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Jul 11

Sleeping with the Gods

Calakmul

The Yucatan Peninsula is a large flat chunk of land completely covered in dense steamy jungle.  Leaving Tenosique, Tony and I had the task of crossing this large sea of green, about 700 km of it, to reach the most western coast of Mexico, and the Caribbean sea.

But we would not just be crossing through a jungle, we would also be passing through El Mundo Maya, The Mayan World, as this entire of area of Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize is absolutely peppered with the remains of the once expansive and powerful Mayan civilisation.

The Maya civilisation was established as far back as 2000 BC, but during what is known as the Classic Period from 250 AD to 900 AD, their cities flourished. It was during this time that everybody got to have their own personal Pyramid, complete with TV, A/C, a heated pool, and continental breakfast.

When the Mayan weren’t busy draining six packs and watching the ballgame from the tops of their humble abodes, they busied themselves by munching on psychedelic mushrooms –   a daily ritual which would usually be followed by a healthy dose of stargazing and placing bets on which year the world would end.

Tony poses in Calakmul, the nice man at the entrance let me bring in the bike.

Yes, the Mayans had it pretty good, largely thanks to their firm grasp of economics.  As a matter of fact, their economic model is still being used in many countries in the world today.  The way it functioned was simple:  A small privilege wealthy elite controlled the politics and were know as job creators.  They created thousands of jobs by putting the large, uneducated, lower class to work building large pyramids as well as their weekend homes in the Hamptons.  In this way, the wealth would trickle down from the very wealthy to the very poor, and everyone would be happy.  Things were a little bit too good though in the Mayan world, and so often Mayan cities would busy themselves by sending their young men to fight wars with other mayan cities, or by appeasing the gods with the blood of young boys who – it is believed – likely had pre-existing conditions from birth that made them ineligible for healthcare

It was a never-ending Spring Break party in the Mayan world, though apparently a 1,000 year bender was too much for some, and the civilization began to decline so that by 1500s when the Spanish arrived with their funky beards, exotic fashion, and guns, they found everyone suffering from one of the worst collective come-downs the world has ever seen.  They did not approve of this kind of debauchery and so they quickly went about to set things right by fucking the women, shooting the men, and giving

Route to Chetumal from Tenosique

everyone their weird foreign diseases while they searched for gold.  The party was over and to make matters worse, the arrival of the Spaniards was also marked by a collapse of the property market.  Pyramids and residences that were once considered to be prime real estate – and a solid investment opportunity – were abandoned and left rotting in the jungle

And so it came it to be in the year 2012, that I – a simple traveler – found myself sleeping on top of a pyramid in the ancient Mayan city of Kohunlich.  I am happy to report that the jungle views remain fantastic.  Unfortunately though, they no longer offer the continental breakfast.

My very own city

This stage is called Operation: Glorious Ruination for a reason.  There are a lot of ruins.  Already on this stage I have visited Palenque, Tikal, and the more isolated city of Calakmul (to get to Calakmul one must turn off the highway when you reach The Middle of Nowhere, and then keep going another 63 km down The Road to That Place Past The Middle of Nowhere.)  Still though, I wanted to visit some of the smaller, less visited cities as well, and so I turned off the highway once again to head (only 9km) to the ruins of Kohunlich.

I arrived at the ticket and information booth at Kohunlich at around 6 PM to find that the resourceful Mexican Government had employed three dogs to manage this important post.      At times like these the bicycle can come in handy, for after chatting for a moment with the keen canines about my trip, they were kind enough to let me pass for free.  The park was already closed they said, but they informed me that if I took a right turn down a service track just before the locked main gate I would soon find myself alone in the middle of the park, surrounded on all sides by an ancient city.

I

Road through the jungle to Calakmul

had the place entirely to myself, and I explored the ruins with gusto, walking around in the midst of a torrential downpour, enjoying the fantastic structures and rock carvings that had been built here roughly 1,500 years ago.  As darkness fell, and the jungle came alive with the noise of millions of bugs and critters, I remained standing there watching the rain fall upon the forsaken city as it had done for the last 600 years.  I was standing alone with time.

In was an intense experience and for a moment there I thought I could feel the memories of the past welling up inside of me…  But, no.  I was just hungry, so I set up my stove under the cover of small shelter at the edge of the main clearing and as I cooked my dinner – a simple rice and avocado dish I have become quite fond of – I sat contemplating the jungle around me.

I was far from alone.  The jungle becomes unbelievably noisy at night, so loud that even a good heavy rain fails to drown out the clamor.  Millions, billions, of little bugs and critters join chorus to create a pulsating pandemonium – the original rave anthem.  Tonight the music was accompanied by a light show.  There is a winged bug in these jungles that has wings that light up whenever the bug feels threatened or when it is touch by something -

The road to Kohunlich

such as a raindrop – and tonight the rain was turning the jungle around me into a galaxy of luminescence.  Millions of points of lights, all looking worrying like the eyes of a jaguar waiting to pounce, filled the shadows under the trees, and I couldn’t help but feel like I was being watched.

This feeling of creepiness was compounded by the fact that I still wasn’t 100% positive that I was the only human being in Kohunlich that night, or that I would remain the only human being there until morning.  I worried that there might be a lone watchman out there taking a nap and that at some point he would get up to do his rounds or the premises and find me asleep in my tent.  I was not scared of the man, I was scared of the fine/bribe he might make me pay for camping in the ruins.  So paradoxically, I convinced myself that the safest place to pitch my tent would be on top of the pyramid.  Up there I would only have to worry about the Mayan gods and ghosts tripping over me in my sleep.

The pyramid I slept on.

So I hid Tony in some bushes and crept up the slippery stone steps with my tent and sleeping mat –   still in the pouring rain and pitch dark – and made myself comfortable at the highest point in the city.  Even in my tent, I could sense the vast emptiness stretching out in all direction around me.  Then, the lightning started.

The gods must be angry, I thought.  Was peeing off the side of the pyramid too much?

 

 

Kohunlich

1 comment

  1. Cissie, Cuba

    AMAZING, it really makes me want to it as well. I only thought completely crazy people cycled half around the world before, but I guess half-crazy ones can do it too….

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