Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Cruise with Toulouse: Climbing a Mayan Temple

Mayan Temple of Chacchoben Mayan site
There’s nothing like the end of the world to motivate your holiday plans.

So, when Nina roused me out of bed aboard the cruise ship Carnival Dream for a shore excursion to the Chacchoben Mayan Ruins of Costa Maya, I thought, "why not?"

I always wanted to get a closer look at the place where those nasty "end of the world" rumours began...

Costa Maya is located on the Yukatan Peninsula, a limestone tableland of forests and mountains in southern Mexico, where the Mayan civilization colonized some 3000 years ago. The Mayans built incredible cities, particularly between 250 and 900 AD, when they advanced astronomy, math, and calendar-making equal to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians. They were doing all they, I might add, at the time when Europeans were struggling in the pre-chivalry stage of the Dark Ages. Serfdom and Feudalism reigned at the expense of creativity, learning and innovation. And let's not forget that back then the Iron Maiden wasn't the name of a rock band and dudes made a legitimate living in the torture business. There's a reason it was called the Dark Ages. In the meantime, the Mayans were cutting out the hearts of children to sacrifice to Quetzalcoatle (Kukulcan), a bird-snake god, or Chac, the rain god.

Ships Alley, Costa Maya
OK. Here's the cool bit: the Mayan Long Count Calendar provides a set period of cycles encompassing a 5,125-year era from the Gregorian date of August 11, 3114 BC. The winter solstice of 2012 marks the end of an era (paralleling the Greek's cycle of catastrophe, the End of the Age or Suntelia Aion) when the "wrathful father Sun will eclipse the dark rift at the centre of the Galaxy." Okay... this is cool too: the mythical serpent of light resides in the heavens (the Milky Way) and viewed at the galactic central point (near Sagittarius) the serpent eats its own tail (the Ouroboros). In the mythical cycle of catastrophic change, the Suntelia Aion occurs when the sun rises out of the mouth of the Ouroboros, predicted to occur on the winter solstice of 2012. The movie "2012" capitalized on the hysteria that solar, seismic, volcanic electromagnetic and/or military activity will spark a physical catastrophe and destroy our world. Others believe that this "end of an era" symbolizes the ushering in of a new era of global consciousness and new respect for the planet. 

Giant Kapok buttresses embrace ancient ruins
Nina and I joined a bus tour to the Mayan ruins of Chacchoben, which means "place of red corn". Once the tour group disembarked, we sidled away (sly grin) in search of adventure in the sultry jungle of Quintana Roo. Nina and I wandered among the huge buttressed kapoks, acacias and palms, inhaling the pungent aromas of epiphytic orchids, hanging moss and other exotic plants. The jungle yielded her secrets grudgingly, I thought, as we picked our way through the chaos of tree trunks and roots--locked in  a twisted embrace around stone stairs and other ancient remnants. The ground was littered with kapok seed pods. They reminded me of something else; this is jaguar country... Nina (in her Goggle-wisdom) informed me that the finer inside is used as an alternative to down as filling in mattresses, pillows, upholstery, and stuffed toys. I know what you're thinking; don't even go there... 

The jungle yielded three temple pyramids, all perfectly aligned. The main temple stood on the grassy terrace of El Gran Basemento, at the top of a huge stone staircase. I glimpsed no eerie serpent statues or bas-reliefs of jaguar god-men. But I experienced something far more dangerous...

Mayan Temple
I was climbing the steep pyramid face of the third temple to catch a glimpse of the top, which was used to track the sun's path. Then I froze. A bright red snake slithered out from a dark crack in one of the stairs just inches in front of me. Luckily, he didn't feel like snacking--most snakes this size typically eat small reptiles, lizards, frogs and mammals (that's me!). Instead, he wandered up the stairway, perhaps looking for a quiet place to sunbathe.

Nina gasped. She snatched me and stuffed me in her bag.

"No more adventures for you!"

When we rejoined the tour, Nina described the snake to our guide. He also gasped and informed her that she'd come within inches of Costa Maya's most deadly snake, the Coral Snake. 

As Nina returned to the bus, jostling me in her backpack, I pointed out the haunting "meowing" notes of the Quetzal bird. Nut Nina was mumbling something to herself about knapsacks and didn't hear. 

By the way, the Quetzal bird was prized by the Maya for its feathers and it symbolizes freedom (Nina isn't the only one who uses Google).

Toulouse escapes deadly snake!
Well, I'd done a little reading myself and I blithely informed Nina that while I had been in mortal danger of getting eaten, she hadn’t been in any danger at all; the snake I almost bumped into didn’t have the distinct bands of the venomous Coral Snake (they are known for their colorful red, yellow and black bands). With the exception of no obvious black “collar” neck and dull yellow/orange face, the colorations of our snake resembled Yukatan’s Red Coffee snake, often mistaken for the coral snake but perfectly harmless—unless you’re a small mammal (like me), that is.  I suggested that my little snake “friend” might also have been a non-venomous Red Coachwhip snake, which also has a reddish braided body and tapered whip-like tail. In any case, all this is truly moot to me: any of them would have been happy to eat me, if they were feeling at all peckish. I am, after all, very good looking.

Nina then pithily informed me that not all coral snakes show banding. And it was the right size (typically 20-30 inches long).

As we made our way back to the boat, I recalled something Drunvalo Melchizekek, Mayan spokesman, said in a presentation about 2012: “…The world you know, that you live in, is not what you think it is. We modern people think the world is solid and real, and that nothing can change it…The Maya wish to inform you this is not true. The world is really images that can be controlled by consciousness, especially consciousness that is connected directly in the human heart.”

I guess that's why I didn't get eaten by the snake... "You don't want to eat me..."

I'm the cool travel cat...

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