a beginning and an ending

July 9, 2013

Reunited on the Yucatan:

Luke and I spent a couple of days picking through the unreal and overdeveloped frenzy of Cancun, searching for a stretch of beach not bordered by highrises, a meal not dominated by gimmicks. Not so successful our first day, we had an afternoon visit to a beach with long shadows cast upon it by surrounding buildings. We watched a couple having wedding photographs taken, the bride in the full meringue catastrophe, the groom in a casual shirt and rolled up jeans. The horror.

I normally find it romantic when couples indulge each other in weird weddings and other acts of love. How beautiful that a guy so weird that he wants to wear a Pearl Jam t-shirt on his wedding day has found a person who a) loves him b) lets him do that and c) herself wears a tie-dye dress down the aisle (I haven’t made this up. We met this couple in Antigua).

HOWEVER this couple in Cancun was just so incongruous, and had chosen this drab and overdeveloped beach and the shadows were falling all wrong and it was just the most depressing thing I had ever seen.

Later we had dinner in a restaurant with iPad-armed waiters circulating, insisting on taking photos of the diners and uploading them to facebook, setting desserts on fire and balancing precarious piles of entrees on their head all the way to the table.

The following day was more successful, spent lolling in the electric turquoise of the Carribean in a beach without a highrise border, and eating burritos and banana ices in a marketplace amongst children riding miniature electric cars and a clown that we carefully avoided.

We made a fast getaway to Isla Holbox, in search of more of a low key scene. On Holbox we spent our days walking the length of the long, bright, mangrove-lined beaches. We watched flamingos stalk the shallow water, beautiful and but so awkward with their long legs and necks. We ate our way through the menu of a French-run bakery café and were eaten up by ravenous swarms of mosquitoes.

Flamingoes on Holbox

We stayed in a pretty cabin run by a an edgy Swiss man, David, who managed to look sickly and pale, despite the strong sun, humidity and island lifestyle. David portrayed himself as a laidback and friendly host, a façade that he was unable to maintain past the second day when it became clear that we did not wish to partake in his lucrative whale shark tour and he lost his cool. He finally threw in the towel after we declined for the fifth time, conceding defeat with a barb: ‘Of course, it’s a once in a lifetime experience, but if it’s a money thing then I understand. It’s your life, and if you don’t want to spend money on your life then what can I do?’.

Tulum followed Holbox. We visited Mayan ruins bordering the Carribean ocean, swam in what is apparently the ‘Fourth Most Beautiful Beach in the World’, imagined that we were Indiana Jones and fought fiercely about our differing philosophical standpoints while exploring the jungle-ensconced ruins of Coba and ate ceviche for every meal. GOOD.

Mayan ruins in Tulum

From Tulum we moved on to Belize. I crossed through Mexican customs and boarded the water taxi bound for San Pedro with something of a heavy heart. Mexico, as I wrote, was everything that I had been trying not to hope for. There were a few moments of adversity but overall one of the most perfect six weeks on the road I had ever had.

Hobnobbing with the rich and retired, or what to complain about when there´s nothing to complain about:

In Belize we stayed with Wendy, a family friend of Luke’s. Wendy is an American, self-proclaimed ‘part time local’ of Belize, though I don’t think she’s fooling anyone but herself. She is currently boycotting a particular San Pedro bar because of a dispute over this matter. They charge differently for locals and foreigners, and they charge her foreigner prices. Wendy feels that her status as ‘part time local’, i.e. a month or two on San Pedro per year, should entitle her to local prices (what to complain about #1). She introduced Luke as ‘another surrogate son from my home town of Eagle’, though aparently she isn’t from there either. She has another house in Vail and a timeshare on a yacht that circulates the diving hotspots of the world. She might have property on the east coast. I lost track.

Wendy is middle-aged, unmarried and has no children, though boasts a host of ‘surrogate sons’ (no daughters, I noticed). These ‘sons’ seems to range from Luke, who she had not seen in five years, to a young guy who is currently living in her house in Eagle as her ‘housemate’. The relationship she has with some of these young men is unclear, and seems to involve some sort of exchange of companionship for the comfortable lifestyle her wealth can offer.

