Me and the missus. Same bar. Just a shot across the
table from the other direction. I look wet, so this must have been after a
nice frolic in the surf. I loved the barren side of Cozumel, as it remains
relatively unspoiled, but getting there from San Miguel meant that we had to
rent a car (400 pesos) and drive across the island (30 minutes or so).
Playa del Carmen
After Cozumel, we took the ferry back across to the mainland and spent
a couple days in Playa del Carmen. This is our hotel there, the
Barrio Latino at 5th Ave and 4th St, about 200 yards from an absolutely
gorgeous beach sprinkled with topless women. Even if there hadn't
been topless women on the beach, I think my favorite town was Playa del
Carmen. The hotel was nice, too. They wanted 410 pesos per
night for a room with air conditioning, but we bartered them down to 300
pesos. I gotta tell you, you just cannot beat living in paradise for
30 bucks a night. It ought to be against the law. Again, the
staff was nice, even if they didn't speak much English. The owner
was actually a displaced Italian, but he was rarely around, which left
Pedro at the front desk from about 7 a.m. to sometime after
midnight. Our maid was Olga (How a Mexican girl got that name is
beyond me). She and I had an interesting conversation one afternoon
while Betty was shopping -- interesting because she didn't speak a single
word of English and my Spanish is wretched. Betty was interested in
getting her hair braided, and I was trying to see if Olga could do it and
what she would charge. Olga did a lot of talking, from which all I
could recognize was the word caballo, from which I gathered that
she wanted to charge me some ridiculous amount just to put Betty's hair in
a pony tail (either that or she was telling me how she used to braid her
horse's hair when she was a little girl). Olga kept the room nice
and clean, though, for which I personally slipped her 50 pesos when we
checked out. I told Betty that we should take her back with us to
the States. For 50 pesos a day, she'd probably live in our guest
room and keep the house immaculately clean. Like Pedro, she seemed
to put in very long hours, which I attribute to a good Mexican work
ethic. Our guide in Chichen Itza, for example, when I asked him if
he had an email address, told me that he didn't have time for email
because he left his house at seven each morning and didn't get home until
midnight -- seven days a week.
There was a hammock slung across the front of our room, and we probably
spent as much time relaxing there as in the room itself. Betty
couldn't get enough of that shopping stuff in town, so here's me one afternoon
when I told her to just go without me. We really liked the hammocks,
so we set out to buy our own to bring home. The one pictured above is actually the
cheaper model made by the locals, which most of the merchants were selling
for 300 pesos. I bartered one down to 200 pesos, but the day I took
this picture (yeah, the camera was set on timer and I'm faking being
asleep) Betty went out and got the better hammock (heavier cord) for 180
pesos. I don't know how she managed it. The same hammock in
the States would cost $60-100 or more. She really should have bought
two for that price, but keep in mind that we were carrying everything on
our backs and the hammocks are actually bulky and heavy.
Betty loved the hammock so much that one night when we got back real late
and showered, she threw on my tank top and refused to come into the
room. I told her she needed to at least come in and put some underwear
on, but she wouldn't listen. I finally had to pick her up and take her
in and put her to bed. Another night we were sitting out there
together in the hammock listening to the young couple next door (who hadn't
paid for air conditioning and therefore had their windows open) making
love. There's something rather special about the sound of a beautiful
young woman gasping in orgasm -- not a sound I've heard before when I wasn't
actually involved in the activity -- and I think I'll remember it for a long
time. Afterward, Betty and I went inside and made a lot of noise of
our own, but of course our windows were closed. (A side note: Betty's
gonna kill me for using this picture. At least I used one where
nothing was exposed, though, hon.)
Our last night in Playa del Carmen, Betty got her hair braided.
Isn't she beautiful? This was done by an 18-year-old named
Leonardo. I started out liking Leonardo, but the little peckerhead
ripped us off. He originally wanted 300 pesos to do this, but we
bartered him down to 180. Knowing how all these Mexicans operate, I
asked him up front, "Now for 180 pesos, Senora will get beads,
thinking that he'd do all the braiding and then explain that beads cost
extra. He assured me that she would indeed get beads.
"Quantos beads?" "She can get as many beads as she
wants," Leonard assured me. "Tres beads?"
