Wednesday, November 26, 2014


I'd been at sea for the past thirty-six hours, aboard a ship whose logo was a pair of seahorses that looked like they might be butting heads.  There wasn't much to do on sea days of course, so the friendly crew had created an itinerary that was almost too full.  The motto seemed to be:  "Relax.  All you need to do is enjoy."  And enjoy I did, sitting in a deck chair for hours, alternating between reading a book, or staring out at all that water passing beneath.  There were the odd distractions, like the dolphins playing in the ship's wake, or the dark evening when a channel pilot had stepped out of a doorway many stories below onto a smaller vessel running parallel,  which then turned and sped toward the lights of Key West shimmering beyond the grey.   But most of the time the sea looked just as it does on film, capable perhaps of showing only three expressions:  grinning brightly under perfect blue skies;  cool and garlanded with puffy clouds; or the gritted teeth of whitecaps on a stormy night.

After a long time at sea, there is some relief to be found in a return to dry land.  One of first things I saw when boarding the bus was the squat church of San Francisco de Asissi, looking weathered and tired against the flash and noise of Cozumel.  The bus door vacuumed shut, but not before I'd gotten a whiff of that tell-tale smell familiar to those countries once known as 'third world,' of food both rotting and cooked, with just a hint of diesel fuel underneath.

The bus took us past sleepy Mexican scenes of men in straw hats sitting in the entrances of small shops (one of which was named Lolita Lolita), dogs sleeping in the shade of police cars, and laundry hanging in front of concrete homes, all shaded by palm and bougainvillea.  There were also the odd political posters, most often showing a dapper mustachioed man named Zapata.

On the bus, our guide was talking things Mayan in an exuberant voice, punctuated often with abrupt "How's?" and "Why's?" as if in Spanish.  He mentioned that the Mayans use a 52-year calendar, at the end of which the people tend to destroy a great many of their possessions.  This may account for the shards of broken concrete strewn simply everywhere.

The bus stopped briefly at a small souvenir shop, and I got off to stretch my legs.  There's something about Mexico that makes you walk slowly.  Maybe it's the heat, or the earthen look of the tiles, or the squat people built closer to the ground.   

Back on board.  The jungle on both sides of the road were alive in a way that deciduous forests aren't, the mangroves, cashew, mango and sugarcane all literally pulsing with movement.  It was far different than the mellow stillness of wood.   Pressing in, ever pressing in, as if ready to caress the bus whose tinted windows frustratingly muted the brilliance of the blues and greens outside.

But we got these, and the heat, full force at the ruins proper.  A fleet of bicycle taxis whisked us along dusty trails that were punctuated with the mammoth edifices of grey stone.  I climbed to the top of one pyramid, looking out over the green that stretched away endlessly in all directions, much like my recent companion the sea.  I imagined other ruins out there, just waiting to be found.  I had read that these temples and ball courts had been built for the priests and higher classes.  The poorer peasants lived in smaller huts out in the jungle.  Things had changed very little in the subsequent 1200 years.  Earlier on, all along the highway leading inland from the beaches, were the large gated courtyards surrounded by similar dull pillars of stone, which framed the palaces which as holiday homes for the moneyed north.  Their darker, flat-faced servants still lived in the same simple squalor of their ancestors, a squalor though which my tall bus rode proudly past.

On the turntable:  "The Rough Guide to Morocco"

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