It was December 31st 2004, and I was one month into a three month road trip through Mexico in my own car. Before I left home, I bought a large bag of candy to hand out to any children I might meet along the way; and because the main objective of my trip was a pilgrimage to the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe in Mexico City, I made several color copies of a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe to hand out to the adults, as well. While going through some boxes before my departure, I found a small teddy bear and a newborn baby doll dressed in pink, that I had purchased at a flea market years before. I added these to the potential gifts.
New Year’s Eve found me in Palenque in the state of Chiapas. My plan was to leave Palenque early in the morning, and drive leisurely on to San Cristobal de las Casas to celebrate New Year’s Eve; stopping along the way at Misolha Waterfall and the cascades of the Rio Tulija, known as Agua Azul.
I reached Agua Azul in the afternoon, and after taking many photos of the waterfalls, I started to walk along the path that follows the Rio Tulija upstream. It was quite warm, but not uncomfortable. Swarms of bright yellow butterflies kept pace with me, never leaving the trail. Occasionally, large cobalt blue butterflies with shimmering iridescent wings, floated by. After a few miles the path ended at a swimming spot. There was a sandy beach, and the river bottom as seen through the clear water, was firm sand as well. I had not brought my swimsuit, but the day was so warm, and the water so inviting, I stripped to my underwear and dived in. I swam for an hour, one thought never leaving my mind: how grateful I was to be here in this tropical paradise while my friends at home in the United States were preparing to celebrate New Year’s Eve in an icy rain.
Back on the road again, I anticipated an uneventful drive to San Cristobal de las Casaa. Late in the afternoon the road began to twist and climb into the highlands. At a pull-off, I stopped to have a drink and enjoy the view of the valley far below. I noticed a middle-aged man with a walking stick, slowly making his way up the winding road. As he approached he hailed me with a greeting.
The man introduced himself as Miguel, and paused to chat with me. We were having a pleasant conversation, when suddenly I heard a rustling in the bushes beside the road, and a women and two children stepped out of the brush. The little girl was about six, and the little boy about five. Their clothing was ragged and their faces smudged with dirt, but their mother clasped each of their small hands firmly, and it was obvious that they were very much loved.
I chatted with Miguel and the woman for a few minutes, and then I remembered the toys in the glove compartment of my car, waiting for just such a moment as this. I had paid a dollar for each item, but a million dollars could not have purchased the joy in those two children’s faces, and their happy laughter, when I presented the doll to the girl and the teddy to the boy. I then handed both the mother and Miguel a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe, wished them a “Prospero Ano Nuevo”, and continued on my way.
It was dark and quite chilly when I reached San Cristobal de las Casas, and the vegetarian restaurant where I had planned to celebrate New Year’s Eve couldn’t squeeze in one more person. But as I climbed into bed much earlier than I had expected, my heart was filled with a warm glow, because the image of those two little beaming faces pushed everything else aside. I knew I had just experienced the best New Year’s Eve of my life.
You can read my further adventures in Latin America at: http://tag.searchingforfernando.wordpress.com