"Si." "Tres beads on each braid?" "Si,
Senor." What he never said was that she could sure get as many
as she wanted, but only one was included with the cost of the
braiding. For extra beads, he explained when the braiding was done,
it was another 100 pesos. Betty thought it would look stupid with
only one bead per braid, so the hairdo wound up costing us 280 pesos
(about $28 U.S.). Still, Betty assures me that something like this
would cost about $60 in the States. After all, it took the guy about
an hour and fifteen minutes to do it. I don't want to say the guy
intentionally cheated us, any more than any of the people down there will
intentionally steal from you or behave dishonestly, but they do have a
different business ethic than I do. And it's always amazing how well
they understand or speak English before some conflict arises.
Leonardo had no trouble understanding me before he went after that
additional 100 pesos, but once the disagreement arose, he just couldn't
understand enough English to grasp why I felt it was unfair to charge us
100 pesos for 25 cents worth of cheap plastic beads. In a place
where their entire livelihood comes from tourists (the Yucatan exports
absolutely nothing except for the sap/rubber from which bubble gum is
made) who are generally a
whole lot cheaper than I am, though, perhaps you can't blame them.
And if their business ethics are now cultural, it's the tourists who are
to blame for it. You go down there expecting bargains. I don't
know anyone down there who pulls their money out of their pocket when a
merchant states his initial price for anything. Regardless, Leonardo
did a nice job. And it was worth the $28 to finally realize my Bo
Derek fantasy that night back at the hotel!
While staying in Playa del Carmen, we took a day trip down
to Tulum. First thing when we got there, I heard a flute being
played, looked up, and holy mackeral, there were the voladores,
Mexico's legendary flying men. I wouldn't have known what they were,
except years ago I started a story in which they appear. How amazing to actually get
to see the voladores! Had we arrived five minutes later, we would
have missed their ceremony. Life is full of such coincidences, I
suppose. I don't know how often they perform each day, but if they
hadn't been on the pole, we would have missed them, as we passed through
the area, toured the ruins, and then spent the rest of our time on the beach or
snorkeling the reefs that day.
Here they are milling around what I presumed was their
dressing room. And if you think the bamboo and palm frond hut was
for show, you're be wrong. Everywhere we went, people lived in these
sorts of hovels. I was amazed when our guide in Chichen Itza told me
that the roofs of these structures will actually last up to 25 years --
and this is in a climate where it rains 300 days out of the year!
Everyone knows I'm a critter lover, so I need to throw in
a critter picture or two. There were iguanas everywhere we looked in
Tulum. This one was sneaking up behind Betty when I shot his
Now for the Mayan ruins at Tulum. I don't know a lot
about Tulum's history and we didn't pay for a guide here, so there's not a
lot I can tell you about the structures in these shots. It was an
absolutely beautiful location, though. I would love to have seen
what it originally looked like, perched there on the cliffs over that
beautiful Caribbean sea.
Betty and me. This was the hottest damn day of the
whole trip. Bryan and Donna collapsed under some palm trees and told
us to have fun. Betty would have tuckered out, too, but I just
dragged her along behind me. I'd come thousands of miles, and
I wasn't about to sit in the shade. That's how I am anyway; I'll go until I pass
out, with little concern for health or safety. Fortunately, I had
Betty to slop sun block on me and make me drink plenty of water.
Ruins at Tulum.
The primary temple. Amazing that some 5 or 6 hundred
years later that arch is still standing over the doorway to the courtyard.
The palm frond roof is a reconstruction to show you what the
finished buildings might have looked like.
Tulum. That's the main temple in the background.
Beautiful structure. Typical of the Mayan.
Just south down the beach from the ruins, there are a
couple bars, restaurants, and dive shops (lots of nice snorkeling and
diving here!). These are beach huts that you can rent for about $5 a
night. You have to bring your own hammock, 'cause there's nothing
inside. I would have really liked to have spent a few days here,
soaking up the sun and exploring the reefs. There's a near-in reef just
offshore, there where the water gets darker, but the nice reef is out
about a half a mile, there were you see the white of the breakers. I
actually tried to swim out that far, but the current was running too
I really didn't take many pictures while in Cancun,
because, frankly, I just wasn't impressed with the place. We'd left
behind the quaint markets of the Mexicans and stepped into ... Hell, I
dunno, Fort Lauderdale or San Diego. The beaches were gorgeous and
the hotels were nice, but it was no longer an adventure ... UNTIL ...
we were sitting out by the pool on a veranda overlooking the beach on our
last night there. I saw something crawling across the sand below and
thought it looked like a drunk. Then I realized what it was.
