Phoenix Paz left Mexico on December 10, 2011.

Upon her return to California, she was greated with rain and cold weather making her appreciate all the more her semester of sun, Spanish, and new experiences in Mexico.

She looks forward to returning someday.

Caribbean Fun Day: Isla Mujeres

After a week of educational fun, practicing Spanish and exploring Cancun, Faride and I must part, but before we go we have one last activity: Caribbean Fun day on Isla Mujeres, a day of just relaxing on the beach, snorkeling, biking, a short cruise, dancing and music.

Isla Mujeres is a small island in the Caribbean Sea, just a 45-minute ferry ride away from Cancun.  It was cold in morning when we left for the Island, but already all of kinds of physical activities began to arm us up.  There was salsa dancing and reggeton, line dancing and general party music to dance to.  Hot drinks were available for those who felt too shy to dance.  And soon, spirits were high and all aboard let loose.  In laughing fun, some little old ladies pole danced around the mast and innocently flirted with all the young men aboard who were blown over by the amount of attention they received.  I doubt that any of us have laughed so hard in a long time. 

Before we knew it, we landed on the island named Mujeres in 1517 with the Spanish discovery.  The explorers named it such because it was the Island of the Maya fertility goddess Ixchel and her all female priesthood.  Nowadays, the island has many busy towns and villages, which we got to visit during a bike tour around the southern coast.  Though the island is no longer the propriety of Ixchel’s priesthood, her temples still stand are open to visitors should you wish to see them. 

Finishing a fun day of biking, Farde and I returned to the beach where we landed and began the next activity: visit the Turtle Rescue Center and then go to see the sharks.  Green turtles and white, albino turtles and Japanese turtles, we saw turtles of all shapes and sizes, of all colors and markings.  They were beautiful in their watery grace and adorable in their slow klutzy gaits on land.  And before we knew it, we had left the turtles to go play with the sharks.

Some on the trip jumped at the opportunity to swim with the sharks, pet them and play with them.  I stood dumbstruck as the visitors pushed and shoved their way to the front of the line and calmly decide that sharks are best company when viewed from afar.  So Faride and I backed off and watched in good humor the games played in the water below.

After a while, we wandered on and before we knew it, it was time to return.  Full of sand, wet from the ocean and smelling of sunshine, we headed back to Cancun in high spirits. 


For more information about the tour and Isla Mujeres, see http://www.explorecancun.com/tours/cancun-tours/caribbean-fun-day-isla-mujeres.html

Tulum y los voladores

The spray from the ocean feels so fresh against my face in the heat of the Caribbean sun as we walk among the palm trees and grey stones of Tulum.  I have seen lots of different oceanscapes, but this one is simply spectacular.  The water is so turquoise and the sky so blue, with white cotton clouds jumping up and down in a frolicking dance. 

I stop every few steps to take the view in anew and breathe deeply of the clean salt air and Faride laughs at my continuous amazement, beaming with pride that she got to present this incredible site to me.  Tulum is so different from the other sites I have visited this past semester.  It is smaller, apparently about half of it dropped into the sea centuries ago and so the existing site represents only a fraction of the original size and complexity.  A wall, with battlements and watch towers surround the elegant structures that even today display magnificent murals painted into stucco plaster.  The colors even after being eaten away be salt and sun are brilliant, red and gold of fire in contrast with the cool jeweled turquoise and baby blue of the sea and sky. 

Within the walls, the centerpiece of the site is the “Castillo” surrounded by administrative palaces, residences and temples.    The most eastern Maya city, Tulum was called in its heyday Zamá, which means morning or rising sun.  I believe this name directly refers to the location of Tulum as the city of the rising sun, the city furthest to the east. 

