Zeus, Unclothed

This story begins here: Meeting Zeus in Rural Mexico


First off, here’s the vital information I should have shared with you in my last post:

Sarapes make freaking terrible sleeping pads. They’re gorgeous and cheap, and they (falsely) make you feel like a hella-cool almost-local with one of them strapped to your backpack, but the truth is they do about as much to insulate you from the ground as a layer of saran wrap. So, after a night of repeatedly grinding my smooshy parts into the sand, trying to make divots where my hips (etcetera) were begging for space, I deeply needed the breaking day to be splendid and make my suffering worthwhile.

Enter Zeus.

So I’d just woken up, and this bearded, hollering skinny-dipper was especially awake, and I started frantically nudging my friend Jesse to, “Wake up and see the naked guy!” He popped up, bleary-eyed but curious, just in time to see two tall and curvy women saunter across the sand in nothing but thongs. (Retroactively: You’re welcome, Jesse. And you owe me.)


Food of the Gods!

Once he was joined by his sirens, SeΓ±or Alarm Cock calmed down considerably. The three of them paddled languidly around the curve of the lake and out of sight. My crew, feeling slightly bereft and beyond stodgy in our dusty trekking clothes, sat down to a breakfast of overripe mangos and Gansitos.

We didn’t see Zeus again until late that evening. To pass the time until he returned, we kept our date with a local boat captain (kindly arranged by El President del Lago). He helped us into his long canoe and paddled across the pale turquoise of the shallows into the deep azure at the heart of the lake.

We swam, and came across the most amazing underwater rock formations. They were like something out of Doctor Seuss. Like mushrooms, they had tall stems rising from the lake floor that curved out into wide pads when they reached air. They were sturdy enough to stand on, but if I grabbed at them chunks came away in my hand. I think now that they were mudstones – a kind of sedimentary rock – but at the time, I was simply fascinated by watching something solid turn to slime at my touch. And, of course, we used them to take some stellar walking-on-water photos. It was the weekend of the Gods.

By the time the afternoon sun began to sink, our guide had shown us the erroneously named Cave of the Turtles (which was home to a truly frightening number of sleeping bats), and had also pointed out a cliff marked with deeply eroded carvings and traces of paint. He wove for us the local legend of the Mayans who lived there centuries ago.

Once upon a time, there had been a thriving community in this rainforest paradise. Then, out of the blue, people started to fall sick with a mysterious and fatal disease. The village healers couldn’t discover a cause or a cure, and after a short time the sickness had spread to every inhabitant. Months later, visitors from a neighboring village came to the area and discovered the bones of the dead scattered where they had fallen. As the outsiders explored deeper into the jungle, they came across a similar scene – but this time the bones belonged to howler monkeys. To this day, the interpretation is that the monkeys contracted the illness first. Then the villagers who routinely hunted them, instead of eating their usual bush meat, had dined on death.

Now – if you were me – wouldn’t you think this tale was the perfect lead-in to another spooky story? Twilight was settling around us, we were almost back at camp, and I desperately wanted to hear the legend of La Llorona from a native. I asked, and the guide pulled a strange face, crossed himself, and then launched into a fable about a man meeting the devil at a crossroads.

That is not the story of La Llorona. Even this gringita knew enough to be sure that The Weeping Woman was the spirit of a young lady driven mad with grief after she drowned her own children in a desperate attempt to seduce the man she loved. Days later, when I was back with my host family, I asked Mama Rosa why the boatman had told a different story. Her eyes grew large and she laughed: “Mija, many people truly believe in that spirit. And what she does is lure men with her beauty, lead them down to the water, and drown them. No one in Chiapas would ever tell you that tale over open water! He must have been hoping to satisfy you with another story.”

Smart man.


Back at camp, we were building a small fire and wrestling with tuna cans when we heard a familiar song. It drifted closer and closer until our mysterious bearded friend emerged from the darkness, now dressed in linen clothing and once again flanked by his two companions. “Hello,” he said in delightfully accented English. “My name is ________.”

What was his name? I’ll never remember. But I can tell you why my friends and I still think of him as a rebellious, creative god. While we offered him some slightly squished snack cakes and he shared powerful liquor from a flask, we learned the following:

  • Both the gorgeous, quiet women were Zeus’ “special friends.”
  • They were traveling the world together in search of adventure.
  • They spoke fluent Greek, English, and Spanish, among (we suspected) a few more languages.
  • They were fleeing the “oppressive” system of higher education in Greece, which they told us enslaved students to follow a specific career path based on the results of a high school aptitude test. They said if you did not follow the government’s plan for you, you lost all access to financial aid. Because of this system, Greece had one of the highest suicide rates in the world and – as avowed artists, poets, and musicians – Zeus and his goddesses were fleeing the death of their very spirits.

