It is, unfortunately, true! As one of my subscribers gently reminded me today, it’s been about 5 weeks since I’ve posted anything on my blog. Definitely my bad! In my meager defense, I haven’t quite returned to my pre-bypass energy level. That said, I just returned to Cancun last night having spent the past week in Florida getting my post-surgery checkup. The docs gave me a thumbs-up and told me to be patient as my energy level slowly returns. I apologize for being a bit sluggish getting back in the swing but I’m headed in the right direction, in-between naps!
In fact, in an effort to move forward a bit more, Diane and I recently spent a day exploring the local Maya culture. There is an active culture of Maya ancestry here on the Yucatan Peninsula. Our tiny housekeeper is of Maya descent and speaks not only Spanish but is also fluent in Yucatec Mayan. While I’m at this, the words Maya and Mayan can be confusing. Maya is used when referring to everything about the culture except the language. The language is Mayan. That should clear things up!
Joining a small group with an excellent guide, we travelled from the state of Quintana Roo where Cancun is located into the adjoining state of Yucatan. We met our guide and a few others in the small coastal town of Puerto Morelos early one morning where we boarded a chartered taxi/van for our trip into the past. Our destination was nearly 2 hours away…a small plot of private land with a jeep trail leading in from the main road. It was there where we would learn much about local plants and their various uses in the Maya culture as well as observing numbers of birds and insects, each with a legend or purpose. We would also visit two very old and spectacular caves.
One plant, in particular, was quite memorable! It was a rather small bush type plant, perhaps 3-4 feet tall. It was covered with thorns, some up to 2 inches long. A special species of stinging, venomous ant makes its home inside this plant and in no other plant. Anything or anyone brushing against it will not only receive some punctures from the needle-like thorns but will also be immediately attacked by hordes of these stinging ants as they quickly swarm the offender injecting their painful venom.
Maya men and their present day descendants, in order to prove their strength and masculinity, have sometimes taken the challenge of sitting under and alongside these plants while their friends pound the plant with a long stick to enrage the ants. The bite of even one of these critters, we were told, often brings cries of anguish from the strongest man. If a Maya man is/was caught cheating on his wife, he may offer to endure the ritual of the plant and ants to prove his love to his wife and pays a heavy penalty. Ouch! I mean…really OUCH!!
At one point during our very full day, we explored a large dry cave. We also swam in the cool, crystal-clear waters of a stunning, underground cenote, Each cavern was approximately 2-4 million years old! The attached photo can only do so much to convey how utterly spectacular these places were but they were seriously breath-taking!
The landowner had purchased a generator and strung a few lights inside the cenote cave so that his few visitors could see and appreciate the spectacular stalagmites and stalactites covering the floor and ceiling of these caverns. Much better than flashlights!
The best part of this day was that this was not a “commercial tour” but rather a small group of folks led by a knowledgeable local guide seeing things others would rarely see. There were no tour buses or diesel fumes. On the way, we stopped along a small road where families of Maya decedents continue to live a very simple existence, selling hand-carved wood items, growing fruits and vegetables and gathering what the land around them provides.
We enjoyed a wonderful, authentic Maya lunch in the home of a village leader where three generations of one family prepared our lunch. We observed and assisted “grandma” or abuela as she hand mixed and formed the tortilla dough and grilled the tortillas on a small, primitive and very hot griddle top as cooking has been done for some 3000 years. While her griddle top was steel laid over a bed of wood coals, her ancestors used flat stones. None of those who tried were able to correctly hand form the dough into the correct shape and thickness but it was fun trying. Our meal was wonderful and consisted of mostly vegetables with just a little chicken. There was one dish that was made with ground corn, ground peanuts and diced tomatoes that had been cooked down to the consistency of oatmeal. It was spooned into a tortilla, folded with homemade salsa and I shamelessly wolfed down several like a starving refugee. There were other fillings for the tortillas served in bowls along with a clear soup with vegetables. None of the flavors were familiar but everything was delicious!
As the sun was setting we returned, exhausted, to Puerto Morelos. We thanked our guide and drove the 30 minutes back to our place in Cancun. We had absorbed parts of an ancient culture to include learning about natural medication from plants, legends, foods, architecture and of course caves and cenotes. We ate foods prepared the same way as was done thousands of years ago by Maya ancestors in a similar, primitive kitchen and we spoke a few words in an ancient language. We swam in cool, primitive waters in a prehistoric underground cave, surrounded by stalactites and stalagmites and socialized with the living, breathing shadows of a proud and ancient culture. Not a bad day!
I will always remember the way that Diane engaged the small children that gathered after lunch to look at the gringo visitors. They pointed and whispered daring each other to be the first to speak to us. Diane easily engaged them as only a natural-born teacher can do. They were powerless against her charms as they ran and chased and returned time after time to encourage her in games of tag and horseplay complete with loud screams and giggles. Diane joyously obliged! Children in any culture play much the same and even if you could not speak one word of their language, play and music are two connectors that most cultures can relate to, at any age.
Yes, our life as expats provides rewards we simply could not gather in our home country. Challenges? Sure! A few! But like every other situation in life, one must find their best compromise. We believe our very rich lives as expats provides our very best compromise where the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages..