Sunday, 3 February 2013

Redefining memorable.

So. Mexico.

I don’t really know where to start. We’ve been back for a couple of weeks now – in fact it’s fucking February already – and I still haven’t quite got my perspective right on the whole thing.

Did I love Mexico? So very much. Hospitable people, gorgeous weather and the kind of beaches that knock the air from your lungs with their almost hysterical beauty.

Our hotel was the stuff of dreams – sea views, a large, languorous bed replete with princess mosquito nets, an authentic ocean soundtrack and an unpretentious, respectful architecture that nestled into the surrounds.

Was it the holiday we’d dreamed of? The holiday I’d spent months planning and even longer mentally packing for? In a word, no.
Why? Because, on our second day, which also happened to be our first wedding anniversary, I got sick. I don’t know if I ate something, I don’t know if I drank something, but at 1pm I started to feel vomitous. By 2pm I was vomitous. By 6pm I was simultaneously vomiting and shitting blood and when I wasn’t vomiting and shitting blood I was lying on the bathroom floor with a temperature, writhing in pain, hyperventilating and feeling totally delirious and a tad dehydrated. By 7pm I was en route to the Emergency Room at Tulum Hospital. Lovely Boy had gone to fetch the doctor 20 minutes earlier and on arriving, he took just one look at me before saying we had to go, LB supporting me as I dry wretched all the way to the car.

I don’t remember the last time I felt so simultaneously ill and vulnerable and I don’t really remember much of that car trip except that I was hyperventilating and crying that I didn’t want to die.

Two bags of saline solution later and my lips were no longer stuck to my teeth and the vomiting had stopped. And LB and I were left in the hands of a lovely nurse who spoke zero English, for the next 24 hours. Which would have been ok if I hadn’t had an allergic reaction to the pain medication he pumped through my IV with no way of getting him to stop or understand. Poor Lovely Boy’s most enduring memory of our whole trip is of me screaming and crying in pain while what felt like a burning knitting needle was shoved up my vein. And thanks to the communication issues, this got to happen all over again at 3am.

It’s an anniversary we won’t forget in a hurry.

El Pez, Tulum. Not a bad place to recuperate.
And if I known that all I’d be eating for the rest of the holiday would be soggy, sucked crackers, I would have eaten a fucking feast the night before. The doctor who discharged me (in fluent English) told me that I was not to eat anything uncooked, not to eat anything I hadn’t washed or peeled myself, no guacamole, no ceviche, no ice and absolutely no alcohol. And after a reasonably stoic evening, all things being what they were, this was what truly broke me. Even though the last thing I wanted to do at that moment in time was contemplate food.

It was 4pm by the time they let me go and by then all I wanted was a shower and some comfortable pillows.

The rest of the week was a quiet haze of antibiotic-induced nausea, exhaustion and mild self-pity (this last symptom is still proving difficult to shake) but despite the taint, we did manage some small moments of loveliness and three weeks later, these are what I’m struggling to make more of, I think because getting home didn’t necessarily mean getting over it. I puked on the plane coming back to London, spent the next week sleeping 16 hours a day and found the first week back at work, in a word, overwhelming.

I’m back on solid food now, though not a lot, and my silver-lining weight loss has veered a little into Les Mis extra territory but I’m definitely on the mend. Which is, I think, why the self-indulgent self-pity has finally reared its fully formed head. It’s not as debilitating as amoebic dysentery but it’s definitely harder to shake.

But like I said, we did, despite it all, manage a couple of very small outings. On the Wednesday afternoon I stubbornly dragged myself along to the Tulum Ruins with Lovely Boy, incensed by the suggestion that he might go without me. A feeble stroll through the rubble was ameliorated by a swim at the beautiful patch of beach overseen by the ancient Mayan city. 

I don’t know if it’s the ocean or my Australian DNA but there is something so restoring about swimming in the ocean. It was bolstering enough that I felt up for a stroll down the main street of Tulum town, where I watched forlornly while LB devoured the most exquisite looking tacos from this characterful street café.

