By September of 1985, I was ready to complete the final phase of my doctorate degree in psychology. In addition to taking classes at International College and working as a therapist at a mental health clinic, I had spent endless hours gathering data for my doctoral dissertation on the murals of East Los Angeles and their symbols. My days were a race against time. At night I would come back to my small apartment and write until one or two in the morning. I was ready to take a break from school and work!
For six months, I had been waiting for the opportunity to travel to the Yucatan. Going to meet a healer named Don Tomas was somewhat of an obsession. It all started one night in March. Due to exhaustion, I had fallen asleep in front of my computer. An hour later, I woke from a strange and vivid dream. As soon as I opened my eyes, I was compelled to write down information given to me by an unfamiliar voice. Whoever had visited my dream gave me the command: "Flor, go to Merida, in the Yucatan, Mexico. Go and find the small town of Piste. There is an old man, a curandero, who lives there, in the outskirts of town, in the jungle. His name is Don Tomas. This man is about 101 years old. He's five feet tall, with white hair and penetrating dark eyes. He's very wise. Don Tomas wants to see you."
"Fine," I said aloud, "like I have much time to look around for some old curandero in the jungles of Mexico." I got up from the chair and walked around the living room, trying to make sense of my dream. It must be the effect of exhaustion, I thought. I'm burned out! This dissertation is finally getting to me. In the bathroom, I washed my face with cold water. I laughed at the nonsense: a curandero in the Yucatan, ha ha ha! What a bizarre idea! The ringing of my phone brought me back. I rushed to answer the late night call thinking it could be an emergency.
"Hola, Flor. This is Angel."
"Oh, hi, Angel, What's happening? Are you okay?"
"Sorry, I'm calling you this late, but I thought you might be up. You know, working on your dissertation."
"Yes," I said and thought about my dream.
"Flor, listen, are you interested in going to the Yucatan with me and Lisa?"
"What?" I said in disbelief, thinking that some joke had been played on me. "Yucatan? What about Yucatan?"
"Well, Lisa and I are leaving for Yucatan in two days on a business trip. We thought perhaps you might be interested in joining us as a translator."
"Well, that would be fabulous, but honey, I'm up to my ears with school and work. I can't afford to take any time off at this point. I can't. I'm sorry."
"I understand," Angel said.
There was a pause. I hesitated to tell Angel about my dream. Maybe he could look for Don Tomas. It was a wild thought but I had nothing to lose. I took a deep breath and shared with Angel the message I'd received earlier. Angel was not surprised at all. He was excited. "Hey, Flor, I'll do my best to locate this curandero. Believe me, if he's there I'll find him."
Angel left for the Yucatan and I went back to my work on the dissertation. Three days later, I received a call in the middle of the night. On the phone was the lively voice of Angel, calling from Merida.
"Flor, you won't believe it! I found the man. He lives in the town as your message said. This curandero is 101 years old. I was taken to his house, out in the jungle, by a taxi driver I met at the airport."
"Wait. Wait! Are you sure about this?" I asked in disbelief.
"Sure. He's the guy. Tomorrow, I'm going to take a picture of him, if he lets me, of course."
I hung up the phone. My body was shaking. Even though Angel reassured me several times that Don Tomas was real, I couldn't believe it. This was so mysterious and unbelievable.
Several days later, Angel and Lisa returned from the Yucatan with pictures and anecdotes of their trip and of their meeting with Don Tomas. The curandero only spoke Yukatec Mayan, so in order for them to communicate, they hired the taxi driver named Nico to be their translator. When they shared my experience with the healer, he smiled and said he knew, and that he was waiting for me to come and visit him. "I'm getting old," he said to Angel and Lisa. "She should come soon." During this first encounter with Don Tomas, Angel had asked for permission to record the conversation. He had made sure the machine was working but after he went back to the hotel and played the cassette, there was nothing on it, except for a loud noise.
Now, here I was six months later, my dissertation completed, and I had received another invitation from Angel and Lisa to go to the Yucatan. Excited, I prepared for the trip. As agreed, I was to meet Angel and Lisa at the Los Angeles airport. That afternoon, I left my place in plenty of time to catch our flight to Merida at 2:10 pm. Yet as soon as I entered the North 405 freeway, traffic was bumper-to-bumper, a long snake moving at less than five miles per hour. I got off the first exit and drove along the streets, thinking that if I went north for a while, the freeway would be less congested as soon as I passed the area of the accident. To my dismay, five miles later, the road was not any better. Sweating and anxious, I drove at this snail-like pace for more than an hour and a half. I cursed the L.A. traffic hundreds of times, and I made promises to all my orishas of fresh fruit and candles, if they got me to the airport for my flight.
It was 2:15 when I arrived at the airport check-in. The woman took a look at my ticket and said, "I'm sorry but this plane is ready to take off. The door was closed a minute ago." Full of frustration, I dropped my luggage to the floor. The lady must have felt my deep disappointment because, immediately, she suggested another flight I could take in twenty minutes.
Without even thinking about my options, I booked myself onto the next flight to Mexico City, where I would spend the night and then take an early morning plane to Merida. I grabbed my boarding pass and ran towards the gate of Mexicana Airlines. What a day! I thought, as I stood in line to get into the plane. Behind me, two men talked about a recent earthquake. I did not pay too much attention until I heard them say that Mexico City was a disaster. Rescue crews were still digging bodies out of the ruins. I panicked at the thought of spending a whole night there, but it was too late. The line was moving. I was on my way.