Chase Across the Caribbean

by Kris Fricke (Australia)

A leap into the unknown Mexico


“They will not let me in, they make me return to Caracas.” I stare at my phone in disbelief. Around me excited tourists are streaming out of the arrivals door at Cancun international airport. Not far away great gaggles of tourists are being disgorged from buses to enter the nearby departure gates, laughing and clutching bags of souvenirs, but on my phone screen I just see my dreams of Mayan pyramids turning to pyramids of sand, to be obliterated by a wave of political circumstance, sweeping her away from me like a piece of driftwood in the tide. “Señor, where is your girlfriend?” an employee whom I'd met while waiting asks me. I picture a fetid holding cell in the airport basement. I clutch my backpack protectively – buried deep inside an engagement ring sparkles with transformative potential. “I... don't think she's coming.” Venezuelans have visa-free travel to Mexico, but that doesn't guarantee entry, and I now ruefully remember President Trump demanding Mexico reject more entrants coming in from further south. It hadn't occurred to me it could apply to us. Soon, I'm in a taxi zooming down the broad straight highway to Tulum, where Cristina and I had booked a hotel. On either side is a wall of jungle, and the last gloaming light is fading out of the sky. The driver tries to engage me in conversation in broken English, but my brain is still spinning. I'll return to the airport at 9am – I had managed to talk to an immigration official, who said we could “sort things out” then. I suspect a large bribe will be expected. We turn off the main highway, down a smaller road that's like a tunnel through thick dark foliage. The hotel is a collection of beautiful thatched cottages and stylized huts set amid tropical shrubbery. I lock the engagement ring in the safe in our hut and pad across the sand to the restaurant. Nearby, in the darkness, waves crash on the beach. The restaurant is elegantly rustic, all bare irregular wood beams, the ceiling mere underthatch. It is all so ... muy romantico. I picture Cristina on a bare metal bench in a concrete room and tears begin to well up in my eyes. Just then I'm jolted by the sound of a text from Cristina: “Yo estoy en Panama Mi amor I am in Panama Come to Panama” Knowing full well she likely will not remain in Panama, I book the next available flight from Cancun to Panama, because it's the first step in chasing after her. If she's a piece of driftwood on the tide, I will dive headlong into the sea after her. At 3:30am my alarm goes off, and stress shoots me to instant wakefulness more quickly than the strongest coffee. The hotel grounds are labyrinthine in the dark, but a night watchman finds and guides me to the waiting taxi. I never did see the hotel by the light of day. As we zip up the highway through the slumbering Yucatan towards the airport, another text comes in from Cristina: “I have arrived in Caracas” “Book the next flight you can to anywhere” I urge her. As I'm in the check-in line she writes back to me, “I found a flight to Dominican Republic leaving at 11.” “Excellent, book it!” I text back. But it's not so easy -- since the Venezuelan currency has suffered from hyperinflation and they don't have credit cards, we need to find a way to put it on my card. By the time I get to the check-in desk we have not yet succeeded in booking her ticket. On mere hours' notice, my onward flight from Panama City to Dominican Republic is blisteringly expensive, but I book it. If we don't succeed in buying her ticket, this is just money thrown to the wind. A leap in the dark. That evening, under a sky of infinite stars, on the sand beside the crashing waves of a remote beach on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, I go down on one knee and pull out the ring. Her eyes are luminous, her smile brighter than the moon. “Siiiiiiiiiiiii”