Photo of Merida, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, where Jo stayed in the hostel.
MERIDA CITY, MEXICO.
The Mexicana Magic tour bus was waiting outside the Merida five-star hotel.
Jo thought to herself,”Lucky buggers, bet they didn’t have the cheap chilli and rice I had last night.”
Jo advanced towards the bus driver. He smiled warmly and joke gave her name.
“Ah, Yes, Signorita Harrington, you are to share a room with a Signorita Helen Burnaby from England. She is 27 years. She is young like you.”
Jo settled herself next to a window and pulled the curtains to shield her eyes from the morning sun. Donna loved the morning sun. She’d have the campfire going with hot coffee and freshly cooked biscuits. Donna’s magic just added more colour to the beauty of the Australian Outback. Things were different now and Jo resolved to control her emotions.
A tap on her shoulder forced Jo to turn her head towards a soft voice.
“Hello, I’m Helen. I’m your roomy.”
Jo focused her eyes on the face of an elderly woman. Her silver hair was partially hidden under a white sunhat. She removed her sunglasses and extended her hand. Jo was about to tell her that the seat was taken when the older woman spoke.
“And you’re Josephine Harrington from Australia.”
“Call me Jo.”
“Nice to meet you luv. I had to laugh when I got on this bus. Can you believe that they had me registered as a twenty-seven year old. I’m seventy-two. I guess they reversed the numbers.
Helen struggled with placing her luggage in the overhead compartment. Jo sprang to her feet. Her firm muscles easily lifted the items. They sat down and smiled at one another. Helen had twinkling grey eyes and lightly applied makeup. She wore a light blue top, beige shorts and Nike running shoes.
“You Aussies are strong. It’s all that sunshine.” Helen offered Jo a candy.
Jo smiled. “I reckon we’ll be apples together, Helen. But, first, I need to catch up on my beauty sleep. Then, we can have a good ol’ yak.”
“Go ahead, luvy,” replied Helen. “Sleep restores the soul.”
Jo sighed and closed her eyes. “My soul will never be restored. I miss Oz, why did I make that promise to travel?”
Her mind travelled back half way around the world to the sunny realms of Australia. Images of a cattle station, familiar men she rode beside and the land, vast, hot and red. Jo thought, ‘in just one day, my life changed. And in just one day, my life ended!”
Jo loved her life as a stockhand on the isolated Willagong Cattle Station in the Barkly tablelands of Queensland. The blokes were quiet and secretive about their past and Jo liked it that way. They accepted her for her fine riding skills and the fact that she could surprise them with mechanical, carpentry and plumbing skills. She respected their pride and never tried to out perform them in anything. In time, she was accepted as a ‘true blue mate.’ That title was the higher honor a man could bestow on another. In the harsh Outback conditions, a person counted on his or her mates for survival. They never questioned her about her jaunts into town and the gossip that followed. If she brought a woman home for a few days, no man made a comment, at least to her face. Jo did her fair share of work and seldom asked for help. The men liked that, no one liked a bloody Sheila that whined and moaned! Women of the Outback were strong, even stronger in will and determination than their men. Jo never took advantage of women, either. She did odd jobs for the town’s women and those isolated on farms, but hugs often led to other things, especially if a few beers and liquor were involved.
Jo found that despite her tiredness, she was unable to sleep. What she didn’t want was to involve Helen in a long conversation. Her hidden wounds were still raw and words and emotions seemed to get mixed up. Instead, she let her mind travel back to the beginning off her life on Willagong Cattle Station. She smiled when she remembered that her womanizing in the opal town of Cober Pedy had resulted in her leaving the town during the night. There was no way she was going to mess with an irrate Greek husband, one who carried farm arms and was built like the back of a bus.
Jo drove steadily putting miles between her and Cober Pedy, a hard drinking, outlaw type of town. At one time, police had tried to investigate the amount of opal coming out of the ground for tax purposes. The next time, dynamite blew away the police station. It was Australia’s version of the old Wild West. The weather was so hot that people built their homes, stores, churches and hotels underground.