Not far from where I live is an intriguing old bridge I found by chance while searching for old cemetery information within the county I live. It’s but a 4 minute drive from my home up here on the hilltop and I can view it below when the winds blow the Fall leaves from branches and the tall grasses fade and lay down with the first cold snap of the season. I load up the dogs and drive down the worn dirt path to this old relic, it offers them as well as me, a place to explore without the concerns of modern traffic.
The first time I stood on it, I was curious as to why the bridge, which is tall and wide, would be constructed over a creek of this size. Clay Creek Ditch runs from the north watershed of our county and joins the Vermillion River which empties into the great Missouri River, about 8 miles south of here. This native creek was enhanced in depth with the use of mechanical ditch digging equipment many year ago to handle the run off from farm fields that had been tiled for drainage. I would guess the creek to be 30 ft. wide by 12 ft. high from the top of the water to ground level above. I have a fondness for research and wanting to know history and reason for things, and soon I was looking online for answers.
The bridge was built by King Bridge Company of Cleveland, Ohio in 1890. It now is placed on the National Register of Historic Places as of January 14, 2000. At one time a unique plaque was welded to the bridge along with the manufactures bridge identifier but it’s since been destroyed by vandals. It is a timbered deck bridge with some of thickest wood planks I’ve ever seen. They have grayed with age and use but probably are not original to the bridge. The metal trusses were shipped by train to Vermillion from Ohio to be erected over the Vermillion River in the late 1800’s when our little town was being settled. This bridge was well used in it’s time for allowing traffic to cross the river to other parts of South Dakota. Time changes roads and means of transportation and eventually the bridge was moved to where it now rests today. There is an immense section of river bottom farm land below us and the creek prohibited farmers getting to their fields for work without going a long round about way. It was proposed and passed by county vote that the bridge be moved to County Road 314 to span the Clay Creek Ditch in 1980. It is only used by farmers now to get their machinery into the fields but frequently we have those who come to shoot guns, set off fireworks and trap along the creek sides.
I think to myself how wonderful to have been able to witnessed partial disassembling of the bridge, the transport to the area in need and then reassembled once again. A new purpose in the life of Bridge 14-088-170.
It’s been stated throughout time, that a dog is man’s best friend. A friend who is always there for you, that seldom complains, always agrees with you and is willing to lick the wounds whether they be real or emotional.
We acquired our best friend the Spring of ’13. My husband and I were volunteer fosters for a dog rescue group in Arizona. It’s a needed job of fixing up the wounded and outcast and helping them work their way towards their forever homes. When we picked up Smokey she was a mere shell of a dog. A broken spirit with a long list of health issues to yet be diagnosed. She only weighed in at twenty seven pounds. We took her home, allowing her to find her comfort zone. We’d find her each day curled into a tight and compact ball in the furthest corner of the room. Tucked into her bushy tail were two amber eyes that followed my every move. She had no appetite, no desire to interact or to go outside other then when we called her to the door. Since we had no history on this dog, she was to be my mystery girl. She was found as a stray in Pinal County, wandering the dusty roads near the edge of the Rez. No collar or other means of identification. A no man’s dog you could say.
The first order of business with our fosters was always a bath. Being homeless and living on the streets for even a short period of time gives tail tell signs of hard living. Most put up a struggle and finish the process with a vigorous body shaking at least 4 times to rid themselves of the indignity of now being clean. But not this dog. She allowed to be bathed with her head hung low, no complaints, no struggles and no eye contact. I wanted to wrap her in my arms and hold her tight. Telling her life would be better soon. But her eyes told me a different story. I wondered how many times this girl had been let down by humans.
She was seen by a Veterinarian appointed by the rescue group. Blood samples were taken for specific tests, poked and prodded all over. A few x-rays were ordered as well. Yes, the Vet said, she’s thin but I’ve seen worse. Feed her well. Show her love.
