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.

Embracing the ‘M’ Word

On our recent trip to Mexico, we had a Mayan guide, Murux.

 

I was worn out with the extreme heat and sun, after walking around Chichen Itza, a huge complex of Mayan ruins.

  In between visits to Mayan ruins, Murux took us to Cenote Sagrado Azul.  A cenote is a sinkhole or cave providing access to the extensive system of underground and underwater caves beneath the Yucatan Peninsula.  Of the estimated 30, 000 cenotes, a few are open to the public for swimming.  Murux says the Mayans regarded them as sacred entrances to the Underworld.  I was a little skeptical when I saw this sign. I mentioned once that I only swim in the warm waters off the Hawaiian Islands.  I don’t like being cold.  Nor do I like public showers, public pools, or making public appearances in my swimsuit.  But my husband Thom gave me a gentle nudge (with a sharp stick), and somehow I found myself suited up, reluctantly stepping into the open outdoor shower outside the entrance to Cenote Sagrado Azul.  Dripping wet, I walked past the security guard through the archway, and looked down from the rim into the cenote.  In that instant, I was transported from the oppressive heat of a dusty dry world into another world entirely.  With its hanging vines, watery echoes, and tiny streams dripping down stone walls into a jade pool, it was like a scene from a Tarzan or an Indiana Jones movie.

I descended slippery stone steps through a tunnel into the actual cave, along with a swarm of tourists who had just arrived by bus. We all stepped into an underground chamber, open to the sky, with sunlight filtering down through the vines.

  Stairs hugged the wall, leading up to a ledge where swimmers took turns making flying leaps into the water.  No fear of hitting the bottom—this was the entrance to the Underworld, and it was bottomless. Thom marched into line and took the plunge.  I’d already embraced my familiar and comfortable role as photographer and journalist, and I clung to it like a life raft.  I did touch my toe to the water, and it was cold.  I didn’t want to leave my camera hanging unguarded on a post.  And there were all those velvety black catfish-like creatures swimming around in there… Like a mahout with a stubborn elephant,Thom backed me down the first couple rungs of a small wooden ladder.  I was in up to my waist before I balked.  A woman, already in the water, said something in Spanish, and she started to peel my fingers away from the ladder.  I was shocked at this breach of personal space, and held on even tighter.  The woman laughed, and slapped at my hands.  It was clear that she wasn’t going to go away, and she wasn’t going to give up.  Some part of me really wanted to let go, and I knew I would probably regret it if I did not take that plunge.  I released my grip, and splashed backwards into the cool clear water. The word ‘magic,’ is overused.  But the ‘M’ word is the only one I can think of to describe that moment, that magic, that Mexico, that me.  I surfaced, the woman smiled, and melted into the crowd, like an angel who had come down to earth, completed her mission, and moved on.   The tour bus must’ve recalled its passengers, because when I swam out to the center of the pool and looked back, I felt like the only person in a world where time did not exist.  It was like learning to breathe again.  It was a baptism.  It was letting go of the heat, the shyness, the fear.  It was a little like falling in love.

I am now a believer.  And not only in spirit guides.  I now know it’s possible to step through the entrance to the Underworld, and exist in that sacred place where kings and princesses bathe and are renewed.

All words and images c2013 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Roy G. Biv

Here is a link for more interpretations of Jake’s Sunday Post: Entrances.