Well, I tried….
I was thinking that this would satiate him. It does not seem to have taken things in that direction.
It’s gone great so far. I’m not enamored of driving on Mexican roads, though. It’s not that they’re dangerous or treacherous. They’re in excellent condition. It’s just that they are incredibly boring. At least in the parts of the Yucatan in which I’ve been driving. They’ve been mostly two-lane with a decent speed limit, but with vegetation growing slam up to the side of the road and few breaks in the scenery. The breaks that exist are towns and villages, all of which are marked by serious speed bumps which Must Be Obeyed. It’s okay. It gives you a chance to observe the scenery without seeming to rubberneck, but after a while…it can get tedious. I was ready to arrive in Campeche today, and ready to ditch the car for a day.
At one point, a bit up in the distance, a strange animal started to cross the road. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what it was…some sort of huge weird badger with a skinny body and long tail? A…what? Joseph yelled, “IT’S A MONKEY!” And in retrospect, I do believe he was correct.
It’s an obvious thing to say, but spending even three days in this climate affords a real education in how culture develops in relationship to said climate. Life is very busy starting about 6am, then by noon is spent…and you can really understand why. And you can understand why things perk up again around 5. It just makes sense. Nothing original about that observation – it’s just good to experience it.
Walking around Campeche, I was twice approached by different trios of awkward high school students, needing to conduct an interview with an English speaker for their English classes. I was recorded answering questions like “What is your name?” and “How old are you?” and “Do you play any sports?” It was very sweet, and it was enlightening to see how difficult it was for these kids to pronounce English, even in this world in which we think that because of the prevalence of American pop culture, it should just come naturally to everyone.
One point I’m glad to see emerging on this trip is this teachable moment: When you are aware of Mayan history, you are aware of a history of a civilization that rose and fell without any reference to Europeans. That broadens the mind tempted to narrowness in a couple of ways. First, it’s always good to learn about an accomplished non-European civilization. Why not. Secondly, the dominant narrative out there in pop history (an umbrella under which I would group most school-taught history) is that if there’s a fallen non-European society…Europeans were probably at fault. Of course, since the Mayans collapsed centuries before Europeans were even thinking about showing up, that undercuts those assumptions nicely.
(By the way, Michael and I went to a totally cheesy but somehow winning presentation of the history of Campeche that combined a desultory tour through a fort (in Spanish), a video projection on a wall of said fort, and some exciting live action up on the ramparts. The mix of cultures was celebrated not decried, and – shock of shocks – the coming of Christianity was presented as a good thing – as the introduction of a God “who asked only love” into the culture. )
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Uxmal was far less crowded, much cooler, and more interesting than Chichen Itza – the decorations on the facades is still intact. More later.
Random notes from Chichen Itza and other parts:
- So yes, we made it. We stayed at Mayaland! A very nice resort-type place that I picked because the hotel property is adjacent to Chichen Itza.
- My intention was that was be able to get up, eat breakfast, and enter the park through the rear entrance (a minute walk from the hotel) at 8am – a couple of hours before the tour groups arrive, a good bit of time before the vendors set up, and, of course, also a bit before it gets really hot.
- GREAT IDEA!
- Except for the cold, hard facts that: 1) When getting money out of the ATM at Cancun airport, I really could not remember the whole pesos/dollars thing,and didn’t get enough. Clearly. 2)I handed over a bunch in the whole PLEASE GET ME GAS SO I AM NOT STRANDED ON A MEXICAN TOLL ROAD IN THE DARK WITH MY CHILDREN thing and 3)the Chichen Itza ticket office takes cash only and 4) the atm at the hotel didn’t open until 9.
- So there was a bit of disappointment on that score, but we got over it. We just chilled, then went ahead and checked out of the hotel, stored the luggage and studied the peacocks until 9.
- It’s an interesting site. I’ll not have anything to compare it to until we go to Uxmal, so I should probably withhold judgment till then.
- One thing Chichen Itza is famed for are the souvenir vendors. They are permitted to be all over the site – the only one of the main archaeological sites in which this is so. The purveyors of Mayan calendars, huipil, hats, statuary, magnets…jaguar “whistles” which are sounded the minute a child comes in sight…all “almost free!” AMAZING!
- I must confess, though, that while the place would certainly be more authentic without guys alternating fake jaguar cries and checking their cel phones and telling me it was all “almost free!” it didn’t bother me that much. The street vendors in Rome and Paris are far more aggressive with their “Un Euro Un Euro Un Euro” for their little Eiffel Towers and light necklaces, their scarves and umbrellas
- And yes, it was hot. Everything they say about the hotness of Chichen Itza is true – it is largely unshaded, flat, and by noon, I was ready to go….and I enjoy the heat.
- Also at the hotel was a large group of French tourists.
- Dinner last night? I’m going to trust that you are uninterested in the boys’ dinners, because they are not much different from what they have north of the border. Yet. I’m working on it. I had a Chiles Rellenos dish, which was okay. Tonight (in a different place), I had Poc Chuc, which was DELICIOUS.
