Winning Isn’t Everything

StephanieWhile I’m at the library for the third day (really, I’d only planned on one, but then again, I don’t really plan, and this is why), I attempt to speak with Stephanie’s grandmother outside (you may remember that Stephanie can neither hear nor speak). As her grandmother speaks no English and I speak no Spanish, I realize that this is very much like what Stephanie’s life must be like on a daily basis. She indicates that Stephanie is “especial.”

“Si, ella y yo está amigos (yes, we’re friends),” I respond in my broken Spanish.

I do my best to tell her that I think Stephanie is very intelligent and could do so much with her life if she could learn sign language and maybe get hearing aids. I believe that Grandma understands a bit of what I’m saying. I know that Anne has spoken with her mother and grandmother about getting assistance but, as of yet, nothing has come of it. I tell Grandma that when Anne returns from collecting the children we can speak and she can translate.

When Anne returns, we end up getting tied up in another personal situation of one of the kids which is of a more urgent nature. As it’s private, I won’t speak about it here except to say that I shed a tear or two over this one. Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco, but I will surely leave mine in Akumal.

I drive back to the hotel with Anna (the Portuguese girl) with plans to go for a quick kayak in the ocean. Unfortunately, the winds pick up and the clouds shed a little rain. We decide that the ocean has become a bit rough for our plans (again, people plan and God laughs) and we decide to sit on the beach and drink fruit juice while eating some local fruit. It works out well as we only have about twenty-minutes before we must leave to go to a violin concert at the yoga studio, which has been arranged by the Akumal International Artist Residency program.

Artist ResidencyWhen we arrive, the concert has begun and we wait outside until there’s a break between songs. We take off our shoes and step inside to sit on rolled blankets on the floor. The lighting is low and the violinist/singer, Sarah Alden, sits in a red dress in the front of the room. We listen to her describe the story behind each tune. She’s brilliant. She uses a machine which allows her to play different violin parts of each song all at once. It’s as if there are three or four violins in the room and her singing voice is beautiful too. For the final number, she partners with dancer Paula Castanares for an interpretive piece. It’s a special evening quite unexpected in this little Mexican town of about 800 people.

I leave there and head over to my favorite restaurant, La Buena Vida, for the third night in a row. It’s a romantic dinner for one and I make it an early night as I have a long day tomorrow.

After waking up early, I do a bit of writing, pack my stuff up, and head out on the open road to get to Merida. Karen, one of the writers I met the other night is joining me on the drive and for a couple of nights as she’s never been to Merida and has nothing planned. We plan to stay with my friend Stewart (the guy with the shady past I mentioned in “Child’s Play”), who owns a guest house in Merida. After a quick stop at the bakery, we get out on the open road. Just call us Thelma and Luisa.

Ball Field

Mayan Pok-ta-Pok playing field

After about an hour of driving, we arrive at Coba Ruins which was the second largest city in the Maya Civilization and, at its height, 50,000 people lived there. We decide to take a forty-five minute tour of the first part of the ruins in order to get a bit of history and a lay of the land. We find out that Coba is one of the ruins of the “old Mayans” which means they were peaceful and didn’t believe in human sacrifice. Among the many ruined buildings, we see the ancient playing field. There was a ball game played in seemingly all of the Mayan cities called Pok-ta-Pok (after the sound the ball made). It involved hitting an approximately eight-pound ball through a ring using only your knees, hips, elbows and shoulders. The first one to score, wins. The prize for winning? Death by beheading (gives a whole new meaning to getting your head in the game). Death due to winning this game was considered a great honor. As we’ve learned, only the new Mayans were violent and believed in human sacrifice, so death, of course, did not come to the winners of this game when played by the old Mayans. The “honor” bestowed on the winners of Pok-ta-Pok in the old Maya civilization was cutting off a body part. This cutting could be done to the fingers, legs, lips, or even the penis. In that case, I’m not sure if I’d rather be an old Mayan or a new Mayan as, perhaps, death might be preferable.

After our short tour, we stop at the bicycle rental to grab some bicycles to ride over to view the other buildings in Coba when I hear, “Carole?”

I turn around and it’s the people from Pennsylvania who I toured Tulum with. Is it possible I have ancient civilization stalkers?

PyramidWe rent our bikes for the low-low price of 40 pesos (around $4), hop on, and ride through the jungle to see a few otherJungle buildings in this ancient city, including Ixmoja, the tallest pyramid in the Yucatán peninsula. We grab our water bottles and begin climbing the 138 feet to the top. After snaking our way back and forth while climbing (it’s supposed to bring you luck), we reach the top and breathe in the incredible view of the jungle below (heck, after that climb, we’re just happy to be breathing). We chat with some of the folks who were on our tour before making the somewhat scary climb down the pyramid. We then hop on our bikes and head out.

Pyramid

A long way down

As we exit, we see a sign for some cenotes. Cenotes are surface connections to underground bodies of water, usually formed by the collapse of limestone bedrock. They’re clear, cool and beautiful. We’re hot, sweaty and not so beautiful. A dip in a Cenote seems like a good idea.

We turn down a dirt and potholed road which has a sign saying, “Cenote – 1700m.” I drive very carefully trying not to break an axle as I’m pretty sure AAA can’t help us here. I drive and drive and drive. We begin to wonder if 1700m means meters or miles. After quite some time (definitely more than 1700 meters), we arrive. We pay our money, change our clothes (there are changing rooms in this jungle in the middle of nowhere), jump in the showers (required, to wash off any sunscreen or oils which might pollute the cenote), and begin climbing down the long circular staircase leading underground. Before too long, we arrive at the bottom and look out onto what seems otherworldly. We’re in a cave with a huge pool of the clearest water I’ve ever seen. I can see the limestone formations far below the turquoise water. We climb down the stairs into the refreshingly cool water. Who knew that you had to go down to get to heaven?

Cenote

Tomorrow – getting lost and finding our way, more ruins and lunch at the beach.

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