I spent money I didn’t want to on food I wasn’t hungry for because the restaurant promised wifi. The wifi did not work. No matter. The book I was reading – Jess Walters’ Beautiful Ruins – had me aching with delight and eventually I noticed the polka dots and a confident walk that meant I’d found Kj. We were both near the ends of our books, so we stretched out on the floor and finished our respective pages.

The flight from Mexico City to Manzanillo bumped along over cities that gave way to green hills and blue lagoons, ocean stretching out alongside. The puddle-jumper plane taxied down the runway and we disembarked on the tarmac outside an airport large enough for one, maybe two, gates. Just like landing in Humboldt, only warm and foreign.

We reunited with Casey, who handed us beers in the car – you can do that in Mexico! – and introduced us to Antonio, our guide for the week. Twenty minutes later, we pulled up at Joe’s house, four years of dreaming of going culminating in finally arriving.

Mexico, The Short Version

What We Did

Surfed, swam, ate tacos, drank, read.

What We Didn’t Do

Work, wear makeup, bother with much more than swimsuits, be cold, worry.

 

writing exercise #40: “What a time to start daydreaming”

Not sure what this is exactly. Not a story, just a collection of characters, a variety of vignettes. Happy to deviate from my relationship/dialogue standard in any case.

***

What a time to start daydreaming, flying down the coast highway, sunlight turning the Pacific gold, fruit stands and vacation condos lining the roadside. Then again, what a perfect time to start daydreaming. Anything was possible with a view like this. She laughed out loud, the wind ripping the sound from her throat to deliver elsewhere, miles down the road perhaps, to someone, she hoped, someone who could use it.

The wind tousled his hair, tickled his ears. He could have sworn he heard laughter on the breeze. He could use a laugh after a day of selling strawberries to tourists. The worst ones wanted to barter, as if his brown skin eliminated the need for the American tradition of paying what the price tag read. “How about $1.50?” they’d say, hungry to save that 50 cents. Sometimes he’d play along, say “No habla ingles,” and shrug. Game over, they’d throw down the two dollars and stomp off. He remembered a particular woman from earlier in the day, a tall blond in an oversized sun hat, god forbid she expose a single cell to the rigors of aging, who’d been dragging her Ken doll husband around the stand, poking at the melons, tsking at the oranges, beginning every sentence with, “When I was on the mainland…” She’d come up to him, tossed her hair. “Como esta?” she began. With her, he took an opposite approach. “Sorry, Miss, I don’t speak Spanish. Habla ingles?” He spoke in the clipped Boston accents of his Harvard schoolmates, the ones who’d have been shocked to see him helping out at his family’s fruit stand. What could you do? Family. The blonde’s face had dropped, her chance to show off her comfort with the natives destroyed. “Oh,” she’d said. “Just the strawberries.” He laughed, remembering how distraught she’d been.

A few miles north, the road twisted into a canyon, funneling the breeze into something heavier, a weight that blew the smoke backwards down the chimney and into her living room. Goddamn wind, she thought. Why do we live here? As always when that thought occurred to her, she took a look around, absorbed the fine wood architecture of her home, windows opening to endless pine trees and a small but bright flower bed, the boys’ treehouse and knew, again, she was doomed. She poured more Chardonnay, laughed without mirth.

He shivered as a gust blew leaves about his feet. Stupid wind. Making everything cold. Tricking a person into thinking the day was warm because the sun was out but nuh uh. Cold. And now he had to rake up the stupid leaves because he’d told his mom to shut up. He looked up as she opened the door. Maybe she’d take pity on him, but no, she was just letting his dog outside. His dog who bolted straight into the pile of leaves raked into a perfect pile, now, suddenly, perfectly destroyed, leaves blasted into the sky and drifting back down to settle into his hair, onto his shoulders, around his shoes. His dog skidded to a stop in front of him, tongue out, tail wagging, ready for love, unaware of the mess made. He had to laugh.

She hit the brake as the sun touched the ocean. Parked to face it, looked not quite exactly at the bright circle making its way into the Pacific. Turned the car off. Shut the radio down, sorry Paul McCartney, because yesterday, all my troubles seemed much closer, but today, they are so far away. The sun had passed the midway point. She looked to the side of it, above it, below it, careful to avoid direct eye contact. Lower, lower. The tip, she saw through her peripherals, hovered. This is it, she thought, please. And then the last bit of bright slipped below and bam, she saw it. The green flash. Dream into reality right before her eyes. She hollered, actually whooped with delight. And then started the car, eased back onto the highway. Hit the gas. Grinned big, giggled until the giggling erupted into peals of laughter, rolling back on the wind, mile after beautiful mile.

So, 2013, yada yada yada, Mexico

It’s been a while.

Between Facebook and once again writing regularly for the North Coast Journal, I don’t turn here as often as I once did. And since my children have – for the most part – grown too old to use as fodder and since I am no longer chronicling my surf sessions, well, what would I write about?

It’s been quite a year.