So, when was the heyday of Zamá?  Well, it was the Postclassic Period, which is roughly from about 1200 AD to the time of the Spanish conquest give or take.  Tulum is considered by archaeologists to be a trading city and very peaceful by standards of Maya city states.  The main characteristic that suggests a peaceful trade is the amount of windows that let relatively copious amounts of sunlight filter into the buildings.  Tulum is the only Maya city with these windows; interestingly some archeologists argue for a more symbolic interpretation of these window-like structures serve as architectural metaphors for the coral that was the life-stay of Tulum’s trade.  

After exploring the ruins and glorying in the view, Faride and I walk to downtown, just outside the site.  Tulum is not only an ancient Maya city, but a contemporary town with a bustling snorkeling, ecotourism, jewelry making and entertainment economy.  As we amble along the shade of the mangroves lining the street, we stopp for fresh coconut milk, the fruits cut down from the trees in front of our eyes and tops chopped off to make room for straws.   We pass by the men dressed as Mayan warriors, taking in their elaborate feathered costumes with wide eyes

Finally I hear a sweet piping melody floating down the sky and wonder aloud, “where is it coming from?”  Faride laughs at my bemused expression and points towards the distant sky.  I follow her finger and way up there, there is a pole, painted the same blue of the ocean and at the top, there is spinning square.  It spins faster and faster with the accelerating whirl of the piped jig.  Suddenly, four figures launch themselves from the corners of the square and weaving in and out of one another soar to the ground.  “They are the Voladores de Papantla,” Faride tells me, taking in my expression with delight as I manage “I want to do that too!”


I always thought scales would be hard and cold like little metal coins.  But they’re not.  Surprisingly warm, the scales slide smoothly beneath my hand, feeling no different from skin.  I stare in awe at the small crocodile in my hands, no more than a meter in length.  Already his jaws are powerful enough to break my wrist should he want to.  So strong and yet so fragile, with his soft human-like skin.  “His name is Lorenzo,” the guide tells us, “He is a “Mexican Crocodile” and will grow up to be about 3 meters long.  If he were in the wild, he would likely be killed in the next five years for his skin.  It makes nice boots.”  I hug the little creature close to me and whisper calming words to him, though probably I need them more than he.


One week remains until I return to the States; one week to explore the peninsula, to dive into the waters of the Gulf and the Caribbean, to experience new sights, smells and sounds in the brilliant sunshine.  I have been invited to Quintana Roo to pass the week with Faride in her home town Cancún.

Cancún is famous for hotels, white sand and the shining clear blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. A narrow tongue of land stretching into the water, Cancún is often called an “invented paradise,” reminding all visitors of the ingenuity of human architecture and land reclamation projects.  Yet Cancún offers so much more; it offers a wealth of flora and fauna that exists only on the rocky bed of the Yucatan Peninsula.  In our first adventure, Faride introduced me to some of amazing plants and animals of Quintana Roo in a trip to a very unique zoo: Crococún, the interactive crocodile zoo of Cancún. 

Me and Penelope, the Boa Constrictor, the second largest snake in the Americas. Penolope is still a baby, about 3 years old. She will grow to be over a hundred feet long in her lifetime

Originally a crocodile farm dedicated to domestic breeding of crocodiles for commercial products (crocodile skin boots, purses and leather), Crococún was transformed into a conservationist zoo in 1988 following the passage of Hurricane Gilbert.  It is now one of the oldest environmental sustainability projects in Mexico.   With its animals rescued from hunting, fishing, and boating accidents, Crococún works to educate the public about the flora and fauna of Quintana Roo and the environmental impacts of hunting and tourism and to save the endangered crocodile species in Mexico through rescue and breeding projects.   As part of the education project of the zoo, the tours are interactive and visitors get to feed, pet, caress and hold the various crocodiles, snakes and other creatures in the zoo. 

