Arrival

There is a place… in the jungle… about 20 minutes by car from the Caribbean waves at last rolling on the sand of Tulum’s Playa Paraíso. You will leave the town behind and head northwest on the long and straight road to Valladolid. At kilometer 11, there is a turn to the right. If you take that turn, you will continue on a dusty, dirt road that cuts through thick, impassable vegetation. You must know which way to go now as there are many crossroads further down the road. Let’s say that you know… and here you have safely arrived in Nicte, the community.

It is an extraordinary world, deep in the forest, far enough to sense that the law of nature gives orders here. This is where the road ends, it has accomplished its goal, which is to bring here the people of the world – travelers, pilgrims, artists, families with children, or even people without home, people escaping from something or somewhere. This place is for anyone who has decided to continue the journey, and who has finally found the way. Most of those who will come here will probably go through some self-healing observation process. Some might even undergo a complete transformation, and most likely, everybody will be guided by those who have already stayed longer. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

About four hours before Checo’s arrival in Nicte, he stood in the line at customs and immigration at Cancun airport. He was about to be the next to present his passport. Nervous, he watched and heard a Russian girl thoroughly being questioned about what she was going to do in Mexico, it was literally an interrogation. She stood the nearest booth from Checo, and he could even clearly hear the officer’s questions. It was obvious that the girl struggled but still she seemed to be prepared. Checo’s heart pounded at the idea of being asked the same as he realized he would not even know what to say.

Then, Checo was called to another officer on the right. “Buenos días,” he said as naturally as he could. The officer, a woman with characteristic features of Latin origin in her face responded friendly and started listing in the pages of Checo’s passport. “How long are you going to stay in Mexico?” the woman asked with a thick accent.

“Six months.”

“Oh! Six months? This is a very long time,” she replied in a reserved surprise.

“Yes, but as a Czech citizen, I’m allowed to stay in Mexico for six months,” Checo said. She nodded looking at the passport.

“What is your occupation?”

“I’m not employed now.

“So what did you do before?”

“I’m normally a carpenter, but I stopped working.”

“Why?”

“I love to travel,” Checo said, and he saw a hint of a smile in the corner of the woman’s lips.

“How much money do you have?” she asked.

“In US Dollars?”

“Sí.”

Checo didn’t know how much it was in US currency. He drew his phone out of the pocket and typed the sum in a money convertor app.

“It’s about 3000 USD,” Checo said and showed her the number converted into the Mexican peso. She counted, quickly imagining the value of the sum. It was all the money Checo had, and we have to note here that 90% of this sum was given to him as a gift from his parents. It was his mother’s idea. However, his father didn’t even know about it. But that is another story which might not ever be exposed.

“And where are you going to travel?” the woman asked.

“I want to start in Tulum, then see the whole of Quintana Roo and possibly other parts of Mexico.”

“Quintana Roo is a very beautiful place. Many cenotes,” the woman said and Checo heard the punch of her stamp from under the counter.

This was smooth. In retrospect, Checo realized the woman’s questions steamed rather from curiosity instead of suspicion. She was, in fact, really friendly. Checo didn’t even have to show the reservation. So much for the effort of obtaining it. Now he was walking to the exit, free. And he knew, the new life had just begun.

“Hola, Amigo. Do you need a taxi?” a man asked him once he left the arrival hall.

“No, thank you. I’m taking a bus to Tulum. Do you know where is the bus stop?”

“It’s over there,” the man said and pointed his hand to a little group of people standing in the distance.

“Ah, thank you.”

“Where are you from?” the man asked.

“I’m from the Czech Republic,” Checo answered the typical question.

“Welcome home,” the man said and Checo felt a move in his heart. So many people have said “Welcome” and added their country name. But no-one has ever said this…

“Are you in Mexico?” Checo read Keshet’s message as soon as he arrived in Tulum bus station. It was hot, the streets were full of traffic and people. And there was this interesting smell in the air with something sweet and dirty in it. It reminded him the Philippines. He was so hungry, and so he rushed into a shabby kiosk with two tables and chairs right behind the station’s wall. He ordered some burritos. “No picante!” please. The food was surprisingly good, almost delicious, and cheap.