Thursday was LB’s birthday and I woke up determined not to ruin the day. All my birthday scheming – a box of cards from his family and a book full of photos and memories and wishes from all his friends from the last near-decade in London – was a huge hit. He may have even shed a few manly tears over it all…

And after a quiet morning, having obviously abandoned all plans for a day trip to the city of Coba (long drive, humid heat, lots of walking - was never going to happen) we decided to see if we could find someone who could take us to the cenotes we’d read about. Luck seemed to be finally on our side when we got talking to the genial Ariel, a proud Mayan native and environmentalist and the owner of a tour company who on the spot said yes, he could take us, just us, right then and there, on a snorkelling tour of two nearby cenotes. A quick call to his childhood friend, a local cab driver, who looked like a short, seedy Mexican Elvis, and the four of us were off.

It seemed fitting that we mark the occasion of LB’s fortieth birthday doing something special – I just hadn’t realised that would be popping his snorkelling cherry. How someone can get to 40 without having been snorkelling is beyond me, but if you have to snorkel for the first time, a cenote on the Yucatan peninsula is not a bad place to go. Even with a nauseous, slightly wan wife in tow.

The first spot was an open-air swimming hole, hedged by mangroves and full of schools of small fish and amateur divers. It was beautiful and peaceful and such a gentle experience.

Entrance to Dos Ojos
And then we went to Dos Ojos. This cenote is quite famous, about 20 miles out of Tulum. It’s an underground cavern, where you snorkel with stalactites but inches above your head, navigating the stalagmites like slaloms with a torch strapped to your wrist while bats sleep overhead. It was otherworldly. Mesmerising, distracting, beautiful.

I did pretty well to manage all of that and had hoped desperately that my physical and emotional buoyancy would carry me through to dinner. No such luck. We'd decided on our first day to save this one particularly great restaurant we’d been told about for The Birthday (not knowing what would happen the next day) but I couldn’t manage to eat anything. Casa Banana is this beautiful open-fronted restaurant specialising in steak. It could have been a perfect end to reasonably perfect day had I not spent it pushing potato around on a plate. 

Actually, cocktails at Casa Jaguar would have been the truly perfect end to the day and I still made us go there afterwards so I could watch LB drink a cocktail on my behalf. A hipster import straight from Williamsburg, Casa Jaguar is all quirky décor and mood lighting in a beautiful garden surrounding a central bar.  The populace was easily one-part hipster, one-part genuine hippy. Though they all had iphones.

Casa Jaguar
The cocktail list here was depressing only in the fact that I couldn’t drink any of it and the mocktail I ordered I struggled to enjoy because every sip had me thinking it was a time-bomb of unwitting germs waiting to send me straight back to the hospital.

Are you getting a sense yet that I ruined our holiday?

Should add these are not my photos. My photos turned
out how I felt. Which is to say, shit.
Friday was our last day in Tulum and it was spent recovering from the exertions of the day before. We didn’t leave our cabana, or the bed. At 5pm though I wandered down the road in search of lemonade and souvenirs – I was damned if dysentery was going to be the only thing I brought home with me and luckily I found a great arts and craft store that gave me my fill of Frida, frivolous tat and jewellery.

And then the next afternoon, we went home. I had forced us both that morning to have one last swim, not knowing when the next one would be, and hoping to secure a more positive lasting memory. Who knew 40 minutes on my knees in the economy-class toilet of Virgin Atlantic was still to come. 

In truth, the week wasn’t a total write-off and I could have been a lot worse I’m sure but disappointment is such a bitter feeling to shake, particularly when you don’t have the energy to shake it and now that I’m feeling a little more robust I’m working over-time to process what happened to me physically and to not let myself get too caught up emotionally in everything that the week wasn’t.

Starting to plan our holidays for the rest of the year is one small step in that direction. And I really hope we get the chance to go back to Mexico in the future, despite my physical anxiety at the thought of it. What little I saw I loved so much. 

I’m being more than just literal when I say I left something of myself in Tulum.

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