After spending a week in Monterrico last Christmas, the girls declared it a new family tradition. Although part of me feels a bit greedy to want some sand and surf to go with our already perfect Guatemalan weather, who am I to thwart family traditions initiated by the girls. We are back this year to continue the tradition. For a week we will do a whole lot of nothing the old-fashioned way, with paper books, magazines, hammocks, and lemonade--no tvs or dvds in the room, not even wifi (I heard the gasps).
Yesterday when we arrived, Madi was trying to get her bearings of where we are. She asked, where would we end up on the other side of this ocean. I told her we would be hugging our relatives in Japan, or rather giving them a bow full of great fondness (what came over me there).
We spent our meal talking with a little group of Canadians who had just met, representing four different provinces. They were from out west and Quebec. We overheard one of them say how they don’t care for Ontarians because they are cold or something. We piped up that we are from Ontario and represent a fun, likable, and non-judgmental people. They laughed their heads off, apologized for the generalization, invited us into the fold, and also for a naked swim. Tough call, but decided to pass on the swim but not before hurling our own generalization of how that confirmed what we’ve heard about Quebecers, always taking their clothes off any opportunity they get. They howled with laughter much longer than what the joke deserved. Told you we were a fun people.
We are here for a week. My friends think that’s a long time, and asked what on earth we are going to do. More importantly, how was I going to keep a teen happy without her friends, a flatscreen, cable, and the wii. I responded that I didn’t surgically remove her texting appendage, so she will likely survive the traumatic experience.
I prefer the minimum vacation timeframe of a week. I find it takes a few days to adjust to relaxation-emersion, a few days to revel in it, and a few days to remove the sleep from your eyes and comb out the bedhead in order to return to civilization. The key is to stretch the middle bliss section as long as possible and cut into the acclimatizing bookends parts. It’s an art. Once you arrive, how fast can you empty your mind to melt into pure relaxation. On the back end, how long can you keep at bay all the thoughts of what you need to do once you get back home, from infringing on your limited chill time. There is also the possibility that reflection may turn into profound insights, if there are any to be had in a given downtime. I’ve already had a few insights of my own, but first the setting which inspired this particular vaca revela(tion).
I’ve been to many beaches in my life, in North America, Caribbean, Europe, Asian, Hawaii, Central and South America. Seen some spectacular beaches where the white sand is soft as flour, some black sand beaches in Hawaii, pebble beaches Caribbean, ground shell beaches in Florida, a round stone beach in England. Each has a personality a unique beach vibe of its very own.
Example. The last beach we went to was Surfside Beach, between Bal Harbor and South Beach, Miami next to a whack of fancy retirement condos. The sand was white and pristine, groomed to perfection under the milk and water sky. Clearly a beach for the pampered, it was ready and able to exceed every beachy expectation. It’s understandable, really, why retirees choose to live on it. They have worked their whole lives in order to retire with their dream beach at their doorstep, like a stepping stone to heaven (or so they can only hope).
This is the second time I’ve been to this beach in Monterrico. It truly stands out from the rest, but maybe not in the way you’d think. It’s a black volcanic sand beach, unlike any I’ve seen. Many of the white sand beaches I’ve visited have this calming effect, the translucent waves caress the sand coming in and out, palm trees waving hello and goodbye to each wave, the water a bluey-green.
This beach is different. The sand is dark as a storm cloud and just as sinister. It absorbs the heat so much that at mid-day, running across it in barefeet would be akin to dipping your feet in some kind of mild acid. The water is a silver or grey color, even though you know it should be reflecting the baby blue color of the sky with its white fluffy goodness. The stealth-surf is so sneaky because you can’t see the waves coming in with the usual lumps and bumps. It’s as though they rise up out of nowhere a few yards from the shore, to pummel the sand with a vengeance as if it’s personal. Even the waves are black and surly, swirling full of the dark, angry sand. The surf here doesn’t do the typical swooshing, but sounds like angry thunder. It’s a booming crash followed by another, relentless through the day and night. It will wake me up in the dead of night, and I sit in my bed and listen, amazed at its force. Its bite is not overshadowed by its bark. The riptides and undertows are well known to take lives. There are stories of unexpectedly large waves coming up and snatching people off the beach and taking them to sea, and two people told me of deaths they eye-witnessed. Not a few, but many warned us to stay out of the water. It’s not to be trifled with, this rogue beach.
