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Personal Journey
Philadelphia Inquirer

February 12, 2002

As we walked toward the ancient capital city, our eyes looked up in awe at Kukulcan, the great pyramid, at the center of the excavated ruins. Although the day was hot and sticky, Jen and I climbed 91 steep, stone steps to the top. Crawled is a more accurate description as the incline is pitched at what seems like a 90-degree angle.

The view of the encroaching jungle from the top was worth the scary ascent. As the mother in me tried to keep Jen from venturing too near the edge, I hugged the wall around all four sides and crab-walked my way back down to the ground.

Our return trip was lined with clusters of small palapas, huts made of wooden saplings covered with thatched roofs. Colorful woven sleeping hammocks were visible through open doors. Chickens scratched in the yards as pigs snooted in muddy pens. Children too played in the yards. Barefoot, they all wore unbelievably clean clothing, scrubbed with naturally bleaching native limestone in the open-air bathtubs serving as washing “machines.”

This view of poverty from our comfortable coach sobered us as we sped toward our relatively swank accommodations.

A nearby eco-park, Xel-Ha (pronounced shell-ha) was another must-see. We snorkled – Jen’s first time – and braved a cave-like passageway in a cenoté (sinkhole). When I hesitated to enter the narrow darkness, she took the lead – a new sensation. Later, we floated effortlessly in tubes from the mouth of the freshwater river to its junction with the Caribbean Sea. The picture we purchased later shows two smiling women enjoying sun and sea together.

Another day, we visited the ruins at Tulum, perched on a cliff overlooking the glorious turquoise sea. Later that afternoon, after lazing on the beach for hours, we caught a taxi into the seaside city of Playa del Carmen to enjoy several hours shopping. Jen wanted to “haggle”, and I wanted to watch.

Fifteen years earlier, I had been the one beckoned into the shops with promises of “special deals, just for you, señorita.” Now, I hovered, like a mother bear protective of her vulnerable cub, as Mexican men, young and old alike, descended on my daughter. I was the bystander. Just the mom.

I watched with pride as Jen remained friendly but detached, dodging hands and spoken entreaties, and realized she was no longer a child in need of my protection.

We ended the evening with a Mayan dinner of pollo with roasted peppers and orange sauce and arroz served in banana leaves at the Yaxhe Restaurant where we also shared our first drink – a marguerita for me and an Amaretto sour for her.

For five days we sunned, people-watched, ate, and talked. We played tennis – not very well - laughed and shared. Somewhere along the way I felt the exclusive mother-daughter relationship slip away and a priceless, comfortable friendship take its place.

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