Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Yucatan or forgotten realm


Yucatan is a geological marvel, billion years old limestone graveyard composed of long gone organisms inhabiting Precambrian oceans. Giant termite mound punctuated by cenotes - eroded underground water basins and covered mostly by a tropical forest on the surface sticks out from the Caribbean Ocean like a monument of Earths resilience and brutal inevitability of time. It’s a bridge between two Americas, separate worlds spanning the Earth vertically but also in more symbolical way – window to the distant past that shaped entire planet, gate to Valhalla that saw evolutionary hope and disaster. Chicxulub, extraterrestrial rock slammed into North-West part of Yucatan 66mln years ago finishing off reign of dinosaurs and opening an evolutionary door for mammals to overwhelm the planet. Millions years later, jungle claimed one of the most spectacular civilizations that human beings ever created when another alien visitor changed its history forever. He seemed to be from the other planet as well: white male.

 Did Olmeks, Zapotecs, Maya and Aztecs know? Did they realize significance of the place they inhabited? Is this why they were looking with respect to the stars and universe for inspiration and guidance like they knew this land was touched by gods? Is that the secret belief they have implemented in multilayered, cyclical calendar spanning more time than human imagination could bear?

 Remnants of Mesoamerican civilizations stigmatize Yucatan like giant rubble of once proud and arrogant creatures that thought they had it all. Maya were not gentle pacifists like common stereotype has it, they relied on constant war between regions, clans or even aristocratic families, just like in European “Dark ages”. They were brutal savages loving art, religion and astronomy. How difficult to grasp for civilized people that other human beings would be killing for worship of gods, glory and another piece of jungle next door, right? “Apocalypto” gets it right I think, not only in terms of scenography. With lack of wheel (not very useful in a thick forest), domesticated animals (hail to Jared Diamond for elegant hypothesis) and metal tools (bones and volcanic rocks had to suffice) they managed to build cities bigger than Paris in XIX century, pyramids aligned with Earth Magnetic North (Chichen Itza) and buildings higher than medieval cathedrals (El Mirador) in the middle of the tropical forest. They used highly sophisticated writing language: glyphic –phonetic which we only started to decipher and understand in the last 20 years. They lived in highly structured feudal society. All this believing in ghosts, human sacrifice and magic… way before Europeans realized they live in Europe.

 Most of the artifacts and concentrated in Mexico but moving South within peninsula we encounter very old and equally impressive sites in Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. Tulum, half way through to Belize, the last, humble resort for diminishing nation and the only one on the shore for people who never conquered the Ocean has its romantic archeological charm. Without spectacular pyramids and aristocratic donjons it looks like fossilized village or skeleton of an extinct dinosaur left to be forgotten.

 Belize is a different beast altogether. The only English speaking country in Latin America, one of the last to get independence (1981), still looking rather like a colony stuck in 80-is than a sovereign nation (with all respect to their lovely people). Its jungle still jealously protects some of the oldest and most impressive Mayan sites (Xunantunich, Cahal Pech, Caracol or Lamanai) but for most visitors they get traded for second biggest barrier coral reef in the world (after Australia) and Great Blue Hole – an eye to the underworld.

 Guatemala has its gem in Tikal (City of voices), one of the largest and best preserved Mayan sites (in line with Palenque, Copan in Honduras and much later Chichen Itza). Once you find yourself surrounded by this living, breathing ecosystem, with endless pyramids naturally fused with surrounding landscape and guarded by all kinds of animals like they built it for themselves, you will understand the meaning. It looks like mysterious inhabitants abandoned their kingdom in haste or went somewhere else just to come back and jungle keeps it in disguise for them. You’re being transported to another dimension. It’s a Heritage Park of time and you feel like Indiana Jones discovering it all over again. If one can feel breath of history, it’s opening its mouth right here.

 Why do we travel? Isn’t it evolutionary archetype embedded in our brain, biological instinct testing our skills of adaptation to the new environment? It may be just the only simulation, simulacrum left in our manufactured world. If it’s not this experience of being transported in time, of physical travel to travel further subliminally then I don’t know why…