Our winter vacation is an escape from reality. Once a year we leave the grey and gloom of February in Cleveland for the sun and light of the Caribbean. It is only a week. There is a definite beginning, middle, and end. But during that week there is permanent summer, frothy cocktails, and all the SPF 50 I can get my hands on. Sally is oiled up and laying on the beach. I read, play volleyball (water or beach), and hide in the shade. And when it ends all too soon, we pack up and fly back to March and the hope that spring will be here soon.
This year’s trip was to Mexico. We stayed at a lovely resort in the Riviera Maya region just north of Playa del Carmen. It is a wondrous area of incredible Mayan ruins, history, and natural beauty. It is also a land of manufactured glamour, chain resorts, and cheap souvenirs. You could spend all of your time on one of the resorts with a cold drink, a hot partner, and never know why that statue in the waterfall by the Japanese restaurant looks a lot like a jaguar. And snakes! What’s with the serpents?
I was determined that we would experience the proper mix of fake and real this year. Our home base would be Ocean Maya Royale, an adult only medium sized resort that felt, to me, more like Mexico than many of the other chains. We were rewarded with a terrific beach, good service, and excellent food. It was a fun place and I’m sure that we will return.
The resort part was easy. There are plenty of places to get a nice beach, adequate service, and acceptable food. In fact, that pretty much describes just about any place at Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. My goal was to leave the resort and visit the real world. That is why we chose Mexico and, in particular, the Riviera Maya region. I wanted to take Sally to Chichen Itza and to snorkel in a cenote, an underground cavern.
I visited Tulum in the late 1990’s. The tour guides gave us much the same presentation then as the one we heard last week. We were supposed to be awed by the Mayan’s advanced society and their grasp of mathematics. The buildings are amazing, the pillars are aligned just so.
But I found Chichen Itza unsettling. Sure the tour guides oversell their ancestors’ ingenuity. Some of the formulas and explanations seem to be flexible. When I visited the Forbidden City my Chinese tour guide explained the fixation with the number 9 as nothing more than that Nine is a Royal number. My Mayan guide tied the 9 tiers of the main tower of Chichen Itza as a reflection of the 9 planets, an explanation that only worked during the @100 years that Pluto was accepted as a planet.
Everything that had an explainable symmetry was acknowledged. What was asymmetrical was ignored. I could ignore the hordes of locals hawking trinkets. I could not get past the unanswered questions in front of me.
Of course, this isn’t entirely the Mayan’s fault. The Spanish and the Catholic Church destroyed much of the written documentation and artifacts of their culture. But I kept looking at the reliefs on the walls.
The story I saw was of a culture that had peaked. No one knows the exact cause of the demise of the Mayan society. I am certainly no expert. But I saw immense buildings built to honor their gods and to serve their community. This took time, talent, and organization. But I wonder if once they got there, if once they got the buildings done, if they, as a society, stopped growing. The carvings show bloodletting rituals and human sacrifice. They may have died as a society, but it appears that they first became a culture of Death. The sport became more violent, and perhaps, the gods became less easily satisfied.
I walked the plane looking for anything that celebrated life. I couldn’t find it. There were statues of the progression man hoped to make from jaguar to eagle to serpent, but if you look closely at the pictures you will see who truly rules these buildings, the iguanas.
I left the plane and found life, a magnificent banyan tree.
We spent another day in the water. We snorkeled in three locations, a cenote, a giant sinkhole of fresh water, and an inlet of fresh water that eventually went out to the sea. In a one mile swim we went from fresh water to a mix to all salt water. This was one of our best snorkeling adventures.
I went to Mexico to get away, to see sun, and to see the real and the fake. But the real doesn’t have to be wonderful and the fake doesn’t have to be bad. Mexico let us experience a full range of both.