From July 24, 1991 to February 12, 1994, I roamed the backroads of Mexico, Belize, and the Peten region of Guatemala. In my custom outfitted 1970 VW pop-top camper with, first, my 12-year-old German shepherd mix and later my Mexican chocolate lab pup, we camped-out in ruins, on beaches, and in Pemex stations—out of gas. I sampled strange and exotic foods including gooey fruits, cheek meat tacos, and even grasshoppers. I danced into the night at rock concerts, salsa clubs and tribal gatherings around campfires. I smoked loco weed on the top of pyramids and drank mescal right out of the still. I skinny-dipped in the sea at Zipolite and Tulum, sweated through an ancient tamescal ritual, and splashed in the Sacred Pool of Quetzalcoatl, the birthplace of the Plumed Serpent. I found artifacts, butterflies, caves, lost cities, hidden beaches and great buys on artesania. I mingled with the rich, the poor, the middle class, hippies, and I called Americans, Brits, Canadians, and of course, Mexicans, my friends. My Spanish improved.
How did a 40-something bookkeeper come to leave her houseboat in Sausalito to spend almost three years south of the border?
My journey began in a class on past lives offered through the local community college in the mid 1980s. In a regression, I viewed myself as a Mayan sculptor plying my craft atop a stone platform, and I wrote in my notebook:
The chatter of a flock of bright parrots echoed up the steep face of the pyramid from the dense forest below. Above me, the sky was an immense blue swath punctuated by puffs of shape-shifting clouds. The stone, warmed by the sun, gave off a mineral tang as I chipped and gouged at the block in front of me. Images of kings emerged, their quetzal feathered headdresses fluttering in the breeze.
The vision, one of several, resonated with me—I’d been studying Spanish for several years—and had started exploring ancient Mesoamerica through classes at College of Marin, and U.C. As my knowledge increased, I began making trips to Mexico to see some of the ruins and a story started to form in my mind—my first novel (unfinished and languishing in a drawer) titled Stonecarver. Several chapters into the project and realized that without some direct experience of Mexico and Central America, I was not going to pull-off a setting or any memorable details to support the plot. Short visits to a few ruins didn’t cut it. Living in the region was the solution. But I had no way of taking an extended trip. My office serviced the accounting needs of fifty clients throughout the year. How could I leave? I certainly didn’t have a cache of money stashed in the hull.
I fantasized about living south of the border and continued my short trips: whale watching at Scammon’s Lagoon, New Year’s in Valle de Bravo with my family, camping on the beach in San Felipe, visiting the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City, and shopping.
But the Universe moves according to certain laws (not that I knew that then) and five years after I began my research, three things happened to allow my dream to come true. First, I received a very small inheritance of stock. Then the U.S. bombed Bagdad in January of 1991, which caused a dramatic surge in the value of my shares of GE/Westinghouse. At the same time, California suffered a crash in real estate, putting most of my clients out of business as they worked primarily in real estate and the building trades.
Angry over the state of affairs in the U.S. and saddened for my clients’ and my future, I decided that the best thing I could do was spend six months spending my windfall to research and write Stonecarver; the irony of a war supporter financing my protest not lost to me. I locked my office door for the last time and handed my landlady the keys. Mom and Dad stored my worldly goods in the basement. I packed the dog and my gear into a customized 1970 VW camper and headed south.
I didn’t stay six-months and I didn’t write the book, but I returned home changed.
Stay tuned-in to read what really happened…