Mere shadows of ourselves

Sometimes accidents happen unexpectedly. It’s at moments like these that I truly appreciate the life I have. While in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo with my cousin Mara, her husband Enrique, and their children Daniel and Rebeca, we were enjoying ourselves until Becky was involved in a swimming accident with a boat’s outboard motor. We were there for a whole week. The accident became our reference point. Before Becky’s accident and after Becky’s accident. Everything happened so quickly!

We were sightseeing like typical tourists. We were having a lot of fun. We liked to talk and joke about whatever we were doing. As we walked down the main street, people were trying to sell us trips to beaches where we could snorkel, swim with dolphins, see alligators, and swim on the beach. We eventually found a good deal and went to Ixtapa Island where we snorkeled and then went to swim and tan at the beach. I was in the water a short while–I’m not much of a water person–and then went to talk to my cousin Mara while Enrique, Becky, and Daniel continued swimming. Becky had actually swum competitively so she was really swimming, unlike me who merely dog paddled awhile. I watched her swim and envied her swimming skills. How I wished I could swim like her.

Mara was asking me why I had come out of the water so soon and I told her that I been in the water long enough. We talked awhile when suddenly I heard some yelling in the water. I walked toward the water where I saw some people near a boat with an outboard motor. I could hear a female voice screaming for help, but I could barely see her head. A few men swam toward her to help her. She appeared to be caught up in the propeller of the outboard motor. One of the men asked for a knife–I assumed so he could cut of her clothing. One woman who was lying on the beach swam toward the boat yelling, “I’m a doctor!” Another woman went to the jet ski stand and told the man to call an ambulance on his cell phone. When they finally released the woman from the boat, I saw that it was Becky! She was holding the propeller against her abdomen, so I thought it was embedded into her body. She had blood on her shirt and I could see a gash on her arm. But she was walking with the help of her father who helped steady her as she walked. The doctor tried to stop the bleeding as Becky walked to another outboard boat that took her and her father to the ambulance.

Our tour guide told Mara, Daniel, and me to get all our things. He would take us to the hospital. When we finally got to the hospital, we learned that Becky had been slashed by the propeller on the wrist, abdomen, and leg. She didn’t have any life threatening injuries. A woman who looked vaguely familiar approached at the hospital and told us she was from the resort where the accident occurred. She had seen everything and she had witnesses, too. She explained that Becky had been swimming in the area where swimming was prohibited because of boat traffic. Becky was swimming underwater when the boat operator started up the boat. He then started moving slowly when he heard a thump near the front of the boat. He shut off the engine immediately, but the propeller kept spinning. He never saw Becky swimming. When he heard her screaming, he tried to free her from the propeller. Others then came to help her. The woman then explained that their company would pay all of Becky’s medical expenses if we agreed not to sue. I said that I was merely a cousin and that she should explain all this to Enrique, Becky’s father. But the woman insisted that I sign. I refused because I’m not familiar with Mexican law. I didn’t want to jeopardize anything to which they were entitled. The woman became more assertive, but I continued to refuse to sign.

I watched as she later tried to convince Enrique to write a statement that he agreed to her terms and sign it. He thought about it long and hard. I pulled him aside with Mara and he explained the situation to us. Yes, he could sue, but in Mexico it would take about eight years to settle the lawsuit and chances were slim to none that they would win any settlement, particularly since there were witnesses who had seen Becky swimming in the no swimming zone. Eventually, he agreed to their terms and they did reimburse him with cash for the medical expenses. They even sent a doctor to the hotel room to visit Becky.

After the accident, we were all shaken up. We were mere shadows of our former selves. Becky had to stay in bed the rest of the vacation. Driving in the car caused Becky great pain. We had to drive ten miles the next day to see a doctor to give her a tetanus shot because they didn’t have one at the hospital. That ride was extremely torturous for Becky because of all the bumps. We had to return in three days and we wondered how we would drive Becky home if every little bump caused her so much pain. Finally, Enrique announced that she would fly home with her mother. One of Becky’s friends would take her home from the airport.

However, we were all grateful that Becky was still alive! She was extremely lucky to be alive!

Ixtapa Zihuatanejo


When I go to Mexico, or anywhere on a vacation, I don’t have a set itinerary. I know where I’m going and I know where I hope to return if all goes well. All other destinations between the start and finish of my vacation are all determined by luck, happenstance, and sheer naivete! God always seems to protect the innocents and the helpless.

So, on my vacation, I knew for a fact that I would leave Chicago on Friday, December 12, 2008, and return to Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico, on January 3, 2009, because that is when my Mexican car permit expired. What I would do to fill all those days in between I left to fate.

Well, not entirely. My cousin’s daughter had invited me to her university graduation party on Friday, December 19, 2008, so I had to get to her house at least one or two days before the party. I thought about going to Celaya, Guanajuato, first, but I always hate saying good-bye to everyone in Celaya. Therefore, I planned to go to Mexico City first and then on the return trip stop by to visit my family in Celaya. So I actually had some type of plan. But nothing went as planned!

I arrived at my cousin’s house on Monday, December 15, and I stayed there with them until the party. They live in Cuautitlán Izcalli, Estado de México, which is just north of Mexico City. I never made it to Mexico City to visit my family there until December 29th.

Let me tell you what happened. I was staying with my cousin until the graduation party and I was thoroughly enjoying my vacation. One day, my cousin tells me she was taking me with her family to Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo on vacation the morning after the graduation party. I told her that I had already made other plans. That I wanted to visit everyone in Mexico City and stop in Celaya on the way back. But she insisted. She was firm and assertive. I had to go with their family to Ixtapa. Well, I was weak and immediately caved in to her demand. Besides, I had very been to a beach resort on vacation in Mexico before. I would finally see what attracted Americans in droves to go to Mexico. It would be a good learning experience.

Not your average tourist trap.

Well, when we got to Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo after an eight-hour drive, it was hot there! This was December and I was wearing only swimming trunks and I was sweating! Meanwhile back in Chicago, everyone was enduring snowstorms and sub-zero weather. And I didn’t even feel a little guilty! That’s why Americans and Canadians went to Mexico in the winter! I think my biggest surprise was discovering that most of the tourists were Mexicans. Entire families of Mexicans. I was told that most of the foreign tourists go to Acapulco where there’s a constant party atmosphere. We stayed at the Hotel Fontán where my cousin had made reservations the year before for about fifty bucks per night for the room for four people during the height of the tourist season. I felt very fortunate that she invited me along. I actually enjoyed going to the beach and going to all the mercados. There was one terrible, tragic moment that changed our lives forever, but I will leave that tale for another blog post.