La Majahua: catching a break in Mexico

Novelist Louise Stern heads to a Maya village in Yucatán and then to the Pacific coast

I still dream of La Majahua; of how the sun makes the wet shore glitter like gold flakes and tells me there is magic in the world. I had been living in grey east London, writing my first book, a collection of short stories called Chattering. My neighbours in that damp, dank rat-hole of a basement bedsit were an old lech in a stained white vest and a sweet hippie who was found dead in the opposite bedsit after having suffered fatal anthrax poisoning. After the book finally came out, I was left with nothing save for a desire to escape to Mexico, the setting, I was sure, for what would be my next book.

I went first to a Maya village in Yucatán where everyone uses sign language, and this visceral way of communicating surrounded by an equally primordial desert landscape and corporeal culture was the perfect setup for a deaf writer and artist obsessed with language and physicality. After a month there, I had everything I needed – everything except the privacy to write. Even the desire for a solitary walk in the cornfields was highly suspect to the beautifully gregarious and welcoming Maya, so I retreated to La Majahua on the Pacific coast. There, I felt I could write and pursue another long-held fantasy – learning to surf. 

I lived in a couple of concrete-block houses, the first one turquoise, the second lime-green. It was a period of joyous co-existence with mice, pelicans, scorpions, fish, dogs, goats, horses, cats, hermit crabs and tarantulas. Into this mix I would add friends and family; invited to stay in the extra bedrooms, among them, the photographer Steven Fisher, who booked a flight to the wrong place (only because of my typically messy instructions, of course), then got Mexican belly and lost his new phone in the pool the moment he emerged from the dark, humid room where he’d been laying ill. After the phone had been fished out and doctored with a bath in dry arroz, we celebrated his recovery at the local school fundraiser. First, we broke eggs filled with confetti over each other’s heads, a tradition that Steven painstakingly and generously recreated for our friends at a dinner party back in east London. I rightfully was not entrusted with the delicate task of blowing the egg innards out of the shells and then filling them with brightly coloured shreds of paper. I still have no idea whatsoever how he did it.

Another booth at that village fiesta saw us getting married to locals, apparently a tradition. Steven’s marriage lasted a few hours; mine lasted long enough to result in my beautiful little girl, Coraly, whose ancestral heritage is the land, sea, and people of these photos you see. She now plays with Steven’s children. I did finish and publish that novel, Ismael and His Sisters, but I still surf quite badly, much to my dismay.

Louise Stern is a writer, artist and filmmaker. Buy Ismael and His Sisters here

Photography Steven M Fisher: stevenmarkfisher.com

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