CREATIVE Karen Phillips

NWR Issue 112

Extract: Stranger Shores

3. The Waiting Shore

The main road through Mahahual runs past the hotel, a thin track of tarmac with thin drifts of sand nudging out from the high curbs. It is remarkably dull until you look up and see the storm clouds of the Yucatan curling across the sky; layers of cloud colliding and roiling, curling in breakers with dark hearts, exploding in slow motion rain storms that drop towers of rain looking like distant castles seen through mist. Strange shapes and every colour bruising the skies above give end of the world drama to a landscape that is only interesting in close up.

North of town a thin pier tenuously stretches into the sea. It is empty when we arrive. As empty as the streets of Mahahual, which are desolate and dark, seconds after the quick sunset brings the night.

We cannot find anywhere open after 6pm. We eat in our hotel. We are the only guests in a patch of light on the malecón and the only sound is the wind in the palms and the waves on the beach. A bored waitress hikes up a smile as she serves us and through the open door to the kitchen we see the chef mixing demi-glaze from a tin as if he were mixing cement.

We retire early and rise equally early but we still aren’t first up.

In the hour before dawn we stand on the rooftop of our hotel, overlooking the beach and the malecón, and we watch the locals prepare for the gravy ship to dock.

A white pickup truck is parked on the malecón, several young men are feverishly unloading it of a collection of pottery skulls, nodding turtles, pareos, sarapes and Mexican blankets, all garishly bright, their colours blinding even in the pearly pre-dawn light.

The beach is being raked by teams of men. They hustle and joke as they rapidly barrow away the latest influx of sargassum weed, pausing every now and then to wipe sweating brows and gaze at the blue smudge silhouette on the horizon that is the carnival cruise ship heading in to port.

Where last night stumpy chit palms were colonised by only sand crabs, now massage tables are clustered around their fat crenulated trunks. Lithe young women are businesslike buttoning up crisp white tunics and stacking tightly rolled towels on racks with their feet rammed into the sand.

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Karen Phillips is a writer recently returned to her homeland of Pembrokeshire after a decade abroad in Turkey and Mexico. She writes fiction with a twist of magical realism and narrative nonfiction on travel, women’s health and life off the beaten track. She has recently completed her first novel. ‘Stranger Shores’, the book which is excerpted here (from Chapters 3 and 5), was highly commended this summer in the New Welsh Writing Awards 2016 University of South Wales Prize for Travel Writing, run by ourselves. Our ten-minute highly commended entries showcase featuring 'Stranger Shores', with author presentation and reading, can be viewed at Multimedia


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