Thursday, November 3, 2011

Incidents of Travel in the Yucatán, Part 8.

I read and wrote in my journal and sometimes wandered around the village.  I met only two foreigners, a young couple passing through.  Every so often I check the Lista de Correos for mail at the Post Office and a couple of times find a letter, which I take to an outdoor table and order a cold bottle of Cerveza Negra Leon  --  my then current favorite  --  and perhaps even a bite to eat, and in general make a great production of reading it.  I am not a frenetic traveler and a letter from home waiting for me at the Post Office in a quiet little town is a satisfying amount of excitement for me.

If I have a book that I particularly enjoy, I like to read it slowly.  It has always seemed wrong to consume in a few hours what an author may have spent months or years to produce.  So for many days I was content to idle around the house, leisurely making my way through John Lloyd Stephens’ Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and the Yucatán, in two volumes, with drawings taken on the spot by Mr. Catherwood.  Stephens had come to the Yucatán in 1841, when little was known of the country and essentially nothing was known of the high Mayan culture that had flourished there and had gone into decline hundreds of years before the coming of the Spanish.

Stephens, with Catherwood and a few servants, traveled around the country and by the simple device of asking the Indians if there were any “old walls” about he was led to discover and describe forty-four Mayan sites.  His book is a steady narrative of ruins and haciendas and Indians and fevers and wildlife and every other marvel that passed before him, and Mr. Catherwood’s careful drawings show us extravagant gods and mysterious artifacts and monumental temples locked in writhing coils of jungle growth.  Even if paradise is boring, books about paradise don’t have to be.

Movie night in Chicxulub Puerto

I saw from signs around town that there would be a movie, though it was unclear where.  Apparently since everyone knew where the movies were, there was no reason to say.  So that evening I fell in with some children who led me to a large building with a crowd of people.  Alberto, the principal of the school, was taking tickets and waved me in, refusing my money.  People standing in line smiled and seemed to think it was just fine, though I was embarrassed by the special treatment.
    The auditorium was a large room with folding chairs and some old theater seats and large fans on either side that little boys threw things into.  It was a Kung-Fu double feature.  The predominately young crowd talked and argued and had a fine time.  Afterward, I walked home along the beach under a bright moon.  I got in about midnight.  I was always a little surprised that I was able to find my way home so easily coming back along the beach since none of the houses out there were occupied and there were never any lights.

The place I have been describing isn’t there anymore.  Reading about the village online, it seems to have been discovered  --  rentals are quite a bit more than the pittance I paid, and life there is now very exciting, at least if the tourist literature is to be believed  --  opinion seems to differ as to whether sharks are a problem  --  and foreigners are buying houses and there is an ex-pat community.  They wouldn’t have re-staged the flag day celebration for me or waved me into the movie if they had been used to foreign visitors.  I am pretty sure they don’t do that nowadays as we are no longer the rare birds in Chicxulub Puerto that we once may have been.

[The eight posts of this series are collected in a more convenient form as a single document, which can be accessed by clicking on "Incidents of Travel in the Yucatán" in the upper righthand corner of this page.]


  1. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I've looked through a couple of your post--great writing and memories. I spent some time in the Yucatan back in 2009 and you can find my posts in by archives in March and April 2009. Someday I am going to have to try your approach to travel (but maybe I've done that in the United States--having lived all over).

    I've just completed a 4 month sabbatical and my stories of that trip is in another blog:

  2. @Sage: I looked at your blog and it seems you had an interesting time in Russia. I hope more people go there, not for any uplifting purpose, but because it has always been one of the great nations of the world.

  3. Wonderful. I love Mexico. My particular area is southern Baja, but I'm glad to see you've explored the Yucatán, where I've never been. Sounds fascinating. I can't wait to go back to Baja again. Thanks for this.