Settling comfortably on the cushioned seat of the bus, I lean my forehead on the cool glass of the window. It’s been an exhausting and exciting day.
The free day trip to Playa del Carmen offered by the resort caught us by surprise. We accepted and hopped on the bus.
Mexico, made up of thirty-one states, stands in the southern part of North America and most of the country borders the Pacific Ocean to the south. Besides the U.S., it shares a border with Guatemala and Brazil in Central America. We are staying in Playa del Carmen, a resort city along the Caribbean Sea in the state of Quintana Roo. I learn playa means beach in Spanish. And Quintana Roo is one of three Mexican states that make up the Yucatan peninsula and is the most popular state to visit.
I know Mexico is famous for gold and silver but the spectacular display at the Hacienda Matises & Co. of artisanal talent blew me away. She, of the golden tiara on jet-black tresses; he of the powerful silver encased body of a God, shaped their passion into fantastical shapes that glowed and glittered forever. Even the sun and moon, and the stars, I am certain, bow in obeisance. My eyes stayed glued on the artisans working behind glass windows bringing a delicate balance between precision and beauty. Think artist and mathematician rolled into one.
Then a short ride brought us to the iconic 5th. Ave. the happening place where it’s de rigueur for tourists to congregate.
I didn’t stop to shop, instead continued to walk weaving my way through throngs of tourists, eyeing the vast array of visual delight displayed in stalls and store fronts along the avenue which seemed to go on forever. The Spanish tongue, with a smattering of English sprinkled in between, danced in the air adding an extra sparkle to the leaves of trees that must have stood there for a very long time, welcoming guests from the far corners of the globe. Oh, what a wonderful world!
Our bus is slowing down. I have been dozing and open my eyes to look out the window. There is traffic; the sun is setting. I shut my eyes and return to my reflections.
In a clearing in the jungle, there, before my bemused eyes, is a sort of meeting place of men, women, children all intent on the task at hand. They don’t even look up when I stop to stare. Although I am an alien in their world, no one questions me. They are friendly and caring, holding an arm when I stumble, or, gesture for me to sit down. When I show signs of flagging strength, I am given a tumbler wreathed with moisture from the afternoon heat. It is filled with juice from the hibiscus flower. My thirst is quenched. Again, when hunger pangs make me double up in pain, I am given a drink made from rice and vanilla, and sprinkled with cinnamon. A clay plate is proffered, I grasp it in my eager hands, and devour the cactus salad with gusto. Yet, no words. Only silent kindness. Fortified, I resume my perambulations.
Statues of gods abound here. Chaac, the Mayan deity for rain; Ixcjel, Moon deity; Itzmana – ruler of heaven, day, and night. He teaches humans the science of medicine, numbers, the calendar and writing. Hun Hunahpu – maize god. For the Mayans, maize is not just a crop. It represents who they are.
Such beauty, I muse, touching a brilliant orange hibiscus. Immediately, a red blur spreads before my eyes. Through this blood-soaked mist, scenes of such violence unfold that I fall down fighting to close my eyes which remain open. The beautiful jungle of moments before has grown dark and suffocating, the trees bent with twisted arms, grimacing in pain. The people who had tended me have vanished without trace. I raise my aching head, a dreadful premonition grabbing at my throat, and I understand. The Europeans have arrived.
There is movement around me. People are shifting and mumbling, saying goodbye to new friends, discussing dinner which will be served in a few minutes. I stand up with the rest of the tourists, settle my backpack on one shoulder, clamber down the steps, and find myself walking towards the beach. I am not hungry for the people I met earlier in the jungle, fed me.
Music from the resort reverberates in the night air lifting some of the heaviness from my spirit. Although I had promised myself not to scroll the internet I do so now to learn there was a mass burning of Mayan literature around 1562 resulting in the loss of information about the Mayan gods. However, incredibly amazing ruins in the Yucatan bear evidence of the density of population and how important agriculture was for the Mayans. All dating back to at least two thousand years. In many ways the indigenous civilization of the Mayans was more advanced than their Spanish conquerors.
I am gratified to learn that 50 indigenous languages are spoken still including Maya in the Yucatan; Huastec in northern Veracruz; Nahua, Tarascan, Totonac, Otomi, and Mazahua mainly on the Mesa Central; Zapotec, Mixtec, and Mazatec in Oaxaca; and Tzeltal and Tzotzil in Chiapas.
I gather my wandering thoughts, pick up my backpack and turn towards the lights of the resort.
“The most regretful people on earth,” the poet Mary Oliver said, “are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”
Mary Oliver is one of my favourite poets whose words always resonate for me. I am hoping you will understand my crazy and weird compulsion while writing a piece, to swerve into another world, where imagination mixes with reality. Do come along – I would love your company.
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