It was a sea tortoise. Los Tortugas! She had obviously
crawled up from the sea to lay her eggs (I'm pretty sure that's the only
time they leave the ocean) and was on her way back out to the surf.
I went down to the beach and sent Betty back up to the room for the camera
(hey, she can run faster than I can).
The turtle was absolutely gorgeous. She was huge,
easily measuring four feet across. What a struggle it was for her,
hauling all that weight across the sand on flippers that were meant for
the sea. She would crawl about five feet and then stop to rest for
several minutes. I wanted to help her, but knew it would terrify her
to be dragged across the sand by "Senor Whiskers."
(Not to mention that they're a protected species, and if caught I might
get locked away in some Mexican prison!) It took her about 30
minutes to make her way back down the beach. During this time, lots
of other people walked down the beach, but they were totally oblivious to
her. (I've noted that no matter where I go, most people are
oblivious to the beauty of nature around them.) Betty and I stayed
with her the whole time, lighting up the beach with the flash of the
Truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience ...
...that I'll never forget. This alone was worth the
price of the trip.
From Cancun, we venture inland to Chichen Itza. On the
way, we saw how most of the people of the Yucatan live -- generally in
squalor. The house above is typical. Note the dog.
Everyone had a dog. They generally looked like they were starving.
We stopped off and saw one of the local cenotes.
These are natural limestone sinkholes that link to underground
rivers. They are generally hundreds of feet below the surface, with
water that's 70 to 130 feet deep. There are no surface rivers in the
Yucatan. Every drop of water (and remember that it rains in the
central peninsula 300 days out of the year) sinks into the limestone and
collects underground in these cenotes. The Mayans built their
cities (such as Chichen Itza, which means "Mouth of the Well of the
Itza") around these natural wells. There was also a small
cenote in Tulum. You can see people swimming
in this one (I would have jumped in to cool off if I'd had my bathing suit
with me). Jumping from the walls looked like great fun.
A shot from the bottom. The plants growing around
these things are amazing. There's no soil. Every plant growing
on the rim either drops its roots a hundred feet down to the water or
siphons from its neighbor. There's a tree on the rim in the center
of the photo. You can see its roots stretched all the way down the
wall to the water below. The tree is supporting a palm/banana-leaf
plant of some sort and, if you saw it up close, a hundred smaller
succulent-like plants -- all living like parasites from the tree.
Betty and me at the cenote. There's that
little bottle of $4 water.
The Rain God's temple at Chichen Itza. (No, I don't know
who the folks standing in the way of my shot are...)
Some details from the temple, just to show you the intricacy of
everything at Chichen Itza. That's the Rain God on the corner, but to his
immediate right is a symbol indicating a female (her legs are a column, her ...
uh, privates ... are indicted by the square box, and her head is above that),
...when viewed with the male representation on the opposite
corner (you can see his dangling member) represents life, which comes from the
Rain God (long as we keep him happy with sacrifices).
Another detail of the Rain God. You can see his eyes,
nose, and a rather vicious mouth. Cheery fellow.
More of the intricate details that decorate all the buildings at
Chichen Itza. Try to imagine this when the building was new. It
would have been intricately painted.
Here we are in front of the observatory, a rather famous
structure because of its intricate and precise positioning of doorways and
windows, all set to predict the movement of the planets and stars.
The Mayans had a precise calendar with which they predicted -- down to
the second -- eclipses and whatnot. The purpose for these
predications was to allow the priests to control the population (but
that's what religion's always been used for, yes?). If you had
someone misbehaving -- say he was speaking out against the priests -- they
would tell him to repent his evil ways or the gods would put out the sun
in 3 days, 4 hours, and 32 seconds. Low and behold, the sun would go
out, exactly when they had said it would. "See?"
they would say. "We told you so. Now pray and the gods
say they will restore the sun in ... oh ... 23 minutes and 5 seconds from
now. But you, since you 'caused all this grief, you must look upon
the face of the sun god when he returns and if he is angry with you still,
you will be blind for life." For the rest of that person's
life, as he walked around with a stick feeling out his way, everyone would
know that the gods had taken his sight as punishment. Perfect
advertising for the priests!
