It was time for me to depart from the coach and say my farewells to Olive and Blossom. They said that they would be visiting the mighty Pyramid at Chichen Itza the next day and that we may well bump into each other again and I hoped that we would meet again, for these two formidable, funny women who, by this point were squeezing my hands again, had really been a joy to travel with. In these days before Social Networks and the wide use of the internet, I was used to a world in which you met people and then you said goodbye, potentially forever; with the hope that paths would cross at some future point.
I stepped out of the battle scarred coach, waving to the many faces with whom I had shared the adventure of being shot at by Bandits and set off to await the village transport to Oro’s house. I stood under an enormous tree with the whitest bark; the local landmark used as a bus stop. As my coach departed, leaving a trail of crimson coloured dust in its wake, I was soon met by a small truck, not unlike the type used by the Bandits who could easily have stopped my journey short, permanently. I thanked the driver, paid him a dollar and climbed into the open back of this truck; the sides of the back were not much more than old planks of wood nailed to posts with gaps between, through which a mixture of warm air and more crimson coloured dust permeated. I soon found myself coughing, along with the other travellers; mostly young women dressed in the whitest of robes that were emblazoned with a circle of multi-coloured stripes around the neck opening of their tops, who carried woven baskets full of vegetables. The material of their robes and the intricate stitching of these coloured bands around the neck opening of their tops were an astonishing sight of Mexican culture and impressive craftsmanship.
The driver dropped me literally outside Oro’s home; a dwelling of two parts; on one side, a traditional stick house with thatched roof and to the right, a new brick built extension. The perimeter was boundaried by a three foot, or so, stick fence and just in the background were a chicken house and pig house, with the animals roaming free within the entire boundary of Oro’s land. I was greeted by Oro and his lovely wife who burst out of the tradional stick-built side of their home, with what must have been seven or eight children who were all cheering and smiling as I arrived. Even the chickens and pigs and a delightfully scruffy dog rushed up to meet me. I felt so welcome.
In honour of the privacy that I came to understand and respect, in Mexican people, I will not write about my afternoon, evening and overnight stay with Oro and his family; apart from to state that I have never known, in people who were almost strangers to me, such beautiful humanity, kindness, sharing, love, friendship and openness or such folk stories, music, incredible food and graceful, warmth of hospitality as this inspiring family of people offered me. Saying goodbye, the following morning, was genuinely a sad moment. Oro and his family touched my heart and I carry that memory with me, always.
I returned to the bus stop and picked up the next ride to Chichen Itza. The excitement I felt at the idea of seeing this ancient Pyramid in the midst of Mexican jungle was building in me and it felt good to start a new phase of my adventure.
In the coach, I sat alongside a young woman from the USA. Her name was Jill. She was about my age and she told me that she lived in Colorado but had decided to spend twelve months travelling the world. This seemed like a wonderful adventure until Jill told me that she was dying; for she had been diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma and had been told she would live for no more than two years. Hodgkins Lymphoma is a vicious Cancer that develops in the Lymphatic system and spreads with aggression. For Jill; this young woman with a beautiful head of long brown hair and eyes that sparkled whenever she spoke of home, in her early twenties, with a beautiful smile, a polite and incredibly friendly disposition and a lust for life well, for Jill, this was her way of taking in a lifetime of travel all in one year and it was also her ‘Swan Song’, as she prepared herself for her impending departure from life.
For me, having already experienced the pain of losing many loved ones to Cancer, I felt the huge pain of helplessness and sadness well up within me as I thought about how cruel her illness was. I thought, too, of her family and loved ones who, on the brink of losing her, had given their blessing to this time without her, when such time would have been so precious to them. There is something so beautiful in such love and Jill encapsulated both the youthful wonder with which she viewed her Mexican surroundings and a maturity and wisdom that could only come from the reflections at the end of life. I will always treasure meeting Jill and often think of her, to this day.
We passed through the beautiful city of Valladolid and I managed to take a few photos as we drove through. If I had stayed with my coach the day before, I would have been able to stop and enjoy this lively, pretty city but then I would not have had the very special time with Oro and his family.
I told myself that I would try to catch a ride back to Cancun, that would stop at Valladolid, so that I could explore. (I was, later, lucky to find such a ride back after visiting Chichen Itza and so I spent a fantastic night in Valladolid before heading back to Cancun). Over the remaining journey to Chichen Itza, Jill and I chatted about our different childhoods and the different cities we had grown up in; my London and her Denver. We talked about family, our school lives and before we knew it we had arrived at Chichen Itza; everyone on the coach bustling with excitement.
As we emerged from the coach, the terrain was much more neatly controlled. The dirt roads were broader and were well maintained and swept. Rocks, painted white, lined the verges and as we approached the ancient ruined city, each side of the road was lined by tall trees and jungle foliage, middle aged women at stalls, all wearing the traditional white robes with the same multi-coloured stitching that lined the neck openings of their tops; selling a variety of beautifully hand crafted items from wallets, to clothes, musical instruments and all manner of objects to decorate one’s home with. Of particular beauty were the immense hand crafted rugs of the most beautiful traditional designs and colours. I bought myself a small hand carved wooden smoking pipe and a couple of woven wrist bands. The rest of my loose change went to the many children that swamped each tourist with gleeful smiles and open hands. Once these children received a few cents each, they would politely step away and pull out of their pockets little white bags containing fiery hot chillies, which they munched with the same enthusiasm a little child in England has when given a small bag of penny sweets by a loving Grandparent. I chuckled at the idea of English children being given a bag of chillies; knowing the reaction would be one of disgust and splattering coughs. We have certainly a taste for gentle sweets in England.
Jill, myself and the other travelers stepped forward into a world one would usually only dream of; a world of the ancients, of mystery and of wonder. This is me, with Jill, in one of the monuments:
I had achieved my goal of reaching one of Mexico’s ancient wonders:
I smiled to myself, as I thought about my distant home in London. This felt as far away from my normality as I could ever be. I savoured that amazing feeling, as I explored these stunning, ancient monuments.
I am pleased to say that I did indeed get to bump into Olive and Blossom while I was there. We had time for a catch up and they gave me that final squeeze of my hands as we said goodbye. As sad as that moment was, there remained that sense of wondering at whether we would some day ever again meet in some future travels. Later, saying goodbye to Jill was all the more difficult, for there was the certain knowledge that the opportunity to bump into each other in the future, would not exist. This was a final goodbye.