We arrive through the perfectly puffy clouds and dense jungle foliage straight through to Merida. Not Tulum where hipsters have colonized every beach and bar, nor Cancun where developers squished out every ounce of charm — but little, prized-by-Mexicans, highly old-world Merida in the Yucatan. The shape of time starts shifting with each step into the humidity, along the cobble stone streets as we catch our breath and clean up in our most hot pink of hotels, Rosas y Xocolate.
Here I am, an adult child traveling with my sixty-nine-year-old father. No spouses, no grandchildren, no siblings to buffer any closeness or awkwardness. Just us. We are the same but different. We’ve traveled the world together, me as a little girl at his feet carrying camera equipment, taking his lead and absorbing his way in the world (purposeful, funny, half-crazy). Now here he is with me attempting to be my assistant as I’ve become a photographer and ambitious traveler, too.
We decided on the Yucatan, and Merida in particular, as our base because it’s a place we both haven’t been and it’s not too far from our mutual home state of California. It also seemed wonderful: The textures of pastel colored walls; romance of fading colonial towns; tropical blue skies with pillowy clouds. After seeing photos of my brother’s honeymoon there years before, I knew I wanted to make my own images of this enchanted place. What I didn’t realize until we arrive is that it is a fantastic base for exploring Mayan ruins and that with every temple we explore, we get deeper into the time traveling warp we find ourselves in. I’ve grown into his shoes, professionally speaking. My dad is still a brilliant photographer, and at the moment he is focusing on other topics than travel pieces. This time, he will be carrying around my gear (which is much smaller and lighter than in his era, I must say!)
We find ourselves surrounded by a culture obsessed with time—Ek Balam, Chichenizta, Uxmal—and we hike around all of them, digesting the glyphs and spatial arrangements of the very-intact structures, each of them aligned with patterns of the sun, moon, and time-keeping. The layers keep going as my Dad has now turned his old film camera (the only tool he’s brought) towards me. He’s already photographed a lifetime’s worth of architecture, food, people in foreign places—and who do I resemble but my mom at my age? Or maybe my grandmother with her swagger and love of stylish clothes. He captures all with a camera he first got when he was 10—a plastic toy given to him by his father, a NYC cop with a love for, you guessed it, photography.
We are circling each other, having gotten into our new old groove. I’m the leader now, he’s taking cues from me and my interests (food, spaces and flowers). He casually ignores the guide I’ve hired to shuttle us around the neighboring haciendas and markets; he’s lost in his own thoughts. I’m trying to get a photo-essay sorted. I scold, “You’ve got to participate!” Then I shudder and grin as I hear his voice saying these same words to me long ago. I even find myself feeling like I’ve forgotten something—his tripod, for sure (my signature item to misplace when I was his assistant growing up), only to smile and zip into the present, remembering neither of us is carrying this hefty piece of equipment (thank you digital photography.) In our oceans of time spanning seven days, we are getting closer with the long evenings of dinners…with margaritas (maybe a few margaritas)…and the stories start to flow freely and never really stop. I’m almost hosting an interrogation with each meal, question after question. He unfurls his rich life and I get to hear things I’ve never been privy to—the time in junior high that he, Brooklyn boy that he was, snuck out to the Aqueduct for placing bets; the college joy rides to Canada; hiding under the bed with his father because they were scared of whoever was at their apartment door. It feels so precious this moment, this special time in our lives where we acted on our wants and whims and actually booked a trip together—as two grown ups, but still as two kids, and most importantly, as friends. We play every role in this comical adventure movie we’re on. It’s wonderful, familiar, and a little strange. I am forced to remember and adapt to his very specific habits –he’s completely not alive before the first cup of coffee, still snores like a banshee and likes to “save his shower” for night time. Me, I drink tea, wear ear plugs and attempt to fall asleep before his snoring roar goes into full swing. I forgo the shower for decadent bathing each morning. We are the same, but so different.
The Yucatan is the perfect backdrop and foil to this Alice in Wonderland trip where I’ve gotten big and have become a Woman (with a capital “W”) and my dad, he has become a tiny bit smaller. No longer am I tugging at his waist, burying my sweaty mop of curls into his nook, or being carried in his arms at the first sign of fatigue. I’m simultaneously okay and completely not okay with how things are going. This time thing keeps marching forward when I’d like it to stand still, or even go backwards. I lied actually. When I feel the pull of time, I still do bury my curls in his fatherly hug. Because we are photographers with a lifetime of travel together, it’s all been preserved, this false instant, in a handful of photographs. Click. Click. Click.