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.


At 11:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

H1Ni my dear, poor little pigs are getting all the blame. I have always said, "I will gladly travel north to Canada, but no thank you on South of the border :)" love robin

At 4:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for an incredible awesome trip. Also the generous check.

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