“Yes, I’ve just arrived in Tulum,” Checo typed back, feeling his senses again. The bus journey wasn’t too long but the flight was. He had been so tired but now the meal woke him up.

“OK, I will call the taxi,” Keshet wrote. But he wrote again a minute later, “The driver is busy. I can send you another man, but you will pay extra. Or you can wait for the girls, one hour. They are going shopping today. They can pick you up, and you can help them with the errands.”

“Fine, I will wait,” Checo decided and sat down in the waiting lounge of the bus station. It seemed that people were not forced to wear masks here. Some had them on, but some didn’t, a good sign. A little girl sitting in her grandmother’s lap was starring at Checo. Anytime he looked back at her, she withdrew her eyes from him and shyly hid her face in her grandma’s chest. Thus, it continued for a while, and soon it evolved into a short game. When the girl started laughing, Checo waived at her and after that she whispered something several times in her grandma’s ear who at last turned at Checo, too, but she didn’t find anything as amusing about it as her little grandchild did.

The girls had arrived and Checo got in the car. “Ahoj!” they said. Checo never met too many Czechs anywhere. And now it was two straight away. It surprised him. He was a little careful of what he was saying. In all honestly, Checo always felt somewhat uneasy when he met people from his country abroad.

Finally, Checo learned that Keshet was a man, Israeli. The girls said it themselves without him having to ask. Keshet was actually one of the girl’s man, Sara’s, and the other girl was her sister, Katka. For some reason, though, Checo wished Keshet were a woman. Checo also talked to one Argentinian guy sitting next to him on the bus who said Keshet was a female name and so Checo felt a little disappointed on finding out it was the opposite.

Anyway, the girls had to go for a coffee before shopping and Checo had no other option but to join them. The three of them sat outside by a busy road leading to the beach, having uninteresting, almost strange conversation just to avoid silence. They also talked about the fake pandemic and how bad it was in the Czech Republic and relatively fine in Mexico. At least the girls expressed compassion for those who for months were locked down like rabbits in a cage.

Then, the girls went shopping and while Checo was waiting for them, he fell deep into worrying that he was again not where he really wanted to be, and that everything was wrong and so on. “I will never be happy,” he told himself in despair. The girls didn’t help it either because they took too long, way too long. And when they were finally done and coming back to the car, Checo couldn’t give them a smile, nor could he express his discomfort. “The shop assistants are so slow here,” he heard somebody say, and the next thing he remembered was Sara’s long, piercing and unfriendly look.

After almost a ten-minute drive in the jungle where there seemed to be nothing but the dirt road and a few signs, Sara took a sharp turn to the left. The road was very bumpy here. Above, branches of trees hung low creating a vault. Checo noticed the first building on the left side. It was more like a hut standing on bamboo columns. Then, the space opened. They were in Nicte. Here, Checo was going to stay, volunteer, live for an indefinite period of time. He had found this place on Workaway. It appealed to him because it was a community. Checo couldn’t stand being alone anymore. He also had some health issues, and he believed going vegetarian would help him get better. But there was so much more to it… he simply needed this change, it was very crucial for him.

The car stopped by the kitchen building and Checo helped the girls unload it. Suddenly, he heard a glass drop on the floor, and then, walking in the kitchen, carrying a box with bananas, he saw the scene of broken glass lying on the floor. At that very moment, some girl, she looked like a gypsy, said something to Sara and Katka, and she stepped on one of the broken pieces. She wore only flip-flops. The sharp piece cut through the sole like a knife in butter. She was bleeding instantly. It was a very clumsy move, hard to believe that she managed to step on it because she had clearly seen the glass. One might even think that she did it purposely. “Oh, Gosh! Can anybody take care of the food right now? I have to go to my tent,” the girl said, and Checo noticed a gas stove with two big pots under which the flames burnt big, almost in anger. “Such a strange moment to meet somebody,” he thought. They didn’t even introduce themselves to each other.

A few moments later, Checo was ushered into Keshet’s house. The man was sitting at a big table of which the top formed the shape of a heart. Looking in his laptop, he seemed to be working. Checo walked to greet him, but the man didn’t stand up. They shook hands and Checo sat down. They started talking for a while. This was exactly what Checo needed – talk with Keshet.

