We woke up at 6:15 am, took showers while admiring the cheerful frog shower curtain, got dressed, and covered ourselves with sunscreen. We went downstairs at 7:10, just in time to meet Julia, our guide from Iluminado Tours. We went out into the street and there we met Manuel, our driver, who had pulled up in a slick white Grand Marquis with tinted windows. We felt like we were part of a motorcade. It was a very comfortable vehicle: very smooth ride and very cool air conditioning. On the way to Loltun caves, we chatted a lot with Julia. She is an American ex-pat, born in Oklahoma and having spent many years in Arkansas. She moved to Merida seven years ago, and married a Maya man named Victor. She was a lot of laughs, and we had a really good time on the ride. Julia took out a baggie full of quartz crystals, and let us each choose one for use in our upcoming cave ceremony. We passed through the small town of Muna, which had a lovely church surrounded by blooming bougainvilleas. Soon afterwards we drove through Ticul, a town known for making large red pottery and shoes. The road signs were interesting here...not the kind of thing you would see every day in the U.S.. There was a symbol for a gas pump next to a sign with a symbol for pottery. We passed a cemetery in Ticul, as well as a huge Mayan wall. We saw the pendulum nests of the yellow breasted oriole, hanging from trees and from electrical wires.
We arrived at Loltun at around 9 o'clock. "Lol" means "flower" in Mayan, and "Tun" means "stone." We met our Mayan shaman guide, Jose. We must admit, he looked a little more modern than we expected with his Burton Skateboards T-shirt and a large Maglite tucked under his belt. Jose spoke in Spanish, with occasionally a little bit of English. Before entering the cave, we had to ask permissioin from the four cardinal points of the compass. There was another guided tour entering the cave at the same time, but Jose managed to keep us very separate. Soon after we entered the cave, we saw a moulted snakeskin on the ground. Jose told us of similarities between women, snakes, and the moon: they each have a 28 day cycle (apparently snakes shed their skin every 28 days). The caverns were large and there were some very interesting limestone stalactites and stalagmites. There were floodlights in various locations, which the other guide toggled on and off as he led his group through various sections of the caves. Jose took us to a section of the cave where water was dripping. He said that this was healing water, and he put a leaf between the middle and ring fingers of our left hands. He passed his hands over our outstretched hands. He led us around to various places. At one point we saw black handprints which were painted in negative on the cave walls. He had us hold an outstretched hand over a large stone, and he asked what we felt. Craig and I each felt a warm sensation, yet Julia insisted that she felt cold. We wandered through a portion of cave where there were a lot of bats hanging from the stalactites. Several of them flew around as we entered the chamber.
Next he led us to a place where two large stalactites descended from the ceiling, touching one another. He had Craig put his forehead against the frontmost stalactite. Jose then knocked on the backmost stalactite. He listened to the musical tone that it made. He then knocked on the stalactite that Craig's head was touching. Jose nodded, and then asked me to do the same. When he knocked on the rear stalactite, I could feel vibrations in my forehead and teeth. When he knocked on the front stalactite, I could feel the musical tone of the cave echoing through my head. I was one with the sound. It reminded me of cartoons in which someone gets their head stuck inside a ringing churchbell. As he listened to the tone he lightly touched the small of my back and my belly. Jose asked if I had stomach or uterine problems. I said not that I was aware of. He made me go back to the stalactites and he performed the ritual a second time. He asked if I was pregnant. I said not as far as I know. He was totally perplexed. Apparently the tone of the sound changed halfway through. He had "never heard someone make it sing like that before." He performed the ritual a third and final time. He asked what I did for work, and when he heard that I worked with computers he nodded. "Si, si..." He said that it had to do with the electricity my body absorbed from working with machines. I was in need of some purification. However, he didn't seem completely satisfied with this explanation, and I got the feeling that he truly believed that something was wrong with me physically. This left me feeling a bit uneasy, wondering whether he knew something that I didn't. (Note: A week after returning home, I started to feel very sick with severe headaches and body aches. I went to the doctor and they did some blood work. They said that my liver enzymes were elevated, which indicated that I might have some type of virus. A week after that I developed a severe rash. I went back to the doctor and they diagnosed Lyme disease.)
There was a small pool of water (maybe 8 inches in diameter) that Jose said was like a miniature cenote. He again observed the leaves in our hands and then splashed some of the water onto us. He took Craig's left hand (palm up) with the leaf between the middle and ring fingers. He then took my left hand (palm down) with the leaf in the same position, and placed it above Craig's hand. Jose passed his hands over ours. He said that he could feel the energy flowing between us and that we are very compatible. He said that when one feels something, the other does too. He said that while he watched us with our hands in this position, he noticed that it looked like I had been pushed from behind, like something was trying to push me closer to Craig even though our instructions were not to touch one another.
