This is our breakfast. While we slothful Westerners have been snoring away, Pam and her mom have been busy bees in the kitchen, making all this yummy food from scratch! Well, all except the soup on the left, which is left over from the night before. This dish, one of my favorite Thai dishes, consists of spicy minced pork in a coconut-milk sauce. You put a spoonful of the pork mixture on a slice of cucumber, top it with a little banana flower and cilantro, and eat it with a ball of sticky rice. The mixture of temperatures, textures and tastes creates an explosion of flavor in your mouth.
After breakfast, Ellie decides to try out the super-sharp machete she bought in the marketplace yesterday. I’m a little nervous, visualizing severed feet, blood spattered everywhere (and an intact coconut).
Pam shows us how it’s done. She’s an expert with machetes. (Watch out, Nick. . .)
Flowers at Pam’s parents’ compound.
We drive up and up a winding road into the mountains, where we’re going to take a short hike to a waterfall. The jungle vegetation is lush, and so different from what I’m used to in Washington.
My little monkey.
We finally reach our destination and cool off a little in the river. The orange cloths tied around the trees have been blessed by Buddhist monks. The trees so adorned will not be cut down, because to do so would be to invite several lifetimes of bad karma for the logger. As you can see, it doesn’t stop the graffiti artists.
Pam’s mom, dad and aunt have waited for us at the bottom of the hike, since they’ve visited the waterfall lots of times before. They have a surprise for us, though. . .
We stop at a lovely little coffeehouse perched on the side of the mountain.
It’s got amazing views down the mountainside, and also, a menu featuring all sorts of western delicacies. There’s orange cake, tiramisu, brownies and prune cake. Also cappuccino, lattes, iced chocolate and other western drinks. And best of all, a sit-down toilet!!
Mom, Auntie and I.
Relaxing in the Thai hammock.
A last feast prepared for us by Pam’s indefatigable mother, before heading back to Chiang Mai, and tomorrow, home. : ( See the tiny elephant stools we sat on last night?
Well, you’ve made it to the very end! Congratulations, many thanks, and most of all, I hope you enjoyed reading this book as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you did, I’d be very grateful if you’d recommend it to your friends! I’m working on a sequel at the moment, and as soon as that’s ready, you’ll find it here, as well as on Amazon. Happy reading! Love, Annie
An Ending and a Beginning
The footsteps became louder, and a young girl with long blonde hair came into view.
“Julia!” breathed Odin. He turned to Chac, tears in his eyes. “That’s why you insisted on coming tonight.” He laughed out loud and crushed the boy to him in a bear hug.
“I wasn’t sure,” said Chac. “I hoped she would be here, but I didn’t know.”
Julia had reached the railing. She bent over it, scanning the moonlit surface of the sea.
“Chac!” she called softly. Chac and Odin came out from behind the rock. “Odin!” Julia cried, clapping her hands and giving a little hop. “Darling Odin! I’m so happy to see you!” She crawled under the railing and slid down the low embankment. Odin swam up to her and they hugged each other, laughing and crying. By this time, the rest of the clan had come out of the water, and they crowded around Julia, calling her name and stretching out their arms to her. Chac watched and enjoyed the scene. Only when the last clan member had received a hug and a kiss from Julia did he approach. She held his hands and looked into his eyes.
“How’s it going so far?”
“So far so good,” he answered lightly to hide the painful emotion that made him want to pull her down into the water and hold her tight. “I think they like me. Not as much as they liked you, of course.”
“Are you sure no one else is in the park?” asked Odin.
“There’s a night watchman, but he’s outside the front gate. I didn’t see anyone inside.”
“A night watchman. . . maybe he makes periodic rounds of the park.” Odin was clearly nervous. Julia tried to calm him.
“I don’t see why—there are high walls around Xcaret, and the only way anyone can get in is through the front gate. We don’t need to worry as long as we’re quiet.”