The man was tall. His head was bald with a ponytail. He wore no T-shirt and had a little belly. From his waist to feet, he was covered by some wrap. Checo was under the impression that he was a carefree man. And while they talked, Checo blinked around the place for a few times.

The room was a kitchen, dining room and a big office in one big rounded building. The kitchen cabinets bent along the round wall and Checo was surprised how well the house was equipped, there was even a washing machine, yet it all looked very rustic. But the best thing about this house was that the smell here was the same as the smell outside and when it blew in the trees, it was being heard clearly and almost immediately it also blew inside at the heart table. This was so because the house’s wall reached only to the height of one’s waist, and instead of windows there were wide squared spaces filled with netting in between wooden columns that supported the canvas roof.

Katka walked Checo to his temporary dwelling. It led on a narrow and very winding path in between the trees, bush and sharp rock formations protruding from the ground like some big irregular molehills. At the end of the path stood a tent the size of a big bathroom. Katka handed Checo some sheets and left. Checo entered the tent. It was rather messy and even dirty inside there. There was one worn out mattress on the floor and a broken bedside table. At least it had a plug, light, and even Wi-Fi. This was, in fact, quite a luxury considering Checo was in the jungle. The next day, however, Checo had to build his own small tent wherever he pleased as Keshet explained he wanted his tent remain available for other guests.

Checo spread the sheet over the mattress and left walking back to where he had already been, in the kitchen. When he got there, the gypsy girl had already been back, too. Limping with her bandaged toe, she was busy cooking. “Hey,” Checo said shyly not wanting to disturb her. She smiled back.

The kitchen was huge. It had a tall wooden island in the center and thick concrete counter tops on three sides. The fourth side divided the kitchen by a massive concrete block which served as a bar top. On the other side was a dining room twice as big as the kitchen. There were thick benches and heavy robust tables all made from solid wood. In the far end left corner was a small table with cushions on the floor. No windows, of course, only the netting in between the columns, the same as in Keshet’s house. This building was, however, rectangular, it had an A-shaped roof and the canvas was stretched tightly over bamboo beams. The construction was quite unique, yet simple.

The next thing Checo remembered was standing and for a while watching the view out from the dining room. He looked at what they called there the “cenote”, down below just a few meters from him. The shore was of stone. It was as big as a small pond, but the water was very clear and there was no dam, neither tributary nor outflow. It could be called a small lake, but it was too small to bear such a name. No, cenote was the best term it could have. It sounded almost mysterious. And it looked magical. In the far right grew reed and all around stood trees behind which could be seen the outlines of other houses. There was also another round tent on the other side directly in the opposite of the kitchen. The water was calm and on its surface floated several water lilies.

But the best part was down in the left and the nearest from Checo. There was a small wooden deck, a tiny pier overhanging the water. On the deck was a bench and on the bench were sitting some people. Next to it was a table with more benches and in the trees hung hammocks. The people looked like those who had nothing better to do for they had already been doing the best – they relaxed. They were that kind of people for whom the day just flew as it flew and there was never time for them to hurry because there was no time at all. At that moment Checo felt that he wanted to be with them, and so he went down to introduce himself, so that at least somebody knew that he had already been there, too, the new member of the community.

It took a tiny little descent. Once Checo closed the door of the dining room and walked down the steps, he then continued on a path, slowly. It was rocky and one should watch his steps, at least for the first time, not only because of the stones but also because of many roots twisting on the ground like snakes. Checo still hadn’t approached the people when some distinct energy took over him. Sure, it was coming from the cenote. It was like entering a cloud of vapor. He felt it more and more until it became intense, and at one point it was like all the water surged from the deep hole in the stone, and it hit the air like a huge wave on the open sea. Checo felt the blow from it so strong that he had to slow down even more.

Now, Checo introduced himself to the men sitting on the bench by the table. The first man had long and thick dreadlocks. He looked a bit older and like a shaman. He said something, probably introduced himself as well, but Checo couldn’t remember. The only memory connected to this person after encountering him was when he said, “Always smoking weed,” and he chuckled about it in quiet satisfaction. His voice was interesting, too. He spoke in such a muted tone, as if it was coming from faraway lands that dwelt somewhere in his body, somewhere deep in his world, and now it was humming and echoing here at the gates of this world. Certainly the man was a shaman.

