Velella's Drift

An account of Velella's voyage from Seattle to New York via Panama, 2009-2011

Blizzards in Minnesota

‘Twas the night before Christmas, but all through our house there are creatures a-stirring, which I’m quite sure are mice. They skitter around and chirp at night, but haven’t gotten into our cupboard. I harbor strangely kind feelings towards them — they’re a little family after all, and it’s Christmas. Above the floorboards, our 35-foot-long home feels large and empty since our family flew back to the States.  Prescott has been laid up with a fever pushing 103 for the last several days, and while he rests we’ve been living in near silence — but for the mice. After switching out Prescott’s cool compresses this morning, I set mouse traps with peanut butter rather half-heartedly.

For the first time since we arrived, the hot skies are grey over Barra de Navidad lagoon, darkening the murky, shallow pond full of cruisers and crocodiles. It’s not as if I’m baking a Christmas ham today, so we decided that, Christmas Eve or not, it was time to go see a doctor about this fever. No sooner do I get on the radio to hail a water taxi than we’re stepping out of our cockpit into a brightly painted, canopied panga. The panga’s 75 horses and macho driver get us to town in two racing flat minutes. We wind through the humid streets, past steaming tortillerias, and families gathered around huge bushels of cilantro, and rows of flip flops and sunglasses for sale. The beach is alive with Mexican tourists who have presumably arrived in Barra de Navidad for the holidays—and I wonder if they all subconsciously came to this town just because of its name. Under a swinging wooden sign with white lettering that reads “Doctor Maria Rubio,” we turn off the street and into a cool white hallway.

There are three chairs in the waiting room at the end of the hallway, and three magazines. One of them was Vanity Fair with Grace Kelly’s perfect image, the other two looked like the Spanish version of GQ, Ricky Martin on the cover of one and Enrique Inglesias on the other. I chose the only one I knew how to read. Prescott was soon called in by Dr. Maria, who had functioned as her own receptionist when we walked in. She had a doctor’s white coat over the back of her chair, but wore a blue-and-white striped polo shirt, a red cotton headband over her silky black hair, and stunningly large, teardrop-shaped ruby earrings that looked as if the previous owner might have worn them onboard the Titanic. Her English was heavily accented and grammatically perfect. After understanding Prescott’s symptoms and examining him, she prescribed an antibiotic as well as an anti-parasitic just in case, and sent us around to the pharmacy next door.

Waiting at the panga dock for the taxi back out to the lagoon, was hard to believe this is Christmas. For the first time in 27 years, I’m not drinking eggnog and looking through frosted windowpanes to the blank-white yard of my hometown in Minnesota. Instead, I’m looking at Christmas through a pane of palm fronds, being shared by another family in a wooden hut on stilts at the edge of the lagoon. There are three men sitting around a square table, chopping cilantro and drinking Negro Modelo. There is a tiny black puppy toddling about beneath them, pausing to sniff and lick discarded oyster shells. In the corner, a young girl sits in a rainbow hammock, absorbed in something she’s reading on a piece of paper. I look at the size of her huge silver hoop earrings and think that if she were in the States, she’d probably be texting someone. Two diapered kids play with something between them on the floor, and babble in better Spanish than I can understand. The edge of the roof is strung with light green seaweed like garland, interspersed with colored-foil spiral ornaments.

The scene next door was interrupted by the panga driver calling “vamanos.” We loaded in and zip back out to the lagoon, where it’s easier to persuade ourselves that today is just another day in paradise.






  ogm wrote @

there’s alot of “three’s” in that story..and all i can think is hmmmm…we have MORE THAN ENOUGH snow if you want some..let me know..i’ll mail you two and are thinking of you on this holiday..

  Caitlin wrote @

Missing you and Minnesota as well this Christmas… Although it’s not tropical here, the “tree” we created out of yarn doesn’t have quite the same scent or sparkle as the ones we used to lay under when we were little. And there was no chocolate orange. BUT it’s still Christmas, wherever we are, and I love you just as much as always. xoxo. -the sister who woke up the earliest, every year.

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