Thursday, 4 November 2010

I don’t do travel writing but

I remembered halfway through typing the title that I have written on the move many times. This was going to be a post about Rome, with perhaps a Parisian tangent, but then I dug out the diaries my brother and I tried to keep in Central America. We lasted about one month out of three writing these, but the memories from our time there have been shored up by retellings between the two of us. When I finally found my notes from Mexico, I found I recalled food, views, places, but had forgotten some of the people I had felt moved to record at the time.

The aim of these journals was to record only the weird and wonderful, or else we would be writing all the time. Reading mine now, it seems that some of the wonderful things were not weird at all, but were moments of happiness. Here are some excerpts, lifted directly; I cannot defend my self of eight years ago:

'2nd April 2002
No landing gears, 3rd time lucky, and ‘chicken or fish?’ in first class!

3rd April 2002
Passport photos on the pavement at the bus stop in Cancun. Jumping fish in the sea, refried bean and tuna tacos on the beach. Mexican Powerpuff Girls. The loudest fan ever.

8th April 2002.
Palenque ruins. Sweaty walk, dead dog, mushroom man popped out of the jungle.
Can see fireflies in the jungle, also hummingbirds, black squirrels (turned out to be spider monkeys!), red birds, toads (huge one in shower).

9th April 2002
Bus from Palenque to Tuxtla Guttierez. Zoo went past in cages. Windy bus trip and graves by the road. Pizza and bongos and firedancer next to café in Tuxtla.

20th April 2002
Amazing orange moonrise. Power cuts! Ice cream on the beach, fish bumping your legs in the sea. Run across hot sand. 2 earthquakes. Pelicans flying low over the rocks.

24th April 2002
Got ill – castilla honey from Marco out of tree branches in the mountains, and he got us down coconuts with straws in, and ate the flesh with lime and salt, met Bambam and kitten there.'

Putting those snippets here felt like a major self-indulgence, but the day described in the last entry has stayed vivid in my mind, and not just because I wrote it down (I couldn’t identify a ‘Mexican Powerpuff Girl’ now).

At Zipolite, we had noted the daily power cuts, but not the provenance of the meat at the chicken-and-rice barbecue: a large chest freezer. Three of us were so ill that we were pinned to our mattresses for days. Marco, the local womanising lifeguard with thighs like tree trunks, used to lounge next door to us, smoking in his hammock and occasionally tipping out his washing-up bowl of baby turtles to clean them in the sand. When we didn’t emerge to help with this, our favourite activity, he came to investigate.

Soon he was back with a precious bottle, explaining that it contained honey brought to him by people he knew inland. It could only be harvested from inside a particular tree branch very occasionally, but when they got some they would share it out amongst their friends. He said it had healing properties, especially for the stomach, and was given to babies – probably suffering from colic, but neither of our vocabularies could manage this detail.

After feeding us most of his honey, he led us down the beach to where some Spanish travellers had settled in a kind of tree house, from which they could easily reach coconuts. He asked them to cut us down one each, then dug holes in the top, stuck straws in, and handed them round. Again, good for the stomach, he said. Drink it all up. When we had, he split the fruit and we sat with the Spanish couple and their small boy named Bambam, and nibbled the white flesh from its shell. We were completely restored.

This generosity was pure. We were gringo students, not yet diverted from the Lonely Planet Trail, who would soon leave never to return. It wasn’t as if he’d just wangled us a free beer; the honey was something extremely valuable to him, but he immediately gave it to people he saw needed it.

When Marco cut his foot on some coral a few days later, I handed over our squashed tube of antiseptic cream without hesitating. It felt paltry, and probably the honey would have done just as good a job. His gift gave us a desire to share, and to let go of things, that coloured the rest of that endlessly colourful trip.

1 comment:

  1. Tiny moments of traveling have a habit of popping out into the conscience at the perfect timing. A glossing blue starfish hovering at the transparent water edge, feeling of confusion and slow epiphany that they are in fact alive and breathing creatures. Not for display purposes, not artifacts of traveling. Pockets of memory have way of subverting from linear narratives we all thrive for. Wouldn't it be interesting to move away from this and capture these moment for themselves. Hang on is this modernist?