The Mayan Riviera’s colectivos traverse the pot-holed, coastal thoroughfare with laughable disregard for anthropological safety. Fighting the vaguely digestive smell inside, I shout “Tulum!” through nine perspiring passengers, and spend the next thirty minutes battling the vertebral hum. Eventually, the white van vomits me onto the highway, and from his quickly-receding window, the driver’s brown finger directs me toward the Ancient Mayan fortress.
At the entrance, weathered women grasp and pull my six hundred pesos through flaking metal bars and then offer professional smiles developed over years of promoting this local attraction to curious tourists. Their insincere wrinkles betray my intrusion into their culture. I hoist my camera and begin the trek over Tulum’s gravelly trail.
Sunlight slants through spiky palms and I’m uncomfortably aware of the avian life now squawking out my presence. A hundred crunchy strides forward, Tulum’s ruins sit atop a 12-meter cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Like sentinels, iguanas populate the site and legend suggests the reptiles are ancient Mayan souls still standing guard over their seaside home.
I lock eyes with one of the beasts and stagger backwards as I sense his golden irises pulsing with the history of centuries. His power touches something in my limbic brain, liberating me from the constraints of civilization. I am now his guest, permitted to negotiate the terrain without the shackles of modernity. It is a feeling of freedom I’ve not known before.
Making my way across the seven-acre site considered one of Mexico’s most endearing locales for photographic indulgence, I see El Castillo strike its commanding pose above the coastline. Anthropologists believe the castle once served as a beacon to canoe-bound sea travelers. Today, however, it is one of three still-standing buildings at Tulum and the way the iguanas patrol its foundation, one gets the sense it will remain erect for years to come.
After some time, amidst the the rubble tunnels and tumbling structures, searching for a connection with the ancient culture that ruled Mesoamerica for over six hundred years, I venture toward the sea. A wooden staircase spits me onto oatmeal-colored sands. Along the sugary beaches that make my tanned toes look like churros, I am struck by the water’s warmth.
Around me, as though being attacked by the liquid army of an ancient civilization,
sun-screened children with fierce faces scamper from the water’s edge. Grown men groan at the beauty of their wives silhouetted against the cerulean backdrop. Selling stitched linens and orange fruits, local Yucatan women pass through the touristy throng.
I recline at the water’s edge, succumbing to the power of the seascape. Eons have passed here above the sea’s slow shifts : El Castillo’s falling stones, bronzed men eroding into rising reptilian ghosts, and the Mayan culture fading from dynasty into decay. Beneath me, sandgrains shift and I travel in this passage of time. Wearing leather sandals and cotton breechclouts, Mayan warriors once sat here. They created calendars, written langauge, and art. They stared into the morning’s sunrise, called out to their Gods, and perhaps even waved a welcoming hand to a floating tribesman. I close my sweat-filled eyes and imagine the arrival, relishing in the presence of the past.
As champagne waves lick the shore, I gaze up to find my reptilian custodian eyeing me. A thousand years from now, a lady will raise her own welcoming torch and offer liberty to tribesmen of the world.
For now, however, this is freedom.
About the author: CC Xander is a professional speaker and one of America’s elite tennis coaches. Should you wish to join him on meaningless literary excursions, CC’s blog can be found at http://bewareofdogmadotnet.wordpress.com/