It’s easy to tell why Wendy has come up with such arrangements in the absence of a more solid community. She thrives on company. She was a kind and accommodating host, but there was always the sense that we were living off her generosity, so obliged to meet her expectations. There was not a moment of our stay that was not planned and organised by her. This was difficult for me at times, as Wendy is more about drinking than eating. I had a couple of vodka-tinged, food-deprived moments where it all felt a bit too intense and a hunger/stress headache began to eat away at the edges of my patience. I thought I’d managed to sneak off for a little siesta one afternoon, only to be woken a short time later, Wendy’s face popping from behind the bedroom door, a huge smile lighting her face in the odd, disconnected way that plastic surgery gives, with a jovial ‘rise and shine, Sleeping Beauty!’.

Wendy was not always easy to live with in close quarters, but there was something endearing about her enthusiastic presence, eternally friendly, even in the face of unveiled contempt (in fact she seems to have a bad habit of happening at people who make little effort to hide their contempt for her, almost taunting them), always with keep-cup of vodka lemonade (she never leaves the house without a roadie), behind the wheel of her golf buggy (the principle mode of transport in San Pedro), never drawing breath. She could be somewhat manipulative with the way she used her money, flaunting her wealth, yet labouring her generosity; but it always felt as if her intentions were good. Deluded sometimes, but good.

Humble lodgings in San Pedro

Wendy put on a barbecue for her friends in San Pedro on one of the days we were there. Ribs, cornbread, coleslaw, beer can chicken and brownies were on the menu. Who knew all my dreams of traditional American fare would be met in Belize. The food was delicious, and plentiful. Luke and I worried that the challenge of getting through it all would rest on us and Wendy alone, as the American expat community of San Pedro seems to be unable to commit to a yes or a no when it comes to an invitation (what to complain about #2). With everyone ‘retired’, a short golf buggy drive away and with more or less nothing to do other than drink and eat it seemed a bit mean to leave Wendy hanging. In any case, a number of people did show up and Luke and I did our best to blend with this oddly miserable-seeming group. I don’t think a single question beyond my name was asked of me the entire evening, which was fine – I didn’t want to try to explain my social development background to someone who owns four houses or openly expresses satisfaction that forest fires have taken control in Colorado because he owns a private fire fighting service and profits from such natural disasters.

We were taken for a visit to Wendy’s friends Michelle and Terry’s house. Michelle is a formidable, tall, blond, plastic-surgeried woman in her early fifties. Terry is a more laidback retired mechanical engineer in his early sixties. It’s a second marriage for both and their connection is difficult to interpret and slightly terrifying. Terry is short, knowledgeable and conversational. Michelle is tall, with a deep voice, and huge, swollen, unmoving lips. In fact her face is mostly unmoving, and whilst it’s possible that she’s actually the friendliest woman on the island with a dearth in facial expressions and a scary voice, it’s unlikely. Reading between the lines, she has two children who harbour thinly contained hatred for her and who she never sees. Michelle doesn’t seem to be too concerned. She´s not the sentimental type. The only crack in the façade of this tough exterior is the weird and unhealthy love she showers on her three Rottweilers. Her new puppy, Rio, in particular has been so smothered by Michelle that it has a nervous breakdown and wets itself every time her ‘Mom’ leaves the house. Michelle for her part follows the puppy around, providing a running commentary on the puppy’s bowel movements to anyone within earshot, whether you like it or not.

Their house is a place of horror. Three huge brown suede couches, high-backed and long, dominate the only common room. Michelle has a bizarre collection of ‘love’ sculptures from around the world, different carvings of abstract couples wrapped in embraces. There are a number of pictures from their wedding, and some very dated-looking school portraits of their kids. On the walls are ugly etchings of San Pedro scenes, and the curtains are in a Hawaiian print. There is a beach scene painted as a mural onto their living room wall. The three huge Rottweilers dominate the space and drool on everything. Rio´s toys are piled everywhere. It´s claustrophobic and dark and tense in Michelle and Terry´s world.

