Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I Left My Heart In Chichen Itza

The Mayan civilization was highly developed. They were brilliant mathematicians and astronomers who created a written language of hieroglyphs and a number system, even including the concept of zero.

At the same time, because of their religious belief, they practiced human sacrifice. The most bizarre method involved slicing open the victim’s heart and removing the still beating organ as a gift to their gods.

Later they just infected everyone with Swine Flu.

Mayan turf was the jungle of the Yucatan peninsula in central Mexico. Ruins can be viewed in Chichen Itza and Tulum near the resort-strewn city of Cancun.

There are hundreds of places to stay around Cancun and the neighboring island of Cozumel. Sandy beaches lapped by extremely warm azure colored water front the resorts. The 22-degree latitude causes the tropical climate.

Many resort guests are required to wear wristbands to confirm residence. This prevents gatecrashers and also gives a signal to the street vendors that one is a tourist. Depending on band colors, they also know how flash of a tourist you are.

Mexico offers, from the moment you exit your plane, a gauntlet of vendors and time-share sales people and guys hawking all sorts of junk to the visitor. Somewhere in the bowels of the country, thousand of weavers are creating thousands of blankets 24/7/365. In the 90+ degree heat, what is more desirable that a rough thick scratchy blanket?

Sadly, souvenirs and trinkets are rubbish. Science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon said, “90% of everything is crap. In Mexico, make that 95%.

My advice is: Don’t buy anything in a Mexico shop except Tequila and limes. Sit in a lounge chair on the white sand and dangle your feet in the water while you watch the sunset.

Dotting the colorful streets and plazas are cafes and restaurants where diners can enjoy the sounds of strolling mariachi bands who will take requests and play local favorites. One such favorite is La Cucaracha, whose lyrics celebrate a roach that enjoys a roach of another type. Supposedly, one can find mucho roaches all over the country.

Actually, we did not see la cucaracha very much except for one day in the bathroom. This insect made up for the lack of others. It was as big as a toilet seat cover and very quick on it’s muscular feet.

Stepping out of the shower, I saw him scurry across the floor. Doing what any brave man would do, I called my brave son, Brandon, to dispatch him. This was not easy. He managed to corner the beast and barely incarcerate it in a plunger. Then he sprayed a half can of Raid underneath the tiny prison. This Rasputin of roaches refused to succumb. He was given the gas chamber treatment a second time and finally pummeled repeatedly with the toilet brush until he ceased to wriggle.

Needless to say, the women were not informed of our visitor.

Another unusual beast in the area is the Iguana, a giant lizard who roams the surrounding jungles. They are as common as cats in Athens, but much more prehistoric in appearance. There are guys in the streets that will put one on your head for a price, which can be negotiated. In fact the price for almost everything can be negotiated. Taxicab drivers will bargain the ride just like a blanket vendor. We were even able to haggle for a rental car at Hertz. The conversation went something like this:

ME: I'd like to rent that car. How much would it be?

HERTZ: Make me an offer senor...What would you like to pay?

ME: Well, nothing, I guess.

HERTZ: No problemo amigo, I will only charge you for insurance.

That’s when the real dickering began. It turns out the only non-negotiable item in Mexico is mandatory auto insurance. The cost is up to 80 bucks a day. At those rates, the car could be free and they still do very well, thank you.

All the talk about drug cartels and kidnappings did not have much truth to it in Cancun. We were probably the biggest crime wave to hit the town in quite a while as we were caught driving 115 km in an 80 km zone. After being pulled over, we were told in Spanish that they would hold the driver’s license and we would have to come to court and pay a million pesos to get it back. But Josh, who speaks the language, sort of, started rambling and somehow talked them out of the entire thing.

Spanish speaking girlfriends saved Brandon $130

Another costlier but swifter option would have been a 20-dollar bribe. Even though they wear “stinkin’ badges”, the police will cut a deal.

Tourists are offered a plethora of activities from diving incredible reefs to visiting Mayan ruins. The most famous is Chichen Itza, where one can see the famous ancient ball courts in which the losing team was sacrificed atop the steeped stepped temple. There is also the Well of Sacrifice, a deep cenote, or sinkhole into which screaming victims were tossed. They say bones of small children have been excavated. Apparently, the younger you are, the purer the blood.

Makes sense to me.

When we went to Tulum, I stepped up to purchase tickets with my Visa card and was told it was cash only. I had no pesos and asked where the ATM could be found. The girl indicated I would have to exit the car park and drive back to town where there would be a machine at the 7-11 store.

I found this hard to fathom, but that's Mexico.

