Monday, May 11, 2009

Fine, we didn't want to see your stupid ruins anyway! or I rode my bike all the way to Cancun and all I got was this lousy porcine influenza.

Do ever get the feeling that god is mad at you? Not vengeful, strike-you-down-where-you-stand pissed, but just a little upset? Maybe it was that empty bottle you left on the beach in a minute of lazyness and weakness. Maybe it was that time you took a couple bucks from your mom's purse without asking...whatever the cause, I haven't been able to shake this feeling that I'm paying for something, some minor karmatic infraction that has been hounding me for the past week.
The town of Campeche lies sleepy and stoic on the shores of the gulf of Mexico. So sleepy in fact that we were kind of creeped out by the place. Empty streets, closed businesses, an eerie quiet about the place, compunded by the fact that everyone we DID see was wearing a blue medical mask over their mouth and nose, giving the whole scene some strange, cinematic, post-apocaliptic feel. We'd planned a full day off, but after just an afternoon, Campeche quickly lost it's old world charm and became, well....just kind of weird.
Left Campeche and the gulf coast into a howling headwind that would seem to follow us for an entire week. If we were headed east, the wind was from the east, if the road turned north, the wind was from the north. Haunted by this phantom wind, we pushed eastward through the flats of Campeche state. Pushing all day through flat, unchanging roads. Spent the night on a vacant property just outside of the town of Hopelchein, a small, agricultural town, much like others in the area, yet with the unexplicable pressence of lots of white, midwestern-looking farmer types. Mennonites, I think, judging by the way the wowen dressed, but I never did get the full story.
The next day brought more of the same. Headwinds, Long, drawn-out roads. Headwinds. Headwinds. Headwinds. Attempted to stop in at an archeological site to spend some time off the bikes and were greeted by a closed gate and a sign. "Closed indefinitely due the the Influenza epidemic". Now, I'm sure that the media in the United states has blown this whole influenza thing way out of proportion, but it has been pretty prevailent down here for the past couple of weeks. The first sign was when we were in Palenque. We'd been in the museum at 8 am, went to check out the ruins for an hour or so, then returned to find the museum closed. Didn't think much of it at the time, but as the days wore on, the headlines got bigger and the medical masks more prevailent. Now a full closure of all archeological sites in the country. And here we were. Thousands of miles from home. In the Ycatan peninsula for the first time, one of the richest archeological regions in the world, with some of the most beautiful, magical places. All gated up and off limits. Indefinitely. What'd I say. God's a little pissed.
Cinco de Mayo. Mexican Independence day. Not the least indication of it. Rode hard all day, sweating in the unimaginable heat of the tropic lowlands, our only "respite" a howling headwind. The road lined with thick brushy woods for mile after mile, the only thing breaking up the landscape the occasional town and a a stone arch marking our entrance into the state of Yucatan. Arrived in Piste (the tourist town that services the ruins at Chichen Itza) to a campground with a pool and the great news that the ruins would be reopening the next day!
Woke the next morning with a swim in the cenote Ik-kil, a sort of natural pool at the bottom of a deep stone hole in the earth, some of the clearest, purest water I've seen in my life. Swam for several hours, washing every last vestige of dirt and sweat from ourselves, then headed out to see the remains of the center of the Mayan empire. I guess I was a little disapointed that you can no longer actually climb any of the temples at Chichen Itza as you undoubtably once could, and still can at Monte Alban and Palenque. None the less, the place is incredible. Just the scope and size of the place is dizzying, the architectual and engineering mastery displayed phenomenal.
Rode all afternoon and the entire next day into, you guessed it, a howling headwind. Worst yet. A 70 mile slog through more low lying woods, the only change in scenery at the Quintana Roo boarder, where instead of cutting back the brush 10 feet, they'd let it grow right up to the road.
Rolled into Tulum by early afternoon, beaten and weak from the wind. Limped the final 4 k.m. to the beach, finally, to the Carribean sea, and it seemed like the curse of the past five days just washed away. Cristal clear water shining an unworldly blue off shore, talcum-fine, pure white sand. Camped two days on that beach, the near full moon rising over the ocean and shining daylight-bright on the white sands. Woke one morning at sunrise, the sun hanging low, just above the emerald water. Dragged myself out of the tent, bleary eyed and drowsy with sleep. Walked directly for that shining sea and dove in, the water cool and clean and so so clear. Swam out and looked back toward the beach. Palm trees and palapas, the world bright and alive, and down the beach on the distant cliffs, the morning sun reflecting yellow and orange off the ancient stones of the ruins of Tulum.

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