Mexico

December 16, 2015
It was an unusually mild December night in Thunder Bay. The day was transitioning from the late afternoon into the early evening as I drove to my winter league basketball game at the high school gym where we play. The sun had just set and I noticed how two days worth of white fluffy snow had turned into melted mounds of brown salty slush. The streets were saturated with it. I remember thinking to myself, “this is so gross, slush is the worst. It has no redeeming qualities.” It was an inconvenience to say the least, but not the worst inconvenience I would suffer on this dark and balmy night.

I arrived at the gym, parked my truck, maneuvered over the gauntlet of slushy potholes, entered the gym, said ‘what’s up’ to my teammates, took off my sweats, put on my shoes, got in a few jumpers, then the whistle blew to start the game.

We lost the tip. We’re not a very tall team. However, the team we’re playing is very tall. Their starting front line is 6’6”, 6’7” and 6’8’. We’re playing giants.  

The game began. They got the ball and we headed back on defence. Their team was experienced and active, so we moved in and out of screens and called cutters through the lane. They tossed a skip pass here, set a ball screen there and scored on their first possession.

I grabbed the ball, inbounded it to my teammate, then we headed down the floor to do battle. Their height was a bit intimidating, but we made it work. We drove and kicked, drove and kicked, swung the ball, drove and kicked again, open shot—tied the game. This back and forth pattern went on for the first few minutes.

Skip forward to the five minute mark—we were back on defence and I was wrestling for position with one of their giants. Elbows were flying, bodies were banging and our hands were all over the place. In the midst of the activity, a three-pointer went up and we paused to watch it arch through the air. Still entangled under the basket, we watched the ball crash off the back rim, giving off a long rebound that goes directly over both ours heads. We pushed back against each other jostling for position; trying to box each other out to grab the loose ball.

He pushed, I pushed.

He stepped, I stepped.

He turned…I didn’t.

He turned his body unexpectedly and I slammed my right hand directly into his rib cage.

I heard the sound of my finger bones crumple as if my hand was suddenly filled with marbles and cornflakes. I shook out my hand as if the pain would go away like sweat running down my fingertips. The pain got worse with every passing movement.

I subbed myself out of the game and explained to my teammates that I jammed my fingers and it would be no big deal. It happens all the time in basketball. All you have to do is just give it a few minutes, keep moving around your fingers and get back in the game.

At half-time my hand was swollen and sore. I was beginning to question my finger jam theory. I went outside to grab some slush to keep down the swelling. Suddenly I’m rethinking how I feel about slush. Maybe it does have some redeeming qualities? I knelt down, submerged my hand in the salty puddle and submitted to the cold until my hand went numb.

I didn’t play the rest of the game. I left the gym and maneuvered through the slush puddle gauntlet back to my truck. I opened the truck door, jumped inside, put my key into the ignition, then writhed in pain as I turned the key.

I was officially freaked out. This is not a finger jam. I’ve never felt this type of pain in my hand before. My mind started racing as the pain pulsed through my hand and out of my swollen fingers. This was a very new experience for me, so I told myself to “sleep on it” and if it still felt bad in the morning, then I’d take a trip to the ER.

Ten hours later, with zero hours of sleep, a swollen right hand and a very angry girlfriend, I exit the ER with the very inconvenient news that, yes…my right hand was broken. Obviously a broken hand is an inconvenience to anybody, so why is my girlfriend pissed? Well you see, in a weeks time we’re going to Mexico…with her family…for Christmas…with my stupid…broken…swollen…casted hand.

Wonderful.

Greg Dubeau - Broken Hand

According to legend, when Francisco Hernández de Córdova arrived on the coast of Yucatán, he asked the first Mayan natives he met where he was. They replied in their native language, “I don’t understand what you’re saying.” Because Córdova thought their answer sounded like the word Yucatán, he gave that name to the region.

When I arrived on the shores of the Yucatán, my experience was quite different than Córdova’s. I didn’t meet Mayan natives at the airport, there wasn’t a polarizing language barrier and I didn’t claim their land for my overlord, Justin Trudeau.