The next man was Mark who looked completely stupefied and numb. The expression in his face was the one of an ice sculpture melting in the sun, slowly loosing its features. Checo didn’t know whether it was because the man was currently very stoned or whether he had been stoned too many times in his life.

Mark had already been there for two months. It quite surprised Checo and on hearing that, he quickly made the assumption that Mark was a traveler who smoke too much weed and took it very easy, always and everywhere. But Mark wasn’t a solo traveler. Mark had a wife and a little daughter and they both were there with him. The family came from New York.

Because Checo had just arrived from the world of oppression, he obviously carried that burden with him and was unable to let go of it immediately. Hence, he started to talk about the fake pandemic again. He made it clear right from the very beginning that there was no pandemic, and had never been. Some time ago Checo decided that if needed, he would always express himself this way and would continue doing so from then on and forever on. Because he didn’t want to stay shut up anymore, and it was righteous for him to say what he felt to say, because it has always been so for everyone. At the same time, though, Checo told himself he wouldn’t make arguments with those saying something else. Mark was one of them. But Checo wouldn’t try to persuade and prove to them that he was right, because it didn’t matter. There is no universal truth. And anyway, it wasn’t the best idea to talk about such a topic in such a beautiful and calm place.

Checo was now sitting on the deck next to the bench. Random people kept coming and going, and there were so many that there was no need to talk with all of them, or remember their names. They all, however, looked somewhat special and interesting. They were all very much different. There was one guy, and he was all naked, sitting on a boulder and always laughing. He was small and slim, but his dick was big. Maybe that was why he was laughing all the time. He really seemed to be an interesting person. Not because of his dick, of course not, not for Checo, but because he simply sent out good energy. And he was Mexican. His skin had the color of at least 70% cocoa powder and his hair was as black as the darkest night.

Soon, Checo lost track of time. Another group of people came to the deck, and here Checo noticed a beautiful girl. She made a joint and shared it with those around her. Then, she started to play with a raccoon that was hanging around the pier just like all the people. The beautiful girl was making such funny sounds as she was teasing the animal. Everybody laughed. And suddenly she was singing while someone else was playing the guitar. And the shaman was back beating on a drum. At that moment Checo realized how quickly it all happened, how quickly his life had changed, and how beautifully it felt. He was awestruck and silent. He was thankful. And he thought about his mom, and what he had escaped from and somewhere to the cenote, he said, “I’m alright now.” And like in a miracle he felt all the water surge from the hole again, but this time, it made such a mighty wave that it blew the air as far as to where his mum was and where she must have felt it like a sweet “Thank You”.

The performance was calmly abating. Again, some people left and different people came. Checo had just turned his head when he noticed a man slowly coming to the deck. From all that distance, Checo saw the man had a very good posture, wide chest, and he kept his chin up. He walked in the way of a respected animal. The only clothes he wore was a simple piece of cloth wrapped around his waist so that his genitals were covered. As he was coming closer, Checo saw his long hair tightened in a strange unkept ponytail, and the hair was black like coal, like the darkest human soul.

The stranger sat down on the bench next to Checo. “Hi, bro. What is your name?” he asked. Surprisingly, his voice didn’t sound rough but welcoming and friendly. Checo answered and asked him the same question while his eyes got stuck on a long wooden skewer pierced through the tip of the man’s nose. It looked like a cat’s whiskers even if there was just one. “I’m Mauricio,” he said and lifted up his fist for Checo to knock it with his. “Welcome to the family,” he added. This gesture felt so friendly. “You are the new carpenter?” Mauricio asked. Checo confirmed and was surprised how many people knew about his arrival. He had been asked this question three times already.

The person was very charismatic. He radiated that kind of energy which made Checo watch him with great interest and anticipation that something exciting was going to happen any minute. The man had dark skin. His eyes were dark, too, and the way he used them resembled a fast, acute and smart feline. He was a Mexican, but looking at him, Checo saw that this man was much more than that. This man was a living history, legacy, he was a real Apache. And he was also very handsome, an alpha male, the man of all men.

