Making Willie Wonka Proud
We awake early this morning (well, early for Stewart and Chucho on a Sunday) and hit the road by about 9:00am. Today Chucho is driving us about an hour away to go to the ruins at Uxmal, as well as the nearby chocolate museum (it might be the best day ever!). After stopping for a breakfast on the run at the Oxxo gas station (I was also able to pick up some local candy to send to my two Irish little girlfriends you may have read about in “Ireland, I Adare You”), we travel first to the ruins to see what the new Mayans have left.
As we arrive at Uxmal, we pay our entrance fee and start exploring (feeling more and more like Indiana Jones every day). We enter through a courtyard with shops and trees trimmed as if we’re at Disneyland. While I don’t see a dancing hippopotamus, I do see pyramid and casita shaped hedges. I become concerned about how touristy this place might be.
My concerns are soon alleviated. This is a pretty amazing site. The former inhabitants here were the new Mayans which, if you’ve been traveling with me, you’ll know that these were the violent ones. The kind that will sacrifice you instead of cutting your penis (that’s not just an expression). There are Mayan arches, stone carvings depicting gods, a ball-playing court for that nasty game where the winners are the losers (read Winning Isn’t Everything) and a pyramid you can climb. It’s a really large site with a lot to see that, if you wished, you could spend all day at, but given the fact that it’s about a million degrees Celsius, we choose to stay only about ninety minutes. I’ve noticed that all of the ruins I’ve been to have been restored to some degree. I find this a bit disappointing; it’s sort of like Botox for the ancient civilization. I appreciate a few laugh lines.
We take photos, scramble around some ruins and people watch (I don’t see the Philly people at these ruins so I think their stalking is finished). After about ninety-minutes, and a gallon-and-a-half of sweat, we head back to the car and drive the three minutes to the chocolate museum.
Chocolate was an important part of Mayan life (as it is mine – I may be part Mayan) as both an ingredient in food as well as an item to use as payment in barter for other needed items. As we enter, we decide to immediately immerse ourselves in the rituals and order up a cold chocolate drink, really, I think it’s just chocolate milk, but it has special qualities when delivered up in this atmosphere. The museum is set up with huts (palapas), strung along a path, in which there are displays telling of the importance of the cacao bean to the Mayans, the growing and preparing process through the ages, and all of the chocolate history you could ever want.
As we proceed down the path, a man painted in blue and wearing a pink skirt and a headdress gestures for us to follow him (I think this is what I’m seeing. I might just be drunk on chocolate). He leads us into a small seating area where a ceremony honoring the rain god Chaac has just begun. There’s some horn-blowing and some animal sounds followed by chanting and drum-beating. It feels a bit like a luau in Hawaii without the Mai Tais. After the ceremony ends, we continue on, eventually arriving in time to see a demonstration on how the Mayans processed the cacao beans by cooking them, removing their shells, crushing and heating them while soaking to make a liquid drink. All of this is explained to us by a very nice looking piece of Mexican chocolate named Eduardo. We all take notice. The explanation takes place in Spanish and we’re thankful for Chucho’s translation skills, which earn him the free admission he received by responding “Si” when they asked if he was our guide. In the end, we’re served the cooked chocolate drink in wooden cups and instructed to add whatever ingredients we’d like including cinnamon and chili pepper.
Our final stop on the road to chocolate nirvana is the hut containing more recent history and chocolate facts. We learn that French royalty had chocolate slaves whose job it was to make and serve them chocolate. We argue over who will get Eduardo as their chocolate slave (Eduardo, if you’re reading this, I won. Call me!). On our way out we stop in the gift shop where I test the chocolate body lotion and Karen buys the chocolate shampoo (it’s Chocopalooza!). We pile in the car for the one hour drive back to Merida.
Once in Merida, we drop Karen in the square near the art museum so she can get a quick peek before boarding the 5:40 bus to Tulum to transfer to a bus headed back to Akumal.
When Stewart, Chucho and I get home, we take a quick shower (actually three quick showers as we’re not actually showering together) and go out for dinner at Las Vigas (named after the beams in the ceiling, not the city) where I have a traditional Irish meal of fish and chips (Apparently I’ve not completely put the last DMA trip behind me. You can take the girl out of Ireland but you can’t take Ireland out of the girl).
I go to sleep dreaming of chocolate. . . and Eduardo.