The next morning, it was time to break camp and return to civilization. Zeus and his shyly beautiful women traveled with us, singing all the way to Emiliano Zapata. One of them picked flowers as we went, her long skirt trailing in the mud. She wove them into a circlet and placed it atop her friend’s dark curls.

I have to share this photo of a local woman riding the circus truck LIKE A BOSS.

Back in the tiny village, we had to wait for the circus truck to come to us. When it rumbled up, we were surprised to see it almost empty. Then it clicked: the supplies and passengers had already been delivered along the route, so there was ample room for weary travelers now.

About an hour into the drive, we stopped by a cluster of wooden buildings and the driver called back to us to step down. We gabbled in annoyance, but suddenly men carrying huge burlap sacks descended on the truck like worker ants. By the time they were done, the bed had been stacked high with enormous bags of coffee beans to be sold in a nearby town. We curled up on top of them, enveloped by a delicious aroma, and napped on and off as our rustic “bean bags” cushioned us over bumps in the road. The entire trip, Zeus regaled us with a streams of stories about the beauty of his homeland, the farms he had worked at in Central America, and how he and his girlfriends planned to change the world. His stories were punctuated with liberal dashes of wild gesturing, and he spilled the words down to us from his perch directly over the roof of the cab.

When we finally arrived back in San Quentin, my eyes immediately found a brightly painted sign advertising ice cream. Thirsty as dry wells, we all sprinted into the store with packs bouncing. When I tore the plastic from a long, spiraled rainbow pop and shoved it in my mouth, “refreshing” didn’t begin to cover the sensation. As I smiled around my sugar rush, Zeus caught my eye. He winked and wiggled his eyebrows, suggestive as Don Juan. Then, with a wave, he turned and strolled down the cobblestone street. Arm in arm with his back-up singers, he journeyed out of our lives and into our eternal memories.


41 responses to “Zeus, Unclothed

  1. Jennie…love your play on words! This post brought back so many childhood memories…my grandmother told me about the legend of La Llorona…and even a close story about a great uncle who was a cabbie down in Ecuador who one night had picked up a mysterious passenger from the local cemetery driven him to the bank and then back to the cemetery and watched him disappear into the night…gotta love Hispanic folklore! Lol…Great post!

    • Where did you grow up? The stories really are amazing, so much better than anything I heard at summer camp in the US!

      Another one of my favorites is about the cab driver on the night shift who noticed a huge black dog running alongside his taxi. Annoyed, he sped up, then sped up more and more, but the dog kept galloping beside him. Frightened, he looked at the speedometer and saw he was driving over 100 km/hour, and somehow the dog was keeping pace! At that exact moment, he raised his eyes to he road and saw a lovely woman dressed in white standing right in the middle of the road. As he hit her, they both screamed into the night… but when he parked the cab and ran back, he found not even one drop of blood. The woman and the ominous dog were both gone.


      • I grew up in NYC, but my family is from Ecuador. I have to admit I never heard the story about the dog…that was a good one!

  2. What a lovely story, Jennie :)…I’ve always enjoyed meeting fascinating outside-the-system people along my journeys too, and how they so naturally pop in and out of your life like a flash of brilliant light. You know as they walk away that you’ll never see them again, but that they made an impact on you forever, like Zeus did with you. I wonder what adventures he’s up to right this moment!

    • I like thinking of them as flashes of brilliant light. πŸ™‚

      Have you ever wondered, with all the people you recall in this way, whether some almost-stranger out in the wide world thinks of you from time to time?

      • Absolutely! πŸ™‚ And they likely remember things you don’t, or maybe something you said had an impact on them in a way you never realized. It’s kind of magical how we come into each other’s energy like that, mingling our existences. I’ll always remember Zeus now, too…one beauty of sharing our experiences through the written word. Thank you for that!

    • Gosh, this was seven years ago… I’d like to imagine they returned to Greece and opened a commune for hippie artist types to live in harmony by the sea.

  3. What a fascinating character! He sounds eccentric in all the right ways. And I had no idea that locals believed in La Llorona. I thought it was something ancient, told only to scare children…

    • So did I… but clearly not. Another legend that many of the cabbies hold dear is the one of a mysterious female traveler who appears in the passenger seat of cars traveling on the highway at night.