Her lab work revealed a host of problems, all treatable but it could be a long while before she would be whole again. Prescriptions in hand we walked to the car, mulling over this news. It would be hard to find the proper fit of a family to adopt a needful dog such as this. I didn’t want to see this sweet thing pass through the turnover of ” didn’t fit in, cost too much, wasn’t what we expected” kind of homes. I would not do that to this dog. We’d see her through to better health and give her the home she never had. She’d have a full belly at the end of each day, a warm dog bed to climb into on cold nights. A home to call her own. We would love her to the day she took her last breath and let her pass with dignity. As we pulled away from the parking lot I gently touched her silky ears as she leaned into my hand. It was at that very moment I realized she was going to be my everything. And I would be her world as well.
It’s warm and humid in the mid afternoon as we begin the process of crossing from Mexico into Belize. As some would say, “we smell the barn”. Ahead of us lies the Rio Hondo River which divides Belize and Mexico, and begins in Guatemala. The crossing itself is a few miles out from the metropolitan city of Chetumal which is in the State of Yucatan. We must first process out of Mexico before entering into Belize. Forms are filled out, pesos are paid. All relatively easy and organized. Because we have a vehicle and belongings and we need to declare our final destination into Belize, we have planned to hire “a guide” to help us through the process. Before our tires even cross onto Belizean soil a young man steps forward and introduces himself as, John, a customs process guide. Of course, who else? John appears to be in his early 30’s, slender and quick as a whip darting here and there to gather the appropriate forms for us to fill out. He methodically explains the process to us, “no worries Mon, I will get you through”. Passports, signatures and the declarations of belongings are completed as he steers us towards the appropriate building. We groan as we see a long line of others before us. There will be a duty tax to pay after our boxed belongings are looked over and approved.
Surprisingly, our wait is not what we anticipated and we get processed easily through this phase. Our vehicle needs to be emptied and appraised by an agent who tallies up the value, looks over our processed papers from Mexico and with a flourish signs the needed paperwork and redirects us back into the same building to pay our tax. John is patiently waiting on the side of building as he for sure does not want to let us slip away. We pay our tax of $75 US and exit the coolness of the busy office. John has made his way over to our vehicle, standing guard. He asks if his services were beneficial and we shower him with praise but offer no other “tips” other then the steep price he requested at the start of the process. He tells us his day is finished and asks for a ride to the next main highway intersection which is 10 miles away; we agree. He’s a nonstop talker for the next 10 miles while sitting atop our boxes and luggage. He probably makes a decent living doing what he does and is able to support his family, whom he tells us all about. We drop him off at the appointed location and bid him farewell. He already has this thumb out, hitching a ride to the small village he lives in.
The day is quickly fading, as we are too. Gritty with dust and sand, we long for a cooling shower from the heat and humidity of this day. We have made it. We are here. Belize, the land of our thoughts and dreams for the past 5 years. Tomorrow we will make arrangements to have our goods shipped to the island and buy our one way ticket to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize Central America.
To my readers: These past 6 essays were constructed from a journal I kept during our travel adventure through Mexico to our destination of Belize. Bits and pieces were removed while others were shuffled and reorganized. All were true. Why the title of Be Careful What You Wish For? Because it was a Wish For Dream we chased but never caught. As hard as we tried for over 6 months, I came to realize I would never be able to shape my life to what I wished for. Perhaps it was a dream worthy of chasing and I don’t regret our attempt to make it happen. But wait…it gets even more exciting. I bet you can’t wait to read my journal, “Leaving Belize for Our Real Home”.