In the Americas, there are four extant species of Crocodiles, three of which live mainly in Mexico.  Quitana Roo has thelargest crocodile population of all Mexico, proving homes to all three species.  In Crococún, we interacted with two species in particular: the American Crocodile (which grows to about 4 meters) and the Morelet “Mexican” Crocodile (slightly smaller, about 3 meters).  Crocodiles are generally smaller and leaner than alligators (think, 6 meters), with narrower snouts and greyer coloring.  In Crococún, we learn about the different species of local crocodiles and visit with the animals, careful and amazed by the prehistoric majesty of the low-riding creatures.

For more information, visit: http://www.crococunzoo.com/quienessomos-whoweare.htm

Luau de Despedida

  Classes have ended and work is turned in.   Only one thing remains to say goodbye to the activities that have kept me happily busy this semester: the Navidad luau hosted by my dance studio, the showcase where we present the Hawaiian and Tahitian dances we have learned since September. 

“What?  Polynesian dance in Yucatán, México?” you might ask, and in truth, it seems strange for a visitor to take Polynesian dance lessons when the Yucatán offers such a well known and rich tradition of folk dances, including Jarana, Danza “Prehispanica” and the Spanish court dances Francisco de Montejo brought over with his ships, men and vision of a Spanish Yucatán.  Yet, Polynesian dance I choose and in doing so, I not only learned about the South Pacific, but also about the changing character of Yucatan society.

Mexico has always received immigrants, a fact that is often forgotten when immigration from Mexico is discussed.  What many do not realize is how heterogeneous the migrant population is in Mexico.  For example, Polynesians and Filipinos first arrived in Mexico as early as the 16th century, when they were forcibly recruited by the Spanish for hard labor in Yucatan agricultural fields.  The practice of importing Asian and Pacific Islander labor continued well into the 19th century and in fact, these populations received their own titles in Yucatec society: Henequeneros and Chinetescos. (Also, there is a large Arabic population in Yucatan for the same reason, yet the historical trajectory of the two populations is very different.)

Throughout the 20th and 21st century, outside of US and Canadian immigration, Koreans, Chinese and Pacific Islanders make up the largest migrant groups to Yucatán in particular, though they are the smallest migrant populations in Mexico overall.  About 0.2% of the Mexican population is Filipino or South Pacific Islander or has Filipino ancestry as a result from historic and recent migration.

In Merida, the cultural impact of this migration is seen and felt in many aspects of life, from the food to the popularity of South Pacific dance.  So, this semester, I learned Polynesian dance and I learned about the heterogeneity of Mexican culture and life in Yucatan. 

Here is a video of the first dance we performed: Mele Kaliki Maho (Merry Christmas to all).

Video of Mele…


Feliz Navidad, Mérida.  ¡Qué te vaya bien!  Quizá, yo te vea otra vez en el futuro.  Hasta entonces, adiós.

Charros y Escaramuzas en la ferie de Ximatkuil

                I love going to fair; so, when I heard that Yucatan has the largest state fair in Mexico, that lasts for over month in the little town of Ximakuil, about a 30 minute bus ride out of the city, I knew that I simply must go.  And I did.  It was amazing: a petting zoo, dolphin show, artisanal goods market, carnival rides, live music from the most famous singers in Mexico, acrobats, magic shows, faming batons, dog shows, and more.  But the most exciting part by far was the incredible rodeo show featuring the Charros and the Escaramuzas, Mexican cowboys and cowgirls.

                Horses and cattle have been a part of Mexican livelihood since the arrival of the Spanish in the 15th century, making the main economic resources for many of the haciendas.  Much of the imagery associated with the American cowboy – rodeos, the lasso, 10-gallon cowboy hat, and even the western saddle – are derived from this Mexican tradition. 

                At the Ferie de Ximatkuil, the Charros rode beautiful Azteca horses, whose neat lines, powerful musculature and beautiful coloring stood out even to me.  Performing tricks with the lasso, jumping bareback from one horse to the next, showing of manipulation and control of the horses, the Charros proudly showcased the skills needed for a life in the saddle.  A life that continues to support many today.