I´m making all this sound much more dire than it was though. In fact, our visit to San Pedro was mostly ridiculously idyllic, to the point that life felt almost painfully good. Luke and I did a scuba refresher course and dove with turtles, nurse sharks, huge groupers and moray eels. We spent days eating ice cream, drinking beer, lounging on Wendy’s balcony and watching the super moon rise over the ocean. Our visit coincided with Lobster Fest – the annual opening of lobster season. A FESTIVAL OF LOBSTER. Seriously. I have never eaten so much (or any, really) lobster in my life. Lobster bisque, lobster pizza, lobster mac and cheese, lobster sliders, lobster burger, lobster in chardonnay with garlic butter. Life felt so perfect at times I began to feel depressed that it would all come to an end (what to complain about # 3).

An ending:

Luke and I exited Belize and entered Guatemala. We visited Flores – a beautiful little colonial town out in the middle of a lake. FINE.

We visited probably our favourite ruins (along with Teotihuacan), Tikal, rising out above the jungle in northern Guatemala.


Finally we made our way to Antigua. In Antigua we started on another Spanish school and homestay. Having been so utterly spoilt by Maria and Alejandro in San Miguel de Allende though, it all fell a little flat. The homestay family spoke to us in English, when they spoke to us at all. They owned a cockatiel that enjoyed seeing the sun in a 5am with raucous tweeting. I wanted to do damage to that bird. Our host mother was short-tempered and sour-faced. Though, again, there was obviously so much botox and plastic in there maybe I should give her the benefit of a doubt and assume she was smiling on the inside.

Also, somewhere along the way reality had intruded in on the perfect symmetry Luke and I had found. Increasingly, misunderstanding and distance punctuated what had previously been an easy, affectionate and trusting dynamic. Our vastly different pasts had began to impinge on our present, and ultimately our future. Timing and circumstances weren’t quite right and we reached something of an impasse. Luke and I shared the fourth farewell of out short relationship. And that was that.

It may seem melodramatic, but all this HURT. At times I thought I´d met my match with Luke, and it´s difficult to let go of that sense of optimism. Perhaps I’m receiving karma for gloating about my composure through our previous farewells, because oh boy did I shed some tears on the streets of some quaint little colonial towns this time.

As I wrote to Sophie in the aftermath:

´Well I feel like utter shit. Luke and I had a beautiful last night together with talking and wine and some kind of love but now I feel sick and am on the verge of tears all of the time. Once I calm down it’ll probably be good to spend the next five weeks regrouping and trying to get back to how invincible I was feeling previously. UGH. Who the fuck can be bothered.

Luckily there is this ridiculous place near to where we were staying that I dragged my heavy heart to. It’s an avocado farm of all things, with communal meals every night, beautiful hikes, yoga in the morning, live music on Sundays, board games, a sauna. It’s ridiculous. I mostly want to hide beneath a doona/kill everyone but it’s still a good place to be in this state.´

And Earth Lodge has been a good place for me to be. The views are stunning. Morning yoga is done overlooking a volcano. The people are mostly morons, but it’s nice to be in company. It’s the sort of place inhabited by the likes of Courtney aka Bird, a 25 year old ‘bicoastal’ American. Bird carts a yellow-pages-sized I-Ching book around with her, literally hugs trees and is crippled by indecision at every juncture. Bird is currently fundraising for her ‘Wish Project’. She interviews people about their wishes and creates multimedia art around their answers. I have a problem with this sort of stuff. It seems empty and obtuse to spring the question: ‘what do you wish for’ on a person, without context, without warning. Bird insisted on interviewing me when we arrived at Earth Lodge, just hours after I’d farewelled Luke, when I was at my most raw, when I hated everything. I gave her some crappy answer. It wasn’t over. I had to DRAW this lackluster wish. With a green biro no less. GO AWAY.

View from the avocado farm

In any case, each day is feeling better than the next. I’ve found a very sweet German girl and her Guatemalan toy boy to travel to Lake Atitlan with. Their constant PDAs are hard to deal with right now, but they’re fun, and it’s been good to speak in Spanish more. I should be in Honduras by the end of the week and then who knows what awaits. Probably not anther beautiful cowboy from Colorado, though.


2 Responses to “a beginning and an ending”

  1. hey lovely luce, we miss you here at occ – literally a world away from the most amazing adventures (albeit tinged with heartache) you are having… just remember this is all part of life’s rich journey (and i’ll attempt to sound much less cheesy next time) and we’re thinking of you back here in rainy Melbourne!
    cal x

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