The Yucatan

by Peter

Having said our goodbyes at the bus station, I crossed the street of Palenque only to run into a couple of kids on a bike tour to the bottom of the world. A couple of gringos with some sort of something to prove, we chatted for a second about sleeping outside. They said they never had any problems and just stayed in abandoned buildings. Tricky, though, in these parts.. too many snakes. Well that is good to hear.. but also a bummer. Next time Jorie and I do this we should really creep camp more I suppose.

I spent the next few days in Palenque killing time before the encuentro I was planning on heading to by reading up on the fungal forums of the world in preparation for a book I am working on. It became a pretty regular scene in the café I picked to frequent: me, sweaty, with a sack of fruit and pan dulce, clicking away at threads on horse manure and strain isolation. Pretty sad, really. But at least it was a good way to ease drop on a lot of funny conversations by foreigners.

Finally the day came for the beginning of the Hijos Del Maize encuentro outside of Palenque. I had randomly heard of the gathering from a guy we met at the bike collective spot in San Cristobal. He (Soul) had made it sound like the thing to do, so I looked it up and emailed the oragnizers with an offer to hold a mushrooms 101 workshop in exchange for a discount. Por supuesto, they were stoked and said to come, with a “We’ll arrange everything on site” to make the translation easier. I didn’t really know what to expect as the flyers for the event looked like they were meant for a rave and the elaborate website didn’t say much beyond a mystical calling for a gathering among kin. So, with that much to go on I said WFT, time to kick it like a hippe, del estilo Mexicano.. Well, not exactly.

I biked outside of the city a few kilometers following signs for the encuentro pointing down gravel roads, past fields and farms, potholes and cows. Following the last sign up a long dirt driveway, I was confused to find it ending at the yard in front of a small quiet farmhouse. A young boy was trotting around the yard on an old horse and I asked him if he had any idea where the encuentro was. His blank stare said more than words. Damn! As I was walking back down the driveway to the road I saw a young girl in a school uniform hop off a stopped truck and start walking my way. When I asked her if she knew of anything in the area I was surprised when, after a moment’s confusion, said, “Ah si, en la casa de Martin.” “Uh, si,” I replied.

She then had me follow her up the driveway, past the house and the confused boy, down a second driveway, over a bridge, through two fields, past her mother’s land and barking dogs, through a gate, over another field, through another gate, and across another field until we at last saw the octagonal temple of Martin I would come to know so well. This impossibly located land project was to be the site of the gathering and apparently only meant for those in the know. I thanked her deeply and made my entrance.

The land project was known as The Garden of Eden and certainly approached that as best one could as a permacultural oasis surrounded by mono crop fields and fertilizers. El Jardin had been started by Martin, a German who, upon taking entheogenic mushrooms at Palenque 10 years prior, had had a vision to start a land project in the sacred heartland of the ancient Maya. He had been at it largely alone for much of that time but in the last year good energy had come his way in the form of residents and volunteers to help him fulfill some of the visions he had long desired, this encruentro being one of them. As I walked in to the land I saw Martin and locals putting the finishing touches on a large octagonal temple space made in a style traditional to the area.

Hierba in the air and good vibes vibing all around, I started chumming it up right off the bat with the Mexican hippies. Well, they were actually mostly Austrian, Polish, French, Canadian, and German hippies, and many of them from Uno, another project located in Tulum that had helped put the gathering on. Eh, well it’ll be a different kind of event at least, I figured, might as well stick around and see what happens.

Over the next five days here’s the best of what happened: a lot of trying to rinse an incredible amount of sweat off my body in the muddy swimming hole, being shafted on the cost of the event with barely a discount for my workshop, paying for food that wasn’t included in the expensive cost, learning my Mayan kin and its associated philosophy at calendrical workshops, learning a bit about the I-Ching, bumming about most all other workshops getting cancelled, OMing, an incomplete chocolate ceremony, a lot of weed smoking, yoga, 3rd eye meditations, an all night ceremony, all kinds of dancing, mystical puppeting, evil ants biting me always, and getting bored.

Despite the supposed interest by many in my workshop, they kept pushing it back until the night before I had to leave. Still, I was able to rally folks for a candle lit circle in front of a laptop and with my mediocre Spanish (and a few translators) I was able to leave all the wooers wooed about los hongos. And that was all I wanted.