                While the Charros talent was impressive, they were outshone by the beauty and elegance of the Escaramuzas  who put on a show of unbelievable proportions.  Escaramuzas ride sidesaddle in stunning full length dresses, that I am sure way nearly two tons.  In this magnificent costume, they perform tricks, running their horses through patterns and weaving them in and out in a complicated dance of precision and control.  Fast pace and elegant, the dancing horses appear like the pieces in a kaleidoscope, moving effortlessly from one pattern to the next.  But anyone who rides horses knows that kind of control is difficult to achieve and, in a group, is simple stunning. 

Bouncing back between events and shows like a tennis ball, I was constantly drawn back to the Charros and Escaramuzas, fascinated by the elegance and grace of this incredible show.  Here are some videos so you can see some of the amazing talent of Mexican horse-riders. 



Flying High

This past weekend was the Rhodes interview; it involved a lot of travel.  These are some reflections from the plane.

You don’t see Merida when leaving; you only see it upon arrival.  I remember the first time seeing the city from the heights of the sky.  The rare white buildings stick out from among the colorful houses, their spires marking them as churches and cathedrals.  In the night, when flying over Merida, you see the lights of the Zocalo from way up high in the sky.  Yet, leaving, I see nothing, but a sheet of grey rain clouds.  It’s as if the city was never there and the semester was simply a dream.  But I know it’s not for I will return in just two short days.  I will return to the peninsula with its red flanboyan flowers and flat land that stretches endlessly in all directions, the peninsula with its steaming heat and soft satin skies.  I don’t see Merida, so I create it in my mind: the street vendors singing out praises for their wares, the restaurateurs inviting you to sit with a smile and wave, the incessantly barking dogs that make you jump even when you know where they are, the screaming laughter of Dana as she toddles along, the dry smells of asphalt and oil, the hunger-inducing goodness of freshly fried tortillas and lime, the bitter tang of garbage and sweat.  You don’t see Merida when leaving; you only see it upon arrival.


The world faded away long ago.  Now, there are only clouds, a sheet of cotton balls; they seem to hold more dimension than possible, texturing and layering the white dunes that soar below me.  Up here, the sun shines brilliantly, a fiery ball of white light that blinds the cerulean sky.   It’s wistful and pure, that view from the window.  I pretend the roar of the engine is the is the roar of the wind as I run across that pristine plain and take off, sprouting wings sleek and strong like those on the metal bird who currently suspends me in the sky.  It’s hard to believe that there exists something more than this moment, this freedom, and for now, it is sufficient to believe that nothing else exists: just the sun, the clouds and you.


You can always tell when you land in San Francisco, the fog clings to it, never letting loose.  Whether driving or flying, you cross the hills that surround the bay and you see it.  No, not the city: the fog.  You see the fog first and only after diving head first into that swirling grey does the city come clear.  It’s amazing to drive through the dense and rainy fog of San Francisco.  Water coalesces from nothing and caresses the plane, forming rivulets along the windows and draining down to the underbelly of the great metal ship.  It makes me think of ants, watching the water does, and the way they all help each other move food from one place to the next.  The droplets run this way and that, zigzagging around until more come to join and then they all get in line, much the way a single ant will run in circles until his friends march him home.  

If you look beyond the water droplets and their amazing sociality, you see the city.  Grey fog and glassy water of the bay.  From this high, the bay looks still, lifeless, but the waters are teaming with all kinds of life, life that celebrates in the perpetually chilly air.  Suddenly, the water is gone and I stare at the brilliant yellow line that marks the lanes of the tarmac.  I have arrived.

Vignettes from Chiapas

It is midnight and the moon shines, the clouds that usually flock around it like obsequious flunkies gone for once, leaving the glowing orb alone in the silken navy sky.  Completely alone, for today, like every day in Merida, the stars do not come to visit the lonely queen of the sky.  Yet, the moon smiles down on the white van as nine sleepy college students pile in with backpacks full of clothes and eyes full of excitement.  They are going to Chiapas for Día de los muertos, Chiapas a land of beauty and mystery where dream-like lowland jungles blur with majestic pine forests on the steep rain soaked slopes of the Sierra Madre Mountains. 

