Friday, February 19, 2010
A MESSAGE IN THE SAND
Yours truly, left, and Trish
I love snow. It transforms the grounds of my home, Woodloft, into a sparkling, white-draped vision of winter that seems to refresh the trees and renew the sloping land. Most winters here in Roanoke, the little bit of snow we get blesses us with some brief fleeting beauty and a day or two when we can fail to carry on with “business as usual” and almost no one cares. This winter, however, we have been a little too “blessed.” In December, we were buried under 22 inches of snow in a single storm, and cold temperatures kept the snow around for weeks. As the new year began, it looked like more snow was on the way. So, my friend, Trish, and I decided to take a respite from the cold and snow by traveling to a spot just south of Cancun, Mexico.
Snowed in again
Whenever I take trips out of the country like the Sunflower Journeys I made with my grandchildren to Italy, Mexico, Greece and France, I almost always return with an odd anecdote or two about something that happened along the way. This journey was no exception. And while the stories from my other trips are often humorous or just odd, the one that stands out on this trip was a little creepy.
If I were the superstitious sort, I probably would have canceled the trip when things began to go wrong leading up to our departure. Another large snowstorm hit the Roanoke area shortly before our flight to Mexico, so I had to leave Woodloft and stay with my daughter Kirsten and her family for two days before the flight: snow often makes my hillside driveway and the street leading to it impassable for days after a storm. At the time, this didn’t seem like a bad omen, but just more motivation to get out of town. But then, on the day of our departure, things started going wrong. First, even though the Roanoke airport remained open despite the snow, out flight was canceled due to equipment problems. When we finally got underway, we had to change flights four times and travel north to Philadelphia before finally heading south to Mexico.
Late that evening, we arrived at the Cancun airport. What should have been our first day on the beach had been spent almost exclusively in cramped airliners. We wearily looked for the driver our booking agent had told us would be waiting to take us to our hotel. We were supposed to be able to identify him because he would be holding a sign with the hotel’s name on it. But, since we arrived many hours later than expected, we were not surprised when he was nowhere to be seen. When we asked a seemingly nice, well-dressed fellow nearby where we might find our driver, he told us there was a "bad accident" on the road leading from our hotel and that no one could get through to the airport. He asked the name of our hotel and, shaking his head, he said, “Your hotel cannot send any drivers out, but they have your room waiting for you. If you would like, I can get you a safe driver who will take you to your hotel.” We paid him the equivalent of $80.00 U. S. and got a receipt he said we could use to get reimbursed by the hotel. As we learned later, we had just been bamboozled by one of the “Airport Taxi Pirates.” They do all they can to take passengers away from the free resort hotel shuttles. After all the traveling I’ve done, I still can’t believe I fell for this: fatigue, I suppose.
Nevertheless, we arrived safely at our hotel and were thrilled to find a beautiful, all-inclusive resort with everything imaginable at our disposal; food, drink, entertainment, and a room more luxurious than any I have ever had with two large glass doors opening to the ocean.
Thatched beach tables
The next morning, it was time for the vacation to begin in earnest. We swam in the “infinity pool.” Viewed from one end, the pool’s opposite end seems to merge with the ocean and the sky in a way that makes you feel as though you could swim from the pool directly into either without missing a stroke. It was glorious.
We were having a lovely time when I looked toward the pool bar and saw a fellow who looked very much like my son, Cameron. I mentioned this to Trish and she agreed. Later, apparently feeling that expansive, outgoing mood that possesses so many of us when we’re on vacation, Trish passed the fellow (we’ll call him “Frank”) on her way to the bar and casually mentioned that he looked like my son. When he saw me taking a picture of him so I could later show my family “Cameron’s twin,” Frank started laughing and mugging for the camera. He had obviously had a lot to drink. His antics became more and more extreme and rude until he actually “mooned” the guests at the pool. Trish and I were astonished at his behavior and even more astonished at what followed. Frank walked up behind Trish as she was lounging by the pool and … well, let’s just say that what he did next would have been appropriate if he had been a dog greeting another dog, but it certainly wasn’t appropriate for an even marginally civilized human being. Everyone who saw Frank’s actions was dumfounded, including Trish, who was left utterly speechless. We were so upset that we left the pool area and returned to our room leaving Frank and his entourage of friends behind (no pun intended).
