Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Back When..., and Drunken Parrot


I was working on my first novel when I moved to my village in Mexico.  I wanted to find a place where my dollars would go far and I could spend each day editing and rewriting, not being disturbed with work and the bustle of city life.  I needed a place where my mind would be at peace to wander in scenes of literature and dialogue, and not be bound to rigid schedules and city fear.  So I started researching various countries and decided on Mexico to save on the cost of air fare.  The uniqueness of the Yucatan peninsula intrigued me with its Mayan ruins, unexplored jungles, and an infusion of Mayan culture, giving the region a unique flavor.

While shopping for snorkeling equipment I met a diver for the Mexican oil company, Pemex, and he said I should visit the village where he lived.  He smiled in parting, and said, “but once you drink the water you’ll always return.”
He has since passed in a diving accident, but I’ll always remember him as he was the day he took me on a tour of the Cenotes--the jungle pools.  To explain what a cenote is, let me give some background information.  Up until the nineteen sixties marine biologists believed that sharks had to perpetually swim to breathe, moving water through their gills.  But Mexican divers in the Yucatan kept reporting seeing sharks ‘sleeping.’  So, good old Jacques Cousteau went to the island of Cozumel to investigate.  He found that the entire peninsula is made of old coral, and that rain filters below the surface and accumulates in underground caverns and passages, and when the surface caves in, you have a cenote, around which the Maya built their cities.  Some of the passages come to the surface on the Caribbean floor, gushing fresh water in jets into the salty water.  On top of these jets the sharks position themselves, the water flowing through their gills and enabling them to breathe.  The underwater footage showed such a beautiful marine environment that it triggered a world wide diving exodus to the island, and insured the commercial success of the area.
Enjoying a dip in a hidden Cenote.

Juan Carlos guided me to many a remote cenote, and when I think of him, I’ll always remember the day he fought with the huge iguana.  We were hiking into a remote cenote along a jungle foot path, when suddenly he stopped and started talking to himself in lightening fast Spanish while he bent over, searching for a rock. 
“What’s going on?” I asked.
He pointed through the trees at a six-foot long iguana.  “That is my diner.”  But the iguana did not get that large by being stupid, and it ran away and left my Mexican friend cursing and telling me how his mother used to cook iguana in Veracruz.
It was Juan Carlos who first took me to Xcaret, when it was just crevice in a rock face and you had to look really hard to tell if there water  in there or not.  That was when you could just walk right in, and there was an American draft dodger living in a hut close by.  Yes, that was before the tunnels were dynamited so packs of sun screen covered tourists could float through the ‘completely natural’ passages, and still have time to catch the 2 o’clock show on the beach, and board one of the tour busses that fill the parking lot.


My girlfriend purchased Bogart from some Mayas in Cancun.  They had knocked the mother’s nest from a tree with rocks, and one of the chicks, Bogart, had been injured with a crooked back.  He didn’t have feathers when I got him, and I wasn’t real sure what to do with him.  But if I wasn’t writing or snorkeling for diner, I was holding the little guy, and he bonded with me quickly.  Parrots aren’t like cats or dogs.  They adopt one person and will barely tolerate others, making their disapproval know with skin-breaking bites.  Bogart was no exception.  Soon he was speaking words, calling the cat by name, repeating my name when I entered the room.  I remember once, after an eight month drought, when the crocodiles started leaving the dry swamp and walking through town, Bogart started imitating croaking frogs.  It was when the first rain fell.  Thunder sounded like the sky broke open, and an angry rain pounded the town.  Within a minute I could hear frogs croaking everywhere, and I heard it in the kitchen too.  I ran into the room to see if some of the animals had gotten under the door, and there was Bogart, imitating the frogs. 

Once at dinner when friends were over, Bogart imitated the moans of my girlfriend during an intimate moment.  That was when we decided to move his cage further from the bedroom.
One morning when I got out of bed I knew something was wrong.  Usually Bogart was going through his routine squawks, but on that day there was an ominous silence.  Immediately I rushed into the kitchen and pulled the pillow case from his cage.  The poor little guy’s legs were curled up beneath him, and he was holding himself up by clamping his beak onto the bars.
Well, I never did find out what had happened to him, but I took him to everyone I thought could help.  The drunken veterinarian thought it was a calcium deficiency, and when I was leaving his house his Mayan house keeper snuck around through the gate and called me over in secrete.  With whispers she explained that the ‘evil eye’ had come to the parrot in the night, and that I had to get a bundle of basil and tap him over the head with it eight times.
I did it.  Yep.  I tried everything.  I was grinding up egg shells and covering them with lime juice.  That dissolved the calcium.  With that mixture I added vitamins and garlic, and everything else I thought might help a parrot.  Every day I would take Vick Vapor Rub and massage the little guys legs after I’d force feed him with an eye dropper.  This went on for two weeks.
Then one day my friend came over with a bottle of anejo Cuban rum.  “Come on, man, we’re going fishing.  I got bait, gas, and the boat is waiting.  We’re going to anchor on the back side of the reef and shoot some bugs too.”  (Bugs was our slang word for lobster.)
“I can’t go because of Bogart,” I explained as I mixed up the parrot’s food.
“Man, that parrot has been sick for two weeks.  You have to get out and live.  Either that bird is going to live or die.”  He pulled the stopper out of the bottle and poured a generous amount into the parrot food.

I knew he was right, and injected the rum-laden mixture down Bogart’s throat, put him in the cage, his legs still curled up and locked beneath him.  Then I grabbed my equipment, fishing pole, snorkeling gear, spear gun.
I had a terrible feeling when I got home.  As I came though the gate I stained my ears for Bogart’s calls as I cautiously approached.  Then I heard him, squawking and singing like a sailor, happy as could be, going through one sound after another.  When I looked through the mosquito netting over the window opening, I could see Bird Brain laying on his back with his wings spread wide, singing away while chewing on a foot as the other waved about.  His ailment vanished with his hangover.