Seventeenth Century Dining

“. . . ‘Buenas dias!’ As we leisurely approached the restaurant hostess, the warm smile on her deep brown face was very comforting and elicited a return grin reflex. She astutely recognized us as guests of the hotel and asked if we wanted to be seated at a table. Hungry from hiking, we obliged.

Similar greetings were rapidly fired our way from scurrying waiters and even the three or so cooks behind the kitchen counter. Most of the tables of the shaded courtyard were occupied with the most lethargic of patrons, though their pedigrees were as varied as Valladolid’s bright Colonial houses. Weary travelers in worn hiking shorts sat cross-legged and typed on laptops next to workers whose faces wore a fine layer of zócalo dirt who lunched alongside the familiar faces of the local police force. But for all, time moved somewhat slower in the fern filtered light of the early afternoon sun.”

The Travel Companion from the Realm of the Maya


Mérida Nights

Above the canopy is where I like to be when traveling. Mind you, not say 100 stories above the next tallest structure, but just a head above the rest. There’s no locale that better gives a lay of the terrain yet keeps you immersed in the happenings below. I still want to inhale the aromas, take-in the song and see facial expressions of neighbors as they do their daily bidding. The experience at night is usually a whole different atmosphere from the day as well. Mérida at night, from the rooftop of my palatial hotel, glowed through the jungle vegetation. A lone yellow cat, probably alert in wait for mousy prey, rests on the wooden bridge to my room. And above my bed there is a private terrace with two round tables sheltered by two green umbrellas where I woke with the radiant morning Mexican sun and confessed to my daily journal.


Prophecy in Stone


“Peering to my left, I spied an inconspicuous sacbe, which forked to the southeast, away from the buzzing bicycles and taxis of the main road. Deserted and completely bypassed by all other tourists, it looked more like utility road reserved for “authorized personnel.” I examined my map hoping to identify the mysterious path. Indeed represented, it extended for more than a kilometer through a sea of white, free of any markings, until it dead-ended into what was labeled the Macanxoc Group.

Looking at Amanda with my finger still on the map, I raised my eyebrows and she replied simply with a slight side-tilt of her head and a few enthusiastic nods. It was a bit of a commitment, and there were literally no other travelers on the straight road for as far as my eyes could see. But I had few worries and the tranquility of the jungle was actually quite inviting.


Greeting us at the end of the long, straight road was a complex of small stone platforms that would hardly warrant an eye bat when compared to the spectacular ruins of the Yucatán. Was this to be a venture all for not? Among the trees and stone roughly half a dozen or so small thatched roofs were peppered about the barely-cleared ruins. An unexpected sight, we’d seen thatched-roof palapas such as these before, helping to protect rare glyph renovations in Copan and preservation efforts like El Trono in Ek Balam. But they were used only on the most important of projects. By comparison, these palapas were tiny and I wondered why something so prized was so far from the heart of the city. As the trails teamed with scores of tourists back at the iconic monuments of Coba, there was just one other couple meandering with us around the Macancox Group.

As I approached the first shelter, I could see that it was protecting a single stele. Like the uber-iconic monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Maya stelae are vessels from which to record historical information and futuristic prophecies, and are quite rare and poignant statements in a world with relatively few semi-permanent written words. Needless to say, they indicate things of great importance. The stelae here, at the Macanxoc Group, are quite different from others we’ve seen in such sites like Copan. Smaller and much more weathered, to the extent that virtually no clear shapes can be discerned, the impression they make is lackluster at best. Luckily, each stone has a marker with an illustrative recreation of the carvings along with descriptions. Of course, I’ll just have to take their word for it.

Unlike in Copan, pictorial art was not the only purpose of these prophetic markers. Etched with important dates and calendar cycles like a swollen journal, stele 1 contains the most prized information of the group. Along with a telling of the twisted Maya creation story, it references a number of calendar dates, one of which is the most famous date, after September 11, 2001, of this millennium, December 21, 2012.


There, it was – one of the few recordings of the end of the first Great Cycle. Like a discovery straight from the pages of the next Indiana Jones script, I have to admit that standing alone, next to that tall cryptic stone, feeling thousands of miles from civilization, was pretty powerful. I found myself mesmerized, almost hypnotized like the apes by Kubrick’s great black monolith. Does it mean something that I find myself here exactly two years and three days from the very date? Have I become the newest convert to the cosmic crazies club? Should I simply succumb to the sways of popular culture and the academic teachings of Hollywood don a pair of black-and-white Nike Windrunners and accept that the Maya truly were a culture destined for doom?

Feeling myself wavering, some force drew me to my trusty guidebook and my moment of salvation. Reading further, I learned that the first Great Cycle was not the only one immortalized in this stone. In fact, on the same stele, another Maya Long Count calendar date was also recorded. This one references another cycle which will roughly terminate a staggering 41.9 billion, billion, billion years into the future. No, I did not stutter. That’s 3 “billions.”

I felt rather dumbfounded and a little embarrassed, as though someone had just punked me. As I reviewed the findings, I attempted to postulate a scenario where a cycle could complete itself in 41.9 billion, billion . . . (pause to catch breath) . . . billion years if the Apocalypse is to occur in just two short years and three days. Confident that the paradox was beyond my level of comprehension, I began to feel better about my future once again. I don’t think I’ll be buying plane tickets to come back to this spot anywhere near the end of 2012.”


