It has taken me a couple weeks to find the words to express what was so beyond my expectations about my recent trip to Cozumel, but I have found them. And here they are:
My first visit to Mexico was when I was a mere two years old. I do not remember that trip but my Mother assured me that I had a grand time. Twenty-eight years later, my friend took me to Cancun for my birthday. I remember a lot of that trip, the first swim-up bar I'd ever experienced, the whitest sand I'd ever seen, and a sweet moment of running for shelter in a warm afternoon rain.
For years, my father maneuvered his boat across the Gulf of Mexico to Cozumel for the winter months. The fishing in the Caribbean waters between Cozumel and the Mexico mainland is outstanding for Blue and White Marlin, Sailfish and Tuna. The sun and sand and relaxed, friendly mood of Cozumel was outstanding for business deals. Dad loved Cozumel. He loved the marina and he loved the people. He loved the restaurants and he loved the sunsets. He loved the blue and turquoise waters of the Caribbean sea.
In 1994, my father booked a Christmas trip to Mexico for our family in a small town I'd never heard of on the Pacific side, in the state of Oaxaca. Again, the draw was the waters and the fishing for him. The minute I walked down the stairs of the plane and onto the tarmac I fell in love with the place. It was simply wonderfully imperfect, it was wild and it was the most beautiful place I had ever seen. That was just the area around the landing strip. The next two weeks sealed it for me. The town was Puerto Escondido, a sleepy fishing village sitting at the base of the Sierra Madre mountains.
Two years later I would move to that sleepy fishing village and spend six months there. Before that, I visited numerous times. I drove through the country more than once, ultimately visiting or at least driving through every state. (Not something I would be able to safely do today which makes me cherish the memories all the more.) I simply could not get enough of the country and her people.
So, I grew to share my father's love for Mexico, from Mexico City to Mazatlan, Ixtapa to Cabo San Lucas, Monterrey to Veracruz. And Cozumel. Together with the family, we would visit Cozumel three times before he died. One particularly sweet time was for my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. He was so happy there, so very happy and carefree. He loved showing us around his Cozumel and we loved his doing so. We fished, we snorkeled, we drank beer.
When I was considering the trip to Cozumel my nephew and I took couple weeks ago, I chose the dates because I wanted to be there for the anniversary of my father's death. This year marked six years to the date and day, Super Bowl Sunday. I didn't want to be here for that, so traveling to a place he loved was a perfect solution. I brought some of my father's ashes with us and decided that we would rent wave runners that Sunday and scatter my father's ashes in the sea that he so loved. I admit that I do have some of my father's ashes. It might be odd to you but it's very comforting to me, as it allows me to return him to and make him part of the special places that he adored.
When my nephew and I set out on our wave runners, we played for about ten minutes, jumping our own wake, doing donuts, etc., and then I motioned him over to me and we headed out a bit to the deeper blue water. I said some words about the blues of the sky, the water and my father's eyes, and then we put his ashes to the wind and water. As I watched them disappear from view, as bittersweet as it was, I knew, I just knew that these were the waters and this was the country, where he should be. We paused a moment to reflect on what we had just done and what it meant to us, and then we tore off like the wave runner banshees that we were on that trip.
Five minutes later, I was surrounded. By dolphins. About 15 of them, swimming with me, jumping alongside me. Big, graceful, amazing dolphins. In the wild. Right there. I could have reached out and touched them. I motioned my nephew over and when he got there, they were playing with him as well. We'd stop the wave runners and the dolphins would swim back and forth beneath us, circling. We'd get moving and they were right beside us, racing us and jumping in the air. We counted two mothers and calves and they were all right there with us. All of them seemingly without fear.
Eddie and I were stunned. And delighted. We used the words awesome and amazing more than a couple times. We stayed with the dolphins, or they stayed with us, for about 20 minutes, until it was time to return the wave runners. As we rode back to our hotel's dive shop, we noticed the restaurant, pool and beach crowds were on their feet watching us. They were smiling, we were smiling. Some were clapping with delight and some simply were grasping their hands. The man from the dive shop was standing on the beach, guiding me in, as he excitedly expressed he had not seen that before, farther out with the cruise ships, yes, but not where we were. Eddie and I could not believe what we'd just experienced together.
As we walked through the sand, smiling and still a bit stunned, I felt something in my heart, something familiar and warm. It was my father. And then I understood. My father sent the dolphins to us. I believe that these were the waters he's wanted to be part of all along, and I believe the dolphins were the means to his saying, I love you too.