      You can’t see the lady if you look directly at her, but you’ll notice a depression in the seat caused by her weight. And if you raise your eyes to the rear view mirror, you’ll see a horrible death mask staring back with burning eyes.

      *shudder* That one used to really bother me when I was driving alone at night. I’d go so far as to pile my purse and other things in the passenger seat so the ghost wouldn’t be able to get comfortable!

      • That sounds like what I do! I dislike driving at night because of urban legends, so I crank up terrible music and pile up things in my front seat so my imagination doesn’t convince me there’s something there.

        Also, those sediment mushroom-looking things look like a lot of fun to play around on — great picture!

  4. You make me want to get out and travel, Jennie. Admittedly tough with three young kids in tow, but it would still be worth it, especially for him.

    I found the parts about the Greek education system really disturbing. I have been there (Rhodes and Santorini and the mainland), and I never heard anyone complain about that. Although the one day in Athens, there was a political protest march in the streets that scared the living crap out of me – people were angry. This was about a year before their financial meltdown, and they were angry then, as though they knew something was coming.

    By the way, if you don’t mind me saying so, you’re bang on gorgeous in that pic with the forest behind you. Ya heartbreaker you.

    • I saw a protest/street march in Italy that made me incredibly nervous. There was this shimmer of energy coming off the people and it felt like it might spark into violence at any time. It was especially upsetting because they were “boycotting” gay people… whatever that pathetic action even means in this case.

      ANYway. Yes! Travel for your son! I’ve never known a person who wasn’t better for having explored some unknown (to them) part of the world. And thanks for the compliment. I danced back then, and my legs were so strong.

      • Okay, well, that’s off-side, boycotting gay people… pointless and stupid. Sheesh, some people…

        My boy has travelled extensively… to Greece, actually! He’s seven. The four year old and the 18 month old haven’t travelled as much, but that’s in the offing.

  5. Amazing story and I’m so glad you shared it. Although I will say I kept waiting for the spirits do the lake to make an appearance. Wait. Maybe they DID. Did you ever actually physically TOUcH Zeus???

  6. Thank you for the Gansito pic. Saved me a Google search.

    Nice Nature Girl pic. Right out of Zap comics. Again, with the flat tummy. Knock it off.

    Proof positive that eating meat REALLY IS bad for you! They should have opted for the nuts and berries vs. the monkeys.

    Zeus sounds a little like a benevolent David Koresh. I’m always suspicious of people with minions. It always seems to be men.

    • Yeah, wouldn’t want to make you repeat the “shavasana” incident. πŸ˜‰

      What are Zap comics? (See, I just lazily refuse to Google.) And thanks!

      Damn it, though – I can’t be lazy twice in one comment. Let me go Google David Koresh… oh, right. Him. No, Zeus was a lover, and I’m guessing his only spirituality was something about living every moment to the fullest. I hear ya on the female followers thing, though… it sort of reeks of “I’m so special and evolved, I deserve more than one.”

    • Hooray!! I can give you tips if you want, I did a loooooot of bus traveling. Tip #1: Never sit in the back. It’s by the bathroom, which will stink, and you feel the motion of the turns more back there.

      Also, bring headphones or ear plugs. They will blast horrible movies (i.e. “Super Bebes!” Barf.) at a headache-inducing volume, even in the middle of the night.

      • I know! πŸ˜€ *stashes money away for trip* <–pretty much the only thing that motivates me to save money…
        Oooh best tips! I will have to keep them in mind. I used the headphone trick when I was in Mexico in February – it kept all the boys away which was a blessing, believe me.

  7. I love folklore! I really enjoyed reading about Zeus, the way your portrayed him and your funny play on words (alarm cock being my fave). And one of the things I most enjoy about traveling, is all of the amazing people who cross your path in moments of chance. People you would’ve never met who become a part of your travel story.

    • I’m so glad alarm cock tickled someone besides me. Tickled… ha! I did it again. πŸ˜‰

      And I agree completely, Deanna. Which is why I see WordPress as having a sort of geography, in which I find places I hate and places I dearly love, and a few of those special people I wouldn’t have met without exploring. πŸ™‚

    • 1) Yes!!! And soon I will share it with the world… (If that’s OK!)
      2) Thanks! Given that my hair’s almost a foot longer than it was in the old pic, I thought it was time for a change.

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