I left the next day early for another stroll in the ruins of Palenque to take more photos. It was a weekday and the ruins were much quieter. Walking thru their silent story I felt the withdrawl of Jorie’s energy coming on. Things didn’t look quite the same. But I took some more pics and sketched a few stellae in between stints of meditation and stretching. Some mental and physical chillin before the next big bike push around the peninsula and maybe on in to Belize and Guatemala.

The next day I set out for Campeche to the north, where I had a couch lined up to surf. I figured a solid 2 or 3 days of riding would get me there easy. The map showed a flat terrain that lifted my spirits cuz, like, what could go wrong?

Pushing out of the early morning heat I cruised out of Palenque loaded with liters of water and a belly full of yogurt drink. The towns crept by as the sun climbed and every chance I got I would stop to load up on my rapidly depleting water supplies. Damn it was hot! I was barely clothed at that point, only tiny gringo running shorts, my sneakers, and thick layer of grime painted my silhouette to the giggling townies as I peddled past. And what was worse was that I was getting progressively more tired as the day grew on. By 3 I figure I had drank at least 3 gallons of water and found myself stopping every 5 kilometers to rest in the shade for 15 minutes intervals. I didn’t know what the hell was going on since my endurance thus far had been getting better and better during the trip. But, I thought, it was still early and I should just press on at a slower pace.

Nope. By around five I found myself in the middle of nowhere with a body refusing to go on. I literally had to get off my bike, let it fall over, and then lay in the weeds on the side of the highway for a half hour to even begin to feel alive. I must have looked like a semi truck road kill. But nobody stopped.

Once I was able to move again, I used all of my energy to drop my bike over the edge of the road into a drainage pipe clearing, set just my tent up, and fall in to it only to pass the fuck out for 12 straight hours. I would occasionally wake to slam a liter of water before falling right back to the rocky and cold surface as my body repaired from the worst case of heat exhaustion of my life. Sketchy.

I woke the next morning before dawn and got ready to leave, feeling much better and incredibly grateful that I was still alive. As the sun rose in the coming hours I knew this day would be no cooler than the last. So when I reached the next city around 1 o’clock I took a few hours out from the sun to siesta with the internets before getting out of town to camp on the side of the highway in another drain pipe.  Seriously these things are great. So hidden, and providing cover from sun and rain!

That was probably one of the best places I could find to camp, actually. Much of the area on either side of the highways were often taken up by private land or so open that were a car to come by as I was walking across the expanse in search of a place to stealth tent, my cover would easily be blown. These pipe things were nice because they are easy to hop down to in between cars and, while close to the road, were not that loud once inside them.

The next afternoon I pushed on for Campeche only to again feel the oppressive heat as I reconnected with the Gulf waters. Riding an abominable, undulating mockery of a road, I had to pep talk myself the last dozen kilometers as the sun burned supreme in the 3 o’clock height. I even started brainstorming my next blog post: “Why I Don’t Like Bike Touring.” Things like

It’s boring
It’s hard
It’s hot
It makes me thirsty
It makes me tired
It doesn’t save much money
People always stare at you

were about all I could come up with in that enlightened state. Then I thought to make it a list of pros and cons to see what side would win out. But I later changed my mind, once I cooled off..heh.

Campeche centro is a Unesco world heritage site based on the incredible amount of money that was poured into restoring the colonial port town’s old building and crumbling bastions. For all the flair, it was whatever. Too much desire for tourism in place of helping out the locals is my guess. But the central plaza was nice and the painted buildings were pretty. My couch host, Romina, and her boyfriend picked me up from Zocalo that evening. I felt bad as I hadn’t said for sure if it would be that day or the next. But she was super nice about it and brought the work truck for my bike. As we headed to her place I did my best to keep up the convo in Spanish but when I got confused on a question (which I actually understood but just second guessed it) they both busted out the perfect English and that sort of set the tone for the rest of the time together. Sort of a bummer, but makes sense I guess.

The question they had asked of me was whether I had been biking that day around 3. I told them yes and they said I was crazy, it had been 40ºC. It had been so hot that they had hardly left from sitting in front of the fan in their house for fear of melting. And I was biking in that shit? Oops. Then they went on to tell me that the Yucatan Peninsula is one of the hottest places in Mexico and that this was the hottest month of the year to be there. And I wanted to bike across the whole thing? Oops. Maybe you should think about it, bro.

