Time-Travel 1977 Yucatan: Maya Illusion Cubensis Mezcal…

Continued from previous…

March 1977

CHETUMAL

Chetumal is the first major Mexican city coming north from Belize.  It’s a free port, so something of a shopping mecca for the region, as well as a regional crossroads.  It’s also a jumping-off point to go to the Mayan ruins of Tulum, maybe the only one built right on the coast.

TULUM

Tulum is not a major set of ruins by Classic Maya archeological standards, but it rates pretty highly by backpacker ones.  These are right on the beach, so you can watch the waves roll in from Chac Mool’s belly.  There are many campsites in the area, with license plates from the US and Canada, so I’m reminded that I’m back in that mostly-non-European nexus, which frankly I was starting to like…

I really don’t want to do an American beach scene.  I’m heading to Palenque, the one major set of developed Mayan ruins in Mexico which lies outside the Yucatan, and which in fact pre-dates them, part of the Classic Era lowland jungle network which includes Tikal in Guatemala and Copan in Honduras.  But first Merida…

MERIDA

I’ve already been to Merida the year before, so this is my nostalgia trip, not bad for a 22-y.o.  Actually it’s quite the nice city, with cultural connections to New Orleans across the drink and its own Mayan culture in the countryside surrounding—mostly desert, true, but still nice.  And the city is known for hammocks, so that’s a key ingredient in my burgeoning desire to handle handicrafts as a business.

And the food is good, albeit different from the rest of Mexico.  Instead of mole and chipotle, tacos and tamales, there are achiote, huevos Motulenos and cochinita pibil.  But the Main Event in Merida this trip was—drum-roll here, please—my First Real Conversation in Spanish, tah dah!  We discussed the relative cost of labor in Mexico vis a vis the USA, heady stuff.  That guy is probably the Minister of Economics in Mexico now, not bad for an errand boy in the market (just kidding)…

PALENQUE

There’s a European woman traveling alone on my bus to Palenque.  I’m traveling alone, too, so… economy is the mama of invention.  “Want to get a room together?” I ask almost matter-of-factly, even surprising myself.  The words just came out of my mouth unedited.  And then I probably said something stupid like, “we could save money that way.”  Hey, what can I say?  I guess I’ve just got a way with words…

Anyway she nods, so we did, and we do, the whole nine yards, playing house in some cheap hostal in southern Mexico, I not even sure what there is between us, if anything.  She was probably thinking the same thing.  It’s not like I’ve never shared a room with someone without sex, but maybe I should have invited her for a coffee first regardless.  I feel bad because I won’t even remember her name, but I met a lot of people on that trip… and I will remember HER…

…and it was nice, for a few days.  But we weren’t in love, neither she nor I.  I guess that I am—WAS—a reasonably attractive guy, but that’s neither here nor there. At age twenty-two everyone is attractive.  She was probably trying to forget someone else; I will only imagine that later.  The irony is that I was thwarted in romance elsewhere because of the woman’s traveling companion, and here this woman is independent, and still we’re just ships passing in the night.

The ruins themselves are pretty nice, if technically incorrect.  But that’s not why most backpackers come here.  They come for the mushrooms, the psychedelic type.  I being from Mississippi and all, that’s old hat to me, so hardly worth wasting the time and risking detection.  They’re exactly the same type, too, cubensis.  We run into Conrad and wife from the Rio de la Pasion trip.  That happens a lot when you’re on a travel ‘circuit.’

You keep running into the same people over and over.  But my newfound partner and I split up here, and I go on to Agua Azul, which is a spectacular set of waterfalls on the back road to San Cristobal de la Casas.  It’s funny that it used to be so hard for me to approach women out of mortal existential dread, and here now it seems all of a sudden that I can almost take them and/or leave them at will, and never feel a thing.  Wait a minute…

AGUA AZUL

This is certainly not the highest set of waterfalls in the world, but one of the most beautiful.  If the Caribbean is like a big swimming pool, then this is like a cascading Roman–no, make it Mayan–fountain.  If you’ve never seen the movie ‘Chac the Rain God,’ then get it, and you’ll see a scene from Agua Azul.  The camp site is sublime, too, this before ‘Subcomandante Marcos’ will cast a pall of fear over the entire area in a few short years.  Next stop is San Cristobal way up in the highlands, then back to Oaxaca, cactus and maguey, mezcal and mole, the ‘Mayan route’ completed, back to the real Mexico, my second home forever…

To be continued…

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