“Hola, Señor Zender!” A man in the local candy-striped trousers and loose tunic is waving energetically from the pier as the boat slows to nose in toward one of the assorted pylons of rough logs. “Bienvenidos!”
The young boy at the bow leaps out to run a line around the pylon, then scampers barefoot over the splintery boards to secure the stern. Newman makes a point of gallantly steadying Lindsey’s arm as he assists her past cloth bundles and a tethered pig, over the gunwale onto the dock.
The local man sweeps off his straw hat and bows to her. After some elaborate introductions and welcomes in a mix of Spanish and Mayan dialect, Lindsey and Newman are ushered down the dock, up a steep dirt lane flanked by banana and mango trees, a simple whitewashed church, and the few shops of this roadless village. They turn down a dirt side-trail embraced by a fragrant tangle of greenery, blooms, and overhanging branches of the hardwood jocote, toward a compound of huts behind a fence of upright cut branches. As they enter the gateway to the central outdoor cooking area, it becomes apparent that yet another feast is being prepared. Any excuse for a fiesta in Latin America.
As they enter, stirring a hubbub of chickens and curious children, a cry goes up, and an old couple rise from chairs under a broad wooden trellis covered with shady vines. They are dressed in their best rainbow of colors, the woman’s gray braid topped by an elaborately intertwined crown of a thickly-woven tubular scarf that crosses above the forehead and knots to leave fringes of blue, red, green, and yellow. Her profile beneath this headdress, with the proud jutting nose, could have been carved from an ancient Mayan pictograph. She spreads her arms, beckoning Lindsey and Newman toward the shade.
They pass a circle of women seated on the ground in their dark blue tubular skirts and their blouses woven in rich patterns of purple, red, gold, and green. They’re rayed out around the trunk of an old mango tree, their hip-strap loom lines tied at one end around its trunk and the other end around their waists. They raise their heads to nod politely as Newman and Lindsey pass, quick fingers never pausing as they slide the spacer sticks and colored yarns through the warp lines of the emerging patterns.
Past the weavers, their progress is impeded by clusters of shrieking kids grabbing onto Newman’s legs and being dragged along as he laughs and tosses phrases at them in awkward-sounding Mayan, provoking more laughter.
The silver-haired man waiting under the low trellis chops a hand toward the children and says something stern, which detaches the limpets from Newman’s legs and lets him duck beneath the vines. The ceiling is a few inches too low for his height, which dwarfs the natives who make even Lindsey feel tall.
Stooping, Newman turns to gesture Lindsey in beside him. She’s moving slowly herself, a little girl having become attached to her skirt, gripping it in a chubby brown hand. The other children have crept forward again after the rebuke from the patriarch. They’re giggling, watching Newman with an air of intense anticipation.
Lindsey catches his eye, shrugs a question.
He winks at her, then takes a step toward her, straightening and pretending to whack his head on a beam of the trellis.
“Ow!” He rocks back in exaggerated dismay, smacking a hand to his head.
“El Gringo! El Gigante!” The kids erupt into peals of laughter, jumping and clapping their hands in delight. One little boy, bolder than the rest, runs toward Newman, pretends to ram headlong into a trellis post, and staggers back holding his head and groaning. The kids laugh louder, dancing around, which incites the chickens into flurries of squawking and flying feathers.
Another stern word from the old man, and the children subside, still giggling. Newman, stooping forward with a broad display of caution, winks at the children, provoking another wave of choked-off laughter. He takes Lindsey’s arm with a gallant flourish and ushers her into the shade.
In the face of the dignified elders, Lindsey bows her head. As she straightens, the woman meets her gaze, and Lindsey is awed by the power in her eyes.
The elder’s deep brown gaze, set in weathered wrinkles over the strong bones, shifts from Lindsey to Newman and back. A smile breaks over her face. “Bienvenidos.” Welcome.
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