slumbering gods of coba

After several days of lounging in the sunshine, reading books and enjoying good food and good company, on our last day in Cancun we were ready for an adventure.

Coba is a Mayan village about a 2-hour road trip from our hotel. We boarded a van a little before lunch, and quickly got acquainted with the others in our tour – one other American couple, a Spanish couple, a pair of hilarious Mexican women who came prepared with a handbag full of Bud Light and Cheetos, and a polite young Brazilian traveling by himself with a bag full of camera equipment. Our tour guide, Jose, immediately spoke to us in Mayan, and then translated – he was originally from Coba – a small village still exists near the ruins of the Mayan city. He explained that Coba was a crossroads of sorts for ancient Mayans, and the stelae, or stone slabs that would be engraved with various bits of information, drawings, etc, had dates around 780 AD in some places.

The weather was very hot and humid, and the area of Coba is fairly sprawling. The tour companies keep a fleet of battered bicycles which we used to cycle to the different areas.

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The tallest pyramid is in a grouping called the Nohoch Mul, and is the last Mayan pyramid in the Yucatan that tourists are permitted to climb. This will change at the end of this year, when climbing is banned. I understand why and honestly can’t believe that climbing is still permitted – it seems odd to think that they would allow so many streams of tourists access to an archaeological site of such significance. Our guide explained that the decision was also safety related, and once we started climbing, I understood that aspect, too. The high stone steps were shiny and slick with wear, with a rope to help climbers get up and down. B & I set out with our tour group in the blazing sun, and although the height in many places bothered me, with B’s coaxing and help, I made it to the top.

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It was a very strange feeling to be standing on a structure of that age and spiritual significance. The limestone was cool and very smooth even in the sun, and seemed to absorb the light. Jose was adamant that the pyramids were never used for human sacrifice, that the Mayans were a peaceful and non-aggressive people. If there was sacrifice, he said, it was done in other places, places not associated with prayer. He also told us that the limestone was carved with tools made of volcanic rock, which had to be brought to the Yucatan peninsula from Central America by foot; he said the limestone reflects the moonlight beautifully, and the pyramids served to guide the travelers who came to Coba to trade. At the top were two inscriptions of the descending or diving god. Not much is known about it except that it may be associated with the Mayan bee god, bees being symbols of the connection to the spiritual world.

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diving or descending god at the top of the nohoch mul pyramid.

We also toured the Mayan ball court, where Jose explained the critical role that the death game played in Mayan culture. There were stelae at the ball court, as well as two round engravings set into the dirt between the walls of the ball court. One depicted a very recognizable human skull, and the other, Jose explained, was an image of a decapitated jaguar holding its own head.

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jose explaining the mayan ball game; the stone slab depicts the mayan calendar, and under the center pillar you can see the round stone through which players had to direct the ball.

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The trip was fascinating and profound. As B said, these pyramids were standing during so many historic events; for Americans, whose historical landmarks are relatively young, it is amazing to put your hands on a stone that was carved in 780 AD, or before, in many cases. Despite the tourists riding bikes or being pedaled around in “tricycles”, it was unearthly quiet, and I couldn’t help but feel the shivery stillness of slumbering old gods everywhere in the trees and stones.

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That night, we were given dinner in the top floor of an open-air restaurant as the sun set over a lagoon across the street. The cinder block houses of the Coba village were open to the stifling air and occupants watched us without much interest. Dogs wandered here and there, enervated by the heat. Up in that airless place, we ate huge plates of marinated chicken, rice and beans, and then a group of villagers put on an amazing show. They were painted and costumed as Mayan gods, the god of death depicted as an owl, and players on a Mayan ball court with jaguar masks, headdresses, and as skeletons with skull masks. A tiny girl, younger than L, was costumed elaborately and stood impassive among the whirling suppressed violence of the dance. They drummed and chanted and it was a deadly serious performance that left the dim night thrumming with intensity and a strange, tense, fascinating energy. At the end, one of the performers, glistening with sweat and streaked paint, told us in Mayan, then Spanish, then English that what we had seen was ritual, a legacy from the beginning of Mayan time that was passed from father to son and so on. It represented, he said, the pinnacle of the physical, the emotional, and the spiritual world of the Mayans.

