extranjera

words & images jade sanchez-ventura

San Cristobal 1.28

My stomach is weird.

Everyone leaves the communal kitchen for the communal living room, and I began walking towards the communal toilet (at least there you get your own little room with a locked door). David, the boy from Quebec, stops me. He wears a poncho with the Corona logo on it.

     Hay un fuego arriba. Y un hombre tiene una guitarra. Hay mota. Good vibes. A fire man with a guitar, weed.

I get away from him and lock myself in, kneeling on the cold floor. Why is it that my puking has to build so slowly? So many minutes (an hour?) of little pukes, bitter bile, shuddering from the taste, my teeth rough. I’d left my water bottle and couldn’t drink from the tap. Somehow I run to my bed, grab the water bottle, and run back to the same little room. It is the whole shaking, body grand finale until, finally, I am emptied and can sink into my bunk, made somewhat private by hanging my sarong from the bunk above. It would be nice if they put curtains on the beds like in the old train movies.

What strange existence are we living here? Strangers gathered in this hostel, and our common language only our sought-Spanish; adults with the vocabulary of five- and ten-year-olds. When this one uses slang like a teenage boy, we’re all impressed. Or if not Spanish, German.

I’m the only American here, which I like.

While I was puking, there was something else: I saw myself from above, heaving in a turquoise American Apparel tube dress, an extranjera, and felt sure that all this was pointless and that if I didn’t see my father then I would be no different. I would be pointless, too. And, I thought of all I’d left, of Mike, and seemed ridiculous to myself.

They act like this is some kind of way station on a global route. Thailand, India, Vietnam. Everyone thinks that my two weeks in San Cris is a long time to stay. The one thing I have is time.

San Cris-A bajo de la iglesia de La Virgin de Guadalupe 1.29

I look for my father in every man, in every boy, even in the faces of los indios. I have never seen my father in Mexico when I wasn't too young to remember, and so he has become all of Mexico.

What does he act like here? Look like? Speak?

How is it possible that I have barely, casi nunca, heard him speak Spanish? He is foreign in all senses of the word. Not American and also not known.

Mexico is my father, or my father is Mexico. I don’t know.

In front of the centro, the church at sunset, a boy—maybe twelve years old—asks if I want my shoes shined. The third to do so. When I say no, he glares at me.

     “Son muy sucios. Como una calabaza.” They’re very dirty, like a pumpkin.

He is angry, and I am upset at first, but I imagine that he has plenty of reasons to be angry. Anyway, he is right. My shoes are very dirty.

Tulum 2.27

At El Mirador it cost eighty pesos to hang a hammock. The owner insists on helping me hang mine, and asks how much I paid. I tell him one hundred pesos less than it had cost, and he smirks. “You paid too much. Your hammock is too small, see?” I do not like him. But no importa because the light outside is pearl and, with my hammock hung, I change into my suit and walk into the turquoise water. The sand is white; I swim, amazed, as the sun sets. These are the special moments: the Plaza del Sol was one, then that first morning in Madrid, and the first bus ride in Nicaragua with the windows open and the scent of burning paper. Other worlds feel right there. I feel divine, holy, powerful, transported.

I have slipped into the traveler’s tide. Lindsay is the friendliest, though her nose terrifies me, the skin peeling back layers of pink and white into a cancerous bloom. She needs to get out of the sun. Janna builds boats in Germany. Andy lives in the tree, his futon balanced on the branches, and he raises both arms wide, a caguama of beer in one hand, “What more do you need?” He is American. Turns out there’s free camping along the fence. I’ll move at sunrise; the bearded man is going to give me his spot with the only palm tree.

I leave them and take a jar of Nutella onto the sand for a sweet dinner. I hide in the shadow of an overturned boat and watch the stars. I want Mike to be with me, but I also am very happy to be alone. Later, I climb into my hammock, it is really early. I don’t sleep much, but rest in the breeze. A few palms are dark silhouettes and the ocean is quiet and right there.

Janna says Tulum used to be an outpost on the Yucatan, a place for artists and hippies and broke travelers. No longer really, though they all still come. Tomorrow, I’ll add my orange hammock to the row of nylon domes. Janna says, “Sometimes people come walking and even take pictures of us hippies.”

Us hippies!

Tulum 3.16

I’m ping-ponging around Mexico. If I left this place now, vanished from it, no one would worry. They would just think that I had moved on to the next town, the next beach. Another traveler would float through this country.

My mother and Mike would notice eventually, of course. When the emails stopped. When no phone calls came. They’d come searching for me, but who would they ask? Everyone here at my Tribal Village campground will have moved on by then. Who would remember that I had slept here? That I had walked on this beach? The couple would remember me in Punta Allen, but they would be back in Italy by then. Maybe they’d be able to find the cab driver. Maybe he’d remember the girl who’d asked him to stop to pee halfway back to Tulum. Maybe he’d tell them that he’d dropped me off at Tribal Village. Maybe they’d come next door, and a waiter would remember a girl with a tattoo down her back who ate breakfast here a few weeks ago. Maybe.

My questions from a few months ago have been waiting for an answer. “What am I doing here? What are we all doing here?” The questions my mother had asked so long ago in Brooklyn: “What if your father doesn’t see you? What are you looking for?” She had warned, “You can’t get oranges from a hardware store.”

I don’t know. And if I don’t know, how will I know when I’ve found it? How will I know when it’s time to go home?

My father won’t see me.

Tribal Village looks like the waning of a hippie’s dream. Faded purple and yellow psychedelic swirls on faded wood. The communal showers spit brackish water, and the toilets perpetually clog, but it’s good for tents. We’re above the water on a hill and shielded from the wind. Camped next to me is Taj, an American man in his fifties. He’s just come from Palenque, where he’s spent the last month or so sitting in a stream eating mushrooms and “grooving on the energy of the place.” His tent is huge. He inflated an air mattress in it when he arrived.

     “Now that I’m old,” he says, “I make myself at home. No more of this jumping from place to place like you’ve been doing.”

I could go anywhere. I don’t know where to go.

The sand is scorching beneath my thin sarong. The sun presses me down into it. I’m now as dark as I’ve ever been, but my skin won’t take any more. It’s begun to peel in feathery wisps.

Last day in San Cris 4.17

San Cris has quieted again; the wild energy of Semana Santa and the equinox have now passed. It’s begun to rain too. The wet season is coming, which means that the season of travelers is ending. I asked for the hot water last night, and before anyone wakes up, I shower and shave and scrub the dirt from behind my ankle bones. I oil my skin, and comb and oil and braid my hair. I put on my freshly washed jeans and the shirt from Valladolid that I’ve kept fresh for this day. The whole hostel is still asleep; there is only the woman to say good-bye when I give her my key. The sun is slanting into the streets, children damp and freshly combed are waiting for their school buses.

This is the first time that I’ve come down this side of the mountains since Oaxaca, two months ago. I’ve splurged on a plane ticket up to Mexico City. The nice lady from the café tells me that my Spanish is very good. I’m listening to this one Joanna Newsom song over and over again. “You do lose what you don’t hold.”

Mike’s plane lands at 2pm. At 8pm, we are to meet my father in the lobby of a hotel. I’ve lost my traveler’s cachet. We’ll see, when asked how long I’ll be here, where I’m going next. Whatever else happens, in six weeks time, I’ll board a plane in Cancun with Mike. And my father will be in Mexico. Or be Mexico. He’s always Mexico. I don’t know what I am, except for not alone.

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