So I’m in this beat-up bus, creaking and wheezing along like some geriatric love scene, sweating burst water balloons, smeared all over the back seat. Barely a month into my travels, bamboozled by an overabundance of baggage, I’m chasing waves on the back of a rumour and the heels of a storm.
Hauling my load into the back of the bus in the midday heat, surfboards and all, I caught the driver’s glare through the rearview mirror and he clearly didn’t like what he saw. How I got away without paying twice for it all, I honestly don’t know. We’d agreed beforehand that he’d tell me where to get off, so I felt relaxed enough to lean back and let my mind wander the glittering dreamscapes of my newfound freedom.
As it turns out, I wandered a touch too far, so when the driver slammed the bus to a halt beside a lonely tree and dusty path and shouted ‘Acqui esta, amigo’, I didn’t think twice – grabbed my shit and in a clumsy thump, landed at the start of a diabolical and freakishly perplexing journey through a tropical abyss. There’s a schoolgirl standing in the shade of the tree, fixing me with an unequivocal stare that says ‘not many of your kind step off here’.
There comes a point in travel where you fall so far off course, even language fails you.
I point down the only road and ask her in my elementary Spanish, “It’s there for Barra de la Cruz?”
She nods, in a sense, but is still giving me that look.
I ask her, “Where is the beach?”
Given the entire western horizon is the Pacific Ocean, it’s probably not my best question but there’s something in her stare that unnerves me, makes me feel I need to keep talking.
“How many minutes walking to the beach?”
“Very good, thank you very much!” Ten felt a good answer to me.
What I now know is that when language fails you, it’s your ability to decode the vacant stare – and then act on it that can make or break your mission. I can still hear the sound of my instinct screaming at me but in the moment ‘ten’ was all she needed to say to blind me, so I strapped up, hit the road, grin of blissful stupidity restored.
About 100m later I reach a fork in the road. Just ahead are three old men on a porch. I walk over, working up a diabolical sweat already, feeling slightly awkward approaching them in that state…but best to double-up on directions and be sure, right?
“Good afternoon, gentlemen, which way for Barra de la Cruz?”
Big smiles, “Barra de la Cruuuuzzzz…” followed by this goddamn blank stare.
“Uuuhm…yes…Barra de la Cruz. I am a surfer, I am looking for the waves. Which way is the beach?”
“Ahhh, yes, yes…there.” He points down the left fork.
“There?” I point left too.
He nods. They all smile and nod. It smells fishy as a motherfucker…but I thank them nonetheless and continue on my way.
About 15 minutes in the sweat’s pooling in my slops and my feet slide straight off them. I put shoes on. The first true fangs of doubt start to pierce my brain. I pull half a bottle of water from my bag, stare at it, put it back in the bag.
I come over a rise and see the land arcing way off into the distance, not a hint of civilization to be seen…save for one man walking across the hills with a TV on his head. Makes little sense. I shout across to him, “Helloooo! Which way to the hostals?” Without pause he points to the beach and says, “Straight ahead!” The speed and confidence of his response restore my hope and I can hear the ocean now. So I keep walking. And walking. And walking.
45 minutes later I’m cursing that schoolgirl and the old man in a most shameful way. Vile things spilling from my mouth…it’s too bloody hot and there’s too little shade, so I swear and I shake my fists at the sun and the Gods.
The path then descends into the jungle and for each metre it falls, the temperature rises a degree. Or two. I’m sweating so much my shorts are wet. Obviously, timing being the perfect beast it is, the path reaches a swamp and disappears completely. It’s at this moment, staring into the slush, that I remember what a good friend once said…never turn back. What goes in must come out.
So I’m in up to my knees with a two backpacks and a double-boardbag. Even the bugs are making their play and really, it’s making fuck-all sense to me now but all I can do is keep – moving – forward. I emerge from the swamp in a filthy stink and the sound of a pounding sea drags me from this pungent jungle cave back into a rapist sun. I drop everything in the sand, take a few short steps, splash my face with my t-shirt and try absorb the unfathomable expanse of jungle, beach and ocean stretching as far as I can see in either direction – not one jiggly molecule of man to be seen. If it wasn’t so utterly demoralising it could’ve been quite beautiful.
There looks to be another path further down the beach but what I find is something deeply chilling. The stench hits my nostrils long before I reach them – twenty, maybe thirty enormous turtle shells, rotting remains of the beautiful creatures that once were, ripped apart by the vultures eyeballing me from the trees above. They’re massive, some of the shells easily a metre wide. I feel nauseous. It’s an ending unnecessarily macabre for creatures so tormented by nature. It’s as if some ghoulish feast has taken place under the cover of darkness, something wholly unnatural and I can’t bear look at it.
Far down the beach I spot two kids fishing with a net in the shorebreak. I walk over to greet them and they fix me with that now infuriating vacancy, as if they’d never seen a white man before. Maybe they hadn’t. I ask them in very straightforward Spanish if they know of a little village called Barra de la Cruz, a place with tourists like myself, people with surfboards, where travellers stay in hostals. But they simply stare, saying nothing, almost as if they’re not even thinking. Just…staring. The anger starts to boil, I feel an urge to shout but realised how pointless, how arrogant that would be. I ask where the nearest village is and one lifts his arm ever so slowly, points in a northerly direction. I thank him and continue.
By now I’m so bewildered it’s becoming comical. My major concern is water, only a few sips left by this point. That little witch in her school uniform disguise! Her ten minutes have become two hours and I’m undeniably a shitload further from my destination than when we met.