Early the next morning, we headed to the resort’s business office to book some tours. As we walked past a flight of stairs, down came Frank. He looked completely surprised and embarrassed upon seeing us. Needless to say, we were caught off guard, too, and mumbled a weak “hola.” Frank just averted his face and walked away, apparently embarrassed by the preceding day’s events, but offering no apology. We were surprised that he seemed embarrassed: his behavior the day before was so rude that we doubted he was capable of embarrassment.
We decided we’d like to avoid running into Frank again. Since the resort had many pool areas and about 12 restaurants, it seemed this would be easy to do. So, when we decided to head for the pool a little later, we picked one at the opposite end of the resort from the one we had visited the preceding day. We had hardly settled in at the new pool when we saw Frank walking by with his friends. In less than an hour we had run into him twice despite trying to avoid him at this huge resort. When he saw us, he seemed surprised again and said loudly to his friends, “They are everywhere I go?” I just smiled and said, ”Yes, Trish is your nemesis.” Frank hurried away.
Over the next few days, we seemed to run into Frank everywhere we went despite the size of the resort. It was as if we were following him or he was following us. But we were always at the place we ran into him before he arrived, and he always walked away when he saw us with a look on his face that was equal parts embarrassment and disbelief.
Finally, after many more coincidental encounters, we found ourselves seated next to Frank at one of the resort’s restaurants. He finally told Trish he was terribly sorry for his behavior. He explained that his friends were police officers(!), and that a fellow officer who was supposed to be traveling with them on the trip had been shot many times and left a paraplegic shortly before the trip. On that first day, he said, they were upset and had been drinking too much. Assuming his story to be true, we felt a little sorry for him (and much more so for his friend, the paralyzed officer). But it had taken him so long to apologize, I never could decide whether the apology was authentic or was just a desperate attempt on his part to break whatever evil spell was causing our presence to haunt him relentlessly.
Remote area of the resort
Sunday morning we saw Frank once again on a remote beach. He just walked away, probably thinking we would be haunting him for the rest of his vacation. We left silently, not telling him we were going home. I can just see him spending the rest of his vacation looking around corners for us, the two witches who looked him in the eye and said “behave” without saying a word.
I suppose I’ve made it sound like the “Frank episode” haunted us the entire trip, but it really didn’t. It was just the odd experience woven through our time there as though some unseen force had linked us with this man for some reason that was not apparent. I suppose someone in Frank’s position should learn a lesson from this – the obvious one being, “Always be on your best behavior; you never know how or when it may come back to haunt you.” (On the other hand, there is also, “Don’t depend on man’s best friend to be your guide to social skills,” or even the vaguely biblical, “Thou shalt not nuzzle thy neighbor’s tushie – at least, not without permission.”) More interesting, however, is the fact that life so often presents us with these coincidences that seem as though they might mean something, but the meaning is impossible to find.
Despite Frank and the Airport Taxi Pirates, Trish and I had a wonderful time and I definitely would go back to the Mayan Riviera. We found out that most employees at the resorts there earn only about $5.00 a day, yet they are always smiling and always treat you as though you are a guest in their home. Before we left, I saw a message someone had etched in the sand on the last beach we visited. It said, “Life is good, Today.” I couldn’t agree more.
Mexican pool bar waiter
When we returned from Cancun, Roanoke had been hit by yet another large snowstorm. As I look out my window at the hillsides around Woodloft, there is still a beautiful, sparkling blanket of snow on the ground. I love snow. And, I love Woodloft. But, you know, even though the trip to Cancun was a little odd, right now it would be nice to be back on one of those sunny beaches.
(A note of thanks to Jack Vincent for editing this post and bringing it to life!)