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Our guide explained that the ball game at Coba was played with members of the upper class stationed at the top of the ball courts, and members of the lower class on the ground. They passed the ball without using hands or feet, and the team that was able to manipulate the ball through a stone ring at the top of  the court would win. The lower class members of the winning team would then be taken to a different site, and sacrificed. Jose said many times during our tour that the Mayans did not sacrifice at the pyramids, that they were only for prayer, and, he reiterated again that the ball game was entirely voluntary and the sacrifice was an honor. Mayans, he said, believed that a person had to progress through nine layers of the underworld, and then thirteen levels of heaven. I trust Jose’s knowledge of his own culture, and the culture of his ancestors, yet I would be interested to know more about the role of human sacrifice in Mayan religion. I fully intend to do more reading on the topic, and our guide also recommended the movie “Apocalypto” – he said that while Mel Gibson didn’t get everything right (mixing up aspects of the separate Toltec and Mayan cultures and even mixing up elements from different time periods) the movie is excellent and the language absolutely authentic. He said he could understand every bit of the Mayan dialogue.

I loved this part of the trip the most – I would highly recommend a trip to Coba, or Tulum or Chichen Itza (two other nearby Mayan archaeological sites) if you are ever in the Yucatan peninsula. Our tour guide was amazing, as was the site, the food, and especially the performers from Coba.

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Nate; and I’m having fun.

B and I woke up early and ran in the rain; it soon stopped and we went poolside. The weather was clear and very hot and humid. The water is turquoise on the ocean side of the resort, big waves. At night you can watch jewel-lit glittering cruise ships pass on the black horizon.

B put up the beach umbrella and soon a rotund hotel employee in a hot pink shirt rolled down and started putting it back down. We asked him why, and, puffed up, he advised us that Tropical Storm Nate would move through around 8. B pointed out that it was only 10, and he spread his hands in the helpless “nothing I can do” gesture. He rolled off and was tongue lashed by an elderly woman whose umbrella was his next target; she received the same helpless gesture but she couldn’t let it go. After appealing to management, she was able to smugly reinstate her shade and soon they bloomed like mushrooms.

The only real signs that we had a storm last night were the facts that they brought our balcony furniture in and closed the pool early. This resulted in staggering numbers of people in the lobby swarming over the snack table and consuming free alcohol. (“They closed all the bars down the strip cuz they’re open-air – Senor Frog, Pancho Willie. People don’t have nowhere to go,” B’s sister’s boyfriend drawled in his Southern accent. “Wait, there’s really a place called Senor Frog?? And people GO THERE?” B asked incredulously.) 

The preponderance of free alcohol is gobsmacking. We have a series of bottles in our room, beer in the fridge, swim-up bars, all free free free. (“This,” B’s sister says, waving a hand at the slack-faced, sunburnt pool patrons clutching sweating plastic cups full of booze, “is what perpetrates this ‘tainted alcohol’ thing. All these people who come down here, lounge around in 90 degree blazing tropical sunshine, drink only alcohol, and then wonder why they feel like hell.”)

I’m not much of a beach vacation kind of gal, but I have to say, there is an interesting abandon with which the resort-goers attack this place. From our pale Midwestern position under the sun umbrella, with my straw hat and our library books (The Magician King for me, Garrison Keillor for him) surrounded as we are by shrieking, extremely drunk people glistening with sweat and suntan oil, revealing alarming amounts of sun-damaged, poorly-toned, leathery hide, I am having fun. 

Cancun 

When my summer friend B asked if I wanted to join him and his sister’s extended family in Cancun for seven days, I was initially meh. Despite many efforts to change this ingrained mindset, my first reaction is always to think about the many reasons why I can’t do something- time, motherhood, money, etc. There was also the matter of having only known him for mere weeks at the time of the invitation. Sometimes, though, things are just right, and when he explained the family deal that we would get via his sister, and I realized I really could take an honest to God vacation if I wanted to, I found myself, surprisingly, saying yes.

So here I am in a higher-end, all-inclusive resort. With B. And his sister, whom I immediately fell head-over-heels in platonic girl-crush adoration of, her tall, understatedly expensive, lanky assuredness; her extended family includes her boyfriend’s elderly grandmother, mother, aunt, and several other relatives down to a toddler. They’re Southern and I could not enjoy them more.  B and I are perfect traveling companions- we run when we want to run, take naps, read, and eat when we want to chill. 

Last night, a bright flashlight moon came through the slats at the stifling hot Mexican cantina. “Full moons are endings,” Aunt Pam drawled darkly, but I can’t feel anything other than happy. A tropical storm will move through tomorrow, but B’s sister has already examined the weather maps, declared it is just a rain band, and booked the spa for all of us. Even B, who will good-naturedly joined me for a couples massage and his and her facials. Then a bus trip to explore the ancient Mayan city of Coba on Saturday, and swimming with dolphins on Sunday.

