I think I first heard the song in 2001.
Even though I was six years away from setting foot in Mexico for the first time (for only an afternoon that day, an afternoon which would have to keep me fed for yet another six years), the minute I heard that song, I knew I wanted to one day stand on that pier, that Muelle de San Blas which Mana sings about.
For the past 21 years, I have sung the song in showers, in cars, on beaches, in kitchens. Every time, it gets me. Every time I renew my vow to one day, stand on that pier.
That day came last Thursday.
Offered a full day of exploring in a comfortable car and with a perfect-for-me travel partner, I chose to go to San Blas, which I had recently learned was only a few hours away.
Off we went, Lila in the back seat, ready for adventure.
It was Mexican Independence Day and even though I don't have one Mexican cell in my body, I felt full of the Essence of Celebration.
We made many stops. For tacos, for "Balazos" ("Shots" in Spanish: a tiny glass full of a fluid chili salsa with a couple of oysters or shrimp floating in there. Not my favorite, but so fun to see people loving them), for Arroz con Leche, and for the heck of it.
In typical Mexican style, we had left about five hours later than my usual planning mode would have organized, and by the time I saw the sign "Bienvenidos a San Blas," it was already mid-afternoon. I was crazed with an embarrassing level of excitement. The town of San Blas was quiet and pretty. I wondered what it would be like to move there for a while. I always do that, check out what a chapter of life would look like, in a place that charms me. This way, in my head, I am not really a tourist, but rather ... I don't even know. I just do that.
I immediately knew I didn't want to ask where the pier was. I wanted to find it. I wanted it to find me. I was at the edge of my seat and had The Song on repeat on my iPhone. I also had a patient pilot.
So we ambled through streets filled with lots of water (rainy season is serious stuff) and I cheated a tiny bit by noticing the "playa this way" sign.
Once at the beach and with no indication of the big pier that we could see across the bay hours earlier, we asked two young girls who were giggling on the sidewalk. Just getting the question out of my mouth felt sacred and as the older one answered, I could see that she had placed a couple of her bare toes on top of the younger one's foot, in a quiet protective way. Maybe my accent threw her off, I am not sure. But something about this "I've got you" toe gesture made my heart even rawer than it was.
Which one? She asked. The old pier or the new one?
The new one??
MY pier can't be new. New is shiny and cold and unromantic.
But neither can it be an old dilapidated, abandoned pier.
Especially because...The Song.
The Song, you see, is about a woman whose love is lost at sea. He promised to come back and she promised to wait. And so she waits, and she waits. She waits for him. Moon after moon, year after year. Until her hair turns white and people in the village call her crazy.
The Song shimmers with the Essences of Love, Commitment, Sovereignty ("I'll wait on the damn pier for as long as I want"), and yes, Madness.
This is a real story and I have done much reading about Rebeca in the last couple of days - but let us stick with The Song.
Having learned that there are two piers, we look at each other and instantly decide that the old pier is where we are going.
The famous old pier.
Heading in its direction, driving extra slowly because of the potholes and because also, I'm suddenly fragile and about to burst, we pass through old hotels for sale and fishing boats with lots of nets. Nothing says "famous" about this but when we sense that we are getting close, we park the car and continue on foot. Quietly.
And then, there it is.
Tiny. Humble. Sweet. Facing not so much the open sea as I had imagined, but the place where the river meets the sea, these sites that always touch me deeply for some reason.
We look at each other again and ask "That's it?"
At that moment I know that I have the choice to be disappointed because the reality does not meet my two-decades-long fantasy, or I have the choice to let in The Gift, The Gift that often lives exactly where our expectations trail off.
So I walk to the end of the pier, just a few steps, my phone singing at me from my purse. I know I'm being corny and I don't care because I too have been waiting a long time for this.
I sit at the edge of the water, my feet dangling in the water, and I let out a deep breath.
There is no sign of Her, nothing that says "here you are, at the famous pier." Nothing. Kids jumping in and out of the water, a couple of fishermen.
Lila sits by me and my travel companion joins us. Pretty soon, we break open the tiny carrot cake I had bought to celebrate a special friend's birthday and the three of us share it.
I am so happy that this pier is small and simple. It is perfect. Perfect for a deep love, perfect for a personal quest, an enduring quiet hope.
I stay there a good while. Thinking about Rebeca sitting, waiting. Wearing her wedding dress so he would recognize her when he arrived.
Llevaba el mismo vestido
Y por si él volviera, no se fuera a equivocar
Los cangrejos le mordían
Su ropaje, su tristeza y su ilusión
I think of her and of the people who called her crazy. The busy people, the people who can replace a love, who can give up hope.
Su cabello se blanqueó
Pero ningún barco a su amor le devolvía
Y en el pueblo le decían
Le decían la loca del muelle de San Blas
After a while, I get up and we decide to walk around a little, talk with the fishermen. I want to come back to the Now, keep The Gift inside of me and come back to the Now.
We see beautiful fish proudly placed in crates, we buy raw peanuts, and just before we get ready to walk back to the car, I find Her.
A single smooth, faded, soft homage to Her. No name, no plaque, no nothing. Just a sweet painting that somehow churns my insides more than being in front of the Mona Lisa ever did.
Back in the car, I know we are not leaving San Blas without seeing the other pier, the new pier. The pier where she did not wait. The pier we could see from miles away on the other side of the bay. The pier that's probably nowhere near as special.
My cup is full and I have gotten what I came for and more. As the sky darkens, I feel complete and I settle in my seat, not needing nor expecting much more from the day.
Of course, some days, Life likes to spoil us beyond our expectations.
(coming next: El Muelle de San Blas, Part 2)
SCARED OF THE SACRED