Unpublished tale from Mexico

My old friend Carol asked if Dawn could come along on our planned February trip to Mexico’s west coast.  They’d done a trip to Alaska together and Carol said Dawn was a delight to be with, agreeable and sweet, never needy or demanding.  She had worked as a wildlife and whale watch guide, and manager of the whale museum on San Juan Island.  Carol was right.  Dawn was an easy companion, thoughtful and relaxed.
Dawn loves small boats and so do I, so our second day in a little backwater beach town called La Manzanilla, south of Puerto Vallarta, we rented kayaks.  Allan Mather brings down a large trailer loaded with rental boats each winter and lives up on the hill overlooking the village.  During the summer, he rents out his collection on Denman Island in British Columbia.
We dragged the boats down the sand from Allan’s beach camp, and stowed our lunches and water bottles.  Getting out through the small surf was easy.  The kayaks tracked well and the paddles felt light in our hands.  The hard blue sky, utterly still, curved over the wild world.  Beneath us was a forest of kelp, hiding secrets we could only guess at, whole communities invisible from the country of air. Thousands of small transparent jellyfish pulsed slowly in the clear depths.
A gentle breeze ruffled the ocean as we skirted sharp rocks.  Boobies, frigate birds and pelicans sat watching us move through their territory.  The water rose and fell with a hiss and a sigh against the jagged outcrops.  All around us, hundreds of terns dropped like arrows into the water and rose with fish in their needle beaks.  We explored the rocky bay, poking around dangerous shoals feeling safe in our tiny craft.
After the first headland, we saw a long sandy beach with a hook of land enclosing a protected cove at the far end.  It looked inviting, a good spot to haul out on the shore and take a break.  We’d seen the big hotel up on the hill the previous day on a tour of the mangrove swamps from far across the bay near Tenecatita.  We pulled our boats in to the sand through knee-high surf.
Mario, working in the little cabana, told us this was part of a large Sheraton resort called El Tamarindo.  We could enjoy the beach but the rest was private.  He gave us some literature, then said it was OK if we wanted to walk on their pier.  We hung around for an hour or so in the tranquil embrace of the green land.  Then, having brought no money to express our appreciation, we gave Mario our collection of shells and findings.  He was amused.  We pushed off again.
The shore beyond was a harsh landscape of steep and colorful rocky slopes that supported a leafless dry-season jungle scattered with organ pipe cactus as big as trees.  The cracked and stony desert dropped to the water with no hint of a place to pull out.  Eventually we saw another beach ahead, with booming surf tumbling and rolling up the sand.  While I scouted for a spot safe to go in, Dawn’s boat shot ahead of me, caught a wave and rode up the sand for a flawless landing.
Inspired by her easy performance, I paddled in without a hitch.  But I’m not a fast jumper.  Before I could pop out of my boat, the next wave hit, jerked the boat sideways, knocked me flat and rolled the boat on top of me.  A veteran of big surf, I relaxed.  Holding my breath I waited in the chaotic tumble, knowing things change quickly and that the water would soon pull away.
Dawn’s time as a kayak tour guide had sharpened her awareness of people in trouble, part of taking care of the client.   When I vanished, she raced over, saw my form under the boat and took action.  She hauled the boat aside, then helped me pull it up the sand.  Unhurt and relieved, I spent 20 minutes scooping out sand and water with push pump and sponge.  That was a huge nuisance, but it took my mind off our real problem.
Dawn went off exploring.  I spread my wet clothes on a thorn bush to dry in the sere wind.  We hung out for an hour in the hot sun, unwilling to face the sea again.  That surf was getting larger as the afternoon wind built force.   Dawn and I each studied the water at length then sat and discussed our options.  She set off first.  A big wave caught her boat, turned it sideways and rolled it, but she leaped free before I could get to her to help.  Now she had to spend 20 minutes cleaning out the heavy sandy mess in her own boat.
I announced a new tactic.  I’d push my boat out, swim beside it until it was beyond the breakers, then pull myself up and in.  Out I went into the turbulent inshore foam, and shoved the kayak into the first breaker.  The waves had their own agenda.  They ripped the boat out of my useless grip and jerked my body away with forces too powerful to question, dragging me against the sandy bottom.
Grateful not to be slammed and ground against the bottom under my own hull, I stood up knee deep in froth.  My glasses were lost.  And I had an ice cube’s chance in a volcano of finding them.  I felt utterly stupid forgetting I was wearing them.  A safety cord is worthless in big turbulent water.
Dawn and I sat again, side-by-side with elbows on our knees and reassessed our situation.  With the strong southwest wind, we might not see smaller surf until well after dark.  Getting back then, around the rocky points and through the bay of sharp rocks, and me half blind, could be a killer.  But if we didn’t get back, Carol would panic, and Allan would also.  Besides, we were out of water.  With my weak back, I could not walk out over those steep rocky hills.  We decided Dawn would hike out, and I’d sleep there on the beach if she did not return.
To do that, we’d both need more water. Far down the beach was a hut. We decided to check it and see what it contained.  It was a long walk in the hot sand.  We’d just had time to look around and to realize the thatched shelter was a resort outpost, when two women in white showed up.  They worked for the resort and had come to restock towels and sodas.
I explained our situation.  Rosalia, the older of the two, said we should come with her, leave the boats.  She’d parked their golf cart just out of view.  What a miracle to find transport and a trail out there.  She drove a long way past gorgeous golf greens with long, beckoning vistas between the big trees.  At last we arrived back at Mario’s beach.  That was a surprise.  Mario looked puzzled to see us.  Rosalia repeated our story.  Mario smiled.  “No worries, be happy.  Have a soda.  We’ll be back.”
Off they went in the golf cart.  We supposed they were going for help.  An hour later, they were back.  They had both boats balanced atop on the golf cart.  “How did you do that?” I asked.  Mario smiled. “Easy.  We carried the boats along the beach.”  It was nearly half a mile.  The boats weighed a hundred pounds each.
Before we could gather ourselves and help them, they took the boats off the cart and carried them down to the sand for us.  Our gratitude was immense.  Of all times to be without money.  But neither Mario nor Rosalia seemed to have any thought for reward.  “It’s our job,” Mario said.  “It was fun, a change from the routine around here.  Enjoy the day.”
We paddled away through the tiny surf.  I followed close enough to Dawn that I could not miss her 18-foot, brilliant yellow boat.  I didn’t relish hitting a rock.  The trip back seemed to go quickly.  But we were three hours past our estimated time of arrival.  As we neared Allan’s place, we saw Carol on the beach waving.  She was near total panic, raving as we leaped out.  We ran up to embrace her and explain what had happened.
Carol calmed down enough to help us drag the boats up the sand.  The boat shack was empty.  Allan may have been wasting away again in Margaritaville.
The sun floated on the western rim of creation, the sky aflame with rose and peach colors.  We left the kayaks behind and all tromped down the sand toward the village, our arms linked so the blind sister didn’t stumble over a coconut and trip, in search of cold beer, hot food and laughter under the palm trees.  I’d deal with the lost glasses manana.


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