First, let me say that I observed Luis from a distance for several years. I wasn’t sure what I thought about him, as I saw him almost daily around the streets of the island. A blind man, walking barefoot with his blue support cane and always carrying a couple of beautiful, freshly caught large fish. I later found out that his goal was to sell these fish to restaurants. He traversed the curbs and streets with the precision of a seeing man, not a blind one. Luis’ appearance was that of a man that had seen a hard life, but had found a simple way of living and surviving. My observations continued, when one day I noticed Luis working at one of my favorite beach dive restaurants. I ordered a drink from a waiter, but it was delivered to me by Luis. Again, his precision was flawless, he knew where every table and chair was placed in the restaurant. “Gracias” was all I could manage to say. Over the next several weeks, I observed Luis rake the sand on the beach, bus tables and serve the occasional drink order to the parched, sunburned customers. I don’t really remember how it happened, but one day I asked Luis to join me after his shift. Promptly at 1:30 he sat down and I introduced myself and he did the same. An hour conversation later, I realized that I had misjudged this wonderful, kind, gentle and misunderstood man. Shame on me! Luis and I have since become good friends and I pass him on the island streets regularly. I asked him if he would share his island story with me. He agreed.
His story. His words.
I was born on this island in 1966 to a Mexican father and a Mexican-Mayan mother. They separated shortly after my birth, because my paternal grandparents disapproved of his Mexican-Mayan wife. My mom and I moved to her mom’s home in a Mayan town in interior Mexico, but returned to the island three years later to rejoin my dad and her husband. My sister Lydia, was born and my dad soon became ill and passed on. My mom soon met Ramon, a fisherman and Ramon "gave me my life!” He taught me to fish and I loved it and he was good to me. We had the appearance of a good life living in El Centro, but in reality, we lived in the cramped back room of a chicken house. We had lice and worms, life was not good, but Ramon pretended that all was well. I had normal sight at that point and I knew things were NOT alright! My mom worked hard in the laundry at the large hotel on the island. We moved to another Mexican island, to Guatemala and then Chetumal. We moved to Cancun for a while, where my mom made tamales every day and I was expected to sell ALL of them daily at age 7. Ramon told me not to come home unless my bucket was empty, and I KNEW he meant it! We never had a telephone and my grandmother would write often wanting to know how I was.
We returned to this island when I was 8. I attended school here and sometimes on the mainland. I was a good boy and a good student, never in trouble. My teachers loved me and often helped me by buying me clothes. I was always very active in sports. You can see that I’m not a tall man, but I was very strong and VERY FAST! I traveled with a group of other athletes to various sporting competitions, including Mexico City and we were usually winners in our various sports. Life was good. I was happy.
At the age of 14, my life changed drastically. My uncle owned a large motorcycle. Riding with him one day, we had a terrible accident and the extremely hot exhaust pipe landed on my leg. My uncle was thankfully okay. I was rushed to the mainland hospital by boat. The terrible infection on my leg would not heal and I came close to death several times. The doctors made a decision without consulting my family. One day another uncle came to visit me and found me very over medicated. He heard the doctors discussing their plans to take me to surgery and amputate my leg! Thankfully my uncle acted quickly and after a hospital distraction, he came to my bed, threw me over his shoulder and successfully rescued me from the doctors plans. My family soon found a doctor that had a spray antibiotic. I used it several times daily for three years and finally my infection was healed. I am so thankful for my uncle's quick thinking and his timely action... because of him, I walk today. Unfortunately, not long after that, my rescuer was killed in a moto accident on the island. I am so thankful that I had this man in my life and I miss him very much.
I finished school and soon began learning the technique of free diving, working with lobster nets and different fishing techniques from another uncle. Maybe you have heard of him…Carlos Garcia Constila…he is the guy that discovered the Cave of the Sleeping Sharks, to the north of the island many years ago. Ever heard of him? There have been mis-published reports that his name was Pablo Garcia, but that’s not correct. His name was Carlos Garcia Constila or “Valvula” to family and friends. Thank you for clearing that up to honor my uncle’s name and legacy, the TRUE discoverer of the Caves. When noted oceanographer and underwater photographer, Ramon Bravo came to the island many years ago, my uncle took him and later Jacques Cousteau to the mysterious caves where these bull sharks appear to be sleeping in perfect stillness. Bravo and Cousteau made numerous documentaries about the caves, but my uncle had been the first to show them the caves existence. Carlos died just three months ago. Want to see his grave?