Jose then led us to a cavern where two skylights opened to the outside. Swallows were flying around, and the chirping of the birds was the only sound. It was surreal. We had to take off our backpacks, hats, and water bottle holders. Jose was about to cleanse us of negative energy, and if we had a backpack on, the negative energy might hide in there. Instead we wanted to leave it in the cave. He had Craig stand in a certain spot and then he put a large quartz crystal (about the size of a fist) on the ground between his feet. Jose waved his hands around Craig's body and said some quiet incantations. He then picked up the crystal and waved it around Craig's body. He told Craig to walk toward the skylights, shake the negativity out of his body, and remain there in quiet contemplation. Jose then performed the crystal purification ritual on me. It was so calming. I kept having the urge to shut my eyes, but Jose told me not to. He then told me to walk away (keeping far enough from Craig), shake out my negativity, then go over towards Craig but not speak to him. I did so, and the two of us were looking through the skylights and listening to the birds totally at peace. Then Jose came over to us and gave us each a big hug. We walked to the cave's exit, and stopped. It was time to thank the aluxes (cave spirits). We needed to wait for a breeze, which was their sign that we could go. We waited a few minutes, and then felt a very definite strong breeze. We ascended the steps out of the cave and thanked Jose. It was an amazing experience. It was very overwhelming, and I don't feel that I really was able to process all of the input. Julia had told us that she had been through the ritual once herself, and was looking forward to observing ours. It is difficult to get the full implication of what is happening when you are so involved in the process yourself.
When we got back to the car, Julia told us that she and Trudy would be attending a local AAA baseball game that night, and that we were welcome to go with them if we'd like to. This sounded awfully tempting, but we decided we'd wait and see how we felt after our busy day. Next we drove to Labná, our first stop on the Ruta Puuc. "Puuc" means "hilly" (a reference to this area of the Yucatan), and the word Puuc has come to be used to describe a particular style of Mayan architecture found here. Puuc architecture consists of a lower facade which is made of plain rectangular blocks of stone with various simple doorways. The upper part of the facade is much more elaborately decorated. There are often representations of the face of Chaac, the rain god. Labná was a city which housed between 1500 and 2500 people between the years of 750 and 1000 A.D. It comprises 1.25 square miles. There are 70 chultunes (underground cisterns) at Labná. Julia and Manuel stayed by the entrance, and Julia told us that we would probably want to spend about half an hour exploring the site. When we first entered we saw a thatched-roof hut which is used by the caretaker. It was very peaceful here, and then all of a sudden the tranquility was shattered as the caretaker fired up his lawnmower and went to work trimming the grass and weeds at El Palacio. But it is a necessary evil. We know that the jungle can encroach so quickly on ruins that they need to always keep on top of it to keep it looking nice. The most striking feature of Labná is its "Puuc mosaic" arch. Puuc arches do not have keystones. They are sort of triangular in shape. The official term is "corbelled". The Labná arch has different architectural details on its east and west sides. The west side is more elaborately and ornately carved, with niches on either side of the main arch. The earth here is very red, and the arch itself is made up of stones that are a mixture of red and gray. Near the arch we saw El Mirador, a large (65 foot) pyramid with a small tree growing out of its roof comb. We explored the ruins for 35 minutes, and then met Julia back at the entrance. We could have certainly spent longer, but we had a lot of stops to make and we didn't want to be behind.
We got back into the car and headed to Sayil. As Manuel drove, there were a lot of yellow butterflies hurtling toward the windshield. Each of the Puuc sites was between a 5 and 15 minute ride from one another, so we soon arrived. "Sayil" means "ant hill", and the city was inhabited between 750 and 1000 A.D. As we walked up the path from the parking lot to the entrance, we heard and saw turkeys gobbling. We passed a thatched-roof structure under which were displayed some stelae (carved tablets). The most famous building here is the Palace. It is built on three levels and has images of the face of Chaac the Mayan rain god embedded in its ornamentation. It consists of over 90 bedrooms, and seems to have housed about 350 people, most likely the governing elite. Although there were chultunes (cisterns) at Labná, they were not visible. Sayil has visible chultunes. There is a complex of buildings about a mile from the main palace at Sayil, but we didn't have time to walk down there. We spent about half an hour exploring the ruins. One of the features here is the phallic stela. When we returned to the entrance to meet Julia, we noticed a small gift shop. There were some long wooden shelves upon which were displayed heavy statues. The shelves bowed so much (the biggest, heaviest statues always seemed to be dead center to look aesthetically pleasing) that we were amazed that they were still standing. There were some dogs at the entrance to this site. They totally ignored us, but when some people arrived and didn't walk down the proper path to enter the site, the dogs were less friendly and chased them.
