Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Adventures in Cozumel

by Matt Neal

Location: Cozumel, Mexico

Years ago while visiting Cozumel with some friends, we stumbled across some interesting old ruins buried deep in the jungle.  Cozumel is a tiny island off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, and its landscape is just like the mainland – dense, low lying jungle on a flat terrain.  Looking from the window of my hotel, the few houses there on the coast butted up to that jungle.  Its hard to imagine that sort of terrain right in their own backyard.  And somewhere in that jungle, in those peoples’ backyard, were over a dozen archaeological sites of old Mayan ruins.

We started out on mini-bikes from the main town on the island.  Actually it’s the only town on the island.  A road cuts straight across the island to the other side, and then follows the coastline around until it hits the town again.

Cutting across the island was pretty boring.  It’s just low jungle on either side for miles and miles.  We were looking for a road we saw on the map.  That’s when we saw the woman with the snake.  She was walking along the road with her children.  And she was dragging a ginormous dead snake.  It must have been 8 or 10 feet long, and it appeared to be their dinner.

She couldn’t have come all the way from town, but whether there were houses in that jungle or mud huts, I never knew.  She wore a native outfit, a sort of serape or wrap, and the scene was in the last degree picturesque.  Minutes later, we found our road.  It led deep into the jungle, and then it stopped.  We got out and there they were.  Ruins.

We weren’t exactly the first outsiders to discover these.  They were kept up as a tourist attraction.  A grass roof had been restored over what looked like a temple of sorts.  We wandered around, exploring the place.

I knew sinkholes, or cenotes, were common around Yucatan but I didn’t know if they had them here.  What we found was a large hole, and I’m not sure what it was.  Another spot looked like a cavern that seemed ready for an archaeologist to start digging.  Looking into the darkness we could see things that should probably be excavated and catalogued.

That’s when I heard the scream.  The girl I was with thought she saw a snake.  It disappeared into that cavern.  That ended any thoughts we had of being explorers.

The Mayans that lived here produced honey, and this was a major port-of-trade up until around 1400.  Before that, it was home to the Olmec.  You know, they made those big giant heads that look like a basketball with a face.  But I saw none of those here at San Gervaiso.  It was home only to memories of its distant past.

Back on the road, we continued towards the far side of the island.  The jungle suddenly opened up and the broad ocean lay before us.  A more serene and inviting picture is hard to imagine.  However, we were in for more of a surprise.  If you look at it on a satellite map, you fully understand why we expected to find nothing but jungle and ocean.  But there, at the end of the world, was a bar – a little grass shack open all sides sitting right on the beach at the edge of the trees.  A bartender sat there awaiting our order.  We couldn’t disappoint him.  Who knows how long he had waited for us.

The décor was wonderful.  The building itself seemed to have sprung out of the jungle, and there were license plates from all over used as decorations.  In that far away place, I saw a plate from our local Atlanta radio station, 96 Rock.

When we left, we sped down the coast and then up the other side of the island.  The sun was setting and streaks of orange lit the sky.  It was a sublime feeling, racing along that road beside the calm ocean, with no other signs of human activity for miles.

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