I was limping. Something had popped in my knee in the Grand Cayman after snorkeling in choppy waters. It was close to 100 degrees with high humidity in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. It felt like 110 degrees. We had disembarked from the boat from Cozumel. It was a yellow and blue boat that was air conditioned. It looked very much like the boats I traveled on from Los Angeles to Catalina. The attendants were dressed in black pants with white collared shirts. They stood at attention with their hands behind their backs like military sailors when we boarded.
Playa Del Carmen was just south of Cancun. It was a resort town and it seemed to be crowded with young adults on some sort of school break. It was October so perhaps it was fall break. None of them were limping and I felt withered in their youthful presence. Todd was bouncing around pointing at the clear blue ocean and the off-white colored sand. He was acting like he had never seen the ocean before though we had both grown up in Southern California. I tried to ignore him. I was miffed. I had a dream of trying to call him in my sleep. I was just in an explosion and somehow survived with my phone intact. I called Todd but he never picked up. Then the explosion was on the news and he knew I was at the mall that exploded. And he still didn’t pick up the phone. When the concierge on the cruise called for a wakeup call that morning, I was angry.
“Why don’t you pick up the phone when I call?”
“What?” He looked confused.
“I was calling you in my dream. You didn’t pick up.”
“Um…I will have to remember to answer your dream calls. Sorry.” He hugged me but I still felt frustrated.
We weren’t staying in Playa del Carmen. We were boarding a bus to Tulum. A middle aged man in a small tan sombrero held up a yellow wooden sign that was etched with Tulum. He waved his arm and about twenty of us started following him. We weaved through streets and I hobbled along. Men and women kept approaching us hawking their wares. I was used to Tijuana. This was not unusual. But it seemed odd in such a perfect, pretty town. This was not the real Mexico. This was tourist Mexico.
A man approached. “A hat for you lady?” He was dressed in an aqua shirt with a Calvin Klein logo and Levis. I had never been approached by a street seller in name brand clothes.
I waved him off.
“You’ll need one where you are going. Believe me.”
I hated hats. I once made a New Year’s resolution to wear more hats. I wore one in January and then lost the hat. I stopped making resolutions after that.
The bus was as large as a Greyhound and it was mercifully air conditioned. The man took off his sombrero and picked up a microphone. His English was superb though heavily accented. His voice added ambience. During the bus ride to Tulum he talked about Mayan culture. He said we would be stopping at a Mayan co-op for a bathroom break and to shop.
“There is a toilet in the back of the bus. Only number one. No number two.” He chuckled. I wondered what would happen if someone went number two.
The drive to Tulum was smooth. The highway was impeccably paved. No bumps or crumpled pavement like in Belize.
I had dim visions of the Mayan co-op. The native population in Mexico were treated differently than in the US. They weren’t given reservations. The Mexican government acknowledged that their land was everywhere. They were granted land for co-ops but, for the most part, the native population blended with the new population. Perhaps because there are 15.7 million of them and they represent 14.9% of the population. There are also 89 indigenous languages spoken in Mexico and they are accorded the same rights as Spanish. Could you imagine Cheyenne being on par with English?
The co-op was not as you might imagine. It was similar to a mall or high end business center in the US. The building was classically Spanish but was decorated with the Mayan language. Inside were clean toilets though lacking in auto-flush. The rest of the co-op looked like a high-end gift store you might find in a high-end hospital in the US. It was large, airy and riddled with local crafts. We selected a Mayan chessboard set. All the prices were in US dollars and were not cut rate as in Tijuana. There was also no haggling. It was orderly, clean and it felt a lot like going to Macy’s.
Back on the bus the tour guide started talking about Mel Gibson. Apocalypto. I had porous recollections. I watched the movie in bed as I weaved in and out of sleep.
“Oh, we Mayans nearly had a heart attack watching that movie. Mayans did not sacrifice people.”
I perked up. “Yeah, they did,” I told Todd.
“I know they did.” He was frowning.
I flicked my hand. “Propaganda. What is he doing trying to rewrite history and subtly shove it down our throats?”
“He doesn’t want Mayans to look bad.”
“Wouldn’t that make the trip more interesting? And on your left is where blood gushed from captives in order to address a drought or, I don’t know, because it was Monday and Mondays suck. Can you just imagine the blood spurting from their arteries?”
I must have been getting loud.
Signs welcomed us to Tulum. The parking lot was dirt but orderly. All the buses parked in the same area. There were more buses than cars. The guide took us to a shopping and dining area.
“Here is where you can eat fajitas and drink margaritas.” It was an open restaurant that looked to be in the throes of a busy hour. We continued on. On the right was a Subway. I had seen one in Carmen de La Playa as well. I didn’t like seeing the strip mall American staple nestled in a Mexican national park.
The path to Tulum was long and winding. I kept replaying the Beatles song in my head as I walked along, grimacing and limping. Tulum was a walking tour and my snorkeling bum knee was slowing us down. When we got to the park it was expansive. But I was gob smacked by the beauty of it. The ruins were worn down like dog bones. They dotted the entire park like massive tombstones for an egomaniac or a head of state. Half way through the park I couldn’t walk anymore. The heat and the pain in my knee was crippling. I sat down on a gray stone.
“Todd, go through the rest of the park and take pictures.”
“I don’t want to leave you.” He looked sad.
“Just go. I’m done.” I had reached my physical limit.
He left with his iPhone ready to snap photos. I sat on the stone in the shade of a palm tree. Occasional gusts of coolish air from the sea calmed my brow. I could hear the ocean waves beating in the distance. I could see swaths of cerulean sea. Flashes of white sand. And then the iguanas. One crawled near me. We stared at each other. The iguana didn’t move and I didn’t flinch. This went one for several minutes and then the iguana lashed out its tongue and then quickly retracted it. It must have caught a small bug. I turned and four had crawled onto the ruins to my left. I was wilting in the heat and they were flowering. They seemed powerful and in my pain induced state I imagined them as beastly gods protecting me from the ghosts of Mayans ready to lob off my head. I thought of my blood trickling down the stone. I shook my head. Vacation was not a time to think of mortality. That was for Mondays because Mondays sucked.