Next Manuel drove us to Kabah. This site was larger and had more tourists than any of the sites we had previously seen today. There were a lot of buildings and it felt more like a compound than the previous sites had. The most interesting building at this site is called the Palace of the Masks or the Codz Poop ("rolled mat"). The facade is decorated with 260 identical Chaac masks with protuberant noses. Looking at it straight on it is not as impressive, but when you look at an angle and see how three-dimensional it is, it's truly amazing. We walked to the Templo de las Columnas and along the way I was bitten by a large horsefly. The sun was starting to come out (it had been mostly cloudy up to this point) and it was starting to get hot. After spending about half an hour at Kabah, we headed toward the exit and bought some cold water. Julia took us across the street for a short walk. Wherever you looked there were yellow and green butterflies in the air. There was a large group of them alighting on the ground in the parking lot. There was a large mound of a non-restored pyramid which was just visible through the vegetation. Julia had been here in March and she said that it had been perfectly visible. It gives you an idea of how quickly the jungle can encroach. We took a short walk to the portal arch which overlooked the sacbé (white road) to Uxmal. The arch dates 670-770 A.D. It is adorned inside with red handprints.
Then we drove 15 minutes to Uxmal. We entered a little courtyard area and were introduced to Ricardo, our guide who spoke 6 languages. We ate lunch on premises at the Yax Beh restaurant with Julia and Manuel. We had the Yucatecan favorite sopa de lima (lime soup). This was a hot soup that included tortilla chips and chicken, and was rather tangy from the presence of limes. It was very good. We had fresh tortilla chips and salsa. I had quesadillas served with guacamole and black beans. Craig had a rollito con pollo con chaya en salsa de lima, which was chicken wrapped in the Yucatecan version fo spinach. We each had a Fanta to drink, and I had flan for dessert. Manuel was pretty quiet when Julia was around (so as not to step on the guide's toes, I imagine) but the minute she left the table for the rest room he started chattting up a storm. We had no idea that he was so fluent in English, as he had been so quiet up to this point. His personality reminded us of Señor Andreas, our driver in Peru. Good sense of humor and very friendly.
We hooked up with Ricardo at around 3 o'clock. It was just the two of us and him. He was fantastic. The word Uxmal means "three times". There is a question as to what it refers to. Most people seem to translate it as "thrice built". The city was originally settled in 500 B.C. but it became the seat of political and economic power in the Puuc region between the 9th and 12th centuries A.D. It had about 25,000 inhabitants and encompassed around 37 square miles. As you enter the ruins, you come upon the Pyramid of the Magician. We noted its impressive size but plain decoration, and Ricardo then told us that this was only the back that we were seeing. The pyramid was unlike others we had seen in that it had rounded corners. It was not as angular as others we had seen.Its front was more elaborate. Buildings at Uxmal were decorated with Chaac masks that had the eyes of a snake, mouth of a jaguar, and a nose (that looks like an elephant's trunk) that points up asking for rain and points down thanking for rain. A double-headed snake represented on the buildings was the symbol of fertility. A turtle was the symbol for water. Lattice work in the architecture represents snake skin. Next we went to the Nunnery Quadrangle (named by the Spanish because it reminded them of a convent). This structure had some wooden lintels. There were motifs of Mayan houses above the doorways. The sun was starting to come out and it was very hot. We saw a double-headed jaguar statue that was described and depicted in the early archaeological writings of Stephens and Catherwood. There was also a large phallic statue. We saw a smaller phallic symbol just laying there on the wall. There was a ball court; the court was smaller than Chichen Itza, but it had larger hoops. We had Ricardo's services until 4:20, and he imparted a lot of information. It was information overload, actually, and we had a hard time retaining everything we were hearing.
At 4:20, we were left on our own until the ruins closed at 5. They would reopen again later for the nightly sound and light show. We heard some thunder off in the distance. We climbed the Grand Pyramid. It had a center staircase flanked by other levels of rock in which lights were embedded, to light it up for the sound and light show. It kind of reminded us of the lights shining up from the sidewalks in Merida which illuminated facades of the buildings so nicely. There were some great views from the top of this pyramid. Shortly before 5, we made our way back to the entrance and met up with Julia and Manuel. We bought some ice cold water and used the restroom.
We mentioned to Julia that Ricardo must be very much in demand as a guide, since he speaks 6 languages. She said that most Yucatecans have a socialistic attitude, and Ricardo doesn't take more than two tours a day, as he doesn't want to take work away from other people. He will often forego tours in Spanish or English, as there are other guides who can conduct these tours. He tends to specialize in some of the other languages.