At age 19, I decided I needed to move to a larger town, so I went to Cancun. I worked for a time in a very upscale boutique that catered to the rich tourists. An abogada, a female attorney, came into the boutique one day and after shopping for a while she said “I like your style, the way you talk to customers and your selling technique!” She offered me a position in her handicraft store in the large shopping center. While at the handicraft store, I had the opportunity to buy a baby owl. I named him Gaddafi! He was an instant crowd pleaser, especially to one very beautiful woman from Venezuela, sixteen years my senior. We fell in love and were together for five years. I later found out that her mom had been secretly trying to set us up! The owner of the handicraft store decided to leave the business to me and signed all papers over to me, including some silver stores. I proved to be an asset to the business that had been left to me. I was good at customer service and the stores were profitable. One day my Venezuelan love suggested that we move to Venezuela, where I would never have to work again. Sounds like a plan! I returned the stores ownership to the original owners and off we went! In Venezuela, we made a family. Over the next five years we traveled between Venezuela and Cancun. I had it all, I was happy and in love.
After five years together, our sixteen-year age difference started to matter, I was 25 and she was 41. Our relationship began to deteriorate and I decided to return home. I ended up in Mexico City with eight boxes packed to the brim, all of my worldly possessions. I had even bought gifts for all my family, all securely packed in my eight boxes. I hailed a taxi to take me to my transportation back home. The taxi driver and I loaded all my belongings into his taxi and even secured some boxes on top of the taxi. This was my life here in these boxes and I was headed home. I hopped into the taxi and the driver politely said..” Would you mind getting out and giving us a little push…sometimes that helps to get the car going”. Always a pleaser, I jumped out of the taxi, got behind it and gave a nice push..and OFF went the taxi —without me!! I stood there yelling “Wait for me ..wait for me!” I waited there five hours, truly believing that I had not been robbed of everything I owned by a taxi driver. I was wrong. It was gone, all of it. How could I have been so stupid… OK… you can stop laughing now—yes, it’s funny now, but at the time I was devastated!! I said, you can stop laughing now!! Thankfully, I was wearing my backpack with my money, camera and passport. Well, the taxi driver hadn’t gotten it all!
Now what?? Well, start over I guess. I decided to stay in Mexico City for a while. I sold all my jewelry and that added to the small amount of money that I had in my possession. I met a woman that made tamales for a living (and I might add, she had a beautiful daughter). I started working with her and she was kind enough to let me live outside her house. I ate tamales every day —that was my payment for helping her. No problem—at least a I had food and shelter. Christmas was coming and I noticed a huge store that had a sign outside.. HELP WANTED FOR THE UPCOMING HOLIDAY SEASON. That sparked my interest, so I went inside to check it out. I could work here—I like it. I pasted a woman that was giving out free samples of ham and cheese and growing tired of my endless tamale diet, I stopped to chat with her. She said that she couldn’t give me in any samples, because I wasn’t shopping, but if I would get a shopping cart and PRETEND to be a buying customer, she could give me lots of samples. Now there’s an idea! Pretend to shop daily, walk thru the store, eat ham and cheese, life is good. Each day I came into the store to “shop” , impersonating a REAL customer and I filled up with free ham and cheese. Until one day, I felt a tap on my shoulder, the police. The store manager had been watching me for a while, come in daily, grab a cart, eat my fill of ham and cheese, then push the filled shopping cart off to the side and walk out. Instead of arresting me (I hadn’t actually stolen anything), he offered me a job. The free samples that I had eaten would be docked from my paycheck, BUMMER! Know what my job was? To restock the shelves with all my filled to the brim shopping cart items! DOUBLE BUMMER! OK.. you can stop laughing ..again!!
Time to go back to Cancun. I worked for a while there on my cousins sailboat, taking tourists for a sail around these waters. I also got into a timeshare business with two other partners. Things were looking up again, but I longed for my island home. I returned to the island and one day I ran into the abogada that had given me my chance several years ago in the handicraft store on the mainland. As luck would have it, she now had two stores on the island. I was hired, again! During this time I returned to Venezuela several times to visit my love. There was much political unrest there and one day I was arrested, just for being outside. I was a tourist, I had nothing to do with this political upheaval. Wrong place, wrong time. Finally, I was able to get back to the island and to the stores. I lost contact with my Venezuela family.
One day, my boss, the abodaga, asked me if I wanted to go to Mechoacan with her. Well sure, why not?? Another adventure! We lived in Morarea, the capital city of Mechoacan. I loved this place, it was an old colonia town with much charm and more history. I had two jobs there... one in a crazy bar and the other in a wood shop. I met a woman, Gabriela. I was 28 years old now. Again, life was good. And then a call from Cancun. My mom in Cancun and my grandma in Merida were both very ill. My heart sank. I had to go home.