But aren’t all years? Not one year of my life has passed after which I thought, Oh, wow, what a nice, dull time. This one started with our wonderful yellow mutt reaching the end of her 14 years. The following month marked the termination of a decade-long friendship. An important family relationship turned inexplicably distant. My youngest child graduated from high school, the middle one moved on to Santa Cruz and college. In June, I received notice that my beloved job will officially cease to exist as of Dec. 31. Another friendship fell apart. The endodontist says I need two root canals and the dentist found nine cavities in my son’s mouth and I have no idea how I’m going to take care of all this when the insurance only covers a percentage in the first place and time before losing what little coverage I have is running out.

Insert obligatory #firstworldproblems acknowledgment.

Of course, a stream of good things happened, too – they always do, preventing me from sinking too far into self-pity. Foremost, my children are alive and relatively well. I reconnected with old friends during one visit to Long Beach, another to Portland and yet another to San Diego. We reminisced, as people do, about the crazy things we did – that trip to Ensenada where she ended up in the closet with my future husband’s roommate and I broke the top off a Cherry 7Up bottle in my desperation to quench my hangover-induced thirst. That time I was super stoned and pulled what I thought were eyedrops out of my purse, but it was lotion and I didn’t realize it until I’d squeezed globs on top of both eyeballs – a story that apparently never gets old in the retelling. Those days we stayed past close in the bar, too blown away by some great band that had played to stop drinking – or because we needed to vent about how shitty the band was and how annoying the NA crowd could be with their ceaseless demands for coffee refills and emptied ashtrays.

Despite differing political and social views, visits with family members were lovely and free of debate. My previous writers’ group stopped meeting years ago due to the demands of children, husbands, jobs, life, but the women who made it up continue to be on the other end of late night/early morning emails most notable for being pleas of Help! How do I cope with this crisis? How do I get through another day fraught with too much to do and people going nuts? They always have answers – or for the unanswerable, comfort. I needed a lot of that this year. My new writers’ group delights me. Who am I to deserve such an abundance of smart, kind, funny, creative people populating my world?

From the people I work with – at all my various endeavors – to the people who showed up for my husband’s ridiculously fun 50th birthday, I am, for lack of a less hackneyed word, blessed. (Thoughts on friendship distilled here.) My job, albeit ending, has provided a leg up in the world and experiences I never expected: Taiwan, for example, adventures in D.C., even more intimate knowledge of our coastline, a hand in creating concrete protection for it. Health care. Experiencing what being able to pay one’s bills is like. I’ll miss it desperately, sure, but future opportunities are promising and for the time being I’m still privileged to write, occasionally, for both the Lost Coast Outpost and the NCJ. Those days when keeping all the magic going threatens to send me sobbing into anxiety-riddled nervous breakdown, I can still walk out my front door to the beach. Life is so very much work and yet continually proves to be worth it.

And I’m leaving for Mexico tomorrow.

This trip will be only my second out of the country (not counting ill-fated teenage trips to Baja), made possible by the generosity of a friend with a house there and judicious use of frequent flyer miles. To say I’m excited is to say a hummingbird is bit of a speedy creature – my heart is beating faster than those wings with anticipation. I wanted my husband to come so that we could have a shared adventure, celebrate this dawning new phase of our lives in which our children are grown, but alas, his desire to avoid flying supersedes his desire to trip along with me to exotic locales. The consolation option is no less wonderful, however – lieu of romance, I have two of my best girlfriends accompanying me, both so easygoing that my only concern is now I’m in danger of being the uptight one. I’ve wanted to travel forever. And I’m leaving both cell phone and laptop behind, so ready to disconnect that keeping focus through the day seems nearly impossible. I have a stack of books. Oh, to read novels again!

I fear I’m too happy about this.

Sometimes I’m compelled to reiterate, it’s not easy, this life. It’s much easier now that I’m not working 60 hours a week between two jobs that still didn’t pay enough to cover life’s expenses, fun as they were. A living wage directly improves one’s world, no question. But a lot of struggling and stress existed between finding myself pregnant at 19 and finding myself landing a dream job 20 years later. (I’m always finding myself!) Even under ideal circumstances, raising children challenges the most patient of adults. Our circumstances were far from ideal, lacking in both family support and cash, our son diagnosed with an as-yet incurable disease. And I am not patient. But – to get hackneyed again – love keeps getting us through.

So I can’t write about my kids very much because they’re adults or very nearly. (Also – disclaimer – because I hope to contribute a column to the NCJ’s new “Offsprung” series, so I can’t go on too much about how, despite what a vast number of well-intentioned people say, having adult children does not, in fact, make a parent “done.”) The nearly-adult status of my son also means I can’t write about my son’s diabetes like I used to. For the record, it’s still scary. Scarier in some ways because he’s opted to take on more responsibility for his care. He now inserts his own sets, checks his blood sugar on his own even in the early morning hours. I have not stuck a needle in the kid for months. Hardly a thing to miss – but like all aspects of letting go of controlling a child’s life, one that brings anxiety along with the relief. Who will take care of him if not me?

And since, for the first time since I began surfing, I’ve stopped counting my yearly surf sessions, I have no obligation to chronicle them here – by permitting myself the freedom from tracking, I inadvertently did away with a steady writing prompt. Alas. I have surfed and not surfed. Weeks pass and I freak out and suddenly I’m zipping down the spit, truck loaded, blood racing, my need to be in the water as primal as hunger. I don’t do things for a while and then worry I’ve forgotten how to do them. Surf. Make pancakes. Read. Write a blog post.

Thanks for bearing with me.

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