Rattlesnakes were important to the Mayans. They're
everywhere in Chichen Itza.
A typical upper-class Mayan home in Chichen Itza. The columns would
have supported a grass roof.
The famous El Castillo de Kukulcan. The entire
structure is a very precise calendar.
Me, waiting for Betty to catch up. (It's a LONG
climb. The trick is not to walk straight up -- the stairs are too narrow
and the grade is too steep. You walk in a zig zag pattern, the same way
the Mayan priests did all those years ago.) Going down is the dangerous
part. Stumble and fall, and you won't stop until you hit the bottom --
it's that steep.
The famous ballfield as viewed from the top of El Castillo.
Betty with the Temple of a Thousand Columns in the background
(shot from the top of El Castillo).
Yours truly at the top of El Castillo. If I look
like a drowned rat, it's because it was raining on us most of the time we
were there. This was actually a blessing, as it kept us cooled
off. The temperature that day was supposed to be 105. Our
guide told us to be grateful that we weren't there in August, when
temperature reaches 130.
The intricate carving on the columns at the Temple of a
Thousand Columns (also called, I think, the Temple of the Warriors --
which I think is the name I used in my book El Dia de los Muertos;
I'm too lazy to go check for you).
Another shot of the same or a different column (all four sides
feature warriors, priests, merchants, etc). Incredible workmanship for a
culture that knew about metals but preferred to work with tooks made from
More rattlesnakes. These are actually on the small temple
around the cenote at Chichen Itza where every year a 15-year-old girl was
thrown in to appease the Rain God. She would have lived her 15 years in
splendor. On the night she was to be sacrificed, she would have been given
the sacred elixir (a liquor fermented from honey) to drink (the priests wanted
her so drunk that she could be easily handled). Because she was about to
meet the gods, she would have been dressed in wonderful jewelry of jade and
obsidian and precious stones (the priests wanted to make sure she sank straight
to the bottom when thrown in).
The ballfield. It's here that the boys decided who had the
honor of being sacrificed to the gods. See the rings on each wall?
The trick was to get a very dense, 3" diameter rubber ball through one of
those rings. The game was played much like soccer. Players could use
elbows, knees, heads, and whatnot, but they could not use their hands.
Because the ball was so hard, helmets and armor were worn. Clubs were used
to bat the ball about. Getting the ball through the hoop was so difficult
that it only took one point to win the game. Games lasted minutes, hours,
days. The acoustics of the field are incredible. You can stand at
the far end and drop a coin and hear it from the opposite end. This was so
that relief players could be called into the game. Fans lined the top of
the walls to watch (in the picture taken from the top of El Castillo, you
can see the stairs that lead up there).
A closer shot of a ring. Note the black sections of
wall. That is original stucco placed there by the Mayans.
The game had a deadly purpose. The winner or loser
(opinions vary: I wrote in my book that the losers were sacrificed, but our
Mayan guide is convinced that gods only take winners and it was considered such
an honor to be sacrificed that players strove to win the honor of dying) lost his head at the
end. This is depicted above. You can see the winning (to go with our
guide's explanation) team captain kneeling on the right in the photo
above. He's been decapitated by the other team captain. Spurting
from his neck are six snakes (snakes always represent blood) and one flowering
plant (representing the continuous renewal of life, even in death). The
other team captain is on the left -- you can see him better in the photo below.
In this team captain's left hand, you can see the
decapitated head with snakes streaming from the neck. In his other
hand, you can see the obsidian knife with which he decapitated his
opponent. Between the head and the corpse, there's a round dish
which features a skull and a penis (life and death). The skull is
talking to the corpse. The penis is talking to the head. In
death shall you yet live (supposedly with the gods).
This platform represents the thousands of heads that were taken in
the game. The heads were mounted on poles atop the platform, while the
bodies were cremated.