- In driving through this part of Mexico (I am careful not to generalize, because I am only in the Yucatan, so I can’t say, “in Mexico”…even though it might be true. I don’t know.)….speed bumps are a constant feature. Serious speed bumps, forcing you to drastically slow down as you pass through towns. What impressed me were the enteriprising purveyors of items like roasted corn and tamales who stationed themselves at those speed bumps, knowing that drivers would have to almost stop in order to preserve their undercarriage. I didn’t get anything today because of the uncertainties of our destination, but I will, I hope, before we leave.
- The people are lovely. Don’t be a skinflint with your tips, and they will be even lovelier Just sayin’.
- I had warned the boys that there might be police stops on the road, and yes, the police might be carrying machine guns, and to not be alarmed. Indeed, on our travels today, there were four brief stops (but only once were they sporting machine guns) – we were waved through every time, although every time, a car in front of us was motioned to stop and pull over. I don’t know what the criterea were.
- Oh, and for those of you who haven’t followed us for the past few years. This isn’t our first time in Mexico. The first substantive time was a few years ago when we went on a parish mission trip led by the Family Missions Company to General Cepeda, Mexico, a bit west of Monterrey and Saltillo.
Quote of the day from the middle of the Yucatan:
Me: “Are you American?”
Guy I’m asking advice from: “No, I’m Estonian.”
Day one shouldn’t have been a long one, but because of a certain fail in my usually mad research skills…it was. But it wasn’t a disaster….just long.
(It could have been a disaster…for sure!)
The first part was easy: Fly from Alabama to Houston to Cancun. It was a Monday. The Spring Breakers must fly on the weekend because at one point the flight attendant commented, “Y’all sure are quieter than the group yesterday.”
Surprisingly, the second part was easy, too. I had been advised that flying into Merida might be a better choice than Cancun simply because of the wait at immigration, but that proved not to be the case. Ten minutes, tops, including customs.
The rental car wasn’t bad either. I’d arranged it before hand, the price quoted and insurance coverage quoted (a sticky point in Mexico) was as arranged, and Joseph watched the man who preceded us in line take photos of the dents in his car before driving away just as I had told his skeptical self I was going to do.
And then…we were off.
Now, there are two ways to get from Cancun to Chichen Itza and beyond. There’s the slower, free way, and then there’s the faster toll road. All I read about the latter was that it was “boring.” The most boring road in the world, perhaps. Bosh, I thought. Even if it’s boring, I decided, I needed expediency. After flying down, I just wanted to get us to where we were going. The picturesque could come tomorrow and the whole next week.
So I found the concept of a toll road no problem.
Oh, I should add that my car came to me with a little more than a quarter tank of gas. (Duly marked on the sheet). I thought, “Ah, I’ll stop in a minute. Let me figure this car and this road out. Then we’ll stop. Get water. Get Coca-Cola Light,because we’re in that land again. Get gas.”
So I drove. And drove. I had purchased a very detailed map of the area, which included notation of gas stations. Hmmm. I told Joseph to look for the next gas station. He pointed. “It’s on the free road.” “Well, I’ll just get off,” I assured him. He ventured doubtfully, “I…don’t…think…you can….”
And do you know what? You can’t. I couldn’t.
I watched that fuel gauge creep slowly toward E – and it was so slow, I had some hope. It seemed to barely budge after fifty kilometers. But as it dawned on me that no, there really was no gas until Vallidadod, over 100 kilometers down the road, I started to wonder…what in the hell am I going to do? What is wrong with these people? What if there was a real emergency???
I’ve gotten close to E before, but always knowing that a gas station was a mile down the road…but here…there just wasn’t.
Well. This is a nice start, isn’t it? Stranded by the side of a Mexican toll road on a Monday evening?
Well, there’s a toll booth! A toll booth with some refreshments and a sign indicating one could get help for…something. No gasoline symbol, though. Well, I would ask anyway. So I asked the toll booth attendant about gasoline..He shrugged and waved. Nope. Not until Vallodidod.
“You need gasoline?
He motioned to his left, on the other side of the road. “Go there. You will get gasoline.”
I obeyed – what else was I going to do ? I had an eighth of a tank left to drive about sixty kilometers. I might have been able to do it, but it was really too risky. I swung around and pulled up to a shabby building with a Cruz Rosa truck in front of it.
The fellow – Nelson, his name was – and I understood each other enough for him to tell me that gas would be gotten for me, and it would take about 30 minutes and 200 pesos. I really didn’t care. Again…what else was I going to do?
So he sent his assistant off, and he hung out, and we attempted to chat. He told me, as I mentioned, that his name is Nelson. I asked him about pronunciation of certain words, especially those with an “X” – in Maya, it’s got an “sh” sound to it, specifically what depending on its placement in front of a vowel or consonant, I guess. We stretched that out for a while. I bought the boys water. Nelson talked to me about Chichen Itza. We watched tour bus after tour bus thunder past, away from the ruins and towards Cancun. We waited.
Eventually, the older guy appeared with two rather large containers of gasoline. What I suspect is that they usually have a store on hand – Nelson said that the lack of gas stations on the road was a continual problem – and since it was late in the day, they had run out.
And we were off. Doing what I hadn’t wanted to do – drive in the dark – but it was that blasted, toll road, with plenty of lights, not some windy country road.
Finally – I crawled through the town of Piste, lively with bikes, business tricycles, shops and food stops open to the street – I would not have minded stopping, but we needed to get to our hotel…..MAYALAND…
And someone….was in heaven.