Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | March 7, 2014

No Regrets

Forgive me bloggers, it has been two weeks since my last post.

I’ve been traveling out of the country and back in time.  All the stars and planets aligned to make it so.

The journey began, as they often do, with use ‘em or lose ‘em nights at a nice hotel, this time in Cancun.

It was only five days and four nights at stake, and I’d be saving less than the airfare would cost to get there.  But my son Eli was home in between teaching jobs abroad, and he had never been to Mexico.

My Cousin Nancy is always up for an adventure!

If that wasn’t incentive enough, we arranged to stop over in Houston on the way home to visit our cousins, June and Haskell.  We celebrated her 90th birthday with her in San Antonio last summer, and wanted to help Haskell celebrate his 90th.

Of course, they’d been celebrating all month, but what’s not to love about that?

Our first stop:  Chichen Itza.  I’d been there before, but hardly scratched the surface.  Chichen Itza was a large culturally diverse pre-Columbian Meso-American city.  The 1500 year old pyramid at its heart was the Temple of Kukulkan, the feathered serpent god, also related to Quetzalcoatl.

Our guide, Murux, was Mayan. He guided my husband Thom and me on our last trip down.

Murux grew up in the village of Chichen Itza, running in and out of the ancient ruins, playing inside the pyramid, and tagging after the archaeologists excavating the site.  In the 70s, when Chichen Itza became a National Park, locals living within park limits were forced to abandon their homes.

Some still return each morning to sell souvenirs to tourists.  There was something I wished I’d bought last time, only I just couldn’t remember what. Then we heard the snarl of a jaguar in the jungle, an eerie cry.  Then another.  And another.  Oh, yeah!  It was vendors demonstrating ceramic whistles mimicking the big cats worshiped by the Mayans.  I’m not much of a shopper, except when I accidentally purchase rugs, and that usually just happens in Turkey or Morocco.

On this trip I bought only a sun hat, for protection, and two jaguar whistles, for fun.  No more regrets!

If Murux had not been so fascinated by the excavations, today he might be selling whistles or rugs among the ruins.  But he pursued his passions, and became a college professor with a PHD in archaeology.  He also became a lithographer who illustrates his own books about Mayan history and culture.  When not teaching or guiding tours, he explores the jungle in search of ancient villages, or works on digs, excavating ruins.  No regrets.

I asked Murux why they needed all the little pyramids if they had the big one for worship and sacrifices.  He said they were models on which the builders experimented with scale and proportions.  That was how they perfected an amazing acoustic effect.  When standing in front of the temple stairs, one clap of your hands creates an echo identical to the cry of the Quetzal bird, believed to be a messenger of the gods.

Visitors were allowed into the temple until 2006, when a tourist fell to her death.   It’s difficult to grasp how steep and high these stairs are until you are actually climbing up them, or worse, going down.

A forty-five minute drive from there is the smaller, more isolated Mayan village of Ek Balam.

Built 4000 years ago, it’s older than Chichen Itza, less touristy, and more accessible.

We were allowed to climb the ruins, including a very steep stairway like the one at Chichen Itza.

No one knows why the village was abandoned, but the inhabitants filled buildings with rocks to prevent others from moving in.

After further adventures in Mexico, which I’ll tell you about another time, we flew to Houston…

…and rented a car from a good natured cowpoke named Trace.   It’s true what they say; everything IS bigger in Texas.

When we arrived, Happy Hour was already under way.  My cousin Leslie had baked Haskell his sixth 90th birthday cake, a scrumptious carrot cake with cream cheese, raisin, coconut, and walnut frosting.

Haskell mixed our rum and Cokes using an antique gill cup…

 …which was used 150 years ago to measure out the sailors’ daily ration of rum in the Royal British Navy.  Rum from that gill cup was served with a side of whimsey, imagination, and ceremony.  And it tasted so much better that way.

Some folks might call Haskell ancient, now that he has officially joined the ranks of the world’s nonagenarians.  But I say he’s ninety years young.   Unlike many people I know, who are young in years and old in carriage, Haskell is still learning new tricks.

He is still widening his circle of friends and family.

He’s still good with the ladies…and one in particular.

What do you give a guy who has everything, and knows it?  I could think of only one thing.  It was something not everyone could appreciate.  It would involve mastering a questionable new skill.  But I had a feeling Haskell would be up to the challenge.  And of course he was.  He always is.

No regrets!

All images and words copyright Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Abandoned.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Ancient.

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Responses

  1. The asparagus I bought last week here in OZ was from Mexico, so rather than eat it I plonked the stems in a vase and wondered how your trip was going. Good to tag along via your post. The photos are great as ever : those temples are dizzying. Welcome back! PS the asparagus went wild and twisted and is now compost.

    • Hi Meg,
      Nice to hear from you! I never would have thought to put asparagus in a vase! It has gone all wild and twisted in my garden though. It’s good to be home.

