April 1, 2010
At the airport waiting to board my flight. What a week and what a day.
This morning I woke up before dawn, downed a couple of bowls of yogurt, wiped every inch of my body with tick repellant and prepared for the mountain. My uncles pulled their truck up and honked, my aunt, uncle and I jumped in the back, loaded down with bottles of water, fruit and energy bars. It was cold, especially driving as fast as we were. The base of the mountain is only a few miles away from the village. On our way there the sun peeked out behind the pointed mountains to the east, the fog rose off the mango fields and again I was truck by how ghost-like everything was. I knew then I would miss mornings at the ranch once at home.
We got the mountain and my crazy uncle Jaime got out of the truck, as did his 8 year old daughter Airam (Maria spelled backwards), a cousin, my aunt and uncle and I. We waved goodbye to my uncle with the truck since he had to go see about a sick calf (the calf was dead when he arrived to check on her, I found out later) and we started.
It was a climb. The ascent wasn’t particularly difficult but the trail was completely overgrown. My uncle Jaime went first, slashing down plants and brush with his machete. I was impressed. In general he impresses me, not an ounce of fat on his body, he drinks beer all day long, cusses like a cowboy and is really hard-working man and loving father. His daughter Airam followed, her pace matching his. The other cousin went after them with his own machete, attacking whatever growth Jaime missed. I went behind him followed by my aunt and then uncle.
We (aunt, uncle and I) were the odd ones out, for all of our fancy hiking boots and clothing, we lagged. None of us were used to the plants and were surprised when many of them had razor sharp edges and they slashed at our clothing. The trail was rough, loose rocks and dirt and there were all sorts of insects and we persevered. I kept my eye on my cousin Airam, every time I felt winded I grit my teeth and told myself I wasn’t going to get showed up by an 8 year old. About halfway up we stopped to rest. My uncle Jaime pulled a cold beer out of his backpack and downed it. It wasn’t even 7 in the morning. That is dedication, or something. I swallowed an energy bar and half a liter of water and then we continued.
When we neared the top it got really steep. There was a point when Jaime pulled out a rope, tied it to a tree and tossed it down to us so we could hold on to it while we climbed. If we didn’t have the rope it would have been hard going. Once we reached the top I was elated. The view took away all the pain of the scratches, the insects in my eyes and the ache my lungs. I could see the entire valley; all the little villages, each with a church spire; all the mango groves, chile fields and the river running through it to the sea. It made me really happy. I love that my father has such a rich, beautiful place to call home.
There is a cross at the top of the mountain but because of all the rain this last year the wood rotted away and the cross fell. My Uncle Jaime was one of the men who originally brought the cross to the mountain and he felt it was his responsibility to fix it. He hacked away at the rotted wood with his machete and using pieces of barbed wire he re-fashioned the cross, the cousin and other uncle helping. They made a rock cairn for the base and set the cross in it. All of posed for pictures in front of it then we began our descent.
The descent was faster but only because we slid so much on the loose dirt and rocks. My uncle Jaime carved a large “L” into a mesquite tree for me with his machete, pretty damn cool. My uncle Omar tied a rope to my aunt Silvia’s waist to help her not fall as she descended. It was pretty funny but he saved her ass a couple of times. My cousins took off and ran down the mountain but I went slowly, my legs shaking from the constant squatting and dropping. I only fell once. We made it to the bottom where my Uncle Payín was waiting.
He took us to his house where my great-uncle Ramón was cooking fish over a hole filled with coals We washed and ate. Oh I will miss the food! My Aunt Conchi served the fish with refried beans, fresh tortillas, fresh salsa, roasted chiles in lime juice and a squash she cubed and sauteed with carrots. Heaven. We had beer with breakfast as a reward for getting back in one place and without ticks. Actually, I was the only one who arrived without ticks but it wasn’t that bad. No one had more than five.
To refresh ourselves after the climb and meal we changed into shorts and got into the truck with a cooler full of beer to go to the river. We went to the spot where my father was born and set up camp. A thing about Mexico, at least the part where my family is from, bathing suits aren’t considered decent. I wore my bikini but had shorts and a tank top over. The river was cool. I waded in the let the current carry me about a hundred feet then would swim back and let it carry me back again. My crazy great-uncle stuck to the riverbank, crawling through the mud looking for crawdads. He came out looking like the swamp thing with only one crawdad to show for his work. My aunt Silvia bathed in the river too but barely. A couple of male cousins (still meeting new relatives. . .) and I were the only ones who actually swam. Afterwards we sat on the bank and drank beer and chatted. I took off my tank top to dry out which was okay but my uncle told me to keep my shorts on since bikini bottoms are very indecent. I kept looking up at where my father was born, imagining him as a baby and small boy playing in the river and catching fish. No wonder he is so salt of the earth.
We left the river so I could get ready to go home. Sad face. My grandfather was pretty blue that I was leaving. He thanked me for making his time at the ranch better. My grandmother made me pack about 3 dozen tamales to bring home. Relatives stopped by to say goodbye, all of them asking me to come back soon.
I hope I do.