24 Festive Tasks: Door 1 – Día de los Muertos /
All Saints’ Day, Task 4:
Task: Do you have any traditions or mementos of happy memories of a loved one that you feel like sharing?
OK — I decided to keep it topical for this task and talk about a trip to Mexico and Guatemala that my mom, my BFF (Gaby), my “cousin in law once removed” (I’m pretty sure that’s wrong; anyway, he’s the brother of my eldest cousin’s husband) and I took almost exactly 25 years ago.
There are many things I remember from that trip; not least, of course, the many amazing places we visited. Of the “people memories”, two things stand out in particular, and both of them have to do with Gaby.
She was born with several disabilities, which even in daily life fills me with constant awe at the way in which she not only manages situations that for the rest of us are perfectly normal but to her involve a challenge, but she also does more than her share of things that constitute a challenge to most people (e.g., her day job requires her to take trips to parts of the world that are politically unstable and / or infrastructurally challenged, and where travel requires quite a bit of organization even under the best of conditions, not even taking into account her special needs). We’ve known each other since high school, so I know this sort of achievement did not always come easily to her but was hard-fought for; by dint of experience (not least, the experience of practically growing up with major surgery, sometimes yearly or even several times per year, from her earliest childhood on), the experience that sometimes surgery can fail and make things even worse than they have been before, as well as sheer stubbornness and learning how to balance a flat-out refusal of the notion “I can’t do this” with situations that she just has to accept, even if she’d very much like to change them.
And I’d like to believe our trip to Mexico and Guatemala was a major step on that ladder of challenging herself to do things she previously might not have thought that she could do.
Not even the trip as such — we had traveled together before (including visits to Monument Valley and other places in the Southwestern U.S.) and she had, by that time, also repeatedly traveled alone. But quite apart from her other special needs, e.g. at airports, Mexican and Guatemalan national parks and historic sites aren’t (or at the time, at least, weren’t) exactly primed to be visited by wheelchair; and lest you say, well, that primarily sounds like a challenge to the person pushing, not the one being pushed (which undoubtedly it is, too), I’ll invite you to sit down in a wheelchair for just a couple of minutes and have someone push you over rough, uneven ground made up of gravel, loose earth, spiky stones, grassy patches, puddles, potholes, and the like. Gaby had to endure this for extended periods on a practically daily basis, and on that sort of ground there is only so much we could do to at least spare her the worst patches. (Of course, her wheelchair was showing the effects after a while, too: We got to a point where airline employees started mumbling things like “no responsibility” at its mere sight, and we had to ensure them that “it’s OK, we know what it looks like and how that came about — we won’t try to offload this one on you” to get them to even accept to load it.)
But, of course, one of the stand-out feature of Mexico’s and Guatemala’s historic sites are … pyramids. And while Gaby doesn’t need her wheelchair to get around all the time, she does need crutches to walk — and that, surely, would have limited her to admiring all those Aztec and Mayan pyramids from below, and put the notion of joining all us other visitors in climbing the pyramids quite beyond her, right?
After she had let herself be talked into trying one of the smaller pyramids in Teotihuacán on one of the first days of our trip (see above photo on the left — incidentally one of my all-time favorite photos of the two of us together), she had her crowning moment of glory climbing about two thirds of the way up the Great Pyramid at Chichén-Itzá (the Temple of Kukulkán, aka El Castillo) later in our trip (see above photo on the right). She didn’t make it all the way to the top, and given how execrably steep those steps are, who knows what that was ultimately good for — but it definitely was one of those “reset your personal boundaries” achievements that stay with you, and with everybody else who has witnessed it, forever after.
So — Gaby and the pyramids. That is one thing I will always remember about that trip. (And of course, Gaby’s wheelchair and its transformation into a cross country vehicle.)
The other incident (ultimately involving all four of us) occurred at the beginning of the final section of the trip, which we were spending in Cancún. We had built the trip to Guatemala into the whole thing so as to fly to Flores (the closest town and airport to the Tikal Mayan site) from Cancún — there used to be direct flights going both ways at the time *and* you were allowed to book one-way trips — and to return to Cancún via Guatemala City and Mexico City at the end of the Guatemala leg of our tour.
Tikal, Guatemala: On top of Pyramid IV, the national park’s highest structure — Gran Plaza (the photo in the upper row is taken from the top of the pyramid in the left photo below) — and the four of us, on the steps of one of the pyramids in Gran Plaza
For some reason — IIRC because she had made her own flight arrangements via a different travel agency — Gaby ended up on different flights than the rest of us on the return trip to Cancún, so since this was a few years before the advent (or at least, the widespread use) of mobile phones, the rest of us spent the better part of the day worrying whether she had made it to Cancún alright after we had seen her off at Guatemala City airport.
As it turned out, Gaby had not only gotten to Cancún perfectly well, she’d also had had time to have dinner and a tequila aperitif by the time we got there at last, in turn. Well, we sort of took our cue from her when we sat down for our own dinner later that evening — with Gaby joining us of course … and the rest of the evening took a turn which had the wait staff (amazingly the same people both that night and the next morning — I wonder how many hours of sleep those poor people actually got) greeting us with wide grins when we came down for breakfast the next morning and inquire “Tequila?” … instead of asking whether we wanted tea or coffee.
(“Tequila?” has been a running joke with Gaby and me ever since.)
Unfortunately, no photos of that evening survive — of course, in the days of mobile phones, such a thing could no longer possibly happen … but here’s us toasting the New Year earlier during the trip, while staying at an amazing place named Hacienda Cocoyoc near Puebla (which has been one of my all-time favorite hotels ever since that trip, and one I’d dearly love to return to one day):