I have never taken a midnight road trip before and it feels exciting, sneaky, and almost illicit, as if we are pulling a fast one on the world, going off on a secret adventure.  But, it’s not secret and definitely not illicit and I laugh at myself when the tunes of all the old spy movies skulk through my head, running, ducking, weaving on tiptoes, index fingers pressed to their mouths in that universal sign for quite.  The other students laugh, too, and I know without asking that their mental soundtracks are playing something similar.


Ten hours on the night road, sleeping for most of it, waking to watch the sunrise over still pools of glassy water littered with trees and bushes, sleeping again until we reach Palenque, that magnificent Classic-period Maya city. 

It is raining, a soft grey rain more like mist than rain, like living inside a cloud.  The stones gleam slightly in the marbled morning light, the ancient white stucco that clings to the rocks full of sharp edges and extra dimension.  We go again to the tomb of King Pakal and that of the Red Queen who still remains a mystery.  The wall of inscriptions and the tomb of gems, the administrative palace and the plaza of the warriors.

So many questions and so few answers.  It is mystery and that makes archaeology exciting, beautiful and completely frustrating.  I like answers, figuring them, finding them, providing them.  And for most things in archaeology, they do not exist.  So, I stop asking questions because I fear going crazy should I hear another “we don’t know” and simply soak up the mystery with the rain and the majesty, breathing in the cool air and letting my mind wander.

It is beautiful here and I do not want to leave.


The rush of water and wind, the spray caressing my skin as tons of water pound down the rock-face of Misol Ha.  Sitting in the twisting moss covered trees, vines crawling up the trunks forming a natural staircase to the sky.  I sit and watch the hurdling water, letting the sound sooth and calm any anxieties that still remain from homework and applications and finals. 

There is a path that runs along the backside of the falls and into the caves.  I see it from my perch in the trees.  Should I leave my viney nest and explore?  Or should I stay here tranquil for a few moments more?  Before I finish asking, my feet are on the trail and I make my way towards the new and, for me, the undiscovered. 

The world from behind the heavy roaring curtain is surreal, sound bouncing of the walls of rock and water throwing time in all directions and playing with the mind.  I don’t know if the words I hear are spoken now or echo from minutes, days, years ago.  They come in a variety of languages, always muffled by the running water, cut off from the rest of the world which I cannot hear at all.  I cannot hear, but I can see it, a fractured kaleidoscope thrown this way and that by the refraction of the water.  And I can smell it, the sturdy smell of rock that peaks the senses, the smell of water that puts me to sleep like a lullaby, the fresh tang of the leaves unfolding in brilliant bottle green against the grey sky.  What a world this is; imagine waking up to find this at the dawn of existence. 


San Cristobal de las Casas is perhaps my favorite city.  A small colonial city in the high mountains, it is the artistic capital of Chiapas.  This week, there is the 9th Cervantino Borroco Festival and the city is flooded with visitors coming for the music, dance and theater.  Voz en Punto sings classical music, the artists making with their voices the sounds of Marimbas, Violins, Bases and Trumpets.  Street artists display their wares and performers give shows that turn heads and stop people in their tracks.  The Children’s Puppet Theatre of Mexico performs Don Quixote and adults stand transfixed, as much children as the babes in arms.  They got the end wrong in this version; Don Quixote defeats the Wizard of the Mirrors and lives forever.  But that’s not true; Don Quixote dies, he dies in the arms of his beloved Dulcinea, after a brief bout with reality choosing to see her as the Dulcinea he adores and not the tattered bar maid that she was.  But I suppose that, in a way, Don Alejandro’s choice to die as Don Quixote is a victory for the knight errant. So maybe, the puppeteer’s ending was not so far off after all.  To close the festival, Lila Downs comes for a concert.  She sings for nearly two hours without pause.  What a concert, what a show, all over the historic center, people dance to her music.  Dancing with people they have not met before, in groups, with friends, alone, with loved ones.  Such is the power of the beat and everywhere I go, I see smiles and mouths moving as they sing the lyrics with the famous singer.