Dutifully, we got in the hot, humid, heavily insured auto, drove back to the town, finding the store.

Of course, they had no ATM machine, but directed me down the road to the bank, where I obtained cash. 30 minutes later, back at the ticket booth, we incredulously noticed, right next to the girl...an ATM Machine! I repeat...RIGHT NEXT TO THE EMPLOYEE who sent us out of the car park.

I felt like my heart had been cut out.

That, in a nutshell, senors and senoritas, is Mexico.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Raising Cane

My father always said, “Nothing much good happens after 2:00 in the morning”.

As usual, he was right.

When I last traveled to America, I became the proud owner of a brand new set of Taylor Made golf clubs and bag. I spent the night dreaming of the match I would play the following morning with my old mates. However, I left the sticks in the trunk of the rental car.

That very same car that was broken into during the night and …well, you know.

But this was America, where crime is common and expected. I, having lived in “safe” Nelson, New Zealand, had grown complacent. I forgot where I was and paid the price for not being vigilant.

Here in Nelson, we are all wrapped in Mother’s arms and no misfortune can befall us.

Guess again, Yank.

Here’s what happened.

After pooling together some savings, the wife and I decided to invest in a bit of home improvement, a new property wall to be exact. The existing picket fence just wasn’t doing the job anymore.

The builders came and brought their shovels and levels and plaster and paint. Soon we had a wall that was both sturdy and secure. This was the kind of wall that could put a smile on the face of any home.

To complete the new look, the old letterbox needed to be brought into the 21st century. It was the kind that looks like a birdhouse, but had begun to look more like the floor of a birdcage.

The hardware store has heaps of new ones, but the most flash of them all, the tall poppy, looks like a giant pillar. This letterbox is for people who receive an extraordinary amount of correspondence. Soldiers could fire weapons from behind it and not be detected. A homeless family could easily reside within for the winter and have friends over for tea.

This letterbox would be the 5th tallest edifice in Nelson.

These things sell for $500.

Somehow, it was the one we chose.

Our new addition was leveled, attached, plastered and painted. Everyone was proud.

Except on a Monday morning, whilst leaving for work, I angrily noticed the pillar was gone. Stolen. Ripped from its womb. Aborted… well, you know.

I am a pretty gentle man and rarely lose my temper. However I found myself entered in a one man swear fest, blaring out words I didn’t even know I knew. I had to go inside and wash my mouth out with soap.

A few days later, we found it tossed down a ravine near the house. It was kind of busted up but we retreived it and will reattached the thing for now and await the next attack.

Since it was already reported to insurance, we will actually get paid for a new one, so we sort of come out a little ahead in the pocketbook.

But this is the real problem:

Talking with others about these shenanigans, I am finding out that New Zealand has a pretty good reputation among civilized countries concerning crime rates. In addition, Nelson is one of the most secure places in the country. However, people also say, the problem of serious mischief is getting worse all the time.

The victims seem to be random and innocent. They are normal law abiding citizens who make the mistake of leaving their bikes in an open garage, or their lawn furniture on their lawns.

Or their $500 letterboxes near the street.

And we all know who is doing this to us. Allow me to profile the offenders:

Young males, hoons, aged 14-25, likely to be drunk, probably no strangers to the police. They are anti-social imbeciles who if they had any brains, they would rattle in their skull. All information comes to them through unintelligible text messages so they don’t even need a mailbox.

New Zealand should take some lessons from Singapore where last year, 6,404 criminals were sentenced to caning. There are over 30 offences punishable by the cane. Vandalism is among them.

Here is how it works:

A rattan cane about one metre long and one centimetre thick is soaked in water to prevent it from splitting when it comes into contact with the prisoner’s buttocks, as well as to make it more flexible. The cane is treated with antiseptic before use to prevent infections.

An inmate sentenced to caning receives no advance warning as to when he will be caned, and is notified only on the day his sentence is to be carried out. He would then receive a medical examination by the prison doctor. If the doctor gives the green light, the inmate would then proceed to receive his caning.

His wrists and ankles would be secured tightly to the frame by strong leather straps. He is then secured in a bent-over position on the frame at an angle of close to 90° at the hip with his buttocks protruding. The officer administrating the caning would then take up position beside the frame and deliver the number of strokes specified accordingly in the sentence to the inmate's bare buttocks.

As Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore would say. "I love the smell of antiseptic cane in the morning."

Do I need to tell you there is not a lot of monkey business in Singapore?

It is my modest proposal that Nelson throws down the gauntlet against these drunken evil doers of the night and take up the cane. We are mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it any more!

If you agree, please mail me a letter.