The ride back to Merida was in the air conditioned comfort of the land-yacht Grand Marquis. After we cooled down a bit we realized that we felt great and were definitely up for seeing some baseball tonight. Manuel dropped us off at Julia's car, where we hooked up with Trudy and their friend Lorna Gail. We all hopped into Julia's car and headed to Kukulkan field on the south side of town. It was immediately apparent that this was a fun group of people, and we were in stitches the entire ride there. We parked the car and then walked over to the stadium. We bought our tickets (which cost 30 pesos). Trudy and Julia went immediately to the hot dog vendor near the ticket window. They said that no hot dogs were for sale inside the park, so we would have to get them here. A guy was grilling them up and serving them with grilled onions, mustard, ketchup, and mayonnaise. Craig and I looked at each other and threw caution to the wind, deciding to eat these Mexican street hot dogs and take our chances. The hot dogs cost 8 pesos, and the vendor put them in a styrofoam tray inside a plastic bag, "to-go". We all headed upstairs and sat in a section along the first base line. This was their "regular" section, and some of their American and Canadian ex-pat friends were already here: Greg and Charlotte and John and Janine. (The game was already underway. It had started at 6 and we were about 20 minutes late). We really got to sample the ex-pat lifestyle tonight. This particular group of friends goes to almost every home game, and they go to some away games as well. With the $3 entrance charge and the plethora of inexpensive food, it is a cheap good time.
The home team was the Yucatan Leones (Lions), and they were hosting the Cancun Langosteros (Lobstermen). There was a cute yellow lion mascot named Leoncio dancing in front of the stands. Ball girls ran in a very girly way to give new balls to the umps, and they were always greeted by whistles from the crowd. We had a lot of fun watching the game, participating in chants, etc. Our section, though not particularly crowded, was pretty loud. Julia was great for cheering and heckling. One of her favorites was to tell the lone American on the team (Scott Bullett) to choke up. "Choke up, Scott!" she would yell every time he was at bat. Julia, Trudy, and company knew all of the vendors and chatted with them. It was a family affair, families at the game, families selling concessions. The folks selling drinks had a baby in a stroller. A boy came over selling french fries with hot sauce for 8 pesos. I tried to use a US $1, but it was slightly torn. They wouldn't have accepted it anyway because the boy would have no change for it. I didn't have any pesos (so far on this trip we had been able to use US dollars for everything). Trudy swapped me a 20 peso note for two US dollars, and I bought my fries. As the sun set the sky became flecked with wispy pink clouds. A peanut vendor came by and someone from the gang bought some packets of hot peanuts wrapped in a paper towel to share. They gave us some, and they were really good. While we were enjoying them, a foul ball came down right behind us. If Craig hadn't been busy with the peanuts, he would have been able to reach right up and catch it. The Leones were behind, but seemed to be rallying. A guy came through the crowd and was passing out little samples of Kopal hair gel, one of the sponsors of the game. At the seventh inning stretch, they played "Take Me Out To the Ballgame" over the speakers, but it was in English, and our gringo section was one of the only ones to sing along. The game got pretty exciting as the Leones caught up and eventually took the lead.When the Leones scored, there was a catchy cute little song that they played over the speakers. "Leones, leones!" The game was over by 9:15 and the Leones won 5 to 3. We walked back to the car and had a lot of laughs on the way back to the hotel.
When we got back to the hotel we dropped off our stuff, freshened up a bit, and decided to head out. It was now just after 10 o'clock, and the Saturday night festivities would be starting. Calle 60 was closed to traffic. There were bands on every block. A particularly good band called La Noche were playing on a small stage opposite La Parranda restaurant. The atmosphere was like Beale St. in Memphis as people young and old crowded the streets to dance, or, like us, to watch. One couple was absolutely captivating. They were both such good dancers that we couldn't take our eyes off of them. After several songs, the band took a break. The crowd dispersed, looking for the next happening place. We wandered by another band, but it was painfully loud, so we didn't stay. We ended up sitting around in the zocalo. We got some night photographs of the cathedral, and the small archway next to it which leads into an alley with interesting modern sculptures. As we walked around the zocalo, a bird pooped on my arm. We headed back to see La Noche. There was a free outdoor table at La Parranda, so we snagged it. This was just what we wanted, music and people-watching, but with an opportunity to sit down and have a drink. Craig got a yard of Bohemia beer, and I got a yard of sangria. Having not had any supper other than the ball game fare, we ordered chicken nachos, which had a nice chipotle flavor. We devoured it. The waiter asked how it was, and on impulse, we ordered a second one. When time went on and no second order of nachos came, we realized that he hadn't taken us seriously. Oh well, it was probably for the best. We left the restaurant at 1:30, and walked the few short blocks to the hotel. There was a man sitting on a park bench near our hotel who said hello to us in Spanish. We entered the hotel and went up to the room. I sat at the table and wrote in the journal. Craig hung out for a while on the roof deck. Apparently the man on the park bench was some type of (official or unofficial) neighborhood security, as he walked women to their cars etc. We went to bed at 2:30.