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The Untamed Road

It was more of a dirt path than a road. Luis Felipe never intended to pave or straighten it or make it more easily accessible. The road signaled that an adventure into the unknown was about to begin. The original foreman for the property had carved that narrow stretch of packed dirt from the unmarked turn-off at the highway that ran for two miles into the depths of the jungle. The road was barely wide enough for one car to drive down. Passengers bumped along on the road rocking and rolling with the ruts and ridges in the hard-packed ground. Entering the jungle, immediately the atmosphere changed. The arched branches of leafy trees overhead eclipsed the sun, and the hot humid air that had encased the car on the ride down the highway cooled abruptly, the way water in the ocean turns chilly when it reaches a certain depth. Passing so close to the mystery of tangled roots, the branches from the palm trees brushed the sides of the car in whispers from the palm fronds. It felt like entering a holy place where silence and the senses reign. Slow down. Look, it said. Breathe deeply. I wanted to bottle the scent of green growth mixed with loamy ground. The road was always rough, even in dry season, but after the rainy season it became a patchwork quilt of pot holes laced together by slim sections of dirt, until it reached the edge of the Caribbean Sea where the white stucco house that Luis Felipe had built for himself and Molly was perched.

In 1988 Hurricane Gilbert, the second most intense tropical cyclone on record in the Atlantic basin struck the Gulf of Mexico, touched down on the property and obliterated the road. The storm lasted for nine days killiing 318 people, causing $2.98 billion in damages in the area. Reading the news fom St. Louis, I was worried sick about my friends and was unable to reach them by phone. All phone lines to the area were jammed. Weeks later Molly called. They happened to be in Cancun when the hurricane hit, but their dogs, who were their children, had been stranded in the house for several days. Once the height of the storm had passed, Luis Felipe went back to see if the house was still standing and to rescue the dogs. The road was impassible, flooded with raging water from the oceans and punishing rains. He couldn’t even see the road for all the water. But with the help of the foreman who had created the road in the first place, he built a raft to float the dogs back to the highway and found the watery way to the house. The dogs were alive but hungry, cowering upstairs. Miraculously, the house had survived when so many others had been destoryed. Only the big picture window in the living room had been blown out, and water thigh-high filled with dead fish and trash from the ocean covered the first floor.

Once the storm subsided, Luis Felipe had his masons renovate the house, making a bigger kitchen and adding an outdoor living room with a large screen for watching their collection of fine foreign films. But the road remained hand-made and potholed as it had been since the beginning, a symbol of the untamed and wild that drew me there.

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