Día de los muertos.  We go to the cemetery of San Juan Chamula to watch as people fest with the spirits of the deceased. Some morn, crying llantos into the grey morning fog.  Others  celebrate, putting the brilliant marigolds in their hair as they cover the earthen tombs with the flowers and pine needles.  Many families bring their instruments, playing mariachi music as they picnic.  Some bands compete with another, playing out in music family rivalries that began long ago, before they were born and probably even before the deceased were born. 

I don’t like being a tourist to other people’s religious or spiritual practices.  It feels wrong to go and watch if you cannot participate, if you cannot believe.  But would it be worse to believe only for the short time that you are there and then go on with your life, this moment being nothing more than a memory of a temporary participation, of short-lived belief?  Who knows? But it is a difficult situation and I feel uneasy, especially here in San Juan Chamula, where tourists are not appreciated, especially on days like today, when the whole town gets together to celebrate.  They do not want us here and the hostile sneaking glances from beneath thick black lashes burn with resentment as we pass between the sepulchers, carefully trying not to step on the dead or too near to the posh and coke given as offerings.  But, we make mistakes.  A bottle of coke is kicked over.  A foot lands in a pile of marigolds.  Pine needles fly as someone stumbles. 

Finally we are out of the cemetery and walk down the road to the famous church with its infamous hostility towards tourists, their notes and their cameras.  Cannons boom and fire crackers flare.  Today, they are rotating the saints in the church, the two-year period of being Majordomo, a host and caretaker of a specific saint, coming to an end for some and transferring to others.  The flags of the saints are out, held by the Majordomos, and the figures are born on litters carried by the women of the Majordomo’s family.  Copal burns bellowing sticky incense that claws down the nose and throat, leaving pricks like thorns, and sticking to the eyes, smearing them with red.

We go through the blue doors of the white church trimmed with green and etched with the cross that represents the sacred tree of life, the ceiba.  Trumpets blast short militant notes as we walk into the nave.  The Chamulans, recognizable for their skirts and sweaters of shaggy wool, line up and sing to the saints.  The tourists, noted by the slightly lost look on their faces and the fingers placed in their ears to hide from the deafening blasts of cannons inside the church, move to the back, trying to stay out of the way, but walking straight into the parade of Majordomos who commandingly sweep them aside.  The people and the saints bear down upon the church, the incense escaping, like a troublesome toddler, into the crowd. 

The smoke burns.  The cannons boom.  The trumpets scream.  The Chamulans chant.  The tourists crowd.  I cannot breathe.  I cannot see.  I cannot hear.  I cannot feel.  I am squished.  I am trapped.  I cannot breathe.  I cannot breathe.  The smoke strangles me and the crowed pushes ever closer.  The saints are coming and we must move away.  We must move out of their way!  I cannot move!  I cannot move.  I cannot breathe. The smoke burns.  The women bearing the figures tremble with exhaustion.  Where are the doors? Those blessed blue doors: where are they?  How do I get out?  Please!  I cannot breathe!  I push my way opposite of the crowd and flee into the rain, accompanied by a cloud of Copal incense. 

The rain falls on my face and I breathe deeply of the cool wet mountain air.  It is Día de los Muertos and, here in Mexico, we celebrate life by celebrating death.   The two are fundamentally intertwined and in San Juan Chamula, one is reborn in the church through the smoking incense and cannon fire.  Tourists, like the rest of the students, are asked to leave before the real celebration, the real ceremony of death and life, begins.  But it is okay, for going into the church even for a short time has been an experience of rebirth, in one way or another, for all of us.


