The death of the Caribbean //
Leaving Guatemala, I take one last look at the enormous ceiba trees, majestic symbols of the country. A strange sadness accompanies this farewell, while I am excited to change the country after three months, I don’t want to leave the trees. They seem so solid, standing against the face of history, yet so fragile, becoming more scarce every year. Not being able to change my focus, carefully observing them, I imprint their image deeply in my consciousness.
By the time I reach dry Mexican soil of Quintana Roo, I’ve been ripped off enough times to know how to play the game. Killing scorpions for breakfast I bestow chaos upon those who try to trick me, frightening even the mellow Ronaldo, a deceiving Guatemalan tour guide. An unnerved girl is gone, instead of her, there is a four-pawed creature, firmly guarding those few possessions she has.
My Caribbean dreams crumble as quickly as the order does in Mexico, Riviera de Maya bringing forth the worst kind of tourist paradise one can imagine. Everything you want is at a length of your hand, serving all possible human vanities and prevail upon the most exhibitionistic ones. One is not here to enjoy, but to be seen, preferably all tanned and trendy. The access to the sea is restricted in many areas, leaving just a small piece of land to the ordinary, who can’t or won’t pay thousands to enter one of the many generic resorts. Nature, the most appealing aspect of the area, is reduced to a commodity, serving as a backdrop to this massive concrete beasts, digesting masses daily.
But nature does not care about the profit, always slowly and carefully taking back its possessions. Thick brown algae cover more and more of the sea surface, gathering in piles where there used to be a pristine beach. They stretch down the whole Caribbean side of Mexico, eating Yucatan from east, north, and west. The east side of Cozumel island, the one facing the ocean, is soon becoming miles and miles of decomposing seaweed, killing not only enjoyment but the shore marine life as well. Seaweed absorbing whole areas, converting them into breathing cemeteries. As I hear later, the seagrass reached Miami too. Deadly patches can be seen from space, gloomy forecast of what is about to come. In the hundred years that passed between Alma’s journey and mine, we collectively managed to destroy almost everything, leaving just our stupid egos intact.
Sneaking into what turns out to be military state property, in everlasting search of the most turquoise crystal clear water – not being monopolised by resorts or the seaweed – an official interrupts my mermaid aspirations. Half expecting a harsh penalty, I calmly answer his questions. Seeing the look on his face when I tell him I have no husband or kids in my early thirties, I wonder if he lets me go so peacefully out of pity.
My anxiety gradually returns, being overwhelmed by the western stupidity, rude people, and a constant fight to not be overcharged. Thinking I might not be compatible with Mexico after all, I give it one more chance. Cutting Yucatan in half, I end up in Celestun, a tiny fishing village overlooking the bay of Mexico.
With Harry Belafonte in my ears, I finally rest my eyes and soul over the surrealistic landscape, an endless plane of pale green water, turning the sea into a milky glass. Scorching sun strips down all that is unnecessary, burning holes in veils and ornaments that adorn numerous street shrines. Most houses in the village don’t have a lot of furniture, just concrete walls with hammocks in the middle. Everything is simple in this sleepy village, a small market, some restaurants, a schoolyard, and a slow daily life, which urban itinerary I manage to learn in a day. Only heavily armed group of policemen in a pickup truck, regularly driving around in the evenings, and a number 13 graffiti here and there, remind of the reality, hidden behind many businesses in Quintana Roo, as in all of Mexico. This is the land of drug cartels, carefully monitoring their lethal territory. Sharing it with crocodiles here and there, as I learn only after my solo walking exploration of a nearby nature reserve. Once again, I am glad I avoided the danger.
Driving with a collectivo through autonomous indigenous land of Chiapas, I find myself in the car with three local men. Their complete obliviousness to my presence confirms thoughts brewing for some time. A sight of a young woman travelling by herself, far from her country, indicates a level of madness not well accepted by patriarchal doctrines of Latin America. There must be something wrong with a female soul, who distances herself so far from the herd.
But strangely, through all my journey, I feel most at peace surrounded by indigenous locals, running their errands on markets, bus stations, and food stands. Despite a visible difference between them and me, they make me feel safe, with their native languages and distinct features. Living in a parallel world, their conditions are much harsher than anyone of us can imagine, but somehow they managed to preserve some kind of gentleness, lost to the contemporary human.
Knowing I can’t leave the country before meeting with the Pacific once more, I impulsively take the night bus to Playa de la Muerte, deadly surfers’ heaven. Sleeping in a cabana right on the top of the cliffs above the sea, the sound of crashing waves infiltrate my dreams, mind, and a desire to change location. The time stands still in this oasis of seclusion and I never ever want to leave. Ironically, life always finds you in most remote corners. Every day, I get a visit from Antonio, a young maintenance guy living on the property. Patiently explaining to him day after day why I don’t have a boyfriend, I wish I could rub off of him some of that pure eagerness towards the life he possesses. One of those days, I turn down an offer to visit a smuggled cocaine stash nearby, with the journalist in me aggressively resisting this rational decision. Managing to injure my feet and play romantic clichés by the moonlight all in one weekend, firmly sealing a knowing that periods in life, when nothing happens, really are there with an intention for you to reflect.
A planned week by the ocean turns into almost a month by the sea. A close death in my family paralyses me to the point I feel my brain freeze, thankful to the odd path of events, being among kind strangers, who unknowingly kept my sanity at the time. Next few weeks went by in a haze, drowning the pain in the raging water, extreme heat, pleasant company, and Mexican Mary Jane. I survive, once more, being accustomed to licking my own wounds by now.
It’s raining every day in Ciudad de Mexico, and the sudden vastness of civilisation confuses me. In bed, I listen to noises coming through paper-thin walls of an apartment building in Roma district. Workers are moving furniture out of the apartment early in the morning, the lady’s cat is howling in the hall. I can’t stop thinking about what will happen to the cat, what if they leave the animal behind? On Sunday morning, there is a man with a loud cow-bell walking up and down the street. As I accept the fact that Mexicans just really like the noise (of any kind), I notice everyone bringing out the trash. When garbage men finally come with a truck, they sing and dance to the song on a radio, while searching the trash for anything remotely useful. I admire their skill to overcome harsh daily reality. An awareness that regardless of shit going on around you, you still have a choice: to sing or not to sing in the face of chaos and despair.
Alma understood very well how solitary growth can be. It seems the closer one gets to oneself, the further one distances from other people. Aspiration of pushing the boundaries of what “should be” and converting them into a field of possibilities was never and still isn’t, a path for the light-hearted. Regardless of their supposedly inferior gender, women managed to find ways to cultivate their courage, working harder, many times in complete silence. Those with voices were quickly repressed, or as in Alma’s case, forcefully diminished and almost forgotten.
But The Angel of Independence, an enormous statue in CDM, that sees me off before I leave the continent, cannot be erased anymore. Rising among sleek skyscrapers, built on one of the most earthquake-prone grounds on the Earth, it leads forward, towards new roadblocks and barriers which await to be challenged. For Alma, for us, for all the women that will follow in a hundred years. Maybe the Odyssey of a lonely woman is not as solitary as it seemed at the beginning, after all.