I haven’t written a Mexico story in a long time, so sit back and get ready for a recent one.
This past winter I took a trip to Mexico City to see my dad’s family. A couple of days into our trip we drove down to a dam about an hour outside of the city (map below). The dam is called the Presa Iturbide but we didn’t stop there. We passed right by it to the river that feeds into it.
We drove through a forest on a bumpy road with the backed up waters of the dam on our right. My uncle and dad told us stories of their childhood swimming in those waters every weekend until they were prohibited from swimming there anymore.
Out of the lake were protrusions of what, from far away and without the aid of my glasses, looked like gnarled black fingers of giants reaching up out of the water. I focused on these as my dad spoke, my ears perking up when he said people weren’t allowed to swim in there anymore because there were so many deaths.
“You see those spikes coming out of the water?” my uncle asked me, pointing to our right at the water.
“Yeah, what are they?”
“They’re the tops of trees,” he answered, “Trees that existed before the dam flooded the river and created that small lake.” He then explained to me that people would swim out to those branches, which are a good distance from the shore, and then they’d drown.
They’d get caught on the underwater branches of these black trees, which have stood for years despite the constant rush of manipulated water. They claimed the lives of people who dared to swim up to their stagnant posts.
He tried to lighten the mood then by telling me about the small cabin we were going to which was further upriver. It helped to distract us, but the thought of those lethal trees didn’t stray far from our minds.
When we parked the car at the cabin, my cousins and I decided to explore the area and follow the winding river towards the dam. We took pictures as we talked shit about each other, laughing and calling each other names. It was an enjoyable afternoon. Then we passed by a wooden cross staked into the ground and I remembered what my uncle had told me.
My cousin acknowledged the cross and said it was a shame how many lives this dam had taken. I looked at the cross and said it couldn’t be that big of a shame if it was just one person. Then everyone looked at me and my cousin said, “Diane, look around you. We’re surrounded by graves.”
They pointed out the crosses to me, of all different colors, staked into the rising hills around us like the seated audience in an amphitheater putting us at center stage. There were so many I couldn’t count them all. There were so many it was a wonder I hadn’t seen them before they were pointed out to me.
I looked out over the water that led to the dam and I saw the trees jutting out of the surface, almost as if they were proud of having drowned all these people in the same way people had drowned them. Their victims stood around me, jutting out of the ground in the same fixed positions the trees remained in. All of them forced to spend eternity in the Presa Iturbide.
When we left it was too late to see anything. The blackness of night weighed down on our every side and we only saw enough from the headlights to inch forward on the highway back home.
Still, as we settled into our seats and relaxed after our day in the wilderness, I felt compelled to look towards the dam when we passed by it. The water and the trees had merged into a single darkness and the only thing I could make out was a campfire on the shore. I turned away, but I knew the image of those crosses and the trees would stay etched into my mind for the rest of my life as a small, eternal punishment from the trees.