Sunday, October 19, 2008

-- Vive la Mexico! Hatching turtles, seethrough bathroom stalls.

Fortune cookies know all.
Mine, the day before we left.

Day one: is getting there really half the fun?
The flight was awesome. I spent the entire day wedged between hackers and sneezers, eyes swinging with fatigue, worrying that the measly one hour of sleep I got would lower my immune system enough to land me a nice vacation in a Mexican bed. (Remember this paltry amount of sleep, it will come up later.) Luckily, the mind is powerful but cannot conjure worries into reality so I never got sick. Whew!

Courtyard area of Scuba Club Cozumel

Our concrete hotel with concrete bed and concrete furniture testified to the wisdom of not having flimsy adornments in a place vulnerable to hurricanes. Many members of our group were present during Hurricane Wilma's wrath a few years ago; they spent three days locked in their rooms awaiting death as waves crashed down their doors and dragged heavy statues, crabs and other helpless wayward sea creatures inside. Their stories were sobering.

Sleeping on a slab of concrete does take a wee bit of getting used to. The bed and pillows had about as much "give" as bags of sand. But really, the bed is second in importance to the almighty king of modern technology: the (working!) toilet.
Me: I heard one of the girls saying she wasn't happy with this place, that it wasn't luxurious enough.

Dan: I think it's pretty nice!

Me: Me too! I mean, what do you need besides a working toilet and a shower?

Me: Oh wait.
I drew this for the staff and pantomined cartoonishly but luckily the word "plunger" was well-understood in English....

Hotel maids arranged soft sculptures of towel art each day.

The spitting cobras added a romantic touch.

Wonderful view from the balcony.

Purpose of vacation (for most of our 24-person group): to dive.

Ready to go?

One great leap for Dankind

I relaxed in a hammock, marveling at how wonderful it was to sit and read, undisturbed by pressing deadlines. This vacation made me realize that I haven't stopped moving in months. Note to self: do more of this!

Crabs crawled boldly near the hammocks hoping for a crumb or two.

Day two: catching up on this relaxation thing

Ok, so remember when I mentioned only getting an hour of sleep the night before? I thought no worries, I'll catch up tomorrow. Well Dan left for an early dive trip and I dozed right through his morning routine. I was still sleeping soundly when the maid burst in at 8am chirping, "You want clean??!!"

"No, no es necesario," I croaked hoarsely, my eyes little slits, pillow lines zigzagging across my face.

She looked affectionately at my sleeping form twisted in bed and held up a stack of white cloth. "But clean towels?" I cracked a smile, laughing at her ease and geniality. "Oh, esta bien (it's ok)" I offered. "Tomorrow?" she countered back. "Si, manana ok" I smiled. She backed away and closed the door gently, like my mom would, and I layed there feeling simultaneously embarrassed and warm inside.

The rest of the day I swam, snorkeled, read (I finished Haruki Murakami's A Wild Sheep Chase on this trip and started Luis Alberto Urrea's The Hummingbird's Daughter, a 500 page novel taking place in 19th-century Mexico), played with my new camera, wrote, socialized, and watched approaching rain clouds. I could get used to this, I thought.
Caribbean raincloud in the distance.

Day 3: the richness that comes from meeting others

One topic that frequently came up last week was diving -- how people got into it. One person shared a particularly interesting motivation and how she learned to swim just so she could dive:
New friend: And so that's why I learned how to dive. Because the ocean was stalking me. It wasn't really stalking me but I had to confront it, you see.
Then later on, we were talking again and I was sharing my college studies:
me: And so that's why I went back to school, to confront my fear of math.
New friend: So was math stalking you?

me: Heh. I hadn't thought of it that way. But yes.... it was something I thought I couldn't do. I have to keep re-learning this lesson again and again, that I can do anything if I try hard enough. (um, except sing, or anything that requires talent and not just hard work...)
I found the idea enriching. Being stalked by our limitations until we confront them and realize they are not stalking us so much as we are running from them.

Later on a group of us ventured out.

At Casa Denis, the oldest restaurant in Cozumel.

Which was a great place until the mariachi band tormented us.
We paid them to make them go away!

The symbol for pesos is the same for dollars, but
obviously lobster is not really $390 dollars!
(It was, however, roughly $39 -- not cheap.)
Day 4: Mayan ruins or bust

This day we visited the ruins of Tulum, the smallest, newest Mayan city in Mexico. It's on the mainland so we took a ferry over.