I keep plodding along, now following a rising plume of smoke in the far distance – a sure sign of man. Truth is, irrespective of my own welfare, the story only improves by me moving forward. So another half hour or so later, through more jungle, across more pastures and pan-fried plains, I come across two rancheros.
“Excuse me gentlemen, please please help me…I am very VERY lost.”
“Yes…yes you are.”
I explain myself but they’re absolutely clueless as to where I’m heading and simply offer a direction to the main road, so on and on I go. I come to a fence, climb through it. I come to a gate, push it open. I come to a horse trough, rest. Been walking around three hours now, water’s long gone and I’m feeling incredibly pensive.
An old woman spots me through the trees, calls me over. I can tell by her gracious but tentative smile that I must be a frightening shade of red. She hurriedly offers me a chair under the shade of a tree and a glass of cold water. We exchange pleasantries but I’m restless and out of place, so express my deepest gratitude and make moves to leave but she urges me to rest for a little while longer.
In time she points me to the main road, where the next phase of mystery begins. I stand there, on a broken concrete sidewalk, watching the shadows crawl around me, hoisting my thumb to every vehicle that passes – cars, taxis, pick-ups, minivans, tour busses, 18-wheelers, anything with wheels but dusty gusts are all they offer. Small victories.
But then a bus arrives, same as the one that dropped me off all those hours ago. It pulls over, I run to the door and beg the driver, “Please, I am very lost. I want to go to Barra de la Cruz – can you help me?”
He nods, “Yes, yes. I don’t have problem.”
Elated, “Thank you very much, I’m going to take my bags.”
As I’m jogging alongside the bus to get them, he slams his foot on the pedal, drops me like a tin can in the dust. Far as I can recall, I didn’t turn to watch him leave, just stood up straight, stared back down the road from whence the fucker came, not looking at anything in particular and neither was I surprised…it was just one of those days.
So I stood for another long while, kicking stones, stretching my legs, chewing grass, wringing my t-shirt, repeating the motions – another hundred vehicles, another hundred clouds of dust. Eventually another blue bus heeds my call. I run up to the door and am practically on my knees, begging of him, “Please sir, PLEASE. I need your help. I am very, very lost. I want to go to the next town. Will you help me?”
“Very good! Thank you very much. I’m going to take my bags, they’re over there. Will you wait a short moment for me?”
“Yes.” He nods his head.
I give him one last look of assurance, two thumbs up. He nods again.
I run this time, urgent strides beside the bus. I get my fists around the handles of my bags…and his foot hits the floor. He practically wheelspins, in a bus. But this time round I snap and unleash. I’m flipping the bird, I’m flapping my arms, I’m shouting, “ARE – YOU – FUCKING – KIDDING – ME? SERIOUSLY? YOU MOTHERF…! YOUR MOTHER’S A F…I HOPE YOUR CHILDREN F…”…and, well, yes, you can imagine.
And so one of those profoundly helpless moments descends upon me, ego’s on the floor like a naked baby in the dust. No one to call, time the only source of hope. So I surrendered completely, just let it all go, plucked another stem of grass to chew, sat down and had a good little chuckle. Such a refreshing and wonderful sensation it was, rolling over the tipping point like a kid on grassy hill, feeling pure bitterness at the world become a simple appreciation of its comedy.
And like magic, like all the great sages say – let go and the answer shall present itself. So in about as much time as it took me to chew the sweet juices from my stem, a white double-cab pulls up on the other side of the road and a woman calls to me, “Hey! Where you going?”
I look at her, I look left, I look right. This is no mirage, this is no savage trickery. I run across to her car. She’s absolutely beautiful and she’s here to help me. Her gorgeous daughter sits quietly in the passenger seat. Two glorious visions here to save me! They say they’ve driven past twice and wondered who or what I was waiting for. I try to explain my destination but they’ve never heard of it, so they tell me to ‘Hop in, let’s figure this thing out!’
We drive from house to house, asking people they know for clues but nobody has any. Meanwhile, ludicrous fantasies play themselves out in my head and suddenly I’m living this simple life raising a family on small farm in Mexico with my beautiful wife…and people ask how we met and she tells the story of how she and her Mum found me chewing grass on the side of the road one day.
Because, truth is…these things happen all the time, random and impossible tales with unimaginable twists. Why wouldn’t you believe in it? I mean, one of the most impossible tales in the entire known universe is the fact that we’re all here, alive, on a tiny fucking ball of stardust, spinning around in space! Remember that next time you find yourself thinking, “Never! That’ll never happen…”
Anyways, back on earth, we pull into some eco-resort and the owner takes me to a huge map of the coast painted across her wall. I find my destination and ask where exactly we are…and I have to take four big strides across the floor to match the two. We burst out laughing, I’m absolutely nowhere.
My saviour says that, sadly, she can’t drive me that far but will make damn sure the next bus driver does! I hauled my gear from the car, cast a fearful glance at the sun beating down on the spot where I was to wait for the next bus…and on cue, the next bus arrived.
She walks straight into the middle of the road with her hair and her eyes and her skin and her jeans and her boots and everything…and in one fateful snap of time, my fantasy vanished like dawn’s last dream, my day was saved and I fell a little in love with two Mexican angels.
Another three hours, two busses, a taxi and a long walk later, I crossed from the land to the sea and rode waves until the moon and I walked home together.
Moral of the story? Go! Go get lost, never turn back…and be wary of little witches in school uniforms.