Traversing the Ball Court

“. . . traveling from the Quadrangle to the southern city, visitors must cross the playing field of the city ball court. Imitating their game, somewhere between soccer and hacky sack, I gave my best dribbles and kicks with a pretend leather ball, imagining I was launching it through the few rings suspended atop the structures on either side. I’m sure I’m not the first to feign such foot skills and glorious victory on this well-preserved pitch.”

The Tzompantli – Mechanism of Mass-Murder

Not since Rome christened the Coliseum had the world witnessed sacrificial prowess as at the hands of primal Maya priests. Monuments to the genocidal terror litter the Yucatán. At Chichen Itza broad platforms such as the Tzompantli or “Wall of Skulls,” are thought to have supported racks for displaying human heads. The large structure itself has an incalculable number of impaled human skulls with gawking eyes carved into every inch of if its stone. The by-products of this mechanism of mass-murder, these platforms were trophy case gifts to the gods and pleas for kindness.

Awaiting the Frenzy

“. . . WAIT!” was all I could get out. I threw the bag over my shoulder and scurried over to the top step and desperately scanned the whirling pedestrians. Off to my left I spotted her five-foot-four head popping in and out of the crowds. To my good fortune, her modest stature is quite substantial amongst the local population. Losing sight of her for about a thirty second eternity, she surfaced once again. I continued to track her path as she appeared and disappeared from sight, first to the corner of the zócalo, then halfway down the adjacent side and into a building labeled “Banco” and officially out of sight.

Feeling pretty helpless, my attention was immediately drawn to my exposed and neglected flanks. Our car was sitting precariously parked, hazards flashing, in a spot I wasn’t sure was safe, especially with the recepcionista’s ignorance to any proper parking protocol. Behind me, five pieces of high value luggage lay perfectly vulnerable in front of the desk, and I had vote of “no confidence” in the staff to aid in any safekeeping.

After about fifteen minuets, my nervousness had elevated to near frenzy. I began to scan my assets more quickly and, as the minutes ticked, I could no longer pull my eyes from the entrance of distant bank. I was sure she went in, but for every second diverted away from that almost continually swinging front door was an opportunity to miss her exit.

‘What was taking her so long?’ I increasingly thought. ‘Maybe she already came out.’ I scanned the busy streets again. Soon, my thoughts turned toward the sinister. What if someone nabbed her? What if she got mixed-up in a corrupt police shake-down? Wow, I’ve been watching too many episodes of Locked Up Abroad . . .”

The Travel Companion from the Realm of the Maya


“The beautification projects, some of which we witnessed on our drive in, were numerous and even ambitious considering the size of the settlement. Our small-statured host explained that the newly laid cobblestone streets below our feet were in-between phases, awaiting setting with large quantities of the local red clay, and advised us to watch our steps. Tired from the specifics my eyes wandered down to the lapel of his embroidered uniform where, just above the seal on his badge, read “Polícia Touristica de Izamal.”

The Belly of Mexilio

“Now somewhere in the belly of the hotel, we were led through a mad labyrinth of narrow staircases – some no more than a foot wide – wood plank bridges, multi-leveled roof-top terraces, secret passages covered by red tile awnings and a forest of greenery to reach our room late the previous night. I don’t expect my fuzzy memory and, evidently, poor natural night-vision to aid me in my daytime escape. Further investigation revealed a full roof-top terrace over our bedroom, complete with stone tables and a white, four- column pergola that provides a home for a pillowing, purple blooming vine.

Early evidence suggests that four-legged felines outnumber people as much as three to one. The Casa Mexilio certainly looks as old as it is and probably has a catalog of stories at least as old as that. The artwork on the walls appears to be original and one can only speculate what dusty masterpieces might be occupying its dark corners. Though the doors and halls are constricting, the ceilings are high and supported by the most rustic of beams, possibly harvested by marauding conquistadors. It is colonial opulence sustained on the riches of 19th century sisal manufactures.”

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Fatal Ascent

“…to honor the Maya ball game gods of the underworld, those to be sacrificed were often bound into symbolic ball shape and tumbled down stairs. Undoubtedly this practice wasn’t lost on Maya priests as they recognized this most magnificent method of spattering blood. So stairs were built on great scale, attached to grand limestone pyramids that reached the sky, increasingly higher and steeper – too steep to ascend and even more treacherous on the way down. The spectacle was perfected after centuries by any number of gruesome additions. Pumping hearts were ripped from chests, heads were indiscriminately lopped and all was hurled from atop one and two hundred-foot platforms in a flailing mass of awfulness.”

Behind Closed Doors

“…confirming hotel Casa Mexilio’s authenticity and regional importance, their web site states that Serapio Baqueiro Preve died here and President Lázaro Cárdenas used the residence to negotiate business. Hosting a President is a legitimate honor worthy of posting on any web site, however, having someone keel-over in one of your rooms is quite an odd claim-to-fame for a hotel – or any property for that matter. It always seems to work like this though, no matter who the deceased was. Even a local individual of marginal celebrity becomes immortalized when dying in a location even the slightest bit more interesting than a hospital room or at home. So, did Mr. Preve do some of the great things he’s so well known for on the property or did he simply come here to die? Since it’s not specified on the web, the latter is assumed. Could Mexilio be a former hospital? Possibly my room was once the great Serapio’s. That would be most impressive indeed.”