Tulum is beautiful, on a cliffside overlooking the sea. It was a gated community of sorts. We learned that about 2,000 Mayans lived there but only 100 of the educated class (astronomers, architects, mathematicians, etc.) lived inside. Knowledge is power. The most important person of all was the priest; religion has always been a great agent of control.The Mayans came originally from Asia via Alaskan route. Their culture was (according to our guide) at the time the most advanced culture in Mexico and was even more advanced than the Europeans during the dark ages. They invented zero and created a very advanced calendar more than 5,000 years ago.

Hard to see here, but the doorways of all the buildings were small, fitting perfectly the tiny Mayan people.

Fascinating to me: their standards of beauty. Today I put earings on, lined my eyes and reddened my lips. But back then it was considered beautiful for Mayans to have crossed eyes and flat foreheads. Adults would strap a board to baby's head to encourage a sloping landscape and dangle a rock between baby's eyes to train cross-eyes to form. They also chiseled pebbles of malachite and other minerals into their teeth; skulls have been found with the encrustacions still in place.

Oh, and you know how to the Romans the god of love is Venus? Well to the Mayans, Venus was the god of war. They had many gods, of nature, fire, wind... even a god of suicide. The most important ones were the rain god and the serpent, which symbolized fertility of agriculture. (Makes sense, they gotta eat to live.)

The Spaniards destroyed much when they landed here and what does exist has limited excavation funding so little is known about the Mayans. It is, however, known that Tulum was a marketplace of sorts and people would come from the Honduras to trade items. Their language has not been totally deciphered, but what is known is taught in schools on Cozumel and in some areas on mainland Mexico.

You know chiclet gum? Chiclet is a Mayan word; "Chic" means "mouth" and "let" is the name for the sound you make while chewing. Rubber trees were used for more than chewing though -- the extremely strong wood was used in the construction of the buildings (along with rocks and limestone to cement the building blocks together).

Tulum is part of the Yucatan peninsula, which is where scientists believe the meteorite responsible for dinosaurs dying off had hit. The 2nd largest coral reef in the world is here, stretching from Cancun to the Honduras.

Our guide, Pedro, recommended the ruins Ekbalam. He said they were close to Chichen Itza. They're less well known but incredible.

I asked about what it's like to work in Mexico and learned that minimum wage is only $5/day. Even educated people like doctors and lawyers have trouble getting jobs because people outnumber available openings.

The funniest part of Tulum was the visitor's center bathroom: clear walls between each toilet, and was not free!

In case it's hard to tell, I am actually inside the stall.
YES, you can see that well right through the walls.

On the way back we stopped at Paradise Beach (La Playa Paradiso), where I saw the most loveable mangy mutt ever.

There's a ton of stray dogs around Mexico. I wanted to offer this guy some real food but I had nothing on me but pumpkin seeds; still he lapped them up gratefully from my hand. (Yes, mom, I disinfected it heavily!)

A week has passed and I'm still thinking about him.

BTW the bathroom here totally stumped me. Um, which one?? (click to enlarge picture, it's truncated here.)I picked "damas" hoping it meant "dames" in Latin or something. Luckily no one was around to bust me if it were wrong.

Day 5: Local sites (and the Mexican equivalent of Costco)

I wanted to see what it was like inside the Chedraui, the superstore where you could buy both cheese and couches.
Tiny stove.

There I came across one of the smallest stoves I've ever seen. I thought goodness, am I just huge or is there some other explanation?

We learned that some of these tiny stoves fit into premade platforms that raise them so people aren't likely using them this low to the ground. Made for a funny picture though.

Ginormous juice.

I've never seen a juice container the size of my torso before!

child labor.

I think the age labor laws are a bit different in Mexico than here. The boy bagging our stuff looked about 12.

Pimped out car. Think this might get you pulled over in the states?

Breast augmentation, right here!

We all loved the "bump" streetsigns, usually with two bumps but here with three, looking like an urgent calling for body modification, now!

Day 6: turtle hatching!

We rented a jeep and headed over to the other side of the island to explore and came across turtles hatching! (And some of the fiercest mosquitos I have ever encountered in my life. Bug spray is a must!)
Turtles crawling out of nest hole,
heading instinctively for the water.

Remnant of turtle egg among some dried seaweed on the beach.

Me, clutching a turtle.

I'm actually holding it very gently but it's hard to tell because of the OMG! look on my face.

turtle videos: Not the best videos -- I'm still learning how to steady the camera and stay focused on the subject, but neat to see what it looks like!

Aerial view of Cozumel's east side.

This is the undeveloped east side of Cozumel (where we saw the turtles) as seen from the air.

