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Living and Dying In The Yucatan

So, after yesterday´s long post about such thrilling subjects as worn out sandals and death marches, I meandered over and caught the 4pm bus tour of the city.  The one Lonely Planet recommends turns out to be this wee little bus leaving from Parque Santa lucia.  There were only three of us on the tour and only 1/3 of that number was English speaking,  and yet the guide lived up to his promise and repeated his descriptions of the sights we were seeing en ingles.  Now, I´m not convinced I got verbatim what the other 2/3 of the bus got, but it was good enough.  I saw the zoo again and much of the city that fear not, I will not be walking to.  Merida is a nice “little” town – population about 1 million.  The cathedral, which we were told is not the oldest in the Americas, is it´s biggest claim to fame.  There is a cathedral on one of the islands, I think in the Carribean, that is older.  Merida´s Cathedral, however, is the oldest on the mainland.  The tour was nearly two hours long and well worth $5 not including tip.

Following that was nachos res from this nice little mom and pop place.  Well, it was run by a little old lady anyway.  I had to ask what res was… turned out it was beef, so sold.  Afterwars, I chased some sunset photos – absolutely gorgeous sunset last night, hopefully some good ones from the lot.  I needed to run around some more but a sunset needs a proper foreground.  And then I ambled around plaza grande for awhile before bed.

Today was a leisurely morning and I was picked up by an air conditioned van for my tour of Uxmal and Kabah.  This was definitely the golden oldies tour that I signed up for.  One couple was from Australia and have spent 5 weeks touring South and Latin America and are heading to Cancun tomorrow and then New York (only to catch a flight to Paris).  Must be nice!  These were the only English speakers on the group.  There was a couple from Argentina and a French couple from Paris.   My only foreign language study was French, and that has been… well… many years ago.  And I´ve yet to go to France.  I had some small hope that I´d remember enough if it ever came to it.  At first, they might as well have been speaking latin.  Nothing sounded familiar, just strings of meaningless gibberish and I was just astounded.  By lunch time, tho, it finally started to click.  Not that entire sentences had meaning but enough words in them did to pick up the meaning, a noun here and there, the right adjectives to make sense of what the comment was.  I never even attempted to resurrect my french fare enough to speak it.  I was content that I could comprehend just a bit of a conversation.  That was more than enough.

Uxmal and Kabah… wow… I know I say that a lot but…  you just have to see these things and imagine that people with no tools like we have today built these enormous temples and buildings and it´s just impossible to fathom.  I probably couldn´t build a habitable lean-to that would survive the first storm.  And these people built elaborate temples with intricate carvings.  You´ll just have to see the photos to get any idea.  Neither site was as large as Chichen Itza, and for that I have zero complaints.  I have walked more than enough for the moment.  Uxmal we covered in somewhere between two and three hours, and it was here that I finally got to climb a pyramid.  Not the tallest of the two there, but it was enough.  I purposefully didn´t look down on my way up, or really on my way down.  It´s amazing what concentrating on one step at a time can do because there were people who went down on their butt one step at a time.  When you see the photos of how steep it is, you´ll understand.  I am not exactly fond of heights myself, but for whatever peverse reason, you throw a temple or a cathedral that I can climb and I´m there.

Lunch, as I said, was with the tour group at a nice hotel restaurant by Uxmal.  If you have the desire to travel in style, you can wake up and see the pyramids from your window.  We didn´t eat there, but there is a club med literally across from the entrance to Uxmal.  I have to admit there´s some envy for being able to be there in the morning when it´s still cool.

Kabah, by contrast, is still in the re-building phase.  While some of these old places were found in varying degrees of being intact, it´s important to understand that much of what you see today is a 100+ years of restoration efforts.  Kabah is much earlier in that process, so there are a few structures to explore and little else.  We were there for about half an hour.  And as the days heat was upon us… no complaints.

Everyone took a nap on the ride back to Merida.  I think I startled the driver when I woke up before everyone else and leaned forward to get my water bottle.  I wanted to ask him about the small shrines I´d seen along the highways.  I saw MANY more of them in Northern Mexico a few years ago.  At the time, I was told they were not highway deaths but where miracles of some sort had happened. I don´t know what´s true or if they exist for different reasons there than in the Yucatan, but according to the driver, they were in fact highway deaths…  And since he knew the details of a few of them, I´m inclined to believe him.  He said the families erect them to honor their loved one(s).  Which gets to the subject of dying here.  I know the U.S. is death obsessed in a lot of ways.  We go to great lengths to sustain life past any reasonable expectation of quality of said life too often.  And death is handled by a whole cadre of people so that we never get our hands dirty with it.  And I´m by no means throwing stones at my glass house here.  Just observing.  Here, the cemeteries, and I´ve seen quite a few now, are just… alive with color…  They erect veritable shrines in these places the likes of which our perpetual care cemeteries with the flat bronze plaques will never know. I hope maybe to chance on one when I can take photos before I leave, but don´t hold your breath.  ´

The color is interesting as well because it reminds me of the ruins.  Today, we see them and they are stone objects.  If there´s any color, it´s cool white.  But according to the guide and what I´ve read, not the case in their original lives.   Everything was plastered over and painted, down to the walkways, a riot of colors, bright and alive.  The same can be said of the Romans.  If you visit Heculaneum or Pompeii, you can still see the bright colors they filled their lives with, but I digress.  Much of what we build today, is by contrast, so bland.  We build in classical styles that are often anything but…

Anyway, back to the ever popular subject of death, I have also managed to see a couple of passing hearses… and the first time or two, I didn´t pick up on what they were because they were,  well, pick-up trucks…  Somber vehicles with covered backs, but unmistakable trucks.  I realized what one was only because of the context I saw it in… at a funeral home…  I´ve seen two now.  One was a gorgeous old home.   The phone booth by the front door made me pause and that´s when I saw the stacks of coffins in the front windows…  Window shopping anyone?  The next place was far less upscale.  Based on the seats in the window, I first thought it was a laundry or a bus station.  Then, yep, stacks of coffins, the most non-somber things I´ve ever seen, trimmed in laces and various colors.  Light years from anything back home.

So, that´s dying in the Yucatan.  The rest of it, the everyday life, is living.  And our driver today took us through the smallest little town you could imagine.  You could see there was electricity, but they were still doing laundry by hand.  Tonight´s dinner was still in the yard.  And everyone we met came with a smile.  Be it ever so humble…

Tomorrow is Celestun, at last.  Saturday, I dunno.  I think I´m going to see if I can either get to some cenotes or another archaeological site or something.

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