Monday, October 22, 2012

Cruise 2012: in which I get to keep my organs

On Monday, I woke up at 3 because Will was coughing, and saw that we were in Cozumel, 4 + hours early. I tried to put the room service tray outside quietly in the dark, dropped it, broken glass everywhere, woke up my husband with the noise, had to call for a clean up, the phone didn’t work, had to hunt down a steward in person to clean up the glass. He came in with the vacuum, you can imagine the noise and confusion and mess.  My bad. 
Went up to the Guest Services desk to tell them my husband had pneumonia and we had no phone and by the way, we’re in Cozumel, are you going to get my bag now? Hilarity ensued as the person said, “You can’t go ashore yet.” “I don’t want to go ashore yet. I want YOU to go and get my bag.” “You can’t go ashore yet. We don’t dock until 7.” “yes, but clearly we are docked already at 3 a.m., so how about someone goes and gets my bag?” “We docked early because someone had a heart attack.” Oops, they were just determined to have someone go to the Mexican hospital, weren’t they? “That is too bad, but what about my bag?” (I am a heartless, selfish bitch sometimes, I admit it.)
Finally she checked and found out that the bag was coming into the Cozumel airport at 1 p.m. and they’d go get it then. So I had no need to search out a dive shop and buy new snorkeling equipment.
I went ashore in Cozumel alone at 7 a.m. (Will had an 8 a.m. doctor appointment.) I had already arranged for a rental car to be at a rental place at the dock at 7:15 a.m. They had assured me that the rental place was in a gas station “right there.” Yes, right there. After you navigate on foot through their tourist village of shops and eager proprietors, then down a promenade and through a parking lot and across the street and asking random Mexican men “Donde esta el Pemex? Pemex aqui? Alli? Donde?” and then finding the Pemex and the rental place and it doesn’t even open until 8 a.m. They were supposed to have an automatic transmission Chevy Aveo with air conditioning waiting for me. No Chevy Aveo in sight. No proprietor in sight. Out comes the muy mal, un poquito espanol again.
Finally Omar the car guy was located, hanging out with the glass-bottom boat guy. (His name was really Omar.) He had no idea I was coming or that I expected a vehicle. He said he would get me a manual transmission car with A/C. I said no, must be automatic. All he had was a Geo Trakker 4x4 with no A/C, but it was automatic. I said fine. I paid way too much money for it and waited for it to arrive. It was red. And rust. It had no side windows. It had no carpets. The floor had holes in it. The check engine light was on. Es bueno,” They said. “No es bueno!” “es bueno!” They give me a map, in Spanish. The only landmark was the gas station itself and a shell in the intersection where I needed to turn right on my way to the San Gervasio ruins. Reverse didn’t work. The brakes really didn’t work. Solamente hablo espanol un poquito. And thus, sola, I was off. Oh, and I couldn’t get my cell phone to work, that was a bonus. Alone in Mexico, with purple hair, the worse rental car in the history of the world, and my cell wouldn’t connect to any network. Great. 
In this paragon of a rattling, hiccupping vehicle, I set out into the Mexican jungle. First I had to drive through the Mexican city and deal with all the topes (speed bumps) and people on scooters with small children and street signs I couldn’t quite decipher and a confusion over which blue building I was supposed to turn left at?
Apparently Mexican men, workers crammed into the back of pick-up trucks, really like fat women with purple and blond hair and big black hats who are alone in barely functioning vehicles. Or maybe they just want a green card, I don’t know. But I was very popular. Lots of honking, waving, wolf-whistles, being called “chica” and generally hollered at favorably.
I found my way to the giant shell in the middle of the intersection and turned, leaving the city and entering the type of long boring jungle road with occasional slum-houses that Mexico has everywhere. Oh, and lots of vultures, just hanging out on the sides of the road, waiting for my vehicle to crash so they and the jaguars could fight over who eats me. Probably they’d id me by my purple hair streak after the animals were done.
The turn off to San Gervasio didn’t warn of the dangers beyond. Honestly the road was about 10 miles long, the speed limit was about 1 kilometer per hour and it was in terrible shape. I thought my red rusty car-thing would shake to pieces on it. At the end, I parked against a tree (oops—more on that later) and went in. It cost a whopping $8 American to enter.
I hired a little Mexican man, a Maya, for $18 American, to be my guide. His name was Ruben (like the sandwich, like my evil mailman at home). He was from the Uxmal area originally but his grandfather the shaman told him he had to “go east” and so he ended up in Cozumel in 1956 and had been working at this site ever since. San Gervasio is the modern Spanish name for this site, a small sacred complex devoted to the fertility goddess Ix Chel. I guess it isn’t very popular; no one else was there. Ruben and I walked around for two hours, talking. His stories were a confusing mix of Christianity, New Age, and ancient paganism. Some of what he said was wrong but I wasn’t going to argue with an old native man who claims a baktun is 2000 years long (it’s 396, approximately). Of course Mexican-style Catholicism is basically a mix of the old religion and Jesus-worship in a way that’s much more pleasing than how American Catholics worship. (I know because I used to be one, at least on the surface. Scratch me and you’d find a pagan, always.)
Ruben showed me a place where 2 bodies had been excavated. He said they were priests who didn’t quite live to be initiated fully and they had been carbon-dated to 10,000 BC. He scoffed at all of the plaques erected by the government and said they were all wrong and laughed at me for taking pictures of them. The internet says that it’s a late Classical site, erected probably around 1,000 AD so Ruben’s dating was only about 11,000 years off. He said the site was devoted to the study of the sun, moon, and “eastern star” (Venus, I presume). The arch is at the exact center of the island (not according to any maps, but…) and is perfectly aligned to the cardinal directions and at noon on the five equinoxes (I know, there are only 2 per year) the sun is right overhead. There is another name for this, not equinox, but I can’t remember it, and it only happens at certain places on the earth, and it might be ecliptic or solar zenith, but that doesn’t seem to be it either.