We also saw San Gervasio, very small Mayan ruins right on Cozumel.
San Gervasio (Mayan ruins) in the rain.

Last day: Flying home:
Tired but happy, waiting for airport shuttle.

Bimbo crackers

Snacking on Bimbo crackers at the airport. They're not just for blondes! (kidding) Actually they're really tasty, on the sweet side, a flaky oat cracker not quite like a granola bar.
At the airport.

Well I've been home a week and now am ready for another vacation!


kevin forgot said...

finally. great pictures. i'm so jealous you got to see the sea turtles hatch and interfere with their natural journey to the ocean hahaha

tony a.k.a. isweatbutter said...

i'm glad you made it home safe, here are my notes from my half asleep read through. (i was just going to look at the pictures tonight, and read it tomorrow, but i couldn't stop reading after i read the captions of your drawings.)

spitting cobras. i had heard that they were the national pet of mexico. it's nice to see that confirmed.

whatever camera you ended up buying, you made a great choice. your pics are great.

before i read the caption under the menu photo, i was going to say, "i don't know who 'denis' is, but why the hell is his red snapper $160?" then i saw your caption and i moved on.

you also mentioned that the mosquitoes were "the worst ever." worse than jersey? i didn't know that was possible...

tony a.k.a. isweatbutter said...

@kevin forgot - "...interfere with their natural journey to the ocean."

i don't normally say this, but it seems appropriate right now, "ROFLMAO."

Libby said...

thanks for sharing! i'm ready for a vacation now, too!

i love the picture of the rain cloud & the turtle videos are awesome:)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing the pics and thoughts. I have forgotten what the relaxation feels like so thanks for reminding me.

skippy said...

The see-through bathroom window is fantastic. You might as well make the
most of it, If it was me, i'd find some way to a.) wait until someone was looking in, and b.) spray feces on the window at that moment. It would make a satisfying spalt sound, as well as be incredibly visual.

Dan said...

I love your picture of the turtles coming out of the hole - they are
lined up in single file, it is a terrific image.

bodelou said...

GREAT pictures! looks like the trip was good. makes me jealous. very jealous.

the hummingbirds daughter, GREAT book. so is the devil's highway, also by urrea.

hebba said...

Oh, I have always wanted to go to Cozumel and dive. now I want to go even more! Thanks for sharing your pics!

olivia said...

what a lovely review of my favourite holiday island! your photos and cartoons added the cream topping to the enjoyment of the read. you captured the pleasures of the island wonderfully.

if you ever visit again (and am sure you will) maybe consider a rental home. now that you know the "lay of the land", i am sure you will enjoy a taste of being closer to local life (or at least you'll enjoy our softer beds!

hautepocket said...

Your pictures are fantastic! I *love* the turtle videos. So cute. You look happy in these pictures, take more vacations. ;) Thanks for sharing!

bodelou said...


you're tagged

Niffer said...

First, I have to say I am jealous about the turtles. I would love to see that someday.

Second, that's a crazy bathroom! There are some glass street bathrooms in the Netherlands where the stall has one-way glass. The people on the street can't see you, but while you're sitting on the throne, you feel like you're exposed to everyone walking by.

Matt said...

Do you not dive? I said you snorkled but I'm new here so I don't know if that was you with Dan jumping in? If not, how can you go to Cozumel and not dive?

I'm lucky, I live in Florida so I can dive whenever I want.

Also, we have the turtle hatchings on our beaches here. The eggs are always roped off and it's very illegal to mess with them. But I'm jealous because I've gone and watched them run to the water every year and I've always wanted to help them.



spleeness said...

In retrospect it's probably not a great idea to handle them, I shouldn't have done that. I was caught up because some conservation people indicated it was ok but it's likely best to leave wildlife alone. Now if they were heading towards lights away from the water, maybe then some guidance could be good. (?)

I don't dive, just snorkel. Cozumel is definitely a paradise for divers but there's lots to do even if you don't get into the water.

Rachel said...

I love your pictures. However, I do have to say that it's a good thing you drew that toilet next to the plunger. That whole thing could have taken a very wrong turn if you hadn't....

Christie Lanning said...

I love the pictures. When my daughter (now 11) was a toddler, I took her walking a trail at Calvert Cliffs in Maryland. We were there, lounging in the sand looking fdor shells and sharks' teeth when she started screaming about "big bugs". We got to watch baby turtles make their way to the ocean. What an experience.
See through walls in the bathroom: it;s always amazing to learn about cultural differences, isn't it?

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