Much has changed in the Yucatán since 1517; they’re no longer under Spanish rule, the Mayan people are no longer the sole inhabitants and they have become part of a much larger nation of states that we now call Mexico. And just to be clear, I’m pronouncing it Meh-Hee-Coh.

The beautiful nation of Meh-Hee-Coh.

The eclectic nation of Meh-Hee-Coh.

The delicious nation of Meh-Hee-Coh.

The “let’s escape our mundane lives and go to paradise” nation of Meh-Hee-Coh.

Cancún, Yucatán, Mexico—that’s where I travelled to. The party capital of Mexico. The land of bros and broettes looking to get fucked and get fucked up. It’s a debaucherous playground for any spring chicken, but not me. I’m more of a summer chicken. As much as this summer chicken enjoys a heroic dose of tequila, let’s get one thing straight—I’m here for the tacos.

Let’s also remember that I have a broken hand. Any water/tequila/guacamole damage to my cast will be a pungent reminder I’ll have to live with for the weeks until it gets buzzed off. So discretion is the name of the game here.

The physical limitations I experienced was annoying to say the least. I couldn’t write, sketch or go into the water without squeezing into a hand-condom (handom?) that creeped all the way up to my bicep. If the Winter Soldier was worried about rust, then this little number has his name written all over it. This thing looked all sorts of ridiculous. And that’s how most people near the hotel pool treated me. I would be lying if I didn’t expect the extra attention.

However, what I didn’t expect was how my broken hand would turn me into an introductory-level super hero. Like a blind man gaining super-human strength in his remaining senses, I too gained increased sensitivity to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of Mexico. I compare the sensation to adding a pinch of salt to your food—it makes it about 10% better. The musical notes from the song on the radio were more distinct and pensieve. The smell of the inky pages of my book baking in the hot sun was pungent and ethereal. The textures of the foods were all so distinct that my teeth felt as sensitive as my fingertips.

And to think I gained this elevated sensory experience because I lost acute functionality in my dominant hand. Long-story-short, I was more aware and attentive. Everything that I usually gloss over while traveling suddenly became interesting.

Case in point, I was overcome with emotion after listening to our Chichen Itza tour guide, Jorge, speak about the history of the Mayan people. I was on the edge of my bus seat. It was like I was listening to a live Dan Carlin Hardcore History podcast. Jorge and I went deep. We were connected. Our eye contact was palpable. The education I gathered that day borders on my entire high school history curriculum. I was hooked. Jorge got me with that good Meh-Hee-Coh storytelling. I was seduced.

Greg-Dubeau-Ephemera-15-1024x682

The idea of Mexico has always held a lot of romantic currency for me. In a past life I’m sure I was some sort of traveling vagabond meandering through the tropical desert terrains of the motherland. Then finally, in 2015, I finally made it back to the motherlands for a week of vindicated bliss—relaxation, decompression and low-impact adventuring. Most would call this R&R, but I prefer T&T (tacos and tequila).

Greg Dubeau - Mexico - Soggy Peso

No matter where you are in the world or who you are with, having access to a small engine motor vehicle and the open road will always make everything better. You lack the responsibility of driving a full-sized vehicle, and the lack of windows and airbags coaxes the soul to come alive in the face of moderate danger and the temporary suspension of the rules of the road. Whether it’s a motorbike, scooter, quad or a golf cart, being exposed to the elements is the best way to travel the backroads of a culture.

The single best thing I did in Mexico was rent a golf cart on Isla Mujeres. Isla Mujeres, or “The Island of Women”, located off the coast of Cancún in the Yucatán peninsula. It is so small that golf carts are the only efficient way to move around. So, me and the squad rented a four-seater and traversed the coastline, on the lookout for legit OG side-of-the-road taco stands.

The weather was beautiful, the ocean was a restless mess of cerulean tipped waves and the seabirds hung static in the air, gliding against the wind, as if gravity did not apply to them. As we people-watched and took in the mixed island amora of palm trees and salt water, our only problem was deciding which taco stand to stop at for lunch.

