Heading out at dawn New Year’s Day, techno music remains pumping upon the horizon and the rumbling of the gigantic crowds roar to the beat. Playa hadn’t slept all night.
Mascara smeared Mexican girls wobble by in sky-high heels as my husband and I debate if each girl that stumbles past actually kept their shoes on all night. I pleaded the case of, “No way in hell. But maybe…” Men wearing sea soaked pant legs walk down the uneven pavers with a girl or two under their arm as a crutch.
A family looking out of place in the madness indicated we had found our tour. The door opened on a small passenger van full of seven passengers, leaving the back seat for the three of us and after a mild panic attack over being locked in the back of a tiny van without doors to jump out of incase the vehicle went ablaze, the scenery distracted all anxiety. The hour drive led to a narrow road hidden behind a locked gate leading to a remote area of cenotes.
The main cenote, Tortuga or (Turtle), displayed a canopy with a grass roof that stood centered in the turquoise blue pool, which, contained shadows indicating deep spots leading into the abyss. I made it my obligation to jump into all three cenotes we encountered.
Our guia (guide) led a group of us into a cavern filled with fresh water as we treaded to stay afloat, a Mayan symbol resembling a doodle swirl hung over the entrance of the dark cavern. Inside, limestone drips indicating millenniums of existence drooped from the ceiling, some extending into the water. The Mayans considered departing out of a cenote cavity as a rebirth.
The guia had not slept all night as his energy level invariably faded as the excursion came to an end. He slumped on a bench as we said adios.
The van driver’s son and daughter were passengers and playmates for my son. A young girl he named “Sister,” watched after him and flopped him purposefully in the water as she dumped water of his head leaving him relishing the moment and squealing for more.
Somewhere between Tulum and Coba we stopped at a Mayan village where a family of wild pigs lived behind a fence and various unfamiliar animals peered out behind homemade cages made of rocks and wire. One wild baby pig meandered around our feet, uninterested and nosed through a bucket of trash. A persistent Mayan girl continually hissed at it to get out of the garbage causing it to run away only to return again.
A dark hut made of sticks and grass roof, revealed vibrant hammocks hung as beds and a mother of 17 children sat making tortillas by patting them flat and throwing them on metal slab propped up by rocks over a campfire behind her. Her face lit up revealing gold teeth in her smile and wrinkles of laughter and hard work clustered around dazzling her eyes. Her aura radiated beauty, antiquity a life of disciplined commitment to her family.
Outside five children played instruments that included leather skinned drums, a tree trunk barrel played with two thick twig drumsticks, a rain stick and bells attached to a wood baton. A younger girl around five years of age exhibited her mother’s eyes as she played the rain stick, unamused, for tourists who snapped pictures of her and her band. Mi hijo took part in the musical ensemble.
It was clear the guias and Mayan family were comfortable with one other as one of the chaperons called the long haired boy “Mogley” from the Jungle Book as he beat his drum enthusiastically bare-handed.
Another dark hut presented a long table covered with handmade Mayan bracelets, necklaces and key chains. Stark white dresses hung upon string, donning vibrant hand-stitched flowers clustered around the neck and shoulder. My lack of pesos limited my purchase to a turquoise blue bracelet with the name of the village, Recuerdo De Aldea Maya, carved into coconut.
Eventually arriving at Coba our well-spoken tour guia wearing a Baltimore Orioles hat spoke to us in groups based on our language which included Spanish, German and English. His pronunciation in each era muy perfecto.
I must admit I listened to little of what he said amongst snapping pictures and my initial awe of the site, although, I did catch the history of the Maya Hero twins, Hunahpú and Xbalanqué, who were challenged by the lords of Xibalbá to a game of pok ta pok in order to save their village from destruction. They ultimately defeated the lords of the underworld by trickery and ascended into the night sky, one becoming the Sun and the other, the Moon.
My attention focused on the stones that were falling apart around me as I was always attempting to imagine what structures looked like when they were first built.
The Mesoamerican ballgame court was as pristinely intact as it was brilliant. I stole a moment to imagine dark skinned Mayans with flawless muscle definition thrashing the ball off their massive thigh into the stone hoop that hung high above. Some were fighting for their life but all were fighting for the glory.
The ballgame, pok ta pok, had been played since 1,400 B.C. by the ancient Mayans and was similar to racquetball where the aim is to keep the ball in play. Contenders struck the ball with their hips although certain variations allowed for the use of forearms, rackets, bats or handstones. The ball was made of solid rubber and weighed as much as 9 pounds or about 4 kilograms.
Short on pesos, we declined a ride to the main pyramid, Nohoch Mul, so we huffed it 20 minutes down a dirt road, people whizzing by on pedcabs until the big pile of ancient rocks emerged from the low hung trees. The massive pyramid is one of few tourists are still allowed to climb until the ancient staircase of 120 steps becomes unwalkable.
Nohoch Mul is the tallest structure on the Yucatan peninsula at 138 feet in height. I hiked to the top unaccompanied, passing other sightseers along the way. At one point I stopped to feel gravity tapping on my shoulder, urging me to look down. I turned my head to the right to observe a woman express to me not to look down, which, I agreed too and kept climbing being careful to stay toward the middle where a thick white rope rested for people to grab onto as they scaled the massive pyramid.
According to Mayan belief, a walk up Nohoch Mul, allows climbers to pass through the 13 levels of heaven.
Once at the top, a wide open green sea of tree tops occupied the landscaped as far as the eye could see. Everywhere in Yucatan is flat. The only hills are the Mayan pyramids or unexcavated ruins there are literally thousands. At any moment I felt as though a gust of wind might blow me off but I was too distracted with my surroundings to care.
This is what the Mayans saw.