Today we will reach Villahermosa in the State of Tabasco, and beyond with our last check point at the next State of Campeche. We turn west a bit more onto a long stretch of heavy, thick black asphalt. It feels good to be cruising again on a smoother pavement. We are a distance from the coast and now pass through flatter land with grazing water buffalo and fields of pineapple and strawberries. We see a small fruit stand up ahead and pull over to the shaded underpass to see what’s available. Rural, nondescript dogs with no ownership are scaveraging for pineapple scraps that a man has thrown to them. None go to waste. He indicates the cost and that he will cut it for us. With his well used machete he quickly slices a small pineapple into perfect wedges with a few strokes of his sharp tool and hands them to us with dripping wet fingers. The flies are buzzing about us as we bite into this incredibly sweet fruit. I can say I’ve not tasted a finer pineapple ever.
We resume our drive and although on our map it looks as if nothing is out this way, it proves to be the most beautiful part of the drive so far. Large dense forest grows up to the road not leaving much of a shoulder to pull over to if needed. There are very few villages now and certainly less foot traffic, if any. I’m feeling the most relaxed that I’ve been since we began this journey. Suddenly we are driving into a cloud of migrating butterflies! They are beautiful with black and aqua markings and it pains us to see them on a collision course with the windshield as the migration goes on for miles. We slow and pull over into a tree sheltered pull off and get out of the vehicle to enjoy all this fluttering about. These lovely creatures are resting on our shoulders, heads and even our feet. An extraordinary experience. Pineapples to butterflies.
Within a few hours as we approach the eastern end of this State we pass several signs for the Mayan ruins in the area and beyond, that we’ve read about. Mauchin, Calakmul, El Ramonal and Becan are some of the larger ones. We see the very white graveled roads that lead into the more hilly areas but we have not allotted time to visit these historical sites. It would be easy to spend days appreciating just one of these ruins. Right now we feel the anticipation of reaching this next state border crossing and want to get through it without incidence.
So far our 3 crossings having been simple and quick. A few questions spoken in Spanish which we typically could not answer but we were able to explain by showing our map and pointing to Belize. This is our final State entry before encountering the largest one at Chetumal, leaving Mexico and going into Belize. We have been advised by other travelers that this perhaps could be a bit slower crossing with the most inquisitive military guards so far. As we slowly slide over the ever present topes that are designed to slow traffic before a stop point, we see but only 2 crossing guards ahead. One is working on a large bus line and having all the under carriage luggage removed. We are directed by the lone remaining officer to pull into a sectioned off area. These crossing guards are dressed in military uniform and carry weapons across their shoulders. I am sitting in the passenger side and this guard has selected me to be the one to talk with him. As my window slides down I am looking into the most beautiful green eyes of a serious looking, darker skinned soldier. He has a clipboard in hand. In perfect English he tells me to step out of the vehicle. I feel rather unsettled, as I didn’t anticipate this. He motions for my husband to remain in the vehicle. He’s a ‘right in your face’ kind of person as he begins asking me to state our business. I only answer the questions in the briefest but polite manner and volunteer no additional information. Never once do his eyes leave mine. He’s almost hypnotic to look at, in a way. He stands before me and says nothing. Seconds tick by before he finally dismisses me with a curt nod of his head and motions for me to get back into the vehicle and then with a flourish he turns and crosses the road to help his comrade with the tourist bus. My hands are shaking yet I feel like laughing as I loudly tell my husband to step on it!