“How did you get in?” Triton asked. He had ensconced himself next to Julia. Chac watched them, jealousy twisting his heart. Steady, he told himself. Remember, neither of us can have her. He looked away and, startled, met the eyes of Lorelei, who was staring at him.
Julia answered, “That was easy. I came in when it was open and hid behind some bushes at closing time until I was sure everyone else had left. It is so wonderful to see you all again. It hurt me to think I wouldn’t be able to say good-bye.” The clan members nodded.
They spent the next hour talking. Julia told them she was leaving the next day for home. Chac had given her enough money for a bus ticket, clothes and food for a few days.
“Have you talked to your parents?” he asked her.
“No, I want to surprise them. I can’t wait to see their faces when I walk in!”
“That’s a nice plan, but remember, you may have trouble getting across the border without papers,” he reminded her. “Which means you’ll have to call them.”
She stuck out her tongue at him. “What a party pooper you are!”
At Chac’s side, Odin spoke. “I’d like to stay here with Julia as much as you would—well, maybe not quite as much,” he corrected himself after catching sight of Chac’s face, “but we’d better not press our luck. What were you telling me about the gate when we were interrupted by this young lady?” He smiled at Julia.
“Yes,” said Chac, pulling his mind back to the issue at hand. “The problem is that the gate is padlocked, and the lock can’t be broken without tools.” Triton and Odin looked at him.
Triton spoke. “I think it’s time for you to use your royal powers, don’t you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Have you forgotten the ring?” Odin said.
“That’s right! Why didn’t I think of that?” Chac began to swim up the channel, then hesitated. “On second thought,” he said, “I don’t think that’s such a good idea. I remember from practicing with the ring that it produces an explosion which I’m afraid the night watchman might hear, especially since it won’t be underwater.” Odin and Triton nodded in agreement.
“You’re right, it’s too risky,” Odin said. “I’m glad you thought of that in time. Well done, King!” The boy flushed with pride. Julia smiled and gave him a thumbs-up.
“So now what do we do?” Chac asked.
Julia broke in. “I know. I’ll look for the key. Surely it must be in the manager’s office or in one of those other little huts I’ve seen here where they keep the tools.”
“Good idea,” Chac said. “But you’d better hurry. We don’t have much time.” He cast a worried glance toward the east.
Julia crawled back under the railing and ran off in the direction of the manager’s office. In less than three minutes, she was back.
“So soon?” Odin asked.
“It’s locked! I saw a window on one side that looks open, but I can’t reach it, and there’s nothing to stand on.”
“Did you check the other huts?” asked Chac.
“I did, but they’re locked too, and they don’t have windows.”
They all looked at each other. Behind them, the clan members were silent. Then Chac whispered to Odin. After a moment, the old merman nodded and said,
“We don’t have any choice. I don’t want to fail our cousins now that we’ve come this far.”
Chac hoisted himself onto shore and began to remove the ring and crown.
“Wait!” Julia said. She turned and ran to a nearby tree, where a towel was hanging on a branch. “Here, take my towel,” she said, handing it to Chac as the color rose in her cheeks. “Don’t you remember when I became human?”
Chac laughed to cover his embarrassment. “I’ve got to hand it to you, you think of everything!” He removed the crown and ring. His tail split into two legs, provoking a collective inhalation of awe from the clan members. Clambering under the railing, he stood up unsteadily, wrapped the towel around his waist, and left for the manager’s office with Julia. When they reached it, he lifted her up to the small window. She squeezed through and opened the front door for him. They rummaged through the desk drawers and the dusty file cabinet.
“How will we know which one?” Julia asked in a whisper.
“Just take all the keys you find!” answered Chac. When they had finished, they had four keys. “It’d better be one of these. We don’t have much time left.”
They stepped outside and closed the door. The sky was lighter.
