Las Pozas, Surreal Mexico

*This is part 6 of a 13-part series. Read part 5 here.*

Scent is one of the most underrated sense impressions; it is also one of the most important for memory.

I can still recall that immense chasm of smell that existed between my dusty travel partner and I, on the one hand, and the recently showered and perfumed family on the other. They were kind enough to pick us up — after seeing us drenched in sweat on the side of the road — and I am grateful for that, but great-googly-moogly we smelled a hell of a lot oo-glier. Continue reading

Into Veracruz

*This is part 5 of a 13-part series. Read part 4 here.*

For some unknown reason – which tend to be the most annoying of reasons — we’re barely cruising through Veracruz. The days are full of waits and empty of rides. Beneath a rare patch of shade, we shed our backpacks and guzzle down some water.

It seems our luck is about to change.

A gray SUV pulls over a few hundred meters down the hot tar of Highway 140 and I quickly race towards it…until my sandal rips. Now with a heavy backpack and a broken sandal, I hurriedly hobble down the scorched pavement until reaching the passenger-side window. Continue reading

Into Oaxaca

*This is part 3 of a 13-part series. Read part 2 here.*

The wind curls its invisible fingers through our unkempt hair as the vanishing horizon with its giant hand pulls away all those dead yesterdays. We are sitting in the empty bed of a black Ford barreling down highway 190 toward Oaxaca.

The Estado Libre y Soberano de Oaxaca (Free and Sovereign State of Oaxaca) is an ecological and ethnological puzzle: a 300-mile long coastline stretches down the Pacific, three mountain ranges converge at the Complejo Oaxaqueno, and of its 3.5 million people over 1 million speak an indigenous tongue. Continue reading

Into San Cristobal de las Casas

*This is part 2 of a 13-part series. Read part 1 here.*

What are you, insane or something?!

The response is typical when telling friends and family back home, “I’m hitch-hiking through Mexico.” Subsequent is a barrage of stern don’t-you-watch-the-news’s and does-your-mother-know-you’re-doing-this’s that, although well-meaning, are largely misguided as they are the product of a mainstream media whose only message is fear.

That said, yes, there are dangers. Continue reading

Into Palenque

*This is part 1 of a 13-part series.*

The antiquated bus putters to a halt a few meters from the rusty bridge.

“This is the end of Belize — you need to walk over to Mexico.”

There is a popular illusion that countries are separated by squiggly black lines, but I have yet to encounter one. Often what separates one country from another is a bridge – architectural forms that, ironically enough, are meant to connect two places. Continue reading

Semuc Champey and the Carbonated Deity

SemucChampeySign

GETTING THERE

The sinuous road is like a cement river flowing around the rocky hips of this great mountain. Moments after throwing my unwieldy bag atop and squeezing into shuttle bus, the hefty driver careens about with a type of heedless abandon that could make Richard Dawkins turn religious — oh God, please don’t crash!

This abandon is far too heedful for the camioneta drivers who lunge their school buses full of dead technology and alive people around the narrow curves — no wonder crosses grace the interior. Continue reading

ATM Caves in Belize: Calcified in Xibalba

ATM cave entrance

Unlike everything else in the Caribbean, the mid-morning downpour is right on time.

“Hurry up and jump in the river before you get wet!” jokes our tour guide.

He is referring to the river that lolls out of the mouth of the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave like some glassy tongue.

Mythically linked to the Mayan underworld of Xibalba, this cave system was the site of gory sacrifices spanning from 1 CE to 1000 CE. After the civilization collapsed, the ATM caves were abandoned for over a thousand years, only remembered by wary locals who feared the black abyss where so many spirits had been surrendered to the gods. Continue reading

Toads and Tikal

Apple takes out her beloved red delicious and sparks a flame. Inhaling slowly, letting the smoke dance through her lip rings, she pulls and pulls until it’s too much and exhales with a cough and a giggle as we pass the famous Kopak tree a a few meters inside Tikal.

The scarred face of Whistler perks up into a smile as he points far in to the canopy and yells “monkey!” He wails out a strange jingle from a small flute that dangles from his neck.

The monkey ignores. Apple laughs. Continue reading