The bus pulled away from the station after a long goodbye through the glass window. I’ve had to say goodbye so many times before, but never has it been so difficult. The extra weight in my backpack that can’t be measured with physical means continued to get heavier the closer I got to the border.
Editor’s Note: Everett Redus, 21, of Baytown, Texas, now one of four surviving brothers, will travel south to Patagonia next week, carrying and spreading the ashes of his slain older brother, Cameron, a senior honors student at the University of Incarnate word who was fatally shot by a campus policeman outside his off-campus apartment on December 6, 2013. The Rivard Report has invited Everett to publish periodic dispatches as he makes his way south and awaits word on the outcome of the criminal investigation into the shooting and a wrongful death lawsuit filed by his family against UIW and the police officer. Read more about Cameron’s life, death, and the aftermath here. Donate to Everett’s trip via his GoFundMe campaign here.
I had learned all too late that Mexico treats ashes the same as a body, and that elusive permits would be required to carry them into the country. Worst case scenarios filled my head, and I’d nearly accepted defeat as the guard called me over in an alarmed tone as he raised his eyes from the x-ray screen. I was preparing myself for him to take the ashes and dump them right there in the Rio Bravo.
“¿Cuantos cuchillos tiene chico?”
I eagerly pulled out my knife and multitool and handed them to him. He turned them over in his hands then passed them back. With a sweeping wave and an “okay pásale,” he sent me on through. I stepped out of the booth and the morning breeze whipped the sweat from my forehead. I was relieved, and I swear I could feel Cam giggling in my backpack.
The bus to Mexico City provided me much time to think, and an unwelcome feeling of sadness was beginning to set in. Whether it was the thought of Cameron, or the initial depression of leaving my family, I don’t know. But the feeling lingered through the ticket buying process and into the nine-hour wait for my next bus. There was no desire to spend time in the city, but neither was there any desire to waste away in the bus station.
I received a tip from a local that the ruins of Teotihuacán, the ancient Mesoamerican city, were close by, so I decided to lift myself from my stupor and spend no more time in the ugly company of self sorrow. Two things happened as I approached the ruins. First, I sensed something familiar in the air. It’s a smell that drifts by me from time to time, and never lasts longer than a second. What it originates from remains a mystery to me, but it is always followed by a spike of energy and a flood of memories. That smell in and of itself is linked to the heart of travel for me. The second was a wave of warmth that passed over my body as I stood looking upon yellow hills spotted with prickly pear, maguéy, and Joshua trees. I suddenly remembered why I love Mexico.
With all negativity aside, I entered the ruins. What intrigued me more than the ruins themselves was the ground in front of them. Every bit of land, except for the tourist walk, was littered – here and there – with pieces of pottery. I couldn’t believe that these could still be found at a place like Teotihuacán. What else had they missed, I wondered. Countless hours I’d spent crawling on all fours through the Texas Hill Country looking for arrowheads. I had successes, but truth be told, it’s my mother who found the best pieces. This was wholly different, being a world-famous archeological site, but I started the hunt anyways.
For hours I found small segments of worked obsidian, which I was thrilled to find, but as I walked along the base of a far-off pyramid, I stopped, as if magnetically drawn to a patch of grass. I saw there the unmistakeable shape. I snatched it out of the dirt where it lay half buried. It was a full minute before I even looked at it. I kept it clenched in my fist while my brain caught up with the reality of the moment. With both arms against my sides, I paced back and forth with quick steps and a large toothy grin, squealing under my breath.
I had found exactly what I was looking for – an Aztec arrowhead. Large and perfectly intact, made from jet black obsidian with pure white streaks running through, it was the find of my life. I thanked God, the Earth, and the Aztecs for sending me this gift, and I swore I would always keep it with me. It was a very good omen, and I knew it was God showing me favor and good fortune on my trip.
The further south I went, the happier I became. The land was ever-changing into deeper shades of green. More than anything else, I’ve longed for the rainforest, for that is where I’m reminded of Cameron most. Entering the Mayan jungle of Palenque, I officially began to retrace his steps. I walked through the same pyramids, waded through the same waters, and slept beneath the same trees. It was the first night I hadn’t spent on a bus, and I found a peaceful place to lay my tent. I slept to the sound of howler monkeys bellowing, and in a strange way, it was comforting. A howler monkey sounds like death itself, and I remember Cameron telling my that very thing about his time in Palenque. I was at peace knowing that I had the same experience as he.
Walking down the road a few miles from the pyramids, I saw a hawk sitting in a tree. I watched him from across the road for some time until he flew off into the distance. My gaze fell to the base of the tree and I noticed a small opening for a trail. I left the harsh sunlight and entered the forest. I ended up in a river bed. It was almost completely void of water, but it was obvious that it was once a great river. There were pools and intricately carved channels in the solid mass of limestone. Further upstream, and deeper into the jungle, I came to what would have been a large waterfall. Everything was covered in green moss which added to the massive size of the rocks and trees to give the scene a feeling of old age.
At the base of the waterfall was a gaping hole, partially covered by the hanging tendrils of plants growing from the rock above. From its mouth echoed the sound of running water, which didn’t seem consistent with what I saw before me. I was eager to explore it, but entered slowly and respectfully due to the agedness of its appearance. I crawled on hands and knees into the darkness. Water dripped down my bare back from stalactites above me. There was room to stand once I was fully inside. The cool air sent an eerie chill down my spine. I turned on my light and saw a pool of water to the right of me. I walked to its edge and was puzzled. The water was noisy and constantly agitated, but I could see no water entering, nor leaving it.
I paused for a moment, then decided to touch it. Just as my skin was about to break the surface, a winged beast flew into my face from the darkness across the pool, effectively ushering me out of the cave. The solemnity of the forest had turned toward ominous as the sound of bats overpowered all else.
I continued for more than a mile upstream and found Mayan stone walls, with fully grown trees emerging out from between the hewn blocks. It was a place where two rivers once met, creating a small peninsula between them. The sides of the structure were walled and tiered, and at the top lay what I can only describe as an altar stone. It was about two and a half sq. ft., perfectly smooth, and no more than three inches thick. As I sat here to rest, I created an image of the Mayans sitting exactly where I was, burning offerings to the joining of life-giving waters. The beauty of the forest intensified and brought me to tears. How badly I wished Cameron was there with me.