At this point in my life, I really regret the attitude I had when I was younger. Now, graduating college and having the opportunity and freedom to head down any path I choose, I decided to go on this trip before venturing on any career path. I wanted to be able to go to family reunions and be able to understand my Tios’ jokes in Spanish. I wanted to have an in depth conversation with my Grandma that didn’t involve broken Spanglish. But most of all, I wanted to have a deeper understanding of who I am - and I am a big believer that cannot happen unless you know where you come from.
In just the first week of being here, I felt just that - a familiarity of where I come from. My host mother and all of her friends reminded me so much of my family back at home. Little phrases would pop up that I would remember my mother saying to me, “Que te pasa, Callabasa?” Songs that my mother would sing me to sleep would start playing at local restaurants. The Virgin of Guadalupe (Virgin Mary) statues and pictures would appear in every local business, marketplace, on tops of cars… reminding me of all the Virgin of Guadalupe pictures and statues in our own house.
I had absolutely no culture shock coming to this place, because a part of me felt like I was home.
What I did not expect, however, was how much Mayan culture I would be learning as well. Yucatan is deeply influenced by their Mayan heritage; this came as a bit of a shock because in the United States, our Native American heritage is not used as a daily part of our lives. But in the Yucatan, a number of people even speak Mayan.
I have enjoyed learning a few words here and there.
Cancun – Liar of snakes
Chi Chi – grandmaKo-oosh – Let’s go
But my absolute favorite Mayan words learned thus far, were taught to me by our tourguide Luis. The words are prounounced “Kiss” and “Wish”. “Kiss” in Mayan translates into “releasing bodily gas” … or tooting. And “Wish” translates to, simply, going pee. He said this brings a whole new meaning to the song, “We wish you a Merry Christmas.”
Chichen Itza, Tulum, and Xumal are the Mayan ruin sites we have visited on this trip. Each site had very distinct qualities about them. For example, Chichen Itza is one of the largest ruins site in Yucatan. It is so vast, that it is even one of the 7 new wonders of the world.
Tulum is a beautiful beach side Mayan ruin. Its contrasting stone temples with the deep blue ocean and various exotic plants is just breathtaking.
And Xumal is smaller than Chichen Itza, but they allow you to climb on top of the pyramids and feel like Mayan rulers.
Some of the more disturbing, but still equally interesting facts about Mayan life were the stories of sacrifices during that time. Human sacrifices were a part of the Mayan culture, and built in the civilizations were various stages to perform these sacrifices. Some platforms were to display the decapitated heads of enemies in war.
Others were set up for an audience to watch, in the middle of the civilizations. We passed by one statue that our tour guide told us was where they would put the heart of the person sacrificed in order to offer it to the Gods.
Another common place for sacrifices were Cenotes, or underground waterholes. They don’t exist in many places in the world, but are prevalent all over Yucatan. The Mayans use to believe the Cenotes were the gateway to the underworld, which is why they assumed sacrifices into the Cenotes were holy and a direct way to the Gods. The Mayans did not associate the “underworld” with evil, only just the heavens below the ground.
I had this in the back of my mind only a few weeks later as I was climbing down a ladder into a narrow, dark hole to a Cenote. As I climbed down, darkness followed every footstep and the sunlight above gradually became more and more distant until finally my foot touched a rocky surface.
After jumping down from the ladder, it took a minute or so for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. When they finally did, my eyes gazed upon an underground lake of crystal clear, true blue water.
The water almost didn’t look real surrounded by the stalactites of the underground cave, like a turquoise gem in the midst of grey rocks. But we knew it was no mirage after cannon-balling off the edge of a protruding rock submersing ourselves in the refreshing, clean water. As we swam around, eyes wide open trying to take in all the beauty and make a forever mental picture; we could not help but feel as if we had discovered the fountain of youth or some equally hidden treasure.
We rode back in style from the Cenote adventure, on horse pulled carts rolling on railroad tracks. It was as confusing to me as it sounds; But surprisingly fun with every bump and swift turn along the way, shifting us harshly to our left and our right – at times coming dangerously close to flipping off the tracks and into the brush around us. I feel like this mode of transportation was designed for the experience more so than the efficiency however, because every time we would come up on a cart on the same track heading the opposite way, the other people would have to hoist up their cart off the tracks, let us pass, then line it back up again.
However some things here that may seem not as efficient, are well worth the extra effort. On our last excursion, we got to watch a traditional Mayan restaurant cook meat. As we walked to the backyard of the restaurant to see the ovens, we were confused to only see a pile of dirt on the ground.
The waiters took a shovel and started digging into dirt until hitting a metal plate. They proceeded to lift the plate, which we realized was a actually a deep dish pan, and place it on the table. He opened it up to reveal delicious chicken cooked to perfection. Apparently cooking the meat underground with coals, savors the flavor on a whole new level… literally.
There are so many cultural aspects about Mexico that I am familiar with, and yet even more that are brand new and exciting. Everyday has been an adventure. No matter if we are touring the ancient civilization of Chichen Itza, or trying to catch a bus to Wal-Mart (which has proved to be a whole different type of adventure). But no matter what adventure is to come for the next couple months, I welcome it with an open mind and an eager hope for growth.
“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” – Mark Jenkins