Suddenly both of them shrank back into the shadow of the hut. “What’s that?” Julia whispered into Chac’s ear, pointing at a circle of light bouncing along the ground a hundred yards up the path. Before he could answer, a man holding a flashlight rounded a bend in the path. Julia gripped Chac’s hand and they held their breath, flattening themselves against the wall. The man passed a few feet from them without looking in their direction, and continued down the path toward the dolphin enclosure.
Julia turned to Chac. “The night watchman! He’ll see them! We’ve got to warn them!” They stared at each other in the pre-dawn light. All of a sudden Chac snapped his fingers.
“I’ve got it!”
He turned toward the sea, raising his right hand. A blinding beam of white light arced high above the trees across the dark blue sky. Down the path the night watchman stopped and looked up, startled. Chac lowered his hand and the beam disappeared. He looked at Julia and put his finger to his lips. They watched as the watchman shrugged and continued on his way. When he was out of earshot, Chac said, “I hope Odin figures it out in time. We’d better sit tight until we see the watchman come back.”
They concealed themselves in the bushes and waited, straining their ears for the sound of returning footsteps. Chac kept looking at the sky. After what seemed like a long time, they heard the watchman coming along the path, whistling. When he had passed them, Chac said,
“I think it worked. He didn’t look as if he had just seen hundreds of merpeople, did he?”
Julia laughed and took his hand. They both sprinted down the path as fast as they could, and Chac lowered himself into the channel on the other side of the gate. The first three keys didn’t fit. Sweating, Chac fitted the last key into the padlock and turned. With a rusty creak, it opened.
“Go tell Odin!” Chac called up to Julia where she waited on the path above.
The eastern horizon was turning a rosy pink and the birds were beginning to sing when Odin swam up the channel and called to the dolphins in a low voice. Their leader made his way to the front and nuzzled Odin’s cheek.
“What are you doing here, cousin?” he asked Odin in his chattery voice. Odin told him, and the word was passed from one dolphin to the next. They crowded around the ancient merman, nuzzling him and expressing their gratitude.
“You can thank me later. Right now we haven’t a minute to lose! Follow me!” Odin swam down the channel and into the sea, followed by a long line of dolphins. For the second time that night, the clan members wept tears of joy as they embraced their freed cousins who leapt ecstatically out of the water and twirled in the air while Julia and Chac watched from the embankment, laughing in excitement. All was pandemonium, and only Odin seemed aware that day was approaching.
“We must go! Now!” he shouted above the uproar. Everyone ignored him. He tried again, with no success. Looking up at Chac, he said, “I can’t get their attention. This is dangerous.”
Chac realized with a shock he had been neglecting his responsibility as leader of the merclan. He turned to Julia and held her hands while looking into her eyes.
“No time for a long good-bye. It’s just as well.”
She nodded, holding back tears, and squeezed his hands. “You’re going to make a great king, I can tell already.”
He smiled. “I wish you a wonderful life. I’ll miss you.”
“I’ll miss you too! Oh, Chac. . .” She laid her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes. He hugged her, then turned and slipped under the railing. Julia followed him down, knelt at the water’s edge and hugged Odin. After kissing Triton and Lorelei, she stood, tears flowing down her cheeks, and waved to the other clan members, who called to her,
“Julia, Julia! We love you!”
The dolphins had departed, with promises to visit soon. Odin and Chac marshaled the clan members into some semblance of order. Odin called, “Back to the grotto! Follow me!” He dove into the sea and began swimming.
Chac turned back to Julia. “Think of me once in a while.” He reached up and kissed her.
She smiled and said, “You never know- we just might see each other again one of these days.” With a wink, she crawled under the railing and stood up. “You’d better get going!”
Chac waved and dove into the water. As he overtook Odin, who was waiting out in the bay, he couldn’t resist one more look back. Julia was standing at the railing, her long blonde hair lifting in the morning breeze, one arm raised in farewell.
“Goodbye, princess,” he murmured. He turned back to Odin.
“I’m ready now.” Raising his arm in a signal to the clan members, he turned his face to the sea and dived.