Back in Cancun I met a wonderful Canadian woman, Clarita. I had finally found the love of my life, my Clarita. She was everything to me. She returned to Canada and I planned to visit her. First, I returned again to Venezuela to see if there was any sign of my family there. None. I now knew that part of my life was over but I was in love with Clarita and again, life was good.
And one day it happened. I awoke one morning to a yellow haze over my eyes.The trees looked yellow, everything looked yellow. My head was pounding so hard, the pain was unbearable. I could not stand to be in the sun, my eyes and head couldn’t take the pain. What’s happening to me? First to the island hospital, then to the mainland. I was diagnosed with diabetes at age 35. I needed insulin. I was moved to a Merida hospital, where I was in a coma for four months. I forgot everything, including my love, Clarita and I was blind. One day someone noticed the tattoo on my right upper arm… Who’s Clarita they asked? Then I remembered her. My love, my sweet love. I later found out that she had been killed in a car accident. I became so depressed, I just wanted to be alone. I was once a strong, independent man and now I was a weak, dependent and blind man. I was in great despair. I was taking thirty pills a day and I kept running into stuff. Then one day, I picked up my little radio and out of my right eye, I could see shapes and a little light. Hallelujah! Was my sight returning? As it turned out, that was as good as it got, but it was something. Depression set in heavily. I was even hit by a moto and broke my nose! Thankfully, I remembered the streets of this island from my youth, so I was able to move around pretty well on my own. But life was not good.
I started drinking more than I ever had before. I lived on the beach. I was dirty. I was able to sell fish for some local fisherman and I made just enough money to buy my bottles of cheap rum and stay drunk most of the time. I had HIT BOTTOM! One day my mom, grandma and aunt found me and said they were getting old and seeing me like this was killing them. All they wanted was for me to quit drinking. At this same time, my uncle was very ill and then he died. I just stayed depressed.
Finally one day, my mom asked me again to stop drinking. She said that she would give me four days to stop on my own, or she was going to take over. I didn’t stop and she made good on her promise. She came and got me and took me to her house. I had 10,000 pesos in my possession…I gave it all to her. She was going to keep me away from the bottle at all cost. Her husband Ramon, was there of course, but she promised to make him stay away from me. This was going to be hard enough without his input. Eighteen days later, I started having hallucinations and the shakes. I stayed cold and huddled under the covers. This was the hardest thing that I had ever done and I was putting my mom through this torture too. Then one day, I woke up and the chills were gone. I was actually hungry for real food. I started cleaning conch shells at my mom’s house to make a little money. I had to stay close, because she and I both knew that if I returned to my old life, my old friends, I would return to the bottle.
I HAVE BEEN SOBER FOR EIGHT YEARS NOW. My life is good. God is good. God gave me two lives, the one before, when I was sometimes happy, but mostly unhappy and now this life, a happy island life. I don’t wish my blindness on anyone or the way that I have lived my life in the past. I have made many mistakes over a lifetime, but I see now that each mistake was a teaching, a lesson to what matters. I know people see me sometimes and maybe are a little afraid of me. I know they talk about me. But it’s because they don’t understand me. That’s why I’ve told you my story. Maybe now others will understand me, as you do. Maybe my story will help someone. And, by the way, I was just sitting here wondering…we’ve been talking for many days now and you know a lot about me, but I know nothing about you! Who are you anyway?!
In conclusion, let me say that in the time Luis and I have spent together, I have come to care so much for this man, as a human being. Sometimes misunderstood, sometimes talked about, but this man is a good man. Truth is he’s a remarkable, strong man and very funny guy, who has lived life his own way. He made choices some good, some bad. Just like the rest of us. The difference is that Luis learned from his mistakes. He turned his life around. He is surrounded by an island family that loves and supports him. I believe he considers himself a lucky man. Luis lives simply now, working one day at a time. Doing different jobs. He survives on very little, but his life is very full. He has brought a great joy to my life. I am now beginning to understand him. Luis loves the Lord. I truly believe that in the past, Luis lived seeing light, but he was in the dark. Now, he lives in the dark, but he is surrounded by the Light. Thank you, Luis, for your time, your lessons and your words. May our friendship be a long one.
One last thought…. as Luis and I were leaving the restaurant where we were having one of our talking times, we got into my rented golf cart, I turn on the key…Luis says “WAIT! someone’s coming (he heard a moto). I said, “well, do YOU want to drive?” Luis laughed and said “Can’t, don’t have my driver’s license with me”!! Told you…funny man!!!