Finally, the morning of the eclipse had come. Every day leading up, there were more and more people arriving. I didn’t know where the others had gone, so I walked down to Hilda’s cafe for a coffee and to relax before going to the ruins for the event.
Hilda was busy cleaning up around the cafe. I got into one of the hammocks to read for a bit, when Hilda came over and told me that I would be coming back to the cafe to do her a favor.
“Sure, no problem. But, after I leave here, I’m going to stop back by Maya Bell to grab my bag and head to the ruins for the eclipse. I won’t be coming back this way.”
“Yes, you will.”
“Well, I didn’t really plan on walking all the way back the opposite way. Can’t you just give me the instructions for the favor now before I leave?”
“It’s not time. You will return before the eclipse.”
“Ok, well… alright. I guess I’ll come back.”
Hilda smiled, nodded, then returned to her cleaning.
I didn’t really plan on walking back. It wasn’t all that far, but in the tropical heat it was a bit of a hike. And, I’d have to walk the distance twice since the ruins were the opposite direction away from my palapa at Maya Bell.
There were a few others hanging out in the cafe by that point. Someone was playing a bongo drum, and another person was banging on one of tables like a drum. It was getting a little hard to concentrate on my reading, so I waved to Hilda and walked back to Maya Belle to chill out in my own hammock.
Fell asleep reading back at Maya Belle. When I woke up I briefly panicked because I thought that after everything, I’d ended up sleeping through the eclipse! Happily, I still had a good hour and a half to go. Tried to tell myself it’d be cutting it too close to try and hike back to Hilda’s before the eclipse, and that she’d understand that I’d fallen asleep. But, I knew that was a lie. I easily had enough time to go back to the cafe to find out what favor she needed me to do, and still make it to the ruins for the eclipse.
After grabbing my daypack, and some water I headed back to Hilda’s cafe. When I arrived it was completely empty. No one around at all, but I could hear some Indian Hindu music playing over the speakers. Figured someone must be there so I sat down at one of the tables and called Hilda’s name.
From the garden behind the cafe, Hilda came toward me smiling and dancing seductively to the Hindu music. She had changed clothes and was wearing a flowing saffron-colored sari. Her hair was bound up like a turban in a matching lace scarf that had small amber charms dangling from it around her face. And, she had a small colorful parrot perched on her shoulder.
I watched her move and twirl about. She almost looked as if she was in some sort of a trance, and that trance was starting to feel like it was having an effect on me as well.
Hilda motioned for me to stand up and follower her as she danced out of the cafe and into the adjoining cottage. I’d never been in the cottage, but was surprised how sparse the decor was. In the main room there was almost nothing but a beautiful white hammock that was hung from one corner of the room all the way to the opposite corner.
She motioned for me to continue following her into the bedroom. This made me a bit uncomfortable… as I obeyed and followed her into the bedroom. I wasn’t sure what was about to transpire. Hilda motioned for me to sit back on the bed as she continued to dance and twirl.
While dancing, she scooped up a deck of large tarot cards on a white dresser. Everything in her place was white. She started shuffling the tarot cards as she danced and then suddenly flung them all across the bed. She instructed me to select a card. I told Hilda that I didn’t want her to read my cards… that I knew of someone who was told they would get cancer from a fortune teller. This person did in fact get cancer and I never knew for sure if it was because the fortune teller actually foresaw it, or if it was the suggestion itself.
Hilda told me not to worry, that she was not going to read my tarot cards. She instructed me to pick one card and look at it, but don’t show it to her. Then, mix the card back into the rest of the cards, and then shuffle the deck a few times. After I shuffled the deck about 3 times, I handed it to Hilda.
After she also shuffled the deck 3 or 4 more times, she quickly flung the deck back onto the bed and the cards all spread out. Instantly, she reached down and plucked a card from all the cards and turned it around toward me.
“Is this your card?”
“This is the seven card… the Sun Card, on the day of the eclipse.”
I examined the card and it had a figure holding up the sun I believe. Hilda took the card from me and rolled it up in a long piece of muslin cloth. She put the wrapped card in a cotton bag, along with some oranges, and some calla lilies. I think there were some other small items she put into the bag as well, and handed it to me.
