The latest reports from me here in Sanaa, Yemen, have been kind of serious. So I asked my friend Joel S. Fogel, who´s last entry was a hit, if he could write something lighter. And, of course, he obliged! Joel´s life has to say the least, been very adventurous in many ways. And as in the life of all explorers, love stories is the most important! Thanks Joel for sharing this beautiful story with the rest of us!
The Unwilling Bride
Captain Joel S. Fogel
It all should have never happened. It’s nearly 35 years now (and still counting) since the big event:
First off, if I hadn’t decided to take the motorcycle trip from Alaska to South America, I would have never met her.
But I did and as I cruised down the Pan American Highway, traveling from Guadalajara to the west coast of Mexico, the oil slick which threw me to the ground as I rounded that mountain bend coming down out of the Sierra Madre mountains, was the last thing in my mind. Fate is funny. If the motorcycle and I hadn’t been loaded on to the back of that flat-bed truck and taken to the village of Santiago, about 150 miles south of Puerta Vallarta, I would have never met Clotilde or “Coty”, as I came to call her.
The bike, a BMW R-60, went to a mechanic’s shop to repair a smashed cylinder head while I recuperated from a wounded knee, sitting in a hammock by the sea overlooking Santiago Bay. Behind me was Hotel Casa Blanca, built by my future brother and sister-in-law, Maria Christina and Nate. Maria stood beside me as I watched the gold and purple of the sunset and she plied me with margaritas and tacos.
“Queres mas”, she asked, smiling, as she gently swayed the hammock. “Do you want more ?”
Her large. beautiful brown eyes twinkled with delight, contemplating her plan to introduce me to her little sister the next day. Nate, her husband, was a “gringo” from New York. He had met Maria while on vacation. Now they were married with three kids.
“Tomorrow we will go to the Hacienda to meet my sister and mis padres (parents). She’s a good girl,” she said, winking.
The Hacienda, as I found out the next morning, was a large ranch-style “finca” or farm with horses, cattle, citrus fruits and bananas overlooking the village. Maria’s father, Don Arturo, was the “Patron” or leader of the village. Her mother, Mama Elena, was the head of the church and the family owned most of the land as far as the eye could see. All of that would become important with time, but at that moment, as I stood in the archway of the grand entrance which opened up to a luxurious garden filled with fruit trees, flowers and flowing water, I was mesmerized: the woman of my dreams was before my eyes.
My heart began to race as Nate introduced me to the shy Sophia Loren look-a-like. She had been sweeping the patio with a broom. She was wearing white clam diggers and a blue-stripped short sleeve shirt. Her angelic face was framed by a Dutch-boy style haircut which highlighted her large gem-like glowing eyes.
Wow, I thought, could this be mine ?
The first hurdle I encountered was her father, Don Arturo, a tall, elegant man with a mustach, a cane and the receding hairline which was vaguely reminiscent of Don Corleone in the “God Father”. He had fought against Pancho Villa, carried a German Lugar under his belt and, at the age of 70, looked like the patriarch that he was: quiet but powerful. One glance at his expression as he gazed at me, told you that I was in trouble.
“Qual es su trabajo?” he stared at me with questioning eyes, “What is your work ?”
I had studied Spanish at Atlantic City High School for four years and then another four years at the University of Hawaii, but I still was not conversational. Nate translated for me and explained that I was a writer on assignment with National Geographic and Cycle Guide Magazine to tell the story of my trip. I guess he wasn’t impressed as I stood before him, also with a cane, hair down to my shoulders and a long, brown neatly trimmed beard.
“Se vea como hippie”, he exclaimed….“you look like a hippie !”
Three days later, I proposed marriage to Coty and suggested that we run off on the motorcycle.
“He would kill you,” she whispered, that night as the stars opened up above our heads by the thousands. Ten feet away were her cousin and aunt, sitting and quietly playing cards….but ever watching. It was the “duena” system of guarding the intended, prior to marriage, and it was driving me batty. I remember thinking about that woman who had captured by heart as I silently laid in my hammock, weeping quietly with the realization that I would have to leave and continue my journey without her.
My bike was ready and I needed to ride to finish my adventure. So, amid some weeping and much adulation, I mounted by black steel steed and tried to hide the hurt in my heart as I pulled out onto the highway, headed south. My plan was to travel to Tierra De Fuego in Argentina, but as I cruised along the hot and lonely roads of Central and South America, I longed for the little Spanish lady of French descent which I had met in Santiago….la senorita, Coty.
Two months later, when I arrived at the border of Brazil and Venezuela and the border guard told me I could not pass without a “bond” of several thousand dollars on my motorcycle to prevent me from selling it, that was all the excuse I needed. I drove back to Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, and sold my bike. I shaved my beard, cut my hair, bought a black suit, white shirt and back tie and an airplane ticket from there to Mexico City. (Oh yes, and tucked the emerald ring I had bought for her in the mines of Colombia, deep in my pocket). When I arrived, several days later, at the Hacienda de Santiago, I recall standing before those great wooden doors at the entrance and pulling the string to ring the bell above the door. Don Arturo answered as the mammouth “puertas” creaked open.
“Aqui estoy,” I said, hopefully. “Here I am.”
“Y que ?” he asked, glaring at me. “So what ?”
Well, the rest is history, as they say: I rapidly decided that I would have to convince Mama Elena of my goodness, if I was ever going to have Coty’s hand in marriage. So I bought her (my Mother-in-law) flowers each day and dressed in my hot black suit, we went to church, praying for my chances. I sat at the dinner table for “la cena” (the dinner) each night for six months, trying to listen and understand the language as the family conversed for hours on end.
Finally, Mama Elena told Don Arturo that “I was a good boy” and that they should invite my parents down to meet them. They came, met and also fell in love and so a date was set. But man, that was just the beginning: I needed to get permission from her Uncle Ricardo Ochoa, the Bishop of Colima and then travel back to Mexico City to obtain permission from the Mexican government to marry a Mexican citizen.
Whew…did I know what I was getting into ? No…but at that point, I didn’t care. Anyone who knows me, also knows that my only saving grace is my determination…it has saved my life on numerous occasions in settings too distant to describe. But after obtaining all of my permissions and standing in line for days on end, finally, the day before my wedding, I was stuck in Mexico City with a cancelled flight back to Santiago.
So I chartered a private plane and nearly died crossing the mountains in a ricketly old bi-wing straight out of some Humphrey Bogart movie….but I made it…on time. And that, my friend, was five kids and six grand kids ago. It wasn’t always easy…we had our difficult times, we faced cancer, financial challenges and lots of struggles, both in and out of the marriage. But somehow that pledge of “sickness and in health” along with the image of that face I had seen and loved so many years ago, has kept us going.
PS Truth be known….my wife’s a saint.
Capt, Joel S. Fogel