For the most part, what’s most remarkable is that I’ve left my mobile phone locked in the hotel safe so I only have one photo so far. I’ve not been so entirely present with a situation in a long time. However, I’m sure I will have more to share soon. Until then, que tengas in gran dia! xo

in which there is some knitting, a dream, and freedom from attachment

I’ve reinstated my long-neglected Ravelry page (I am sixtenpine over there) and have been doing a fair amount of knitting. I’m not, however, a very fast knitter, so projects tend to take awhile to come off the needles.

Miss L is passionately fond of her hot-water bottle during cold winter nights so I finally finished her hot-water bottle cover (ironically, finished during the heat wave I discussed in my last post).

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I continue to plug away at my Log Cabin blanket and have cast on for a little knitted pumpkin to decorate my mantel.

Please visit me on Ravelry and let’s be friends. I only have 3 over there…which, let’s face it, as an ISFJ introvert, is really about as many as I have in real life, too! 🙂

***

My dreams have been very intense lately. I won’t bore you with the details, because honestly, there’s nothing more boring than being subjected to other people’s dreams, but mine are full of ancestral histories of people I’ve never met; crowded turn-of-the-century New York apartments full of antiques, a summer porch, a girl in an old-fashioned school uniform, and my dream-self sobbing through a perfect performance of ‘Ave Maria’.

***

My summer friend has moved away but we still stay in touch many times a day.

In fact, my bag is packed and my passport is ready, because this week, we’ll drop out of our daily lives together and take a trip to a place of perpetual sunshine and summertime.

I don’t know where this connection will lead but I thoroughly enjoy him – he is cheerful, optimistic, humorous, and creative. He writes and lives a life of hard work, frugality, and minimalism. Although he is a devoted Christian, he tends to exemplify, for me, the Buddhist concept of freedom from attachment.

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Although I’ll use our trip as an opportunity to take a social media break (except for Instagram, which I do love to sort and edit my photos), I fully plan on sharing pictures and thoughts from our trip in this space.

I hope you enjoy your week and your attachments, or lack thereof, accordingly.

xo

 

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Rest In Peace, Tom Petty. I remember this song and these lyrics as being a mantra in my head during a couple of very difficult periods of my life when I just had to grit my teeth and push through; “you could stand me up at the gates of Hell / but I / won’t back down.”

I think, well and truly, this American life has gone crazy. Our society, led by an egomaniacal narcissist and sponsored by the NRA, angry white men, and rape culture, has reached a boiling point. Here’s a clue – why don’t we stop worrying about peaceful immigrants and monuments and the NFL and start worrying about white men carrying automatic assault weapons? I’m beyond sickened by the enormity of this tragedy and yes, I’m a libtard, but I think the GOP and the politicians currently in power are willingly sacrificing human life for their own glorification and political agendas and that’s inexcusable. I hope all of these Christians have to speak to this when they stand before their proverbial pearly gates. 

early autumn

We’ve lived through a blazing hot stretch of weather, quite unseasonable. Last week, L & I retreated up north to try to escape it; we were largely unsuccessful. However, we did manage to find cool breezes at the mouth of the Platte River where it flows into Lake Michigan, although the dunes across the water were obscured in heat haze.

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Gradually, over the course of this week, the heat has loosened its grip, but not before we experienced record temps and the hottest day of 2017 in Detroit. Who says climate change is fake news.

With the weather change came an enervating sinus headache that confined me to my bed for a day. It was a day that I needed, hidden away from the world in clouds of diffused Thieves Oil, knitting and watching old PBS dramas about Queens Elizabeth and Mary Stuart, gunpowder plots and treason. Work has been especially tiring lately due to hopefully temporary atmosphere of toxicity and politics that leaves me rageful and completely apathetic by turns. Having been in the corporate world for now fully half of my life, I understand that these times ebb and flow and it’s best to just lay low and ride them out. But it can be a bit taxing to live through.

The bright spot of the week was, unexpectedly, a visit from colleagues from China. There was a striking moment at dinner when one half of the table was talking about social media, how difficult it is to be exposed to so many headlines and clickbait and opinions at the speed of light, how difficult it is to stop and read and research and think and formulate opinions for oneself rather than simply reacting. The other half of the table was discussing how they have to switch VPN’s constantly to obtain access to Google and other Western Internet sites. We find a VPN, the government shuts it down, and we find another, one of my colleagues shrugged.

Now,  finally, my front yard is full of leaves. The grocery stores have big piles of pumpkins and cornstalks. Miss L and her neighborhood friends run and laugh in that particular early-autumn gold light and it’s time to plan her Halloween costume.

I hope you are enjoying your early autumn (or spring for my Southern Hemisphere friends) wherever you are.

xo.