“Take this to the ruins and give it to the woman from Nebraska who is the reincarnation of Guadalupe of the Americas.”
“But, I don’t know where she is, or even what she looks like.”
“You’ll know who she is and where she is when you get there.”
“Ok. Is that it? I should get going now or I’m going to miss it!”
“Yes, please hurry and don’t forget to give this to her.”
The time was getting a bit short, but I still had enough time. I just couldn’t dawdle much and had to walk quickly.
The closer I got to the main entrance to the Palenque ruins, the more people there were. It looked as if they’d all arrived today and what a bizarre bunch most of them were! Like some strange multi-cultural, international convention of astro-space aliens from the planet of dreadlocks and tie-dye. So many in fact, that I didn’t think there was any way possible that’d I’d be able to find a person who I didn’t know their name or what they looked like. All I knew was that it was a she and that she was from Nebraska.
Just after I passed the largest Temple of Inscriptions pyramid on my right with the observation tower complex on my left, I had sort of a “knowing” or intuition that the woman I was looking for was on the top floor of the stone ruins tower.
At the entrance of the tower there were two men in suits. I couldn’t make out where they were from, but they they spoke English with a foreign accent. I nodded to them as I passed into the entrance, when they held out their arms to block me.
“Excuse us Sir, but no one is allowed to pass into the tower right now.”
“Why not? I’ve been here a week and have been up there several times. Why can’t I go up today?”
“Very sorry, but you can go anywhere else you like on the grounds, just not up to the top of the tower.”
“Oh, ok. It’s not that I have a burning desire to go up there, but there’s this local cafe owner named Hilda who gave me this bag of stuff and told me to take it to the woman from Nebraska who’s supposed to be the reincarnation of Guadalupe.”
The two men looked at each surprised.
“Ok then. You may enter.”
Whoa, that was weird. How did they know? I didn’t ask anymore questions and started up the narrow stone stairway to the top level of the tower.
At the top level, the walls are open on all four sides with the roof supported by 4 stone columns. There were 7 people sitting in a circle chanting with a light-haired woman presiding. She looked to be in her early 40’s and looked… well… like she might be from Nebraska. All of their eyes were closed. I didn’t recognize the others except for the man with the turban I’d given directions to a few days prior. The woman from Nebraska opened her eyes, looked at me and smiled as she nodded. It felt a little bit awkward, like I was interrupting something. So, I took the bag Hilda had given me and set it down in front of the woman from Nebraska. She closed her eyes again and joined back in with the chanting. The language they were chanting in wasn’t familiar to me.
For a short while I stood in the corner and watched, then quietly backed out, down the stairway, and continued out to the grounds to wander around the ruins site. It seemed that most of the people at site were of the strange variety I mentioned before. Mostly of the bohemian sort and they were all performing various rituals that involved dancing, singing, chanting, and there was a bit of primal wailing as well.
I didn’t have any eye protection, so instead of trying to view the eclipse directly I focussed my attention on all of the bizarre spiritual circus taking place all around me.
At Palenque, the eclipse wasn’t total, but it darkened to about twilight. The entire surrounding jungle erupted into a cacophony of buzzing night sounds with howler monkey drones. Most of the singing, drumming, and wailing raised a couple octaves in pitch as it blended into the jungly symphony. Time felt like it stopped, or at least the perception of time did.
After what must have only been a few minutes, the light brightened as the sun shone full again. There were gasps and some singing, but the tone was more subdued. The jungle sounds went back to a normal daytime nature, and there was a palpable spirit of peace in the air.
I wondered around the ruins for awhile, and down the trail toward the Queen’s bath to cool off. Wasn’t quite sure how to feel about what had just transpired, but I knew I wanted to hang onto the feeling as long as possible.
Some time later, I meandered down the jungle trail and back toward Hilda’s cafe. When I arrived, it appeared empty. I heard some voices behind the cafe. It was the hippy couple from Montana… of our little group. They acted like they were somehow still enchanted. I felt that way too. A lingering feeling. They asked me where I was for the eclipse.
“I went to the ruins. Lots of people there. Very odd for the most part, but cool. You?”