We go back to Merida, the trip surreal.  One van, eleven people, fourteen hours, and thirty bags of treasures to take home to family and friends.  Did we really go to Chiapas?  Yes, that is real.  Have we really spent most of the semester in Merida, with less than a month left to go?  That seems more incredible, more fantastic than anything experienced in Chiapas, but it too is real.  Welcome back to Merida.  Welcome back.

Tortilla Magic

To sink your teeth into pale yellow tortillas, still warm, and inhale the sweet steam that smells of corn; it is one of the wonders of living in Mexico, a country where many still believe that humanity was created from the same masa that they have for centuries used to make tortillas. 

Maya territory is famous for its tortillas, smaller and fluffier than those of the center or the north of the country.  Tortillas here are pounded, not tossed, and, therefore, have a different character and a different purpose — not to wrap food in a taco or burrito, but to scoop the thick soups of the region and serve as plates for papatzules and panuchos

In my house, these soft chunks of fat tortilla are a rare specialty saved for holidays and special occasions.  Our daily tortillas are thinner, crispier and taste not only of corn, but the 19th century magic of the large black rollers of the local tortilla press, where we go and pick them up in bundles of fifty.

The bubbling boil of lime water as the maíz seeds simmer and shed their skins.  The winter smell of a charcoal fire as it licks the iron grate of the tortilla shelf.  The metallic steam of the mechanism as it presses down with a burst of air and closes with a click.  This is the magic tortilla press, a whole room full of large black rollers, turning three tortillas at a time, the way a newspaper office turns out pages of print.  Onto an iron conveyor belt over crackling, orange flames and into the shoot, from with the tortillas slide, like children in a playground slide.  They are rounded up in piles of fifty and wrapped in soft, warm towels until we come for them, ready to take them home and make them ours. 

Tortillas with rice and beans, with salt and lime, with chicken, beef and lettuce, with soup and salsa; tortillas as a scoop, a plate, a wrap; they constitute home here.  A home filled with magic – a family’s love that fills you with security and contentment, the mechanical wonders of an industrial age that feed you the excitement and the promise of a glorious future, an origin story that gives you roots so you never get lost no matter where you go.  This is the tortilla of Mexico.

Noche de Leyendas – Installment 1

This short story is a celebration of the fact the my computer works (a different story).  It is a compilation of several Maya legends from the Yucatan and draws several quotes from the amazing work of J.M. Barrie.  As of yet, it is still not finished, but this is the first chapter.  Enjoy.


Soft and smooth, the gold syrup bubbled up along the ridges of the yellow, yellow wax.  The wrinkled hands trembled softly as the woman gently held the delicate comb by its edges and poured the honey into the dark earthen pot.  The clean comb, she set in a tight weave basket, humming tunelessly in a slight drone that matched the voices of the bees snuggling in her grey-streaked black braids. 

She smiled a she worked, a toothless grin, gums glowing pink in the hot sticky light.  The shadows danced as the sun beat down overhead, sweat glistening like water in the ravines of that old granny apple face.  Finally, the old woman looked up from the clever log bee house that had captured her attention for so many hours with its treasure of waxy sweets. 

With an a seeming ease that belied the effort it took her, the old woman pushed herself off the ground, feet and legs standing first, with her hands firmly planted on the ground for extra support.  Then, the woman grabbed her basket and stood the rest of the way, black eyes glittering defiantly from deep folds of caramel skin as she placed the basket on her head.  Last, but not least, the she firmly gripped her pots full of honey and headed back to the village.


