Is this how life is supposed to feel?
I’ve been away for a while. What the hell happened?
A few months ago Molly and I, a couple of gingers, took a vacation to Mexico. We rendezvoused with Molly’s sister (a third ginger) and her man. We didn’t do a package, we didn’t stay at a resort, we wanted an adventure. Since the one non-ginger in our party was born and raised in Chihuahua I figured we’d be fine. He gave me the kind of fearlessness you can only have when you’re sure there’s someone to hide behind in a crisis.
Molly and I arrive in Mexico City. There’s nothing unusual about the airport. We’re shuttled to a rental car office that seems in every way like the rental car offices I’ve experienced in New York, Knoxville, or Kansas City. Even the car, a Volkswagen, is distinctly un-Mexican. My first instinct is that we’ve come too late to Mexico. All the adventure is over.
Adventure begins. In the hour it takes us to move a few miles outside Mexico City we see squalor reminiscent of post-apocalyptic movies. Structures are patched together from discarded pieces of forgotten industry. Feral dogs and children fill the streets. The inexplicably modern and beautiful 8-lane highway is lined at intervals with food stands in various states of decay. The contrast is startling, like a luxury car with wagon wheels.
We stop at one. We’re all hungry and the Chihuahuan seems confident we can safely eat here. The cooking apparatus at our roadside spot is crude, refrigeration deemed non-essential, but the food looks good. The bathrooms are around back. They’re made of shit-speckled particle board and grungy shower curtains. The smell is strong enough that I feel as though I’m trapped below ground.
The molé is the best I’ve ever had.
We’ve been in Oaxaca for 3 nights. The mornings of explosive evacuations began on Day 3. It’s a long process. We wake, we feel fine. We have our coffee before the cramps begin. None of us are immune, not even the Chihuahuan. After a few hours the cramping and bathroom visits stop and we go about our day. Afterwards we eat some of the best food we’ve ever had, hoping it will peacefully coexistent with our intestinal flora. In the mornings to come our hopes will be continuously dashed.
We leave Oaxaca and drive our Volkswagen to the beach, through mountains without passes. The road winds in and around every possible line of topography. After 6 hours of swaying back and forth with precipitous drops on either side we are all green, yet strangely also hungry. We’re ready for a dinner we know will be both delicious and a terrifying continuation of our new morning rituals.
The evening before we foolishly booked passage on a small tourist boat to see turtles in the morning. The friendly captain comes to our room in the predawn and asks if we’re ready. We are tag teaming back and forth to the toilets. We are almost out of the box of Imodium we brought. One of us has the strength to give the captain an enormous tip and our apologies. We don’t leave with him.
The Chihuahuan has regained the strength of his youth. He eats all the same things as us, but is fine to go fishing at 6 in the morning. As soon as each morning agony is over for the gingers we return to ramshackle food stands along the beach whose handwashing facility is a spouted bucket hanging on a palm tree and whose toilets only flush if you dunk a plastic container in a rusty barrel of water and dump it in. The temperature is in the high 90’s. We buy food from every vendor that passes.
We have decided to join the Chihuahuan fishing this morning. We ate lightly the night before and got up extra early to ride out our morning rituals. Our companion is going 20 miles out today, for the big fish, and it’s our last chance to take a boat trip before we leave. The boat is like all the others, that is to say, tiny for our purposes. It seats six. It is low enough so that you can touch the water if you lean over in your seat.
The three gingers stare at each other, not speaking but all working out in our own way how we will handle potential emergency rituals over the side of the boat. We drink sparingly, we nibble pastries feebly like invalid children. We keep our eyes on the horizon and try to ignore the choppy water.
Our boat captain looks like Jimmy Buffet’s spiritual advisory. He steers the small boat with the rudder between his legs. His tattooed son explains the process of the deep sea rig. 4 large lures are thrown into the water at progressing angles and dragged behind the boat. 2 larger rods extend farther out with the bait, fish about the size of a kitten that have been cut open so that blood can trail behind us and attract the big fish. We wait.
An hour passes and our guides promise a bite at any minute. Another half an hour goes by and the promises are replaced with assurances that this quiet never happens. We are so far from land now that we can only faintly make out the mountains in the distance.
Molly’s sister spots what she believes is a dolphin. Up to now we have seen approximately 6 turtles from a considerable distance. I spot the dolphin in question thinking, “Wow. That’s a pretty big dolphin.” The dolphin is perhaps a hundred yards away. He turns and heads directly at our little boat. We are excited to finally see something other than a few turtles. The dolphin surfaces a few feet in front of our boat and dives under at what seems the last possible moment. The boat rocks side to side. The dolphin, is in fact a killer whale roughly the size of the boat we’re in.
The whale, as it turns out, is traveling with 3 of his friends. They’re all swimming faster than our boat at close to its maximum velocity. Jimmy Buffet’s spiritual adviser has his son pull in the bait because two of the whales are swimming directly behind us. We are not so afraid of losing the bait, we are afraid of what it will catch. The whales are chasing us it seems, the two behind us as the other two barrel at us from various directions, diving close with a hard splash that rocks the boat back and forth.
They’re tied together and tangled in the boat anchor in the front. We’re on our own then. The captain slows down and pulls in the remaining lures. The whales have a little more fun with us now that we are almost at a dead stop. They all swim so fast it’s impossible to keep track of where they are. Back and forth under our boat, determining, it seems to me at the time, if it is edible. Ten minutes of this and they decide it isn’t, and retreat.
The captain kicks the engine back up and hauls ass. The whales do not pursue. The Captain’s son stands on a rickety canopy over our seats and spots another pod of killer whales coming our way. We change course. We decide to head closer to shore and satisfy the fisherman’s needs with smaller fish.
We are still tense and on the lookout for more whales. What we get instead are dolphins, real ones this time. First a few in the distance, and within minutes there are hundreds in every direction. They swim alongside us and jump out of the water. For five minutes or more wherever you look there are dolphins leaping in and out of the water. We drag our hands in the moving water. Dolphins brush past our hands, outpacing us. After another few minutes, they’re all gone. As quickly as they appeared.
A few miles from shore the Chihuahuan baits a smaller rod and pulls a 20 pound fish out of the water almost instantly. The fish, called bonitas, are so numerous that they too jump out of the water. In as many minutes we catch 3 fish and return to shore. The trip is over.
We sit at an outdoor food shack. The captain’s son takes our bonitas to the back of the shack to be cleaned and cooked. The bonita come out to us in deep fried, un-battered chunks. It’s still delicious. We eat without fear or ignorance. We know we will pay for this meal in the morning.