  2. What fun– yes those stairs are killers– we were there years ago, not sure I’d go up now.

    • Hi Lisa,
      I think the important thing is not to be in a hurry. I took my time, and felt pretty steady. The country around us was pretty flat, so the view made it well worth the climb. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. What a great trip, Naomi! Thanks for taking me along. I’d love to go there some day.

    janet

    • Hi Janet,
      Thanks so much for coming along! It’s always good to hear from you.
      Warmly,
      Naomi

  4. Thanks for sharing. It was lovely seeing all those lovely pictures :)

    • Hi Arlene,
      Thanks so much for the visit, and your very kind words.

  5. When my daughter, my brother and I visited Chichen Itza in 2008, our Mayan guide “Tortuga” asked us not to buy souvenirs from the Mayan kids at the temple. He hoped that they would go back to school if no tourists bought their wares. He told us of his concern that the Mayan language and culture would be forgotten and absorbed. Responsible tourism is tricky. It’s important to have a good guide.

    • Hi Scilla,
      Murux was also a very good guide. He speaks Mayan, and so do his kids, but his grandchildren do not, and he doesn’t know what to do about it.
      I can see why Tortuga would think that boycotting the mercado would help, but I also don’t think the solution is that simple. Some of those people won’t eat if they don’t make sales. And if they don’t sell stuff there, they will find another place to do it.
      I wish I had asked Murux what made the difference for him. How did he understand that he had options, and learn what they were? The archaeologists working in the park were clearly an influence. Perhaps they encouraged him and directed him on his path because he showed more interest than the other kids. And how did he pay for his education? Was he the only one who pursued an education?
      Murux says he continues to work in tourism to fund his archaeological pursuits. He also said that Mayans are treated like third class citizens in a primarily Spanish culture, and that many of them don’t want anything to do with the larger society. He visited a Mayan village once that was very isolated deep in the jungle, and they wanted nothing to do with outsiders or the outside culture, and they were even wary of him, though he spoke their language. It is difficult to find a balance between keeping your cultural identity and climbing someone else’s ladder, especially if you’re not sure you want to, and they certainly don’t want you to. He has one daughter who married very early and lives as traditional a Mayan life as possible, and another who is in medical school. Each one prefers her lifestyle, but they at least had a choice.
      Murux might not be in a position to ensure that his grandkids learn the Mayan language, but he is doing his part in educating the public about Mayan history and culture.
      I will have the opportunity and will make a point to ask him about this, as my son Eli has agreed to help Murux translate his books from Spanish into English in order to reach a wider audience.

      • Naomi, you are my inspiration for travel, not tourism, and the distinction. You go deeper, build real relationships, listen more openly and really learn about a place. You take the time to go beyond the economic exchange and make an exchange of compassion. I’m sure that guides long for those exchanges and feel especially rewarded by the one in a hundred that are real travelers. Thanks for your example!

  6. Another wonderful adventure, Naomi! You are too darn cute! ♥ Love ALL of the pics, the family, the travel, the celebrations. Our kids went to Cancun in August (6th wedding anniversary) and loved it so much, they went back in Jan. Thank you, thank you…for sharing. You ALWAYS put a smile on my face. paula :)

    • Dear Paula,
      What a lovely message. Thank you so much for making ME smile! So glad your kids found a place they enjoy–may there be many more happy anniversaries ahead.
      Warmly,
      Naomi

  7. Happy you have so many good memories.

    • Dear Dorota,
      It was good to have some special time with Eli before he heads back out into the world. Eli got to meet his third cousins for the first time, and we all worked on genealogy and family history. I got sick the last day there, and have been laid low, but I hope we can get our tribes together and make some good memories while Bea is home on break.
      Love,
      Naomi

  8. My daughter was in Chiapas same time you were in Mexico. Beautiful country. Time I Texas seems magical.

    • Hi Carol,
      Thanks for the visit. I hope your daughter enjoyed her trip, and came home safe. I have never been to Chiapas, but am interested in learning more about Mexico.

  9. Ek Balam looks fascinating. It looks almost European with its surrounding greenery. So much we don’t understand. Why did the people leave? It seems to have meant to be a temporary move, like double-locking the door behind you. Any theories Naomi?

    • Hi Roy,
      Thanks for stopping by. It’s always good to hear from you.
      Ek Balam is surrounded by miles and miles of jungle, but it is a dry and dusty green. In all of the Yucatan Peninsula, there isn’t a single river or stream. It’s all limestone–used to be under the ocean–and now the only source of water is rain, and the underground sink holes they call cenotes.
      The ancient Pueblo people in the Southwestern deserts of what is now Arizona and New Mexico and Colorado left their huge city complexes because the desert could no longer support large populations when hit with a twenty-five year drought around 1200 CE, which is about the same time that Ek Balam experienced a significant drop in population. I can’t find any information about why the Mayans left Ek Balam. I wonder if it was longterm drought and lack of resources. It was an agricultural community that traded. Longterm drought would have affected their ability to produce trade goods and made living in such isolation a hardship.
      Another possible reason might be that there was some big change in political or intertribal relations that we don’t know about. At the time the Spanish arrived, the few Mayans still living there left, and the jungle took over.
      They only just began excavating Ek Balam in 1997. Perhaps as the discoveries unfold, we will learn more. For now, it remains a mystery!

