Starlit Rambler - Adventure Travel Our Way
Life is a precious existence; often taken for granted until you are familiar with a soul who has exited its earthly being. Death is tough, period. Whether you have lost a friend, parent, grandparent, son, daughter, acquaintance, neighbor or perceived enemy; one’s heart aches and your own mortality comes into question. Most have experienced the loss of a loved one through a variety of circumstances; natural aging, cancer, car or sports accident, stroke, heart failure, suicide. Death is the only certain thing in life so why is this 100% unquestionable part of existence so difficult? Why aren’t we better prepared for it? What makes the death of a loved one harder than the death of another? Is it the circumstance or timing in one’s life? The heart suffers.
Rachelle and I have both experienced loss in our lives, however I still consider myself very fortunate as I have been able to perpetuate many close family and friends. Our travels throughout the USA, Canada, Colombia, and Mexico over the last year has opened our hearts to beautiful landscapes, dignified cultures, language, every lasting friendships, and a deeper understanding of the world beyond our borders. We carefully planned and prepared for this Starlit Adventure but neither preparation nor fortitude could equip us for this reality.
On the morning of March 25th, 2016, alone, I stood in the hand-built bathroom with our friend, host, a father, a grandfather, and compassionate heart. While his earthly being rested on the floor; his beautiful soul had departed to encompass those he loved. The realization of the previous evening's unexplained events came full circle. The sounds, the feelings, the questions, the uncertainty, the uneasy sense something was not quite right. The tragic dots connected. Fear filled my bones. I departed, in a panic run, from his palapa style bedroom down the 40 some steps to our palapa guest room. It was 8:00 am and Rachelle lay peacefully sleeping in the bed while the waves of the bay crash heavily on the rocks beneath the bedroom window. I stood, staring, as her body lay at rest. I paused, afraid to wake her in this manner, my choices were slim as I move her shoulder back and forth. “Get up Rachelle, we have to go! Les is dead...they killed him.”
This was our second time in the quaint little village of Yelapa, Mexico; a short 45 minute water taxi ride south from Puerto Vallarta. Paragliding had brought us to this stunning paradise two years earlier as we challenged ourselves in safety and aerobatics (SIV) high above Yelapa bay. Yelapa is Les’s home, as his hand built house represented the furthest human development on the north-side of the bay. Two years prior he had greeted Rachelle and I on the sandy beach of Yelapa, with his stringy blonde hair and big smile, as we prepared to complete a paragliding safety course. Les is highly skilled and passionate. His love for life, flying, family, and friends was clearly the source of his happiness; he was just a cool dude. A man who lived an unconventional life by most people’s standards going forth with his heart to lead him as opposed to societal guidelines.
In the summer of 2014 we had the pleasure of meeting back up with Les as we spent a couple weeks flying in Woodrat, Oregon and Chelan, Washington with our instructor/friend, Brad, and friend, Victor, from Mexico. As Brad was kicking butt and winning the paragliding comps in both Oregon and Washington; Victor, Rachelle, Les and I were getting to know each other better. Brad and Les’s bond was already an unbreakable tie. The friendship really hit off as Rachelle laid a right hook on an extremely annoying and rude Swiss guy in our group. Les’s response was classic and a phrase we often and will forever share together, “That’s some fucked up shit!”
As we approached mainland Mexico in order to share some time with our friend Victor in Puerto Vallarta, Les extended his home to us with the upcoming Mexican holiday of La Semana Santa, or Holy Week, about to commence. La Semana Santa is Mexico’s second most important holiday behind Christmas, the equivalent of Easter in the States. The majority of citizens use this holiday for vacation and Puerto Vallarta is a top destination not only for foreigners but Mexican Nationals as well. “It’s a shit show,” as defined by a local in Puerto Vallarta, “get out of town.” No better time to escape the crowds then take up Les on his invitation to stay with him at his home in paradise while paragliding all day and soaking up the sun.
Sunday, March 20th, 2016, a week before Easter Sunday, Victor, Les, Rachelle and I shared dinner at Angelina's Garden while Victor and Les lost focus, distracted by the girls beach volleyball game in the background. Not sure if it was the aggressive play or the small bikinis which kept their eyes locked on the action. Between the volleyball action Les had a proud confession to make at dinner that night. “You know I stopped smoking,” as he gazed upon Rachelle. “Really?” Rachelle responded with the look of a proud parent. “Yeah, I heard you were coming,” joked Les. If you know Rachelle she is not bashful to share her thoughts and experiences when it comes to personal health given her history as an Oncology nurse. Two years ago on our flying trip Les heavily inquired Rachelle on the effects of cigarettes and she laid it on him. Not saying this was the reason he quit but the conversation had resonated with him and finally after a lifetime of smoking he was fighting the nicotine battle.
As the sun laid stake over the western horizon we convinced Victor to stay the night and take the water taxi back to Puerto Vallarta in the morning. Victor is the Jefe at a fantastic hotel in downtown Puerto Vallarta and as the Semana Santa crowds engulfed his hotel the call of business was heavy on his mind. The special evening ended in Les’s hand built round outdoor sauna. Knees touching, as four seemed to be the maximum comfortable capacity, the perspiration poured from our pores with heat exhaustion around the next corner. Not wanting the night to end, but fears of heat stroke in the back of my mind, it was time to escape the human oven and retire for the evening.
