Tor's informant told him to search the left side of the river for a subtle but distinctive change in water color. As they eased their dinghy upstream without finding anything noticeable, he wondered if his source had played a practical joke just to spice up a muggy afternoon of ex-pat boredom. After all, what were the chances there could actually be a real Mayan village hidden up this river? Tor, Sherrie and their enormous yellow lab, Shaolin, motored on.
Suddenly, Shaolin (who had been dragging a paw in the river) lifted his head and stared at a spot on the riverbank. Had the water temperature changed or had he heard something along the shore? Tor veered in for a closer look and spied a small tongue of clearer water nudging out into the river. He and Sherrie moved aside some ferns and discovered the tributary they were seeking: a hidden waterway to a primitive village so pristine, not even the Nature Channel had found it.
It was a good two miles up the narrow stream and more than once they had to lift the dinghy over fallen tree trunks to keep going. Suddenly, the waterway widened and revealed a small collection of thatch-roofed huts. They could see the smoke of cooking fires, but could not detect a single person. It was so still, you could have heard a butterfly land on a gecko.
Tor and Sherrie were ecstatic. Exploring a hidden Mayan village up a camouflaged stream was the type of adventure they’d dreamed of when the cruising bug first bit. They turned off the outboard and paddled over to the riverbank near the huts.
Unaware of any arrival protocol, but very aware of a nearby stick, Shaolin bounded out of the dinghy and returned with a winch-handle-sized branch. Sherrie pitched it far out into the water, and the dog swam for it with the power and enthusiasm that comes from centuries of genetic coding.
The sound of this pony-sized dog splashing in the river was too much for the hiding children, and a few sets of eyes began appearing in the doors and windows. Tor seized the opportunity and reached into his daypack to initiate some balloon diplomacy. As he blew one up, little chirps of amazement echoed through the huts. He released it, and the balloon scurried wildly through the air. The kids could no longer contain themselves and came running down to the dinghy.
Their moms shyly followed. While Sherrie gave them brightly colored plastic beads, Tor inflated balloons and handed one to each child. When everyone had a gift, the two cruisers had Shaolin show the tribe some of his tricks. He sat, he barked, he knelt. When he shook hands, his audience was truly amazed. To them it was as miraculous as hearing a snake reciting Shakespeare.
After several minutes of this, the tribe took the explorers on a tour of the village. Through sign language, the women indicated that the men were out hunting. An hour later they escorted the strangers back to their dinghy and launched them back downstream, laden with an enormous basket of exotic and barely recognizable fruits.
On the return trip, Tor and Sherrie wondered what they should tell their fellow cruisers back at the marina. Not wanting to start a stampede of visitors, they decided to simply state that their cornucopia of strange fruits was the bounty of a day well spent exploring the river.
When he finished his tale, I looked over at my longtime friend and said, “Wow, Tor, it’s been over 20 years since that happened, and you tell the story like it was only yesterday.”
He laughed gently and answered: “Well, Ray, if an experience that magical begins to fade from my memory, it might be time to give up cruising and take up shuffleboard.”