07.07.2007 - 09.07.2007 34 °C
Last night I dreamt that I was already back at home after only a week. In my dream, I kept saying But I have two more weeks! What a relief to wake up in my dormitorio with sleeping half-naked strangers. I am learning very quickly that nothing in this country is black and white. This statement, I am sure, encompasses more layers of truth than I am willing to acknowledge, but I refer to the visible colors on the streets. The buildings are hues of orange, pink, yellow, and creme, the sky blue, the ocean a tourquoise green, the plants red, green and purple, and me - shades of tan, white, and red, from the heat rash spread across my upper thighs.
The last couple of days I have been staying in the city of Valladolid. Valladolid is an old colonial city that was built around the 1500-1600´s when the Spaniards stole it from the Maya. During the day, streets are always alive - Mayan women sell fruits on every corner, young lovers kiss in central park, men hang out of doorframes, and friends congregate near the local street vendor. My original plan was to stay here only 2 days, but after a few hours being here, I decided to stay longer. Valladolid is the perfect hub city to take day trips to Chichen Itza, different cenotes (water-filled, limestone caverns), and various other ruins and nature reserves.
When I first arrived here, I rented a bike, naturally, to ride out to a nearby cenote. The bike was a bit too small for me but I didn´t mind since it appeared to be in great condition Alas, nothing is quite what it seems. As I rode down the street, everytime I stopped pedaling, I would think whoa -someone behind me has a pretty rusted bike. After several times thinking this, I looked behind me, slightly irritated, to see who in the world would still be following me, only to discover I was alone on the street; there was only me, the cracked pavement, and my rusty bike. When I reached my first stop sign, I discovered that my feet were better brakes than any appartus that orginally came with the bike. This made hills a bit interesting. I just chalked it up to my Mexican adventure and found the bike path. (Yes! A bike path - how can you not love this town?) The bike path was a gravel path lined with trees. The day was hot, but the breeze as I rode out of town lifted my hair, cooling the back of my neck. A dark lizard with translucent red legs ran beside me as I followed the yellow butterflies that played Tinkerbell to my Peter Pan. Despite the fact, or maybe because I felt like an overgrown ape on a toddler´s bike, I laughed the whole way to Cenote Dzitnup.
Cenote Dzitnup was increible! I walked down slippery stone steps into the underground. I felt like I was on a greek journey into Hades. The only light available was a single bulb strung on a line. I clung onto the thick rope provided and wondered two things: 1) was I walking to my death? and 2) where did I make a wrong turn? But like all risks I have taken into the unknown, I ended up in a place of such natural beauty that I, in my most colorful dreams, could not have created such exquiste artistry. When I reached the cenote and my eyes adjusted to the darkness, there in front of me was a huge swimming hole in the midst of limestone formations. Stalactites and roots from the strangler fig trees above ground hung from the ceiling. The only light came from a small hole in the ceiling where the sun rays lit up the water. The water was so clear that at times I couldn´t decipher if the light rays came from above or below the water well. I immediately put my things down and jumped into the cold, fresh pool. I wish I knew how to explain what a delight it is to swim underground, between hanging roots and small fish. Looking up at the ceiling, birds or bats, maybe both, flew from limestone formation to limestone formation. I am smiling right now just recalling the experience. I must look like a gringa loca in this internet cafe. Fijate, people have told me there are better cenotes in my future - how can that be possible when I already tasted a piece of heaven?
That night, cooking my dinner at the hostel, I met another American. Up until then, all the other travellers I have met have been European, Israeli, Mexican, and Canadian. A common joke among people is that the Americans stay in Cancun getting drunk. I had begun to believe it, so I was thrilled to meet Carly. Carly is a graduate student at the University of Florida studying tropical conservation. After talking a bit, I decided to go with her to visit the ruins in Coba. The next morning we met in the hostel lobby, boarded a bus and began our trip. Carly, who is in Mexico learing Maya, was a wonderful travel companion. She, with her professional camera (and tripod), liked to stop and take tons of pictures, while I, with my journal and pen, was happy to stop and just write for a bit. And that is how we saw Coba - writing and taking pictures, talking, and happy to have eachother. We both agreed it was nice to have two pair of eyes; one of us often noticed some intricate detail that the other had not seen. In addition, for me, Carly was a wealth of ecological knowledge about the area. If it was not for Carly, I would have refered to Coba as a jungle, but now I know it is a secondary sub-tropical dry forest. I still don´t agree there is anything dry about the forest in Coba. All around the spectacular ruins are "tourist trees," reconizable by there flakey bark, and hanging spanish moss neighbored by bromeliads. The Tourist Tree´s bark can be boiled and used as to alleviate the pain of rashes, mosquito bites and sunburns. Being a victim to all three aliments, I should have just uprooted and taken a whole tree back to the hostel with me. Spread about were Trumpet trees, a broad leaf plant, in which the branches are used to make blowguns and flutes and the leaves are often rolled and smoked (no, I did not try this!) or boiled into a tea to treat diabetes. Leaning against one of the Tourist trees, illiterate in glyph reading, I stare at the ruin in front of me and the stela of a ruler with two captives at his feet, once a vivid image, now worn by time. I hear the voices of tourists around me and wondered: what were the voices like in AD 730? Carly questions how did the Maya carry all the stone? I want to know how they kept the stone secure? How did they build pyramids so that they didn´t fall? Carly takes pictures and I, my smile lit up from inside like the sun behind a full moon, listen to the birds hoping they will whisper something about the ghosts that play beside me.
Carly and I take a small foot path that leads into the forest. We are amazed by all the life that encircles us: yellow, black, red, and brown butterflies fly about the canopy, green and red lizards run under fallen tree branches, trees whose roots remind me of elephant legs stretch out under and above us, damsel flies sit on palm leaves, and wasps the size of our first two finger joints sit under broad leaves, thankfully, ignoring our prying eyes (and camera lens). I try to ignore the noises behind me, praying that it is only a small, harmless lizard and not a crocodile from the lake only a few meters from us. We observe a white spider, a grasshopper with red wings, and suddenly a bird starts crackling in the distance. What was once a insect metropolis suddenly becomes a bird sanctuary. I stand still to experience this completely foreign world knowing that soon I will be back on the main road, back among the other visitors.
This morning I woke up and walked to the Mercado Municipal, an open air market where people come to sell fruits and vegetables. I am amazed by all the fruit local only to this area. I walk booth to booth, asking the Maya women how to cook and eat the fantastic looking food. On a dirty corner, live turkeys with bound legs lie on the ground, soundlessly opening and closing their beaks. I try not to cry, not to show how disturbed I am, aware that I am the foreigner; I am here to learn this culture, not to force my American ideals on these people - that is the job of the Missionaries. Inside the market, fresh butchered meat hangs from thick steel hooks. The smell of blood permeates the air and I swear not to eat meat again. Despite my aversion to the meat, I do enjoy the market. I head back to my hostel, arms full of fresh fruit, vegetables, and pan. An old woman laughs at the rapid pace I walk down the sidewalk and I remind myself that I am here to slow down and enjoy life, not race through it like I have something better to do.