Hola! Buenos Dias!
Igles? India? Namaste!
Whajj do you want amigos? Taxi? honk honk, yu want to go som-wear?
Restaurant? Best in Cancun amigos, best food in cancun? No?
Party? You want to party, amigo? its a great day to party ma friend? No?
Ok no problemo, you have good day, maybe someother time, yeah? some other time?
For all their flaws, if there is one thing a Mexican amigo is good at, is having a bargaining conversation with himself. Don’t attempt any communication with him. In his eagerness, he will shortchange himself, agreeing for too little, curse, but then just takes the money, scratch and moves on, muttering under his breathe. Mercado 28, the palika bazar of Cancun, leaves you feeling like you couldn’t have gotten a better deal. Cancun is a modern Mexican city built some 70 years ago at, what was once a small and disconnected fishing village. Blessed with bluest seas and sandy beaches, one goes to Cancun to relax, rejuvenate, to party, have fun and to spend their American dollars.
I was taken in by the city right away, having developed an appreciation for the good life in recent years. The weather was amazing, beautiful friendly faces as far as the eye can see, fresh seafood and a favourable dollar rate. I had holstered, locked and loaded if so needed, my Gracias and my Hola, also learnt to say and hum El Pardon for good measure. It is as much Spanish as you will need to get around comfortably in a touristy place like Cancun. The hotels are on a strip with one single road called the avenida Kukulkan, who happens to be the serpent sun god worshiped by the Mayans. In fact, Cancun means the serpent’s nest.
Quick history lesson!
The Maya race of people emerged in the Yucatán Peninsula (spanning modern day Mexico, Guntanama, El Salvador, and Honduras) as early as 2000 BC. Some say, they migrated from as far as Mongolia, according to the Bering Strait land bridge theory. The civilization rose to prominence around 260 AD, with their extraordinary understanding of agriculture, mathematics, the cosmos and language. If one ventured West towards Valladolid (the vast Spanish settlement), like we did, one could experience the majestic expanse of Chichan itza. A UNESCO world heritage site, is likely built somewhere between 600-900 AD, before falling into decline when the Mayans abandoned the site to escape the wrath of the Spanish conquistadors (famously, Hernán Cortés in 1519). It was re-discovered in the 1800s, amazing scholars who realized the superior understanding the Mayans had of the positions of heavenly bodies to which the pyramid symmetrically aligns. One can observe the shadow of pyramid forming the Kukulkan serpent on Equinox.
Mesoamerican cultures discuss the World Tree, related to the creation story of the universe. The mystical Tree, what is now seen as a depiction of the arm of the Milky way, was thought to contain the secret for eternal life and the ultimate destruction of the world. A few kilometers from the site is Balankanche. A composite laser scan image of Chichen Itza’s Cave of Balankanche, shows the main limestone column, which resonates with the World Tree imagery!
Onwards a short distance from the site, one reaches the holy Cenote, a naturally forming sink hole with sweet, freshwater that we took a dip in. The Mayans believed the water had healing properties and restored youth. I have been overly indulgent in providing my readers with information available anywhere on the interweb, but if you could indulge me once more, I would like to introduce just three interesting characters in the history of the Yucatan peninsula that may be worth knowing.
In 1511, Gerónimo de Aguilar was a Spaniard looking for work in the Panama colony, his life took a sudden turn when he was shipwrecked of the coast of the Yucatan peninsula and was promptly taken hostage along with 12 other crew members ready to be sacrificed for the Mayan gods. His attempt to escape whichever of slavery, disease, or death came first, crossed his path with that of Gonzalo Guerrero, another maritime victim of the Yucatan currents. Their attempt to escape landed them in the hands of the rival clan, under the leadership of Mayan chief Xamanzana, where they learned to speak the local language.
The year 1519 brought with it the invasion of Hernán Cortés with an eye to establish and extend the Spanish colony to the interiors of Mexico. Having heard of a bearded man who roamed the parts, Cortés summoned Aguilar, who had been a slave for the Mayans for the last eight years. He somehow escaped and made his way to the expedition, where Cortes found him to have practiced his religion, devoted to his breviary despite captivity, and also being able to tell the correct day of the week. Aguilar continued to serve the expedition, with his knowledge of the region and language. He was eventually sent back to Spain when his services were no longer required, for La Malinche had learned to speak Spanish.
Guerrero on the other hand, became a war chief for Nachan Kaan, Lord of Chektumal. This military prowess earned him extraordinary repute with the Mayans. Guerrero had by then married Nachan Can’s daughter Zazil Há and had fathered the Americas’ first mestizo children. He played a role in the disastrous Spanish defeat in the Cordoba’s expedition, which greatly embarrassed the Spanish supremacy in the region, leading to the death of conquistador Hernández Córdoba. Aguilar tried to convince him to return, to which he had replied as follows:
“Brother Aguilar; I am married and have three children, and they look on me as a cacique (lord) here, and captain in time of war. My face is tattooed and my ears are pierced. What would the Spaniards say about me if they saw me like this? Go and God’s blessing be with you, for you have seen how handsome these children of mine are. Please give me some of those beads you have brought to give to them and I will tell them that my brothers have sent them from my own country.“
La Malinche was born in the Aztec controlled parts of Mexico and was promptly sold by her step-family as a slave girl to the Spanish. By her late teens, her beauty and grace was widely discussed among Spanish nobility. She was promptly presented to be the mistress of Cortés. She proved to be his greatest ally in the forging of new Mexico colony. She was proficient in two local languages and later picked up Spanish. Several accounts from different sources refer to her as Doña Marina (with the honor title Doña). Cortes would later himself admit that she was the second most important reason for his success after God. Marina is depicted in indigenous illustrations as equal to Cortes, taking her rightful place of the Nahua wife, who traditionally help their husbands in military and diplomacy. In contemporary culture too, she is depicted in many different ways: the mother of Mexico, the unfortunate victim of two cultures, the traitor, the saint. There are tales of a mysterious twin sister who chose a different life. What is undisputed, is her status as a strong female figure in the turbulent history of this land.
I dont know if many people remember the Dreamworks picture, Road to El Dorado. While the story is rated poorly, it features interpretations of these three characters and has some fantastic music by Elton John and Hans Zimmer. One particular lyric from the Elton John classic comes to mind, as I compile the stories of these three Mexican individuals:
Who’s to say who’s right or wrong
Whose course is braver run
~ Elton John, Friends never say goodbye
One day 13, I was out by myself in downtown Cancun, to get one last Sol. I looked around, it was me amid many everyday people, Enrique Iglesias blazing on in the background absolutely fascinated by the undampenable Mexican spirit. I couldn’t honestly say I had enough of Mexico. I had after all, spent way too much money and had way too much of a good time. Enough to get me quite sick when I got back to India. There is too much love in Mexico, the pure kind, the rare kind. They suffer from it. Maybe they deserve it. I don’t know if I will ever meet Carlos, Martha, Veronica, Jerry, or Antonio again. I can only wish them well from the bottom of my heart.
Vacation in Mexico: Hair gets lighter. Skin gets darker.
Water gets warmer. Drinks get colder.
Music gets louder. Nights get longer. Life gets better.
~ On some corner of some street