The next few days in Yelapa seemed to mirror one another. A life of carefree sunny days, sandy toes, salty hair, stiff drinks, succulent food, and a surreal ambiance. The town enjoys the absence of roads with paths barely wide enough for an ATV, as foot traffic dominates the main source of transportation. Days ebb and flow as tourist disembark from the water taxis, commuting to the waterfall in town, just to return to the relaxing sands of this beautiful bay to dine. As Rachelle reluctantly nursed her fractured back, lounging on the soft sand and sipping on margaritas, I made friends and took advantage of the day to paraglide from the local launch site. Each day ended with a seafood cuisine, margarita, and the retreat of the sun over the western horizon...a place out of the story books, a special place under the Mexican sun.
On the evening of Wednesday March 23, 2016, we returned to the house and happily found Les chilling in the living room on the couch. The day before we had planned to go to dinner but a long day back in the mountains and premature appetite disrupted our plans. It was already 11pm but instead of heading to bed we all decided to start an old Clint Eastwood western movie under the moonlight. Rachelle has a special intuition about things, as her desire to spend time with Les was heavy on her mind since we arrived in Yelapa. This was a special night for Les and Rachelle. I quickly fell asleep curled up in the chair while both Rachelle and Les enjoyed the comforts of their own personal couch, chuckling at my uncomfortable, subconscious being. At the conclusion of the movie they made their way to the deck to take in the moonlit Yelapa bay and the sound of the crashing waves. Expressing his love for his home, Yelapa, together they indulged in the simple beauty of friendship, nature, and serenity.
Life is full of surprises and living the life of a paraglider pilot or a mere pedestrian crossing a street, one mistake can be your last. But the next day Les did not make a mistake. In fact he flew high amount the clouds from the Yelapa Tapa paragliding launch site enjoying a special flight from his well known territory. Conditions were exceptional and his only blemish was landing in the lagoon but like a boss he kited his wing out, placing it down on the soft sand. Rachelle had spent the day interviewing for travel nursing positions back at the house, only taking a break to meet me for lunch on the beach before I went up for another flight. While on the beach, that afternoon, she greeted Les after his long flight and landing in the lagoon. He was so happy to see her and gave her a monster hug. Not a “hi, how you doing hug,” but rather a hug when you reunite with a long time friend or his beloved daughter. She even exclaimed, as they finished their embrace, “Wow, now that’s a hug!” Les looked at her and unquestionable stated “You are going to be alright Rachelle. You are going to heal up and be back in the air in no time.” Then he continued to help the local kids with their subpar paragliding wings.
You never consciously know when will be the last time you see a friend. His death was not an accident nor self inflicted, he was taken from this world at the hands of three men, in the confines of his own hand built home, in which he put all his love and passion. These men have been forever branded with this ultimate sin, a sin which will follow them in the shadows, an eternity of suffering awaits, there is no escape, the eyes of God have just began to scorch the surface of their sinful hearts, creating fissures which will fracture their blackened souls.
The following week blurred together as sadness and confusion dominated our thoughts. Paralyzed, we stayed within the confines of downtown Puerto Vallarta as our friend hosted us at his hotel. Recalling the events it is truly a blessing Rachelle had not fallen tragically. Thank God, humans were created with only the capacity to see what is in front of them leaving the back of the head blind to that which occupies the space. We were not ready to run for the border or flee this country...we needed to be surrounded by friends who knew Les in this time of sorrow. This was the only place we wanted to be at the time. We needed to stay in Mexico, to return to Yelapa, in order to honor Les at his memorial 13 days later, where the man was sent out to sea, the Viking was set free!
The human spirit is an everlasting energy. A smart man once said, “Energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it transforms from one form to another.” Never have we been so close to death especially in a manner like this. I can assure you this man’s spirit and energy has continued to flow through the veins of his loved ones. A unique experience happened the day after his memorial. The spirit and energy was in full force at the beach memorial in Yelapa. Brad, with the help of others, organized a celebration of Life, second to none. People say they want you to rejoice instead of morn; here 13 days after he was taken a party commenced with so much passion and love it was oozing through the sand. In the simplest terms; it was beautiful! His spirit was put out to sea, in the bay he loved so much, and burned an everlasting light for all to relish in. A proper gathering for the man who had brought so much to this small village.
While Les's mortal body no longer encapulates his energy you might ask where it went? The day after the memorial, exactly 2 weeks from the tragedy, something special happened. Rachelle and I boarded the 3:00pm water taxi back to Puerto Vallarta, saying our goodbyes. Meanwhile, Victor had graciously purchased Les’s paramotor from his daughter and was preparing for a memorial flight from Yelapa to Puerto Vallarta, where we were waiting to greet him. It was a cloud covered day as Victor prepared for take off. Once in the air he circled the bay in order to gain altitude to fly over Les's house. The clouds began to clear in a small circle over his bedroom as Victor approached by air. The sun shone its light, through the small hole in the clouds, onto the house and those mesmerized on the beach. Les's energy escaped his room and lifted up through the clouds on the wingtip of a friend. Les had cleared the path, boarded his favorite aircraft, and rode it up into the sky spreading his energy through all things.
Upon landing on the beach in Puerto Vallarta, Victor recounted the experience as tears of sadness and joy, filled his heart. I asked him what time he had launched from the beach at, and with a quick look at his instrument, he responded with “5:21 pm.” By our calculation this was the exact time the third shot rang out, exactly two weeks prior. The signs were abundant. Les's energy was set free.
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