The plane lands in Tuxtla Gutierrez six hours after leaving Dallas. Within minutes we have our luggage, and soon thereafter we find our way to the bus that will carry us to San Cristóbal de las Casas. The air hangs heavy and humid over us, more tropical than Texas yet not quite as tropical as we expected. It feels almost refreshing. Almost.
Aboard the bus, faces greet us with smiles and nods. “Hola,” one man says, his face wrinkled with time, and “Bienvenidos!” a woman adds, her eyes glowing with genuine affection. Though clouds hang heavy as the next tropical wave passes nearby, faces in this cramped mass transit fill the air with radiant light. We shake hands, grin, offer repeated thanks.
Preciliano and I fall into a pair of empty seats. We settle in and wait.
As the doors close and the bus lurches forward, the driver crosses himself, an act that I find both curious and troubling. Voices fill the confinement in which we find ourselves. Motion, sound, watchful eyes glancing to and fro. Part of me worries.
Only as we enter the two-lane road that leads to San Cristóbal do I comprehend the netherworld that I find myself in. And my mind begins to wander. How many trips like this have I taken with others? How many alien places have I visited with those who mattered most? What ends of the world have I seen with loved ones by my side?
Part of me weeps for what I’ve given up these past six years. Part of me wants for what has been sacrificed. Part of me wonders about what was gained and lost in the six months since December 2009. Part of me wanders a landscape of introspection and delirium.
Just ahead of us clouds rest upon the land like wet cotton. When Preciliano grasps my hand and points to an old man walking along the roadside, I’m shaken from my thoughts and drawn back to the real world.
Almost too quickly to notice, we pass him as he walks at the road’s edge. His hair is white with age, his body slumped with years, and upon his back is a load of flowers too beautiful to ignore. With only a quick glimpse, I wonder if perhaps I misjudge them. The flowers glow from stems a yard long, or so I think, and the whole of them rest tied together with rope as if slaves to the eyes that appreciate them.
And as quickly as he is seen, he vanishes into the mist that hides existence. So we continue forward.
The bus climbs through the mountains. At the precipice of world and sky, a young girl—Tzotzil Indian perhaps?—tends a flock of black sheep along the roadway. How picturesque a scene it makes. How comfortable and indigenous.
A rebozo slung across her back reveals a pair of dangling feet, tiny flesh limbs hanging from the indigo-and-red cloth that holds the baby. Even as the clouds envelope us, the woman and child and sheep look like so much abstract art painted on the roadside.
I can see no more than 20 feet out the window. The world is lost in fog and shadow.
The bus careens into the earthbound clouds. Suddenly we are hidden as we climb the mountaintops into the heavens toward a place I’ve never seen.