23. I stop waiting around
Trip Start Jul 13, 2012
29Trip End Jul 20, 2012
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It had become clear to me that though I came to Tecolutla to volunteer, Fernando’s group did not need me. They were kind enough to welcome me, ferry me around, and feed me, but they had a system in place and everything worked just fine without my assistance. This was my last full day with them. I got up late, ate my Clif bar, and sauntered into camp around nine. I chose not to partake in breakfast. Fernando told a story of his last visit to the United States, when he and Luis were trying to take pictures of a statue, but were shooed off by security guards. As they left the area, a group of Korean tourists arrived and were allowed to take as many pictures as they wanted. I wondered if Fernando had felt rejected.
After breakfast had been cleared, the tables put away, I stood around for only about fifteen minutes before deciding to go to town to buy water
“Aqui” (here), I said, and pointed at the sand. Maria, standing nearby, laughed. Carlos frowned.
Maria seemed more relaxed in my company now, but I was still cautious around her.
Jackie joined us and was chatting in Spanish with the guys, horsing around. She made herself fit in so easily. After about an hour, I left to take another walk.
The streets were white hot. The temperature was in the nineties and there was little shade. I randomly wandered the residential streets, looking at the modest, and not-quite-good-enough-to-be-modest homes. I looked for Estela’s house, but did not find it. Few people were out, just the crazy gringa, too stupid to get out of the sun.
Back in town, I saw a sign for the Marine Museum and decided to go in. With an admission fee of just $10 ($.75 US), how could I go wrong? Well, as hot as it was outside, it was significantly hotter in. I was reminded of the one and only time I’ve ever passed out. My family was in Toledo, OH one summer in the seventies, I must have been nine or ten. We’d gone to a traveling carnival, which had an honest-to-goodness “freak show.” There was the lizard boy, and the bearded lady and the pretzel man. I really wanted to go in. Being the kid that other kids called “freak,” I felt a distant kinship with these performers.
My parents agreed to let me go in, but not my younger brother. The show was held in a big canvas tent, and the heat in that enclosed space was more than oppressive, made worse by the crowd jammed into it. I was toward the back, and mostly I could see grown-ups’ heads and a little bit of the platform the “freaks” were on, waiting to perform their freakishness. The announcer had just begun his spiel. The air felt too thick to breath. My head felt funny, and the next thing I knew, my parents were picking me up off the ground and taking me outside. My biggest concern? I didn’t want people to think I’d fainted from looking at the “freaks.”
At least I got cotton candy out of the experience, something my parents didn’t usually allow.
The Tecolutla museum had the same shabby air as that long ago freak show. The exhibits formed a horseshoe around the front entrance. First were ratty old taxidermy exhibits of native wildlife, like otter, fruit bats, armadillos, iguana, and crocodiles. (The word “alligator” is a bastardization of the Spanish word for crocodile, “el largato.” ) Around the bed were photos from the October, 1999 flood, showing people trapped on rooftops, or wading through waist deep water. Apparently there had been a very large storm, but the true cause of the flood was authorities opening a floodgate up-river.
Sweat trickled down my sides. I took a swig of water to keep from passing out. The next section contained pickled fish in aquariums. Uninterested in the fish and more interested in getting back outside, I hurried past and headed toward the second half of the museum. The docent, a grizzled old man, sat in the hallway, repairing a net. As I passed, he called out to me and gestured for me to look at the exhibits outside. Outside? Sure! What a relief it was to step into the deliciously cool ninety degree heat!
He offered to take my picture holding a taxidermied crocodile, but I passed on that. There was a large pool of water with other stuffed crocodiles arranged around it in lifelike poses (except the one whose mouth was open in a perpetual yawn). A live turtle slid off a rock. At the very bottom, barely visible in the muck, was a huge fish, probably four feet long, with a weird flat nose. “Es feo!” (“it’s ugly”) I exclaimed.
Back inside, I nearly swooned, and not just from the heat. There was a huge skull on display that once belonged to the Tecolutla Sea Monster.
The skull was maybe three feet high at it highest point, and ten or fifteen feet long. There were two holes that looked like they could have been for eyes (but for all I know the skull was not complete or displayed in the proper orientation). I assumed it was a whale of some sort. but was told it was a sea monster.
Back in 1969, something very big and very dead washed up on the beach near Tecolutla. The men who first found it tried to keep it a secret, but eventually the story got out. The beast supposedly was covered in scales, with wooly fur, a beak, and horns. By the time scientists arrived to identify it, it had decomposed significantly and even been hacked up by people who wanted to sell the bones as ivory. The scientists couldn’t be sure, but they felt that most likely it was a Sei whale, about 75 feet long, weighing around 30 tons.
The docent showed me pictures, xeroxes of xeroxes of old photos. They could have been anything. It was very interesting (as much as I understood at any rate), but even more pressing was my need to get out of this sauna. I bid my farewells and hurried into the sunshine. I needed to cool down, so I headed back to turtle camp.
A bus was just pulling out of the station as I drew near. I looked up, and there was Maria in the window. I waved, and she waved, and kept on waving until the bus turned the corner and I couldn’t see her any more.
Waiting at the station was Venus. We walked back to camp together.