New Life in the Yucatan

words + photos by Suzanne Marriott

When my husband, Michael, died on January 1st, 2006, I felt as if I had died, too. The light went out of my life. It was as if I were a candle and he were the flame, and his last breath had blown out that flame and left me alone in the dark. 

Yet, for some reason unfathomable to me, my life went on, though I saw no reason why it should. No longer able to make sense of my world, I began to rely more and more on my intuition.

A little over a year after his death, in March of 2007, I was sitting on my living room couch, reading my copy of Spirituality&Health magazine. Suddenly, an announcement for a workshop on travel writing jumped off the page. I’d always loved to write and to travel, and here was a way I could do both. The workshop was to be held in the beautiful but “undiscovered” southern Yucatan peninsula in Mexico near Belize. There was no reason in the world why I shouldn’t go, I thought to myself. Did I dare? Did I have the energy? Probably not, I decided. This was crazy. 

I put the idea aside, yet it would not disappear. My intuition kept urging me on. For all I knew, the workshop was already filled. But the magazine had just arrived in the mail; maybe there was a chance. Maybe this would be the way to pull myself out of my grief and start to live again.

As it turned out, I was accepted into the workshop. Boarding the plane that would take me from Oakland, California, to the airport in Cancun, I felt a new sense of possibility. Maybe this was the way I could create new meaning in my life.

During the four-hour van ride from Cancun to Rancho Encantado, our eco-resort destination, I was sure I had made a mistake. What in the world was I doing stuck in a crowded van with a bunch of strangers, riding on a desolate highway through the Mexican jungle? Had my intuition failed me?

But my roommate proved to be delightful, the travels to ancient Maya ruins adventuresome, and the travel writing lessons and loving guidance of Judith Fein, our Mother Superior of teachers, a blessing. Above all, I was captivated by Laguna Bacalar. All doubts disappeared that first morning when I saw the lagoon sparkling just beyond the porch of my cozy, thatched roof casita. Its beauty blew my mind and its purity opened my heart. 

This 70 kilometer, fresh-water lagoon is cradled by pure, white limestone and fed by underground springs and rivers. Gazing out on this clear body of water, held sacred by the ancient Maya peoples, I felt at one with nature in all its variety and soulful depth. It was worth the whole trip just to swim in its waters.

On the third day, I took a sail boat ride for a tour of this magical lake. The day was bright, humid and warm. As the sun traveled through the pure blue sky, puffy white clouds interspersed with grey cloud shadings lent a dramatic dimensionality to the scene around me. The lagoon’s colors were a plethora of shades and tones of blue, ranging from transparent light turquoise in the shallows to varying hues of aqua marine, Dutch blue, emerald green and ink blue/black in its deepest depths. The ancient May aptly called this lagoon “The Lake of Seven Colors.” This multiplicity of color constantly varied as my boat glided silently through the rippling waters, creating a wake of small, white bubbles that danced on the azure surface like bubbles topping a glass of champagne.

The cooling breeze smoothed my bare skin as we sailed over the lagoon’s surface, and I felt blessed by the bounty of nature laid out before me. I experienced what I can only name as reverence, perhaps as the ancient Maya had. They had held this lake sacred and had protected it with their respectful ways. I learned that they always asked permission to enter the jungle and gratefully took only what they needed from nature.

I realized that I loved this lake, and with this thought, I felt the presence of love returning to my life. Perhaps I could learn to love myself as Michael had loved me and learn to take care of myself as I had taken care of him and as the Maya had cared for this lake.

My mind turned back to the death of my husband and my always present awareness of the impermanence of life; at best, the things and people we hold most dear are only ours for a while. I wondered: Would this beautiful body of water continue sparkling in all its purity, or would it fall prey to the thoughtlessness of modern civilization? Did the native peoples and growing number of expatriates now populating this area have the same regard for nature as did the ancient Maya?

I found that, indeed, many did. There was a growing movement to protect this delicate ecosystem, both by modern Mayas returning to ancient ways and by newcomers becoming ecologically active. There was a growing movement to limit unwise development and to prevent the commercial exploitation that had invaded Cancun.

I humbly called upon the ancient Gods and Goddesses of the Maya ancestors to bless this action. And I hoped that others would honor the wonders of this lake through writing, as I hoped to do, so its beauty could be shared.

My husband, Michael, had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis ten years before his death. He went from being a healthy, vital and athletic man to becoming a prisoner in a wheelchair. Although this is not the path of many people with MS, it was his path.

We had been extremely close before his diagnosis, living, sharing and traveling together, sharing life’s inevitable ups and down and always coming out enjoying or surviving them with renewed commitment. MS was our biggest challenge, and we faced it together.

Being a caregiver adds a whole new dimension to being a wife. Many times this new and unaccustomed role became my identity, and I felt consumed by it. Yet our love grew to levels it never could have reached in any other way. The passion and intensity of our early days gave way to a mutual compassion and commitment that transcended anything I could ever have imagined. It wasn’t an easy path, but it was one of transformation for both of us.

Since his diagnosis eleven years prior to this trip to the Yucatan, I had kept detailed journals of my life with Michael, our struggle with this disease, and my grief following his death. Over this last year, the idea of turning my journal writings into a memoir that might help and inspire others had occurred to me many times.

Now, contemplating the beauty and inevitable impermanence of Laguna Bacalar, I felt called upon to write and publish this memoir. I realized that I cannot hold on to the ephemeral, but I can honor my memories through writing and sharing with others. All life is transitory, but there is something eternal that transcends mortality. Laguna Bacalar had given me a glimpse of this transcendent force. Perhaps I could touch that, too, in my writings.

My intuition had served me well, and as I headed for home I felt renewed and inspired. During the course of this travel writing workshop, I had found new motivation and direction for my life, and I had come to realize that life itself is a trip—uncharted travel to destinations unknown.

 

Suzanne Marriott is a freelance travel writer and photographer who approaches travel as a transformative experience. Her upcoming book, Watching for Dragonflies: A Caregiver’s Uncharted Journey through Chronic Illness and Beyond, will be available soon. 

 

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