Then why do I like this beach? Certainly not because the beach has a dangerous surf you can’t trust your kids in, sand that burns your feet even if you get a little on your flipflops, thundering waves that cause insomnia. Then it came to me. If I were a beach in this world, I’d be a rogue black beach like this one, but without the angry waves killing people and sweeping them out to sea, part. That’s sooo not cool. But I’d be a black sheep beach in the cast of lilly beaches, the unconventional beach doing things my own way, contrary to the usual beach expectations. Maybe hitting the shore a little harder than I should, making people a little dirtier than they are used to, changing the way the water and sky are reflected in a sunset. Mostly I attribute this to my unconventional upbringing which wired me not necessarily in a dark and twisty way (as Meredith would say) but in a way that I became accustomed to live without general acceptance or inclusivity. It’s not a stretch for me to have this Guate experience, doing whatever works best for our family and what we want to experience, however unconventional. A purrty white beach, I’ll never be.
Then came the wee vaca-revela. For being a relatively ordinary person, I feel as though I’ve led an extraordinary life, one that continues to surpass any expectations I could have had…if I had had any to begin with…which I didn’t…just being honest. See, pretty ordinary. Perhaps it was an unexpected two decade gift in the making, that happiness was such an elusive concept to me until my early twenties. I spent my first decade of life thinking happiness was other people’s birthrights, and my second decade declaring it a myth. It was while lying on a cold sidewalk at college, watching the snow fall onto my face (don’t ask) that I realized—‘happy’ is decision-based and not consequence-based, something I could control. Oh the sweetness of such simplicity. Finally I understood that the wake wasn’t steering my boat, I was.
From then on, life shifted, in a good way, with many good things. My husband, our relationship, our three girls, the way we all gel when we are together, being able to travel, working in a place with people I really enjoyed for so many years, then taking early retirement to be able to have this international experience with the girls before they leave home. I’m excited because potentially Paul and I could still have half of our lives left, and the front end has been knock down amazing. Understand I’m not talking about perfection here, because life isn’t that way. Life by its very nature is messy. But I am talking about sticking our necks out to do what we want to do, being the people we want to be, pushing for that life that has us maxing out who we are and what we want to experience.
However, that's not even the extraordinary part. Those parts are just the nasty sweet icing bonus on top. The extraordinary part to me, is simply this--that I didn't totally screw everything up beyond recognition, the main things in particular. Even without role models or much guidance, I got the most important things right or to put it another way, looks like no one will need extensive therapy because of me. If you've seen the movie Babe, you'll know what I'm saying, that I feel I could say to myself "good pig" and it would be valid. I've been married for 24 years to someone I'm still in love with and we have fun together, still. For me (won't speak for him) this hasn't been hard work, and I know I can love someone for my whole life. Of course it helps that I'm never wrong and he finally understands that now. And when they are talking to me (haha, but not really), I have close relationships with my girls and they to one another. I've learned how to love without fear of loss or abandonment. I've learned how to forgive and have experienced the profound release that follows cutting loose a freight train of assorted gnarliness. I travel light, in my soul that is. I have learned how to love others more completely and without judgement. I've had two lifelong friends that I met in college and many more that are passed in and out of my life for shorter spans of time. My faith continues to evolve. I've learned to live more intentionally, meaning more present, more grateful, lightening up and having more fun. For me, these are the extraordinary parts of my life. Ergo, my vaca-revela. Lucky for you I don't go on vacation frequently.
Hopefully when Paul and I are a combined two hundred years old we’ll be sitting on some porch by our retirement rogue black beach, with big huge toothless gummy smiles that we can’t wipe off our puckered up faces, because there isn’t one regret we are taking to our graves…or because a wave came up and sucked some unsuspecting strutting muscular dude off the beach because he was admiring his six-pack. Then we’ll talk how we travelled, lived in Guatemala with the girls, and whatever comes after this. How we found a way to make things happen, no matter how weird it looked. Now that’s what I’m talking about.
My Christmas wish a la Monterrico goes like this; May you have the peace of a tranquil white beach, maintain warmth in your heart like a stone beach, and a healthy dose of rebel like a rogue beach to push you to do something you've always wanted to do.