We hung out for a few hours when we got back to their house as they told me about things to do in town, among many other things. Turns out my initial impressions were correct: not a lot going on here except the heat and sunsets. Boooorrrrriiiiinnnnngggg. I spent the next day seeing the few sights, eating the grossest  Chinese buffet of my life (they are really not all they are cracked up be, seriously) and biking around in some of the densest humidity of my life. The best thing in town by far was the sweet little Mayan History Museum outside the center. Probably one of the best museums of the whole trip actually.

I decided to leave the next day as there really wasn’t much else going on in town. Talking to Romina and her guy, I had decided to cover the next stretch by bus as they painted pictures of incredible mountains to summit and record temperatures to endure.

I was headed to Ticul for a few days to catch the Ruta Puuc and Uxmal. The best way to get there by bus was to go to Santa Elena and then catchy a combi to the village. The ride was much easier than Romina had lead me to believe and I felt like a chump for not just pushing on and biking it any way. Oh well. Once I got to Santa Elena though I decided to bike the 10 Km to Ticul where I found a cheap hotel for the night.

The next day I set off early to catch the Ruta Puuc, a 30 Km loop that  covers 4 ruins and a cavern system. This was one time that the bike was super clutch. Without it I probably would have missed the Ruta as only one expensive and short tour bus goes there from Merida and the only other option is to rent a car for mucho dinero. The ride was lazy, flat and lush as I brushed clouds of chartreuse butterflies in between the ruins of Kabah, Sayil, Xlapak, and Labna. Each site held its own with features and temples too mysterious to describe.  Probably my favorite places were the beautiful gates at Kabah and Labna that pave the way for grand sacbes, or roads through the jungle. The one at Kabah once shared a 15 Km road all the way to Ushmal. But who knows what other ritualistic purpose that they served as the decoration on them, especially the one at Labna, was quite remarkable.

From Labna I pushed on to the Grutas de Loltun, a cavernous system filled with underground canyons and natural skylines draping tree roots and vines for hundreds of feet. The prices had risen significantly since the guide book I had was published and they now mandated a guide that had to be paid as well. that sucked but it was cool to get a guide for once to get some inside scoop on the place. Of the many fascinating things he told us about the caverns, the most beautiful was about the columns below. These columns are actually hollow due to the way they were formed and when hollow or filled with water produce different tones that can sometimes sound for a long time. The guide told us that when the site was discovered this area had been covered in offerings and was considered a place of mediation and worship. The incredible darkness and the haunting tone of the columns was contemplative even in a guided group.

After the tour I biked to Oxkutzcab and caught a combi with a shaman in training. We talked about ayhuasca and sessions he was doing in Tulum with Brazilian teachers. Diggin it.

The next day I walked to the edge of tiny Ticul, past the bull ring with its palm leaf shaded benching, to hitch a short ride to Uxmal on a pile of bananas in the back in the back of an old pickup. Despite the fan fair, the magnificent ruins were somehow much more somber and slow that what I had sensed at the other locations. The guide book has scant info and the signage was sparse. So I ain’t got much to add about the place. I don’t know, maybe it was the lavish resorts just outside the gate of the place that turned me off. The architecture, however, was incredibly ornate.

Penis statues

The next day I left early to catch a bus to Merida where I would meet with my couch host.  I had wanted to swing over to Mayapan, another very important ruin, but had decided against it as I felt the time crunch. At this point in the trip my plans had changed from biking down to Guatemala into leaving from Cancun at the end of the month. Money troubles along with feeling it was time were the deciding factors.

Contact confusion left me hostelling that first night in town but I was able to catch up with Gerry the next day out in his pueblo. An incredibly gracious host, Gerry and his modernizing Mayan family took me in like one of the family. His mom owned a little store next door and ran her own herbal medicinal product line that she produced in a backyard shed and shipped to Germany. Super cool lady, we jammed about medcinal plants we both knew and she told about the Mayan practices of bee keeping for propolis. When he wasn’t trying to feed me Gerry was great to talk to as he was trying to work on his English (sorta) but mostly he helped me work on my Spanish. He let me sleep in his bed as he hammocked inches away. Probably the most intimate couchsurfing experience to date. But in a friendly way.

we spent the first day swimming with his brother and couchsurfer from France at a local cenote and then I spent the following days biking all over Merida, seeing museums and sites, and at the ruins of Dzibilchaltun. It was cool but I was excited to push on for Chichen Itza.

While at the Encuentro in Palenque I had heard from the Mayan calendar teacher, Nuno, that the coming May 20th would be an incredibly important day in the Mayan calendar. On this day, there would be an alignment with the Sun, Earth, and the Pleidian star cluster when the sun was at its annual zenith passage along the Chichen Itza latitude. As the Pleides are incredibly important to the Mayan people this was one of several 26,000-year events to take place in 2012.. and one that I sure as hell didn’t want to miss.

