A Beach Moment that Lingers

Seaside in Progreso, Mexico is unforgettable.

If I concentrate, I can still recall sitting on the beach at Progreso, digging my toes into the sand and sipping a piña colada made with sweet, fresh pineapple and soft, sugary coconut shavings. I remember the waiters, who had to cross the beach boulevard from the Crabster restaurant to keep asking me if I needed anything else.

It was not a cruise ship day, otherwise there would have been hundreds more people like me, tourists mulling about looking for T-shirts, or souvenirs, or bathrooms. The first time we journeyed north from Merida by bus and disembarked in this sleepy beach town, we heard the jolting noise of English being spoken with a southern accent. The words, already foreign sounding after a few weeks staying in Mexico, hit me from the tables along the avenue leading to the ocean. Gray-headed travelers in tropical shirts sat ordering beers and margaritas and eating barbecue marinated in the sour orange and lime of the Yucatán rather than the dry rubs or smoke of the places their accents said they hailed from. We walked on without belying our compatriotism. I just wanted to sit in the warm breeze, to feel the sun on my skin, and to look out on the Gulf of Mexico. I wanted to be mesmerized by the waves and by the squawking of flocks of gulls who undulated the same way.

We ate pork tacos with habanero salsa. Huge shrimp encrusted in coconut batter and fried. Beach vendors passed by often, selling colorful whipped sugar candy merengues and caramelized peanut palanquetas. They hawked all sorts of wares held aloft on their heads or in big backpacks. A man selling large baskets had half a dozen draped over each of his arms and more piled on his back. One vendor rode the bus back to Merida with us at the end of the day, his pastry tray stowed somewhere below in a luggage compartment. The ride cost the equivalent of $1US each way. So, we rode with a crowd, though most appeared not to be traveling to sit on the beach.

I watched the fluttering of the umbrellas and palapas, the thatched roofs of dried palm leaves. They shaded tables and chaise lounges set up along the shore. I listened to the surf. I watched a Mexican family pull two white plastic tables together to accommodate everyone for a child’s birthday party. 

Further down the beach large palapas stood at the ready to accommodate more people in search of shade. And still further a newer restaurant with a multi-level, open-air deck that ensured every table had a view of the sea. Swings on ropes and palm trees growing up through the rafters made the place feel like an Instagram picture from Tulum. That made it more expensive than the other places.

Yes, I like piña coladas. This one has a coconut sugar rim, Mexican cinnamon shavings that are like the more relaxed version of cinnamon sticks, and a skewer of fresh pineapple and berries.

Only a few more historic establishments remain after decades of hurricanes and the ebb and flow of tourism on this sleepy coastline. But the city rebuilt the seaside in the last few years. The malecón is now a low concrete wall, turned into seating in spots and undulating along the ribbon of beach kept the sand and water on one side and a wide boulevard on the other for pedestrians, bicycles, and every hour or so a truck full of police decked out in military-style uniforms and holding automatic rifles. In places like Mexico this show of force is a comfort rather than a threat I suppose. I prefer the bicycle cops of California beaches who seem harmless, and yet ready to confront whatever trouble comes. 

Sleeping dogs flopped in the warm sand against the sea wall and lay contentedly snoozing, flipping their tails like horses to defend against the odd fly. The mid-80-degree temperature was perfect. I waded out into the water far enough to feel its December chill, but I never got too warm sitting on the beach to require more water dunks, just more pina coladas, or Mexican beers, or Topo Chicos.

Boats on the Gulf.

The beach faced north, so the sunsets faded out of view. And we meandered back to the bus depot to board the ride back to the city. It was only a little over an hour along the highway. We disembarked at the stop by Paseo 60, the huge new complex right around the block from our rental house. It had a massive open-air plaza with a waterfall cascading over plexiglass, a stage curtained with sisal ropes, old henequen manufacturing equipment turned sculpture. Escalators and shops, a hotel, a coach depot for high-class road trips daily to Cancun and elsewhere. We walked along the narrow sidewalk and turned down Calle 37 toward our house. Weeds edged out from cracks and the concrete crumbled in places. We passed old single story colonial houses, one that had been turned into a boutique hotel on the corner.

It was one key to open the wrought iron gate over the front door, and then another key to unlock the wood door, weathering badly in the tropics. I stepped into the cool of the cavernous living room, slipped off my flip flops to spray the sand off my feet with a water bottle left on a little towel just beside the door. The tile was cool beneath my bare feet and I padded across it into the kitchen and sank down into one of the equipale chairs of pigskin and slats of cedar. The sun of the beach still felt warm on my skin.

If I concentrate, it still does.

Piña Coladas and Rain

Ron and I took a long walk on the beach our first day in Florida. The sand is like sugar and the water is a perfect temperature.

A pure white egret greets us whenever we are sitting out on the screened porch. He has an impossibly long and snaking neck, and thin, white tail feathers that flutter in the breeze. Boats float by on their way out to Ostego Bay. They are stocked with fishing poles, or coolers, tourists looking for dolphins. Sunday morning was brunch, a long beach walk, and then a trip to the supermarket. Walking back from there it began to drizzle. We ignored that for a few minutes until the sky burst open like a water balloon and it poured. It rained so hard it washed off all of our sunscreen and drove it into our eyes like blinding hot sauce. In under five minutes we were completely drenched, soaked, and dripping. The grocery bags filled with water. The argument we were having was forced to an end as we could only exclaim about the rain and avoid ponds on sidewalks and waterfall-size splashes from oncoming cars. The parking lots turned to lakes, cars stranded like islands.

Once we got back to the condo we changed and put away our groceries and then Ron went out again for piña colada stuff. Because pineapple, coconut and rum, and if you like getting caught in the rain, maybe you like piña coladas? He got a second soaking on his way back from that errand. Day one and wet clothes hanging everywhere.

We were soaked in seconds.

“Yes, I like piña coladas,

And gettin’ caught in the rain …”

Rupert Holmes, 1979

The sun eventually returned.

We sipped our drinks, then near dusk headed to the beach again to see the sunset over the water. A few other people were awaiting the orange sun’s dip into the ocean as well. But still a quarter of an hour before the final drop, yet another rain storm began. The drops quickly turned serious and sent everyone scurrying across the wide sands to nearby hotels and condos. Our place was across the main road, and down beyond several complexes. So it was a third soaking for us.

Maybe we had been baptized into our new nomadic life; a fitting activity for a Sunday. And I had removed my shoes on the beach as both an act of worship for such as amazing creation and an attempt to keep my feet from being rubbed raw by gritty sand. Just like he shows off in the Rocky Mountains, God has a bit of fun down here at the Gulf of Mexico. The egret, ibis, and heron; the tropical flowers, the wild coffee bush, the fig trees and palms, and the changing blue and green colors of the salty gulf waters lapping the pale sands of the shores.

Sunset at Ft. Myers Beach

These are God’s rather exasperated reminders that he is powerful. Maybe they aren’t exasperated if you are on good terms with him. But I perceive him as being sort of fed up with showing me the obvious–that he is an Almighty Creator and I should trust him … at least as much as the sandy shore trusts that whatever tracks, piles and holes mar its smooth surface during a day of visitors both human and animal, the tides will smooth them all away again.