Monday, December 04, 2017

Caribbean Cruise Adventure - Day 5

[Composed 11/23/2017]

Welcome to Mexico! That's the vibe we felt as we wound our way through the cruise port at Costa Maya to an awaiting tour bus. 20 minutes after leaving the boat, we were sitting on a bus full of fellow tourists heading to Chacchoben Mayan Ruins. The bus ride took about an hour, but our tour company Native Choice, wisely used this time to educate us on the history of the Mayan people. Once on site, our Mayan guide took us through the area, having us climb various steps and investigate various temples. We even got a Mayan math lesson, demonstrating how Mayans represented numbers both large and small.

I really enjoyed our guide, and appreciated his take on the Mayan culture. Consider these two anecdotes he told us (alas, I haven't attempted to verify their authenticity; why ruin a good story with the truth?).

First, our guide posed this question: you probably know that Mayans had a uniquely accurate understanding of the calendar, but do you know where they got this information? Unlike most ancient civilizations, the answer isn't 'from the divine.' No, according to our guide, it was through observation. To paraphrase him, watch something happen for 2,000 years and eventually you pick up a thing or two. To our guide, Mayan wisdom is all about reason and rationality. However, lest you assume that the Mayans were a culture of high school science teachers, he also told us the following story.

The ruins at Chacchoben were originally decorated with a shellac (my word, not his) that included mercury as an ingredient. Our guide explained that if a commoner touched the temple they'd no doubt get sick due to mercury poisoning. Despite the fact that the priests knew why the individual was sick, they would tell him that his illness was due to his angering the gods that lived in the temple. In other words, there was a sharp distinction between the priestly class and the regular folks, and while the priests may have had rational knowledge, they weren't planning on sharing with the regular Joes and Janes of the village.

After our tour and a little bit of shopping (where my bargaining skills failed me mightily - we left empty handed) we ended up back in Costa Maya. As we stepped off the bus, we found ourselves a couple blocks from the port and about 3 kilometers from the beach / shopping hot spot of Mahahual. There were plenty of taxis around, ready to whisk us off to wherever we wanted to go. However, I wanted to see if I could find us a more unique adventure than the obvious tourist friendly options. And so we started the the hot walk to Mahahual. After about 20 minutes, we'd seen basically no new signs of life. Rather than continue our trudging, we turned back and made our way to the port. I mention this story only because it fits with my latest travel philosophy: if you want to experience the magic of serendipity and have awesome and unexpected adventures, you better be ready for plenty of blah experiences. Like, say, walking a hot Mexican road for no apparent reason.

Back at the port, we found a little oasis of activity. We had rushed through the port earlier in the day, but by the afternoon, it was buzzing with people and activities. Yes, it was all designed for tourists in mind. But it was also done well. Beware that the prices and quality of the stores ranges pretty widely. We bought a set of salt and pepper shakers from a place that wouldn't bargain for $10, but the schlocky souvenir shop wanted $25 for the same item. We couldn't resist buying a freshly created painting by @JulianMendozaSanchez. Watching him turn spray paint into works of art was a treat in itself.

Back on the boat, we're resting up for tomorrow. We've got a full day planned for Cozumel, and then it's back on the boat for a day at sea, and then home. Man, is this vacation flying by!

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