So with a big hug I said farewell to Gerry and family and chump bussed it out to Chichen on the 19th. I ended up feeling OK about this chumping as we passed thru torrential precursors of the encroaching rainy season that left me chilled from the comforts of my window seat. I arrived to the Piramide Inn soaked after biking across the small town outside the ruins to pitch my tent in their lush backyard. There were quite a few other tents and I said hello to a couple of young folks necking in their tent before heading to town to get chips and yogurt.

Checking my email that night the young couple came into the ciber and we started chatting about the next day. Turns out there wasn’t only going to be the alignment tomorrow but also a partial solar eclipse! WTF! Then they told me that other tents at the Inn were from a crew filming a documentary on their tour of 13 sacred sites in 20 days. Crazy!

I headed back to the Inn to catch the leader of The 2012 Experiment, Gary, getting a late night snack. A super nice guy from the states, Gary, now lived in Mexico where he had been studying the real Mayan calendat for about 6 years. I say real to contrast with the “new” version created a few years ago. He said the new version was crap and that even the Mayan elders didn’t support it. Interestingly, this was the one I learned about at the encuentro in Palenque. Gary and I talked til late about the Mayans, their tour, and what he felt was in store for humanity in the coming years, post-shift. Before retiring he offered that I join them in their day at Chichen for ceremony and silence.

The next morning I joined the group for a morning prayer and meditation on the day while seated in the labrynth spiral of the Inn. A few of us went to a local cenote to start the morning with a swim. We then split so that the crew could do their preparations and I could bike to Chichen and get oriented.  I arrived to the vast city that is Chichen Itza to find swarms of tourists billowing among vast circles of ceremony at the base of the Pyramid of Kukulcan and the Venus Temple. So many people dressed in white, chanting with Mayan elders left me overwhelmed by the importance of this day that I somehow had been guided to partake in. I joined a large circle that seemed to be drawing and welcoming all people to follow with the blessings and calls to the Pleidian stars to open us to the universe. At the end of it all, one of the ancient and rare crystal skulls was brought forth from one of the elders and was used to bless every person present at their 3rd eye and heart charkas. One person in the 2012 Experiment group was blessed on her stomach, which was a shock to the her as she had only just learned that she was pregnant! At 10:48 of the documentary linked above, you can see me getting served crystal skull power!

Sums is up pretty well

After that we ran in to the people from Uno that I had met at the encuentro in Palenque and had a shake down at the base of the Pyramid. We all chilled and vibed for the day until the storm finally hit as the park was closing. We made our way back to the Inn for dinner and contyemplation as the storm masked the eclipse from us. That night we temescaled at the Inn and I felt blessed.

The next day we all split up after a morning session in the labrynth, they west toward Mayapan and I east toward Valladolid. They offered that I come with them for their trip but I declined, having decided to stay on the path I had chosen. Not sure how I feel about that decision.. but oh well. I said goodbye to Ty from Vancouver who turned out to be a vendor for Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) enriched tea and coffee. When I told him I knew that mushroom he was shocked and I knew he was cool.

I biked on to Valladolid for a day of cenotes and a ride north to the ruins of Ek Balam. The kitchen to use was nice but the impersonal feel of hostels with big TVs always sucks. From there I biked out to Coba for another spectacular ruin and giant crumbling pyramid day. From Coba I caught a bus to Tulum where I met up with Cecilia, my Argentinean couchsurfing host. Cici was super friendly but at times difficult to understand with the thick Argentine accent. But she was happy to host and let me spend a few days beaching and internetting. We caught some bites, and mad some chats but I got the sense that Tulum was a very slow, stoney place and was fine with leaving after of couple days.

I made the bike trip a short way up to Playa del Carmen to hang out with the super cool homie Sergio, the stoner paper mache sculptor,. Sergio was super funny and smart and sooo stoked that I knew about mushrooms. We kicked it for a few days as he worked on some sculptures and I taught him how to grow setas. But the good times went quick and after a final day on the beach I pushed on for the final stint up to Cancun.

I surfed with Julian in Cancun, a hostel mangaer and partier painter for a few days and saw what little the tourist city had to offer. I got my shit together, got packed and said my goodbyes to Mexico as best I could surrounded by wealth and empty kegs. Its been real!

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