It is near dark by the time we reach Veracruz and we are immediately consumed by fast and heavy traffic and find ourselves totally in no mans land it seems. We find a fuel station and pull in, taking a brief respite to look at our map which of course is useless to us. This certainly was unexpected, but we continue on a main road looking for anything that offers lodging. We are crawling along at a snails pace and nearly get T-boned at an intersection. The offending driver gestures wildly at us using the international sign for ‘dumb shit’. Then miracoulsy as we are turning a corner, there sits our pot of gold, a relatively newer looking grouping of what looks to us to be storage units with windows. A brightly lit neon sign above states “Utohotel Villa Verde” and we don’t even bother asking the other “does this look okay?” as we whip into the bricked driveway. As we slowly pull up to a covered portico a young woman appears out of a small adjoining office and motions for us to follow her down the narrow drive for a short distance. We are feeling road weary and punchy and begin to laugh as to what this is all about. As she approaches an overhead garage door she pulls out an opener from her pocket and pushes the button. As the door begins to lift she motions for us to drive in. This is hysterical to me for some reason as we have no idea what to expect after we are parked. She smiles, nods her head and motions for us to get out of our vehicle and follow her into the interior side door. Bright white florescent lights are turned on as she shows us around an immaculate hotel room. She’s seeking our approval as she shows us the bedroom, bath and shower room. Of course we nod our heads rapidly with big smiles. We exchange pesos, approximately $50 US, for the room key but before she leaves she shows us the neatest thing ever. On the wall in the bedroom facing towards the driveway is a revolving lazy Susan type turnstile. She shows us a plastic covered menu for meals and drinks, both in English and Spanish and point to the telephone on the wall. Incredible! Wonderful! What a concept we have never experienced! It’s called Mexican Room Service and it worked very well!
It was much later on that we learned from another American traveler, the possible real gist behind such privacy of these commonly found hotels. They are used for private trysts between couples. Perhaps that explains the abundance of mirrors all around the bed as well as the ceiling and the abundance of packaged condoms in the ash trays.
Tomorrow our destination is for Villahermosa in the State of Tabasco. Border crossings have military check points that sometimes can be time consuming and a bit spooky; other times a simple nod and smile gets us through without too much questioning but we’ve been told the crossing into the State of Campeche could be the most difficult. And how right that turned out to be.
We continue on our way as today we need to reach Veracruz by nightfall. It will be a long, long day. We pass through Tampico and travel along the coast a bit before turning more inland. There are too many smaller villages to count, all with people, animals and what have you all over the place. Young children riding bikes or walking alone pay no heed to traffic passing by them. Horses, goats and pigs are tied to sagging fence lines, left out to graze for the day. Wash is hung out to dry on propped up long poles or sticks. Chickens pick and scratch at the ground in dirt yards, looking for a food source. As the day progresses we are getting into more winding roads which slow us down considerable. These are 2 lane roads and if we get behind a cargo truck it will be unsafe to pass even though the locals do it without fear. Such daring drivers!
By noon we have reached Posa Rica, a bustling much larger city. We spot a colorful open air dining spot to pull into for lunch. There is but one patron sitting at a small table so we hope this will be a quick meal. The tiniest little bird of a woman behind the open counter is beaming and welcomes us to her establishment with gestures of her hands and pointing to her sign and then to her chest. Ahhh, we understand, she is the proprietor of this little gem. She knows we don’t speak a lick of Spanish other than si and gracious which we use a lot of but a smile is universal anywhere. She indicates she will make us her house specialty. I’m guessing it will have something to do with eggs as I see through a side window, chickens in the tienda’s side yard. The music is loud despite minimal patrons. She brings us both a slightly warm Coke in glass bottles. Coca-Cola has a different flavor in Mexico, perhaps it’s the sugar cane they us. Within a few minutes she brings us plates of rice and beans accompanied with warm soft hand made tortilla’s with fluffy cooked eggs folded inside. We are famished and embarrassingly eat quickly between swigs of Coke. When finished she offers us the scribbled cost of our comfort meal on a napkin … it is a whopping $4.50 in our accustomed currency. As we prepare to leave after paying our charges we offer her a generous tip. Her eyes well up with tears and she hugs me tightly with a soft voice saying, “gracious, gracious” over and over.
We push onto Veracruz which is still 180 miles long. This can easily feel longer with the traffic and poor quality of road surface. We travel a distance along the coast admiring the gentle surf and beautiful homes here and there. We are just yards away from the sand in some areas and it’s tempting to stop and put our feet into the Gulf of Mexico and just b-r-e-a-t-h. We are scooting our way South, slowly but surely.
The dust settles around us and it grows quiet; I only can hear the ticking of the hot engine cooling down. “What did you just say?”, asks my husband. “You want to go back…forget all that we’ve wanted of this experience?”. I feel shameful and my face is flushed as I look at myself in the rearview mirror. “I can’t do this”, I whisper. More minutes slip by and he’s not uttered a sound. He’s thinking. I know him well. A deep sigh escapes his lips as he turns to me, taking my hand into his. ” Please” is all he says. A simple word that can be read so many ways. Again, I know this man so well. It is hard for him to put his feelings into flowery sentences, he typically finds other ways to say his wants. “Lets take it a day at a time. If at the end it’s not what we think it should be, we’ll return home”. I sit and ponder on this request. Up until now it seemed like such an enchanting plan yet in the moment we crossed over that hill and into the sight of that battered white sign proclaiming we were at the Tropic of Cancer, my balloon deflated. Anxiety and fear were knocking at my hearts door and a feeling of no return hit me hard. He is right and I know it. To make a U-turn right then and there would be the chicken way out. To never see what is on the downward side of the Tropic of Cancer would be cheating both of us of not ever knowing what could have been or would have been.
I look down at our entwined fingers and know the response I will give. I look over at him and give him a feeble smile. I still feel shaken but willing to go on ahead and take it a day at a time. “Ok, but you drive. I need to take a photograph of that sign back there”.
This story is patterned after a Journal I kept for 9 days while traveling through Mexico to our island destination of Ambergris Caye, Belize. A bit of fiction but a whole lot of truth is written here.
We are homeless. No house, no mortgage…not even a phone and we no longer exist in the AT&T calling world. And the feeling is exhilarating!
Our spirits are riding high as we are about to embark on a long awaited lifestyle change. We are anxious to get to our tropical destination; it’s like a surreal dream about to come true. Our route is laid out before us with the use of maps, penciled notations and a new gadget called a GPS, and contact names along our planned route, if needed. All that we own is now compressed within the walls of this vehicle.
Our destination is yet another 5 days away from us. A tiny and beautiful island off the coast of Belize, Central America. A plot of land we purchased a few years ago to build our island dream home is awaiting our final plans to build on. But first we need to traverse the eastern costal highways and roads of Mexico, a road trip that requires both of our eyes and minds to be watchful for potential trouble spots. We aren’t in Kansas anymore Dorothy, is what we keep saying to each other. “Crazy, those two are nuts”, is what some people were saying. Who in their right mind would sell everything they owned, leave family and friends and go off to live on a tropical island in a developing country? “More money than sense” is what was being rumored we surmised to one another more than once. With a soft whisper I secretly acknowledged to myself, all the above could be true.
The Mexican costal region is jaw dropping beautiful. From flat farm ground sprouting acres of pineapple tops to the forested highlands with flitting Blue Morpho butterflies flirting dangerously close to our windshield. We can see fisherman out in their little dories casting their nets for the catch of the day. The sea is a blindingly blue sapphire color. In one small village we encounter the sale of caged parrots along the road side. Heavy big trucks belch diesel fumes ahead of us as we slowly make our way through villages and smaller cities. I have to pinch myself to realize where I’m at this very moment in time.
The road curves its way around mountains that proclaim the ruins of ancient Mayan societies. We cross over the Tropic of Cancer in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas and it’s then that I begin to feel twinges and then waves of remorse for leaving all that was familiar to me in my life. I’ve gone over and over this move in my mind for the past two years yet now I’m beginning to doubt our reasons for doing this.
I’m gripping the steering wheel of our home on wheels when I veer sharply onto the graveled narrow shoulder of this pot holed highway and come to a bone jarring stop. As the dust billows thickly around our vehicle, I turn to my surprised husband and sharply exclaim, “I can’t do this! We have to go back!”.
This is a small excerpt from a journal I kept along the way of this true adventure. One that had more twists and turns than the roads we traveled in getting to our final destination.