Far Reaches and Windy Beaches | El Madresal, Chiapas, Mexico

A gust of wind inflates the tent into a monstrous white kite, flapping angrily at our attempts to tame it as it struggles to flee into the stormy afternoon skies. After a short battle, the tent finally putters into submission in the sand, and with a woeful glance down the empty beach we give up on the dream of camping under the open sky, opting instead for a protected spot by the bathrooms.

Disappointed, Roberto and I suck on coffee-soaked pan dulce and look out on the gloom. This is not the beach weekend we had imagined.

We’re tucked into the southernmost corner of Mexico’s Pacific coast, the beach beyond a mangrove lagoon in an eco-tourism center called El Madresal. It’s little more than a collection of cabañas and palapas on an otherwise empty shore, and, in rainy, off-season June, it’s a dreary sight. The palapas shiver like wet animals over a grey sandy stretch that passively accepts the pummeling of an equally grey and uninspired sea. Dark waves foam and bicker and slap the shore before receding in defeat.

The ocean is too stormy to swim and too puny to inspire awe, so I retreat into the tent for a nap while Roberto ambles along the shore. I fall asleep to the whine of wind and mosquitos, nervous at the precarious weather.

Hours later I awake to ominous evening clouds, and, praying for the rain wait, wander around the cabañas to find Roberto discussing turtles with one of the employees. Madresal monitors and protects turtles, and, apparently, the season for egg-laying is approaching. If we’re lucky we may see one.

These turtles have a precarious life. Mothers must venture ashore to lay their eggs, and after incubation, the babies must journey back across the sand into the ocean. The process is dangerous: poachers sneak onto the beach to steal the valuable eggs and meat, and hungry bands of street dogs roam the beach looking for a meal.

At night we see police roaming the beach with flashlights, tiny searchlights in the blackness on the lookout for turtles or their predators.

As the morning turns into another grey day, it is time to head home; we say goodbye to the beach, the palapas, the mangroves, and the turtles we never saw. Thunder crackles. Then rain hits, and we are soaked. We pass through town, helpless and wet, as dirt streets turn to puddles and half-naked children squeal in a soup of mud, chickens, pigs, and trash. Hours of travel lie ahead of us, but it’s too late to go back, here we are, drenched, so we laugh and squeal along, dancing to the tootle of banda music from a nearby house.

We cross the town and arrive at the two-lane road and hope to catch a ride. The rain is a steady drizzle, windless, and I can hear my plastic sandals squeak with mud as we walk, waiting for someone to pass. Eventually, from the silence comes a hollow clicking noise.

In disbelief, we realize it’s a horse-drawn carriage, slowly making its way north on the highway. The family of three is heading home from the village, and they tell us we can jump aboard, so I perch on a wet plank beside Roberto. We share a glance of bewildered joy.

I smile and can feel the bigness of the route ahead, the road stretching straight into the distant horizon, low green shrubs in all directions, and us: the two small figures, a family, their horse, and the serendipity that brought us together at this moment.

The rain falls gently as we set off, bumping forward, slowly but in the right direction, and I think of a tiny future turtle, triumphant against the treacherous beach, slipping into life in the vast and turbulent sea.


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