Sunday, January 10, 2010

thoughts on roosters, rain and the Yucatan

Do you sometimes read Ocean and think I gloss over the unattractive parts of travel? I don’t, really. In truth, those just do not stand out for me. The delightful details rush to the surface, most everything else stays to the periphery.

But I decided that today I’ll give equal time to the other side. The day was drizzly, for one thing – a natural setting in which to sprinkle in a frown or two.

Let me start with the rooster. I have to note here that I don’t know much about American roosters since not many people I know own one. But I know Polish roosters very very well. They have a marvelous sounding cockadoodledoo. It warbles in the high notes and continues, like an aria, in a prolonged treble, fading into the distance with a pathos that could only be described as beautiful.

There are a number of roosters in close proximity to my b&b and so I have a range to listen to here. And they don’t wait til dawn to start their chant. I have to say that their cockadoodledoo is stifled – cut off in mid-flight, if you will. Not nearly melodic enough. As if they’re saying – hey, I’m magnificent enough without the noise (for they are magnificent looking). Take me for what I am.

They crow from 3 to 7 and then they grow mostly silent. Why? I can only imagine what pleasures befell them after the hours spent marking their turf and telling others to stay away from their cackling hens.

On to my next theme: coffee. Mexico has some of the finest coffees in the world. I do admit to liking good coffee. With a bit of milk in the morning. Mostly, I’ve had decent to very good coffee here. But the great stuff remains hidden.

It could be that we eat in simple places. Still, if a nation has a taste for good coffee, then it typically trickles down to even the humblest eating venue. But here’s my experience with coffee, just this last morning: we go to a simple eatery on the square. I order huevos mexicana and café con leche. My cup of coffee appears. Very milky, I’m thinking. Very very milky. I ask if there’s a possibility that he could add more coffee to the very very very milky cup. Sure, he answers. He brings a jar of Instant Nesca with a spoon and encourages me to add a few morsels.

Ed, understanding my love of good coffee (he has heard me reflect on just about every cup I have ever had in life) offers to take me to the one swanky café in town. I drink a cappuccino. Still very milky, but the taste is right. But the price for the cup is more than all of dinner last night.


Now onto the weather.

As I said, it drizzled on and off all day Saturday. The temperatures stayed close to 60 and people were cold. I put on clothes I had worn from Wisconsin and felt comfortable, if somewhat grungy. (Apologies to all the beautiful women around me who, in spite of the temperatures, in spite of a busy shopping day, still managed to look beautiful in their embroidered dresses and skirts.)


Okay – nothing else negative stands out. And that’s good, because I feel I've already burdened the reader with trivial observations. You deserve to know about what really mattered. Let me roll out the day for you backwards, starting with dinner around a lovely courtyard. A wonderful meal where the waiter made guacamole at the table and the Mayan chicken was smothered in a gravy touched by tomatoes, raisins and capers.


The waitress was concerned, as we were eating outdoors and Ed was in his short sleeved t-shirt (everyone else was bundled). I assured her Ed never gets cold. She looked at him with something between awe and fear.

Just before that, I looked at the embroidered frocks at the markets again. After all, many of the stalls change vendors daily. Perhaps I missed something.

We came to a stall where, due to some adjustments that were being made to one frock, we stayed around for quite a while.


Maria, the seamstress and vendor explained something to me that I hadn’t quite appreciated. I knew that the dresses and shirts were handmade or machine-made, and that the handmade ones were out of my price range.

But what I hadn’t realized is that the so called machine-made were not a simple act of a peasant girl deftly sewing on a band of factory produced flowers. Machine-made meant that her mother drew the design on paper, transferred it onto the fabric and that Maria then took out a little machine and flower by flower, machine stitched it onto the fabric. A “machine-made” dress that you might bargain for at the market – to feel good about the buck you may have saved – will have taken her five days to complete.


Maria works in a village not too far from Valladolid. Her whole family sews, including her brother (who hung out at the shop with us). He does the hand stitching and it takes him close to 15 days to finish a garment.

And such beautiful garments they are.


Still earlier, we made an excursion to the Mayan ruins. I deliberated for a long time which ruins to explore. We are reasonably close to the spectacular, world-renowned Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. Everyone goes there. Busloads of Cancun visitors make the trip. Moreover, this is a week-end. Surely there will be crowds.

I chose, instead, to visit the recently unearthed ruins at Ek Balam.


Nearly empty in the late afternoon, set against a moody, gray day, the stone walls, arches and steps pulled you into the little understood Mayan world.

The restored figure heads left you guessing. Because even if you hired a guide, there is too little that he could tell you. What meaning does it have, the gesture, the positioning of the hand? Why the facial expression? Of what importance are the wings on some, the head dress on another?


We climbed the steps to the highest of the Mayan pyramids (or at least higher than the largest at Chichen Itza) and looked out on the flat Yucatan landscape.



On a clear day, you can see the pyramids of the sites forty miles away. On this day, you can only admire the densely green land that hides everything in its foliage.


On the drive back, we came across a farm of... something. Yucca? Ed wonders. No, actually it’s the Blue Agave – a plant used for the production of tecquilla.


Much of the farmlands are hidden from the road. I read that this is cattle and ranch country, but the ranches are hidden from view. Signs tells us that we are passing the bougainvillea ranch or the mariposa ranch, but I can’t tell what’s down the dirt road behind the sign.

So passed a lovely Saturday. Of course, it goes without saying that some of the finest moments were spent merely people watching, in and around town.



...or buying a day’s supply of bakery sweet rools.


Or listening to the birds – from our b&b courtyard (at some point, the roosters grow silent and the birds begin), from the paths weaving around the pyramids, or just passing by a densely foliaged tree, or someone’s garden.