Our second son, Daniel, was two months old when my parents were scheduled to arrive from Germany. My husband planned to take our son Julian, then two years old, with him in our car to Mexico City where they would pick up my parents. Back then, the road trip to the capital — nine hundred kilometers away — took two days. My husband expected to be gone for about a week.
The day they left it started raining. We did not have a TV then and weather reports never reached us before the weather anyway. It was September — still the rainy season. It continued raining all day long and through the night. I lit a fire in the fireplace and spent the day at home with my little baby. Whenever he slept, I painted.
When I woke up the following morning I could hear the steady falling of rain on the stone surface of our patio. I did not like that. It meant I had to cross the very wet patio every time I wanted to go to the bathroom or the kitchen. All right then; I got up, put on a sweater and went to prepare tea. Opening the fridge, I realized I had to go to the market for more food. So after breakfast I wrapped little Dani in a shawl draped around my shoulder and waist. My faithful old red German rain cape protected the two of us as I walked through the rain. I had grown up in Hamburg where it rains a lot so the second day of rain did not disturb me at all. I met several acquaintances in the streets. They all seemed to be alarmed, though, by so much rain and kept repeating the words depresión tropical. A tropical depression — which can last several days — is often a precursor or successor to a hurricane. Both coasts of Mexico are hit by a lot of hurricanes. The highlands of Chiapas are usually protected from the storms by its mountain ranges, but the same high mountains catch all the rain that comes with hurricanes. That is what was happening.
I prepared myself for more gray and wet days.
During my recent pregnancy I had suffered from cravings for a special German chocolate cake. It was impossible to buy such a cake in town, so I had decided to bake it myself. A delicious cream made of butter and chocolate pudding goes between the layers of the cake. To me, Mexican butter has a strange taste so my chocolate cream was not that good. Nonetheless, I persevered with the recipe, inventing a quite nice dessert. The dreariness of the rain gave me a good reason to bake this cake for myself. I bought butter, eggs and all the other necessary ingredients.
It kept raining. The rain seeped through three holes in our roof. I put pots on the living room floor to catch the leaks. I could hear the “pling, pling, pling” as the water hit the metal. Eventually I got used to the percussion. Next, the kitchen ceiling began to leak. I could not dry the clothes I had washed and I needed more wood for the fireplace.
When I went out to check on our restaurant, I caught a glimpse of the newspaper. On the front page was a photograph of a flooding river destroying a bridge and taking some cars with it. The bridge was in a town just two hours away. The washout had occurred on the same day my husband and son had set out. Suddenly, I realized they would have had to use that bridge to get to Mexico City. I started to worry.
This all happened before there were cell phones. In our part of town no one had land line phones either. To make a phone call, one had to go to public phone booth located in a store. Now, on the third day of rains, I took my baby boy and my rain cape and went around the corner to a shoe store where there were three calling booths. First I had to give the number to a lady behind a counter. When one of the booths became free, the next caller in line was summoned and their number was dialed. The lady behind the counter was quite solicitous. A long line of people already sat on plastic chairs along a wall anxiously waiting for their connections. Some of them talked with the lady. Some flirted — hoping to win her sympathy and move up the queue. I gave her my mother-in-law’s telephone number in Mexico City and sat down. I was so nervous. I crossed my fingers that my baby would continue sleeping. He did, although I had to wait more than half hour until I was called. I was lucky; my husband was there!
“Kiki”, he said with relief, “I’m so glad you called! Julian and I nearly died the day before yesterday. We arrived in Cintalapa and before driving onto its bridge I realized the river was higher than I had ever seen it. Instead of crossing, I parked the car and took Julian onto the bridge to watch all the water rushing under it. Several other people were doing the same. As we stood there I heard a very strange, loud noise. People started shouting and running from the bridge. The bridge was shaking. I picked Julian up and started running as fast as I could. Once we reached the car, I looked back and saw that the river had carried away the bridge!”
I was in tears. Finally I asked,” How did you make it to Mexico City then?”
“We had to drive around, through Veracruz. A police car guided the cars and we just arrived this morning! I am going to send Julian back with your parents on an airplane. The car trip back will be too long and complicated for them. Call me again in two days.”
I was shocked and full of gratitude.
Two days later it was still raining. The telephone lines were down and I had consumed nearly the entire cake all by myself. By the next day I was able to get a call through. I talked to my parents who had arrived safely from Germany. They would leave Mexico City the following day. I did not have a car, so they would have to take a taxi from the airport in Tuxtla — the capital of Chiapas — to our house in San Cristobal. Very soon we would be together. And they would bring Julian!
But nobody arrived the next afternoon. When it was long past their arrival time, I returned to the telephone booth, but the telephone lady could not connect with Mexico City. I did not sleep that night. My baby did not either. The next morning I went to the travel agency.
“No,” they calmed me down there, “There was no plane crash, Doña Kiki. It is just that when the plane arrived in Chiapas the weather was too bad for it to land. It had to return to Mexico City. They will try again today.”
I thought of my poor parents, who did not speak any Spanish and very little English, with my very lively two-year-old son who was probably without extra clothes or diapers. Where had they slept?
I trudged back through the rain to the phone lady and tried again. This time I got through. My mother-in-law told me that my husband had left by car to find a path back to San Cristobal somehow, but she did not know anything about my parents or son.
“Probably they will arrive today then,” I thought, trying to calm myself. I decided to bake a chocolate cake for their arrival. I went to buy eggs.
“We do not have any fresh eggs,” the market vendor apologized. “The road into San Cristobal is in very bad shape from the rains. The truck that usually delivers eggs has not been able to make it here for the last three days.”
I had to buy the older eggs. When I cracked them open, they smelled terrible and I had to throw them out. Without eggs, there was no cake. I waited. I took care of the baby. I was much too nervous to paint.
Nobody arrived that afternoon, either.
I did not know where my husband was. I did not know where my parents and son were. It kept raining. People told me that more bridges had been destroyed, some roads had washed away and there had been landslides; neither could planes land in the continuing bad weather.
I kept checking our restaurant. I returned to the travel agency to be assured there had not been a plane crash. I hardly slept that night or the next.
Two days later I awoke to a gray sky, but the sound of rain had stopped. No more pings and plings into the pots on the living room floor. A few hours later a hole opened in the sky and the sun came through the clouds! I put my sweater on and my rain cape away and walked with my baby through town. In our restaurant they told me that the road into San Cristobal was still damaged, but that the first cars had made it through a few hours before.
“Maybe”, the man in the travel agency suggested, “The plane from Mexico City will land today.”
My parents and son arrived. My parents were in high spirits. At every point of their journey strangers had helped them find diapers, food and hotels. Somehow the Mexicans had understood them and vice versa.
The following day my husband arrived. Fresh eggs were again available and I baked a huge chocolate cake!
This happened 32 years ago. Countless hurricanes and tropical depressions have passed us by since back then, but it has never again rained like this straight for 10 days.
My baby – son from then is a father of two boys by now, 8 and 10 years old and him and his wife just had a baby – girl, who now is 3 months old.
Life never stops and time flies….I really have to bake that chocolate cake again!
Art by Kiki ( Familía Suárez - 1980)
Kiki en TELEMUNDO