The seaweed at low tide


Millie Alt

A vibrant street in Isla Holbox, which I have grown to love

Culture shock is something that I expected.

I expected to feel uncomfortable in such a new situation, a new setting. And that, I did. But what I didn’t expect—and definitely should have—was the rapid adaptation, the growth of not only my body but also of my mind.

To set the scene:

Day one of the trip—the second day away from home. The international arrivals terminal of the Cancun Airport. It is hot. It is dark. I am starving, but I cannot eat because, at the same time, I am in the midst of a minor heat stroke.

We finally get our bags. I change. Things are looking up, but only a peek. I wish for air conditioning.

We take a shuttle—I sleep. We take a ferry—I wish for sleep. We walk three blocks in a strange new country, a secluded island. We miss our door. We backtrack. We step inside, and…

It is even hotter there. Once again, I wish for air conditioning.

For once, my wish is granted. The fans, the air conditioning unit—they cool us down just enough. I sleep.

When I wake, I am sticky, but not hot. That doesn’t last long. Breakfast is hot. I barely eat. The sweet, sweet jamaica does a bit to soothe my broiling organs.

We walk to the beach. It is hot. The cool tang of my breakfast juice is long gone.

The beach smells of seaweed and dead fish—rot, not the sweet tropical aroma I expected, anticipated.

The beach smells of seaweed and dead fish—rot, not the sweet tropical aroma I expected, anticipated. The tide is low. We sign up for a tour at night—3:45 in the morning. I am excited, but at the same time, I dread that moment of interruption.

We change; we swim. It is still hot. The day goes smoothly. The night goes smoothly. I wake up at 3:45, dreadfully tired but excited for my sea of stars.

It is pure magic. Every movement flips a switch, lighting a match. We chase the stars and catch them in our hands, cupping them in the bellies of our shirts.

When we get back, the power is out. There is no air conditioning, no fans. It is hot. I wish for air conditioning, but even more, I wish for sleep. That night, I only find one.

The house is hotter in the morning. The power is still out, and the rising of the sun brings a new host of heat waves. We sit outside. They say they can fix it. Finally, I convince myself to get up, to get moving.

“You’re in Mexico, for God’s sake,” I tell myself. This is a time to enjoy. And finally, I did. We rented a golf cart. We found a new beach, one with more shade, more spots to sit, less seaweed, less smell of dead fish.

We swim longer than we had the day before. I can tolerate the heat a bit more. The power returns. Day by day, I find myself happier. Mangroves, crocodiles, pelicans, stingrays, and an endless expanse of sky and sea, all there for my taking. I finally begin to appreciate that.

Once I do, the time flies. Our last day on the island, which, five days ago, sitting on a dirty beach smelling of dead fish, I never thought would come, is here. We sit at the beach again; we eat the delicious food.

And somehow, over the course of a week, I have adapted. I am less bothered by the heat. I can speak with native Spanish speakers more confidently. I no longer hate the smell of seaweed at low tide. I have learned to love the island.

I will miss it.