Greg-Dubeau-Ephemera-05-1024x682

We slowed down a few times to see the sights, but the only time we truly stopped was to eat and to scope out a decrepit abandoned ocean-side estate. I can’t remember why we decided to stop, but we all collectively marveled at the ruins. Maybe it was hit by a hurricane? Or maybe it was just never fully completed? Whatever it was, it made us leave the golf cart to investigate. The driveway passed through a crumbling archway that connected the stone walls that established the perimeter of this secret place. The top of the stone wall was lodged with shards of broken glass to deter sun-basking iguanas and unwanted visitors. We parked the golf cart and set out on foot through the archway and onto a goat path that led us through sloping terrain of brilliant neon green foliage that draped the grounds until we hit a sheer cliff that dropped directly into a jagged shoreline that was being relentlessly pummeled by the frothy tides of the Atlantic ocean. One slip and there was no saving you from certain death. The only living creatures to be seen were two brave pelicans perched on the highest jagged peak of limestone, and the crabs desperately gripping the barnacled rocks below. One hundred feet from this relentless pounding was the most beautiful turquoise blue ocean I’ve ever seen. The dichotomy of landscapes opposing each other gave me chills thinking about how seductively deadly the ocean can be.

Greg-Dubeau-Ephemera-09-1024x682

The sound of the ocean was ravenous. The warm sea wind was tearing at my body as I stood on the side of the cliff. I remember being so hyper aware of everything; the smells, the colours, the sounds, the sunlight, and the entire weight of my body. And then all of a sudden the weight of my body lifted and I physically felt nothing. The overload of stimuli lifted me outside of my body to what I can only explain as an out of body experience. I was in a state of hyper-consciousness. I remember the feeling of looking down at myself on the side of the cliff and thinking how insignificant I was within the universe. I looked at the pelicans and thought to myself how unfair it was that they got to experience the insanity of the crashing ocean swells below and be able to just fly away with ease. And as I search my mind to compare this experience to another, I was sucked back into my body. Whatever surreal experience I had ended. I turned back to the archway and flip-flopped myself back to the road and onto the golf cart.

There’s something about small communities that accept outsiders that makes me smile like an idiot. It’s like being let in on a secret without asking to hear about it. And in return for my secrecy, all that is expected of me is to enjoy my time there.

It’s hard not to romance the idea of a small beach community. Nothing governs them but the ebbing and flowing of the tides. They fit into the ecosystem so naturally and effortlessly like birds on a powerline. The people are so unaffected by the outside world that they make me question, “can life really be like this? Could I do this?” It’s a tempting thought that crosses my mind every time I visit these types of communities.

The food alone made me think about quitting my job, packing up my handom and hightailing it to the beach. On a somewhat related note, thank god for simplicity of tacos and guacamole because I was 100% unable to use both hands to operate a knife and fork. It just wasn’t possible. Every noble attempt ended up with my dinner company cutting up my food like I was five years old again.

The food was worth the trip alone. We dipped into some Mexican cuisine that was completely new to my palette. And the tacos…my god the tacos. These weren’t your Mom’s taco night Old El Paso corn shells with cheddar cheese, tomatoes and fried ground beef. No sir—these tacos were the real deal. I’ll say it again, the flavour and accessibility of the food was worth the trip alone. It was incredibly important to a one-handed vagabond like myself.

And equally as important, thank god for flip-flops because shoelaces may as well be a Rubik’s Cube when you have a broken hand.

Greg-Dubeau-Ephemera-06-1024x682

The idea of traveling to Mexico always made me feel regret because I didn’t go during my youth. It didn’t take long for that idea to wash away from my mind. My experience in Mexico was much more than partying. In a way I was glad I arrived with a broken hand because it made me slow down and appreciate the otherwise underappreciated nuances of the area that I would have more than likely glossed over. Much like my middle metatarsal bone, my priorities shifted. My elevated sensory perception made me think more introspectively about the small things that happened during my travels. We found some incredible places. We ate some amazing food. We spoke with some incredibly kind and compassionate people. And we did all this without being pressured by the globalized and commercialized mystique on Cancún. We did things our way and looked for authenticity and honesty; along the way finding ourselves in some truly magical places.

To sum up my Mexican experience, I’m reminded of a quote from Ayn Rand’s novel Anthem; it reads, “the secrets of the Earth are not for men to see, but only for those who will seek them.”

Post Your Thoughts