And the wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.
Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are)
Night noises can usually be explained when I’m at home in my own bed. That loud cracking that jolts me awake on the coldest of winter nights? The wood in the house getting a bit testy because of thermal contraction and expansion. The ruffling noises in the wall? Mice are in the insulation again. (I make a note to myself in my half awake state to buy a mouse trap or get another cat – which oddly seems like a good idea at two o’clock in the morning.) The distant rumbling sound? One of the few trains that ply the tracks in this mountain valley. Yes, all the night sounds are usually explainable and only a minor distraction.
Night noises here in Mexico take on a whole new level of urgency. On one of the first nights here as I was falling asleep, I heard a loud chirping/cackling sound coming from the bathroom, which just happens to be located about a foot and a half from where I sleep. My husband nonchalantly suggested that I get up to investigate. Was he kidding me? I keep a flashlight beside me at night so that I don’t unwittingly step on a scorpion if I have to get up, but what good could that possibly do if I met this?
I lay there for awhile contemplating my options and decided that I wasn’t going to sleep anyway, so I might as well take a peek. Picking up my flashlight, I tentatively moved the curtain aside and….saw nothing on the floor, or in the shower, or in the sink. I’m breathing by now and the beams from my flashlight probe the walls. That’s when I see this.
Our resident gecko. Who knew a little-ish thing could make such loud, disturbing sounds?
Feeling calmer now, I decided to return to bed. I climbed in, turned off my flashlight and put it safely back under my pillow.
I grew up in a small town. I remember sitting on the bottom step of the staircase and looking out the window on frigid winter nights. Seeing the smoke curling out of our neighbours’ chimneys warmed me as much as our furnace rumbling away in the basement. It reminded me that we were all connected in our need for warmth – and each other.
I haven’t lived in a town for the last thirty-five years and sometimes I miss it, which probably accounts for my returning to this Mexican village on vacation. Yelapa is a small town built on a steep hillside in Jalisco, Mexico. It reminds me of the genesis of all villages. It was reportedly first settled by four families who had come down from the village of Chacala high in the mountains. The town has grown since then but its growth is limited by the mountains and the sea. Most supplies still come in by small fishing boats. There is a very rough road leading to the ancestral village of Chacala, but it’s not always passable and even it doesn’t directly enter the village. There are no cars here.
The village awakens slowly in the mornings. The sun doesn’t rise above the mountains until after seven. The first water taxi leaving for Boca is the only movement on the sheltered harbour, but is soon joined by fishing boats leaving for the day. The few little grocery stores (tiendas) open after 9:00. The village awakens slowly but work and pleasure continue well into the evening hours when the sun isn’t as hot. It’s a different rhythm dictated by climate and geography and culture.
Most people live and work in the village. They fish, or help on construction sites, or use their horses and burros to haul supplies. And nowadays, of course, there is the tourist industry which keeps many people busy.
One of my biggest pleasures here is walking along the stone path to the center of the village in the evening. The villagers have gathered on their stoops now and have a “hola’ or “buenos noches” for everyone passing by. We begin to recognize each other as time goes on and the smiles become warmer and the greetings longer. For a short while, we are welcomed into this little living village on the side of a mountain in Mexico.
The flip side to all this connection, of course, is that everyone knows everyone else’s business and there are stories floating around about this person or that one. I remember it was just this storytelling, often tinged with some judgment, that had me less than enamoured with small town life when I was an adolescent. It never discounts, however, that everyone has a place in the fabric of the town and the connections run deep and last forever.
A confession: I have never gone on an all inclusive holiday, been part of a group travel package, or taken a cruise. It’s not that I wouldn’t enjoy these experiences, it’s just that I haven’t been drawn to them.
I am not the kind of traveller who needs to be up at 6:00 in the morning to make an early start on seeing all the sights and tourist attractions. In fact, I’m quite the opposite. For me, most days start with a morning stroll to a local café or breakfast spot. I’ll see where the day takes me from there. Sometimes it’s a trip to a market (I always check out those) or a walk to a waterfall, or vineyard or….
I do check out a destination before I visit and may have a rough plan of some of the places that I might like to see, but there is nothing set in stone and I’m rarely disappointed if my trip is over and I haven’t managed to see or do the things on my list. That’s because most of the things I ended up doing were spontaneous, suggested by locals, or experiences I just happened upon that were so much more appealing than anything I read in a book or saw online.
There are always adventures to be had when travelling, especially if you find yourself off the beaten path. You might have to share your chair with something like this.
Or guard your bananas against night time visitors.