An honorable man does not go galavanting around South America or Africa for the winter when his lady is home pregnant in freezing cold upstate New York.
Yes, it’s true, Ms. B. and I will be having our first child in early July.
And that explains why I am not on the road wandering for the first winter in 15 years. Instead, I have been posting old stories from my notebooks. I have been concentrating lately on stories from the first trip that Ms. B. and I took together in 2011. It’s interesting to see the parallels between the present and the past. I’m thinking about combining them all into a book. This week’s story would be the finale of that book.
After the Apocalypse…
Canoa, Ecuador, March 15, 2011
It’s a classic moment in the history of the Universe. Nature’s wrath has just reduced a complex human civilization to ashes and mud but many humans survive to start over and continue on. Civilization builds itself again until nature’s wrath reduces it to rubble again. The cycle repeats itself; over and over. Civilizations collapse… they always do… but humanity continues. In this particular story or myth, the catastrophe has only just passed and but a few survivors remain. A man and a woman are standing together on a beach in the aftermath. Their world has been destroyed. Everything they knew and believed is no more.
“We have nothing,” says the man, “what shall we do?”
“We shall begin again…” says the woman.
It takes us about an hour to walk down the beach from the Coco Hut in Canoa to the remote location of the Sundowner Inn. With all our belongings on our back and the hot sun bearing down, it’s not exactly a pleasant stroll. But I do my best to embrace the struggle and I try to think of it as an important element of the overall experience. The excitement from yesterday’s Tsunamai warning still lingers giving the world an exaggerated intensity. I feel a little like a character in an epic adventure story. The empty barren beach all around us adds background atmosphere. Me and my woman are slowly making our way in a post apocalyptic world…
We reach the Inn. It is amazingly comfortable and more or less perfect for our purposes. With its isolated location, a view of the ocean from the rooms and a shaded hammock area just outside in the sand, we could not ask for a better set up. It is, however, strangely populated by a somewhat surreal cast of colorful characters; most of who happen to be older retired Americans. I know I have complained in the past about the cultural invasion of Ecuador by U.S. retirees. But these people here do not seem like your typical imperialist retirees. We meet them in the common room where they are having lunch as we check in. Definitely not neo-imperialists, they are more like a gang of friendly misfits looking for a place to belong. As we now discover, the Sundowner Inn is primarily a Spanish language school that only occasionally lets a few rooms to regular tourists or travelers like us. This odd mixture of bizarre Americans is not here to sit on lounge chairs in the sun while underpaid locals serve them umbrella drinks… oh no, definitely not. They are here to study Spanish and study it intensely. That’s right… these wonderful folks are trying their best to adapt to their new culture.
One remarkable side effect to all this studying is that most of the guests (students) at the Sundowner don’t really use the beach at all. So while they spend their time in their rooms reading Spanish books, Ms. B. and I will have miles of beach all to our selves. We will share meals with them. The school provides meals as part of the program and we are invited to join in the meals for a reasonable price. We are informed, however, that the food will be served in a communal setting. That’s fine with us; table conversation should be rather amusing and we are quite glad that we won’t have to go all the way to town for food while we are here. So we check in, take the keys and our luggage and go settle into our room. We have a “siesta” upon arrival. The bed is very comfortable. Thus, it is rather late in the day by the time we go outside to finally enjoy our endless perfect empty beach. There are no other humans anywhere in sight as we walk towards the ocean. It is, you might say, the perfect setting for the end of this year’s journey.
No doubt about it, the little scene now unfolding will make my lifetime highlight reel. Me and Ms. B. by the sea shore watching the sun set on the day after the Tsunamai warnings. As the ball of sun slowly slides towards the horizon we sit upon a piece of driftwood, smoke a joint and absorb the incredibly perfect peaceful reality. We have the whole world all to ourselves. That’s what it feels like. The Sundowner is far enough out of town that all we needed was a short stroll from our room to reach this splendid isolation. The tide is still out, but on its way back in… slowly but surely. Between us, on the driftwood, and the waves washing on shore, is forty or fifty feet of wet sand liberally scattered with small to medium sized rocks. The stones are way cool. The largest ones are as big as bowling balls and smallest ones are but pebbles. They come in an assortment of sizes, shapes and colors as they wash ashore randomly with the tides and the waves. After every high tide, there is a different collection. I can’t help but think metaphorically. The rocks symbolize something but I’m not sure what.
Ms. B. makes the first move. She stands up from the driftwood and walks towards the water. She gathers up a few rocks and places them together. What a great idea. Let’s play with the rocks. Let’s make something. I stand up from the driftwood and go out to join her. We put the rocks together; smallest to biggest with the bigger end of the line pointing towards the setting sun. How much fun are humans allowed to have? As we create with these stones we know that in a very short time, the tide will come in and take away our creation. It’s a little like the Buddhists with their mandalas of sand. That which is created shall be destroyed. Only we use stones instead of sand and our time of creation is short as the tide is imminent. At the thick end of the line of stones, we add two lines going backwards at opposite angles; like wings or arms. It looks sort of like a stone arrow pointing towards the setting sun. Or perhaps like a headless stone person as the top part does resemble a torso. Ms. B. wanders down the beach amid the driftwood attempting to resolve the headlessness issue. Sure enough, she finds a round hunk of wood that sort of resembles a human head. She brings it back and places it atop the point of the arrow and our joint creation is now complete. Awesome! It’s a masterpiece. I love it.
The moments that follow can only be described as miraculous. I’m standing on the beach with my arm around my one true love. The setting sun and our beautiful little stone creation are before us. The rising of the tide is apparent as the waves roll slowly closer and closer. In a very short time, our creation will be washed away. But that’s okay; that factor adds drama and excitement to the situation. The whole experience is somehow symbolic. It feels like an offering to the gods of nature. If we offer up our stone creation to Mother Nature, whatever will we receive in return?
I feel the tingling deep inside. How to describe the indescribable? After a long process of transformation, the caterpillar busts out of the cocoon and is/becomes a butterfly. I, too, have been undergoing a long process of transformation. The cocoon is now bursting and I am becoming… For many years now on this planet, I have been a single, solo, independent traveler; that has been my identity… But I feel the warm glow at the center of my being. The love of the universe is concentrated on this particular spot… on the two of us. My heart and soul are so full of love for her that it is absolutely overflowing. As the first wave washes over our stone creation, a clear vision of the future appears and the rather obvious thought occurs to me:
I wonder if Ms. B. will marry me?