“We had planned to go to the ruins too, but instead we wandered out into a cornfield. Not sure why, but it was also very cool.”
“Cool in the cornfield?”
“Yeah, it was. The corn stalk leaves created little pinholes that were projecting the shapes of hundreds of eclipse shadows on the ground. When the breeze would blow the stalks, they’d all dance about. And, the jungle sounds!”
“I know! Wasn’t that incredible? It was pretty intense being at the edge of the jungle at the ruins with all of the singing and wailing going on.”
“Oh, I bet…”
“Hey, have either of you seen Hilda around?”
“Before the eclipse I came by to do a favor for her. She was dressed up in a saffron outfit with a parrot on her shoulder. She was dancing and around and summoned me to her bedroom…”
“Was she playing with some tarot cards by chance?”
“And did you pick the seven card… the Sun card?”
“Yes! How’d you know?!”
“She did that exact same thing to each one of us over the course of the morning. All seven of us! And we all picked that same card. You must’ve been the last one to go.”
“She wrapped it in muslin and put it in a bag with some other items… oranges, calla lilies, and some other charms I think. Ended up taking them to that woman from Nebraska. Know idea how I knew where she’d be.”
“She was at the ruins too?”
“Yeah, doing some ceremony in the observation tower. Mostly chanting. Hey, there were seven in her chanting circle too. Including that dude with the turban I mentioned before.”
“What a wild day. Such a blessing. I think I hear some people in the cafe now.”
We all walked back inside Hilda’s cafe where there were several people gathering. Hilda smiled and was putting out some food and drinks. I saw the woman from Nebraska talking with some others from the circle. Said my goodbyes to the group after we compared stories of the seven card… the Sun Card, on the day of the eclipse. I shook everyone’s hand including the woman from Nebraska, and a kiss for Hilda.
It was difficult to leave just then, still processing the events of the week, and this incredible day… but, I’d made it all the way up to the day of the eclipse with barely a peso to spare. I’d already purchased my bus ticket heading toward Mexico City, and on toward the Texas border. It’s a long trip and I couldn’t drag my feet anymore. I’d already packed my backpack and only needed to catch a collectivo taxi to the bus station in the town of Palenque.
On my way out of Hilda’s cafe, I saw the man with the turban with his giant, ancient holy book opened. He was reading a passage to himself, but in a language I didn’t recognize. Then, he spoke to me in English.
“You are leaving us now?”
“Yes, I’ve got to get back home. I’ve been gone awhile.”
“Buenas Suerte. Good luck on your journey. And thank you so much for all that you’ve done. I am from the Mexican town of San Cristobal de las Casas in the mountains. It’s beautiful there.”
“Yes, I’ve been there before. It is very beautiful. But I was robbed there a couple of years ago.”
“Oh, I’m very sorry to hear that. Please return to our city. I promise the next time you will be welcomed with open arms. Again, I’m very grateful for all you did to help us.”
“You’re certainly welcome, but I don’t really feel like I did much of anything at all. All I did was give you some directions when you arrived, and dropped off a bag with a tarot card, some fruit, flowers, and trinkets during the eclipse. I don’t even know what any of that meant.”
“It’s not important that you understand. Just know that your blessed involvement played an important role in our ceremonies and intentions… especially during the eclipse. Muchas Gracias.”
The bus trip back North was a long, uncomfortable, marathon of a journey. Did the whole 33 hours or so, in 3 hops. Overnight 12 hours to Mexico City, then another 16 hours overnight to the border, and another 5 hours from the border back up to Austin, Texas. Barely even noticed the trip at all. I was still in that state of wonder I think. Replaying the events and what they’d meant.
Still baffled as to why the woman in white muslin would try to poison a complete stranger. Or, how a few carefully selected jungle plants could heal a long, deep gash in my knee overnight without even evidence of a scratch remaining. Or, what any of that ceremony related to the seven Sun tarot card on the day of the eclipse meant.
I think what meant the most to me though, out of all the entire trip, was the realization that sometimes… likely most of the time… it has little to do with you. Your purpose isn’t always related or even meaningful to your own personal story, but instead you may be playing a crucial role in a much larger narrative that you may never completely comprehend.
© 2018 Skip Hunt
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