El camino de las tortugas

Chapter 13, Tulum, Mexico – June 2014

The tiny bus packed with student doctors weaved its way through the Guatemalan jungle until we got to the sparse Belize border crossing.  I wasn’t accounted for on the minibus so Customs made me stay behind. For a split second, I nearly darted back across the border but when I saw a taxi in the distance, I frantically waved it down with some dollars kindly gifted to me by one of the doctors. I busted out my best Spanish and tried to be cheery even though I just wanted the jungle to swallow me up. The driver and I sped through the countryside and little towns, which had a Caribbean shanty town vibe; poor and uneasy. Figures got taller and darker the further into Belize we got. We stopped for a pulled pork wrap and then continued to the port, where hopefully there would be a bus still waiting to take me across to Mexico. 

The Writer couldn’t believe I had made it in time. We sat together in the safety of the air-conditioned monster bus watching people dressed in colourful beachwear hurrying down narrow streets that were overshadowed by huge cruise ships. I yearned to get off, smuggle myself on one of them and follow Fleur to La Isla de Mujeres – – The Island of Women. It was too late; my flight was booked and I was bound for Cancun. The sun gods had spoken but I still wanted the last word.

 As a diversion, I spent a few days with The Writer. It felt like a little honeymoon but there were so many unexchanged words and distance between us, it was a doomed marriage of sorts. The Writer’s head was troubled with the unfinished ending of their story and I was an escape artist but not of Houdini’s caliber; more a nervous amateur watched by an unenthusiastic audience in a travelling funfair, and in the end, their most famous escape would be from themselves.

We swam off the coast of Tulum. I chased silverfish in the shallows.

Distracted by the fish, I found myself drifting further away from the shore, losing sight of them completely. The Writer was somewhere in the distance, but in essence I felt alone. With my head fully submerged, I floated motionlessly: I stopped chasing; stopped thinking; I surrendered  my body completely. Weightless, I stared down. At first, I saw nothing but inky green darkness, then the turtles, one by one, began to emerge, as if from nowhere, slowly and ghost-like. I observed them awestruck, as they swam in beautiful unison.

She flapped her wings, her tail, a dangerous weapon, gracefully swishing behind her. I was directly above a manta ray that was hitching a ride on the back of a turtle. If I had pinched myself I wouldn’t have felt it as I was bodiless. Just a stream of consciousness.

I was never the strongest of swimmers, nor very good at it. When I was six or seven, or maybe eight, I chose to wear the biggest woolly jumper I had during a diving skills class.  I sank under the weight of it and the teacher had to scoop me out with a net. 

Drowning didn’t seem like the worst way to go, much worse to be gobbled up by a crocodile, torn apart by sharks, or scared to death by shipwrecked ghosts that lurked at the bottom of the ocean. Sinking gracefully in thought seemed a serene and peaceful way out. I removed my mask and let myself go fully under.

 There were no crocodiles, nor sharks, or evil phantoms, just ghosts from my recent past. I had begun this journey wading only waist-deep in the Sweet gulf of Costa Rica, from doing a pathetic doggy paddle around the Captain’s dingy, to being taught to swim with some grace by the Fish, then being handheld whilst snorkeling my way around manmade coral reefs. Now the day had arrived where I must leave and I didn’t care much for it. I had cried so much the night before, for fear I could never return and life would become less than ordinary.

The Red Queen once said to me if I thought too much about every little thing, I’d lose my head completely. More reflections began to flood in as I sank deeper and deeper into the water.

I had followed the Rabbit blindly without knowing where it would lead. The Fish had taught me to swim with my eyes open, the Red Queen demonstrated how to be strong when heartbroken, Fleur showed me it was okay to be a leaf floating on the wind for a while, The Argentians had unravelled my tongue, and The writer finally found their ending.

The dead apple tree trunk floated up from the depths of my story, almost passing me by as I grabbed onto it. Alice was snagging at my heels, trying to pull me further down. I struggled and kicked myself free, letting the gravity of my tree pull me up to the surface. I refused to be another Alice in chains with her failing Houdini act, or shipwrecked on Alice’s Shaul. I was now the Captain of my own ship carved from my dead tree, writing us back to a happier ending.

The crystal clear waters changed for pavement, the sun for a cloudy sky. My speech was coloured with another language, my skin was rusty orange just like the red brick houses that greeted me on my return. The Marigolds bowed their heads. I had forgotten just how beautiful my country was. 

My brother was there waiting for me at the end of a long road.  He wasn’t hard to miss, with fiery red hair and a top hat. He bounced towards me, flung his arms around me and handed me a pair of boots and a warm jacket. Shivering with cold, I kicked off my flip flops and threw on his clothes. 

The end.

Written and illustrated by Lucy Lilley. All rights reserved 2022

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