As we were walking toward the arch, Ruben mentioned that there are ocelots there. I’d been disappointed at the lack of iguanas (one big male and maybe a dozen females, the amount that should have been on a single building there) so I was excited to maybe see an ocelot. Ruben misunderstood my agitation and said “now you are afraid of the tigers, huh?” and I said, “No, I want to see one!” Although I was confused if there were ocelots there (small wild cats, spotted) or jaguars (much larger cats, sometimes called tigers). Ruben said that many hurricanes had hit the site and many of the animals were killed. They were expecting a big population explosion of iguanas in the spring.

A dry cenote he showed me was next to a dry pond and he said a hurricane in 1988 drove the water underground and that when he saw both were empty he cried because it was fulfilling some ancient prophecy he knew of. The water is 4-6 feet underground now, and the government archeologists have no interest in excavating to get it back to the surface. Ruben also said the round cenotes were all dug by Spaniards and that people were sacrificed into ponds, and sacrifice was always voluntary. (text continues under the pics)

I made an offering a spring water at the altar to Ix Chel (he said I did it very nicely, and faced the proper way) asking for creativity, although the original request there was for pregnancy, 19 of them per woman if the internet is to be believed. 
One of the buildings with red handprints, the one with the male iguana in the niche, he said was a sweat lodge (temazcal, although I couldn’t remember the Aztec word right then) for women who wanted to get pregnant, and that babies conceived after the mothers went to this sweat lodge could be priests. And the handprints were made by the priests themselves as they were initiated from age 2 to age 30 (or maybe 32, 30 years of training?) and then every 30 years after that until they died at age 90.  (text continues under the pics)

He had joked when I hired him that his fee was $18 and double if I didn’t like it. As we walked back to his station, he said, “I hope you didn’t like it,” and I said that I did, but I paid him $25.
Forsaking all logic and reason, I decided to drive around the perimeter of the island, alone in the rental car from hell with no phone. That was when I found out about the reverse gear, or lack thereof, since I had parked with the car’s nose against a tree. Slamming the gear shift violently from drive to reverse caused it to kind of lurch backward until I could get around the tree, drive back down that hideous road, and then for reasons unknown to me, turn left to drive around the loop rather than right and back into the town. (more text under the pics...)

Lots of vultures. Men in trucks yelling at me. The loop road was under construction so lots of shunting between the small beach-loop road and the bigger real road. I was almost back to the side where the Carnival ship was docked when my map flew out the lack of windows. Now the Carnival Liberty is a pretty big boat, and it was docked right against the land (not on top of it, like the poor Concordia last winter) so I figured if I could see it, I could find it, and thus the gas station where I had to return my vehicle.
 I was watching the kilometer signs go down in number, trying to convert to miles and thus time in my head, when a giant alebrije flashed by on my right. I collect small alebrijes (Mexican wooden, painted folk art from the Oaxaca area) but never had I seen one 20 feet high. I pulled into the exit road of the place since the entrance had already passed me and damn if I didn’t go nose against the wall and no reverse on the damn gear shift. And two guards with guns at the store staring at me as I slammed the car in and out of drive until I could inch around and park near the giant blue animal and take some photos and then zoom back up the exit and be on my merry way. I figure they probably were selling awesome alebrijes in the store but any store that has armed security I probably can’t afford right?
 I found the ship, found the gas station, and put $10 worth of gas in the car. Then it wouldn’t start. I thought I’d have to abandon it at the pump but then I got it going. I returned it and started back to the ship. The glass-bottom boat guy stopped me. “Did you just drive around the island and come back?” He was indignant. I showed him my San Gervasio wristband but he wasn’t satisfied. He wanted me in that glass bottom boat. I explained that my husband was in the sick bay with pneumonia and I was a bad enough wife for abandoning him so I could trek around Mexico alone with purple hair and a car from hell and probably men who wanted to harvest my organs in a hotel bathtub but Glass Bottom Boat man didn’t care. I needed to be in that boat. I did not go into the boat.
I walked back through the shopping village, got a couple of little alebrijes for my collection and a few other items, back onto the boat, and bye-bye Mexico until who knows when. At least I made it there in 2012 right? (more text below pics)

My hubby was just finishing his room service lunch. He was only slightly better according to the medics, so with great sadness I made my way up one floor to the excursions desk and handed in our Xunatunich tickets for full credit. There was no way he could go and I felt guilty enough for my Mexican morning alone.
Our bag was delivered around 4:30. It was almost anti-climatic at that point, even though I was very happy to have my snorkel.
When we met up with our friends for dinner, we found out that our waiters had been very concerned by our absence at formal night, especially since we’d been asking the night before if that was lobster night. I guess one of the waiters had seen me around the sick bay and thought I was sick. Since my friend is a nurse she knew that Will had been really sick but she didn’t know it was pneumonia until they saw us again. They had gone to Coba and climbed the pyramid there and had an awesome time. Everyone was glad to have us back. Everyone but me ordered cheesecake for dessert. Apparently it was the world’s worse cheesecake (exepct possibly the cheesecake at Ponderosa many years ago) and when they complained, the waiter (who looked a lot like Karl Pilkington from the Idiot Abroad series on Science Channel) said, “I never recommend the cheesecake.” Which we learned was his code for “that sucks, don’t order it.” So they KNOW the cheesecake is bad but they keep making it the same way? After dinner we walked upstairs to the steakhouse. Nothing on the menu was worth the extra $35 to me but my husband and our friends really wanted to try it, so they made reservations for the next night.
Below are the pictures that aren't mentioned in the narrative but you may enjoy looking at them. No more text after that.

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