“It’s a little pretentious, don’t you think?”
“So fire the architect.”
MeiMei chuckled. She kept thinking she’d run out of awe and wonder at the “Mayan Riviera” coast she was seeing from Tuan’s kayak and was starting to toss out contrary remarks just to see how he’d get them back over the net. “I mean, ‘Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve’? It’s, what, a couple of acres of Mexico and they’re talking about having a very special reserve on the whole biosphere?”
“I think they’re hoping to get a patent of life forms,” Tuan replied. “Not that it’ll help them with all the pirating going on.”
“PhylaPirates of the Caribbean. Johnny Depp and Michael Moore together at last.”
“I’ve come down here just to see birds,” Tuan said. It’s amazing. I’ve been trying to formulate a theory of latitudinal pigmentation.”
“And you haven’t yet? I’m astounded.” She’d heard a lot of his general theories over the past days, his restless mind trying to tie everything up into larger and larger packages.
“These things take time. Those equation theories are easy. But there has to be some factor behind the fact that the closer you get to the equator the more color the biosphere flaunts. At the poles everything’s in black and white: your penguins and polar bears and such.”
“Orca,” MeiMei added. She’d been awed by the huge fish as a girl in Seattle. Infatuated, maybe. That whole idea led her to a place it was too sad to go, though, so she chatted brightly, instead. “Formal wear. In keeping with the cooler emotional state of high latitude numbers.”
“The temperate zones; a lot of brown and grey and earth colors. The slightest flash of color, like a robin’s breast, and people get all excited. But down here? My God.”
“I see what you mean,” MeiMei said thoughtfully. “And it’s everything, isn’t it? The fish are Day-Glo, the birds look like a Peter Max fantasy, the flowers almost glow in the dark.”
“So why? I always assume there’s a reason.”
“Even people,” she teased. “Everybody’s hunched over in Minneapolis and Seattle, with their loden green Gore-Tex parkas and black raincoats. By the time they clear the airport here they’re wearing shirts and bathing suits that would blind a Hawaiian.”
“It’s hard to find an evolutionary advantage to going around flaunting bright colors in everybody’s face. Sort of the opposite of protective coloration.”
“I assume it’s all about sex, somehow.”
“Everything is; isn’t that what they tell us?”
“Well, it’s certainly a motivator.” Or is it, she was thinking. She’d gotten the idea that Tuan had been at least somewhat taken by her, and she was certainly willing to move in his general direction. But so far this trip had been pretty tame in that regard. The general feel of flight from danger had faded and now it was just a routine of racking up miles, sometimes at night, sometimes by day. They had taken turns sleeping in the boat, leaning over the deck in a decidedly uncomfy posture. They had put into hidden inlets and grabbed snoozes on cusps of sand, slathered in bug spray. They had actually tented out last night: in addition to oodles of very good chow, Tuan had brought a tent and light cotton sleepsacks, it turned out. But sleeping with Tuan around hadn’t led to even an intimation of “sleeping with Tuan”. White knight syndrome? Was her breath bad? Was he as gay as he looked? Stay tuned. And avoid leading comments.
“There’s a devious attractor in there somewhere,” he said. “And it’ll turn up. Meanwhile, I just enjoy it.”
“Me too. This is incredible.” The Riviera to the North had been stunning in it’s way, but so much of it was high rise hotels and resorts these days. Most of which they’d slipped by at night, often a half mile off shore. But this was Raw Nature On Parade. Beach backed by sheer jungle, inlets teaming with life, aflutter with birds. If nothing else, it would be a trip she’d remember vividly the rest of her life. Which she had evidently decided would continue at some point because she found herself thinking ahead at times, especially when Tuan was silent, just stroking behind her like a machine. And frankly, it was starting to look like things were going to be very different in that future that she would arrive in once they paddled through enough of this screaming, travel-poster beauty.
“It’s not just the natural aspects, either. There are over twenty-five ruins inside the reserve, some of them fairly significant.”
“I’m not too hot on ruins and antiquity lately, Tuan. Sorry.” What it was, she got too frustrated and bummed out thinking about it. And knew that until she got her camera somewhere to see the glyphs on the jade plaque nothing she’d studied would really be all that significant to her own general theorizing. The future was trumping The Past for the first time since undergrad.
Tuan nodded. That was why she hadn’t cared about cutting past Tulum at night, he thought. And hasn’t even mentioned archaeology the whole time. It’s gotten ugly for her, or she’s moving past it. He took a good look at her, the slim body sun-browned to the point that she looked darker than most Mexicans, even than the Mayans. Good. He wished he could bleach her hair or something, but the hats and towels were working. He felt a strong impulse to reach out and stroke the cleft between the long muscles of her back. She was really exquisite. But he’d decided anything like that would wait. He wasn’t going to hit on her while he was still trying to keep her alive. Take her on the rebound from fear and death. He had a feeling that would keep, anyway. Just a feeling. Nothing theoretical.
He spoke in the tone she’d learned meant, Take a look at that. “See the inlet there?”
She could make out the green streak of water, a tiny gap in the trees she had learned would widen as they approached, open up to the basins of brackish water that were the font of so much of the wildlife proliferation around them. “It looks bigger than the one at Xel Ha. Maybe the biggest we’ve seen?
Tuan laughed. “To say the least. It’s the mouth of Ascension bay. Huge. We’ve actually been cruising along beside a big finger of it for miles. Right behind that peninsula.”
“Is there a town?” She’d come to associate towns with hassles, with snapping back from footloose waterbug tourists to fugitives.
“On the far side, Puerto Madero. I think we’ll just cut straight across.”
“Good. Will the town be a problem?”
I’m trying to figure the timing to pass it at night. I can get a better handle on that once I see it across the lagoon.”
“It’s been a long time since we saw a boat.”
“Good news, right? I have a hard time thinking they’re patrolling this far south, but I sure don’t want some drug patrol craft to radio in that they’ve spotted a couple of chinos in a kayak. If it was high season we’d be seeing all sorts of tour boats, other kayaks. That’s why we’re running this by day. Tourist kayaks are common here. But not so much at night.”
“I was thinking when that little squall hit us yesterday.” That had been a little scary. In fact MeiMei was well aware that if she’d been alone, without Tuan’s steady hand on the steering and steady voice behind her ears, that little tantrum of wind and shoulder-high waves would have scared the crap out of her. Which could get messy in a kayak. “What if a hurricane came up?”
“Too early for that. September a long shot. October, not such a long shot. But they aren’t that common even during the season.”
“What would we do?”
“A really big blow? Head out to sea and balls it out like men.”
She bumped her paddle against the side of the boat on her backswing, a little kayak gesture she’d picked up.
“Anything big enough to really, like, you know, kill us, and I’d haul into shore, pull the boat well into the bush, lash it down, get underneath it. Have a little hurricane party. If we were near a town, I think I’d just put in, leave the boat and catch a bus south, maybe rent a car. They’d have a lot more on their minds than us at that point. Cross into the free trade zone on a shopping excursion bus, pay off some border guys to let us cross into Belize proper from there.”
That was what kept her calm, she thought. He already has a plan even for something totally unlikely. And in details. Details that expand her awareness of her current situation. Good guy to have around.
“But what I was going to say,” Tuan continued his train of thought, “Is that it means we’re now halfway to the border.
MeiMei looked ahead, saw only more incredible turquoise sea, sugar white beach, violently green vegetation. Under too-blue sky and slowly piling thunderheads out to sea. How about that? she thought. Halfway to something.