  10. You’re killing me!! Nonagenarian is a new one for me. And those pics of Haskell and his bride are so sweet. Looks like you had a blast, but the last I remember of Cancun I was in my 20s at a foam party!

    • Hi Suzanne,
      There are very many nonagenarians, so it’s not surprising. June and Haskell are my models for aging well. I am a late bloomer, and didn’t get to for the first time until Cancun until last year. I still have yet to experience a foam party–which I think must have something to do with Silly string, beer, or shaving. (Can you tell I’ve led a sheltered life?)

  11. Really enjoyed this great post. It was well worth the wait!

    • Thank you, thank you for the lovely comment. It’s always good to hear from you!

  12. Hi Naomi!

    I’ve missed your stories – this one was lovely, as usual.

    Have a wonderful weekend!

    Love,
    Mary

    • Thank you, Mary. I’ve miss you too. So good to hear from you, and know that all is well.

  13. Sounds like a great trip :)

    • Thank you! It was a lovely and varied trip, with a little bit of everything, but it felt good to come home. (Got sick, and was just happy to be in my own bed!)

      • Oh, I bet you were glad to be home then, perhaps even more after this trip than others.

  14. Thanks for the ride, Naomi. A delightful story as well. I wondered where you had disappeared to. Nice to see you back. :-D

    • Dear Tess,
      I feel like I just disappeared again–computer just stopped responding, so I have been doing research on a new one, and was ready to spring for it, then last night it just woke up!
      Thanks for the kinds words–it’s always good to hear from you.

      • The darn electronics. Why must they have the upper hand? *grins*

      • Always good to hear from you too, Naomi. :-)

  15. Thank you for sharing your fun trip! Wonderful stories. The rug is beautiful!

    • Hi Amy,
      I brought that rug home to a blue living room, and it just seemed so warm and welcoming that I realized I need more red and orange in my life, with blue accents.
      Thanks for the visit. So good to hear from you.

  16. On Naomi, what a fantastic trip! I just love travelling with you (and I’ve always wanted to see Chichen Itza!) Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful travels with me :D

    • Dear Dianne,
      You are too kind! Thanks so much for your generous response.

  17. Another wonderful posting. Great pic of Haskell, June, Leslie, et al.

    • Thanks, Richard. They are already looking ahead to the next reunion. We will send out a message to all the Aptekars to figure out when and where. We traded family stories and had some fun with genealogy. It would be great to hear some of the family stories that Uncle Albert and Cousin Milton have passed down to you.

  18. Oh my! That cake looks and sounds scrumptious :-)

    • Best carrot cake I ever tasted! Who would have thought to put coconut in the frosting? And great big chunks of walnuts!

  19. This whole trip and pictures seem to embrace the idea of warmth (which I’m desperate for now) and heartwarming. Turning 90 is definitely something to celebrate.

    • Dear Juliann,

      Thanks so much for the visit and your heartwarming words! Happy spring! Is it warm yet? Wishing you lots of color and warmth SOON!

  20. love the pic of Nancy and Trace!

  21. Ah Mexico!!! How wonderful! But what I love most about this, is your ability to weave adventure and family celebration into one beautiful, seamless post! The nonagenarians look amazing, bless them :-).

    • PS: I love the whistle! ;-)

    • Dear Madhu,
      Thank you so much for your very generous response. I can’t tell you how much I adore my cousins, and how lucky I feel to have them. I lost both parents when I was young, and it feels important to have loving elders in my life and family. We were laughing at a story Haskell was telling and afterwards I whispered to Eli, “This is what it feels like to have a Grandpa.” I was had one stepgrandfather, who was wonderful, but Eli never had one. These trips are a gift to my children as well.
      P.S. I love the whistle too! And at our house, you never know when something like that could come in handy.

  22. Wonderful post, Naomi. Haskell and June look absolutely marvelous. Wishing them many more happy years together. One day I’ll revisit Cancun and I’ll be sure to look for a Jaguar whistle for my mom-in-law. :)

  23. I’ve never been to Mexico, but hoping that someday I will get to visit this place. Thank you for taking us along in your adventure. You have a great family. Everything you do is so inspiring!

    • Dear Grace,
      Thanks so much for coming along, and for your very kind words. I hope you get to Mexico soon. My hope is to explore more of Eastern Europe. I love the adventures you take with your kids, and that you share your family adventures with us too!

  24. Those steps do look steep. I’m afraid I’d have to resort to descending like a little kid–on my bottom, one step at a time! LOL Happy birthday to Haskell!

    • Dear Patti,
      You would not be the only one coming down a step at a time on the seat of your pants. Thanks for the birthday wishes, which I will pass on to Haskell. And thanks for the visit. It’s always good to hear from you.

  25. Naomi, what a wonderful post …. travel, love, celebration, fun .. togetherness and fantastic scenery. All in one post, magical. *smile

    • Thank you so much for your very sweet comment–you are so generous!

      • Naomi, truly me pleasure. *smile


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