They talked only a little. For some reason, Checo wanted to impress Mauricio with something, but Mauricio probably saw through Checo’s intention which made him doubt his words. Then, Mauricio smoked a joint and after a few deep inhales, he offered it to Checo, but Checo refused. The beautiful girl who was still there started playing the guitar again and Mauricio followed her with reciting some monotonous mantra. It was rather funny. As Checo studied the person, he noticed that Mauricio’s feet were very dirty. And this looked rather strange.

When Mauricio left, it was only Checo, the beautiful girl and other two people who stayed on the deck. By that time, Checo felt completely relaxed, content and even happy. He had forgotten about his momentary hopelessness back in the town when he was waiting for the girls. That was all gone.

Unexpectedly, Checo reached for the guitar and started stringing it slowly. It was just a few chords that he kept repeating. He was broody as he played, and the others were silent because they listened to the quiet melodies. To Checo’s surprise, he realized that he was playing very well, as if driven by some higher force. And suddenly, the beautiful girl started singing to Checo’s spontaneity. It was unbelievable, Checo thought. He had just arrived, and here he was playing the guitar and the girl was singing.

In the chest, he felt his heart beat faster. And meanwhile the guitar resonated in melancholy and happiness, hope and sadness, or joy and passion, depending on which chord Checo played and who was listening. But always, it sounded good. And that gave Checo more courage to play louder and faster and so his heart started to beat yet faster, too. And that gave him so much courage that he lost all his fear, and now he was playing fast and furious and his heart wanted to explode. He didn’t know where was it coming from, but he just carried with the flow.

The girl stopped singing and sat down next to Checo to attentively listen to his three-chord part of flamenco. He slowed down a little, and now he was playing like the wind in the trees. She lit up another joint, inhaled deeply and listened with great affection. She seemed to be entering Nirvana. Checo wouldn’t ever think he could bring someone into such a state of mind, even though the herb must have definitely helped her. But this is what happened. And so it was true. At this point, Checo’s heart didn’t beat fast and furious anymore. Instead, he felt very calm and in perfect unity with the woman. And when he finished at last, she repeated in great appreciation, looking somewhere in the water, “Thank you. Oh, thank you so much. Thank you for that.”

At around 6pm in the evening was dinner. It was announced by a mighty blow on a big seashell. All the food was cooked by the girl who cut her toe. She was another volunteer. Checo remembered it was a selection of many plates that were prepared on the massive bar top. There was rice, lentils, beans, some potato, too, and a lot of salad and other vegetables. Checo thought it was OK, he would only add a little more salt.

There were many people in the community. Perhaps almost 30 and so the dinner time was quite a lively scene. It made Checo excited though he hardly talked with anyone. But he noticed the people were mostly from Russia, Israel, United States, Germany and a little from everywhere else. The main language here was Spanish with English being spoken almost as much. When people finished, everybody washed their plate and more than a half of them left soon after that.

Checo was hanging out in the kitchen. It was dark and quiet. Again, he took the guitar and sat down on the bench, alone. By the way, the guitar moved around the place like the raccoon, which was a pretty annoying animal. It would easily jump on somebody, or try to steel some food, and when people wanted to catch it, it attacked them.

Down on the cushions sat the Beautiful girl with Carla who was from Spain. She had nice curly hair. Checo played “Ogonyok”, his own and the only one full song that he ever knew to play. It was a Russian song, and it meant “A Little Fire”. Checo didn’t dare to sing the lyrics yet. And although he was playing rather for himself, it was obvious that the girls were listening. They sat down quietly. And for sure they liked it a lot. Anyone would feel that this song was about love.

Long ago, Checo promised himself to play it first for the one for whom it was created. But that never happened. Actually, it did, but that was the old version which was terrible. Now, it was much better, but Checo broke his promise, and so he had to justify it by telling himself that if she wasn’t the first, she could be the last. The last one means the first from the other end. But maybe it didn’t even matter. Last or first, in Checo’s heart she always appeared to be the only one, and that was almost as if all the others had never existed. “But, hey, the past is gone!” he reminded himself and changed into flamenco again. And Carla being from Spain couldn’t resist the temptation. She sprung up and danced. She coiled, spun, twirled and twisted all her limbs, her hips and shoulders, and her curly, dark hair followed her like the rugged skirt of an Andalusian gypsy.

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