You know that place between sleeping and awake, that place where you can still remember dreaming? That’s where I’ll always think of you.
? J.M. Barrie


The route from the bee hives to the village was long, even for a person in the prime of their life, but that day the route seemed longer than usual.  Somewhere along the way, the woman stopped, set down her burden, and thumped down alongside the path, breathing hard.  As she caught her breath, she studied the landscaped around her and was surprised to find that she was no longer following the dirt path to her village.  Somehow, it had changed; the ground beneath her was the white stucco of a sac be, the shadows dancing on the road an emerald green she had never seen before, translucent leaves catching the light and throwing off in strange patterns.  The sounds and smells of the jungle were the same, but so much stronger, as if they had been distilled to their very essence.  The toloques that darted between the trees were larger than she had ever seen and brilliant as jewels.  Totally lost, the woman looked up and saw the blue green of a quetzal shoot across the sky, accompanied by the rustle of leaves and the mocking chatter of monkeys. 

My village is to the east of the beehives, the woman thought, I know I went east.  Yet, it would appear that I am on the Long West Road…  “Grandmother,” a deep voice broke her reverie, “You seem lost.  May I help you find what you are looking for?”  She started and looked at the young man, as distilled as her surroundings.  His black hair was shaved on one side, the other left long, longer than she had seen on even the greatest of warriors in her village.  The labrets in his ears were real green jade, set with obsidian jaguar heads.  Yet, her attention was caught by the jeweled beetle bound to his chest with a gold chain that pierced the flesh above his heart.

  “I was heading towards my village,” she told him staring at the insect in fascination as it raised its head to look back at her.  “Yet, I think I have embarked upon the Long West Road, though I not quite sure how I got here.”  The bug crawled up the man’s shoulder, the gold chain growing longer to allow it greater mobility, and snuggled up against his ear, chittering.  The man nodded when the bug finished and looked at the old woman; “We can lead you back to your village” he offered.  “We?” she wondered aloud.  The man nodded, “Yes, we.  The princess and I.”

The woman looked around more confused than ever, “Princess?” The man smiled sadly and caressed the beetle on his shoulder, “Yes, the princess.”   “The maquech?”  “You know of the maquech?” the man asked surprised.  “Yes, of course,” the woman said as she pushed herself to her feet with effort while the stranger had picked up her basket and pots of honey, and was waiting for her.  “They protect the bee hives from threats; a stronger warrior and more loving creature does not exist.”

They took to the road, the old woman painfully putting one foot in front of the other and the man waiting patiently by her side.  Curiosity finally getting the better of her, the old woman asked “So…. Why do you have a maquech chained to your heart?”  

Silence reigned for several minutes; the warrior took a deep breath and very slowly let it out. The maquech chattered. Then the man spoke:

“‘Aten-hut!’ Right hand to your chest.  Left hold your weapon straight, perpendicular to the ground, a 45-degree angle from your left side.  Head straight ahead.  Don’t look around.  The mosquito on your knee means nothing.  The sweat dripping in your eyes means nothing.  The blisters and exhaustion mean nothing.  Face forward.  Eyes straight ahead. And be still; stiller than the steale that last forever, stiller than the days before Chac-Mol sends the rain, stiller than the Jaguar waiting its prey.   Boom-che-che – Boom – ce-che – Boom. Quiet, heart, don’t beat so loud, the Devine Lord of us All, Halach Uinik of Uxmal will hear. 

“Bow!” Weapon and head parallel to the ground.  Drop to your knees.  Back straight.  Chest out.  You are a warrior.  Even bowing, you must look it.  Your weapon must never touch that of the man in front of you.  Every warrior knows that.  To touch the man in front of you is to mark him, is to curse him and bring him to the attention of your enemies and their barbaric gods.  Every man here knows that, so who touches my shoulder, who curses me to feed my enemy’s gods?

“Soldier!” The voice rasps like broken shards against my ears. Boom-che-che. Stay bowed. Boom-che-che. “Sting of the Red-Blue Frog, My Devine Lord” the training master tells the King of Uxmal, the being who marks me.  That is what I am called here, though it is not the name my mother gave me.  “Blue-green Blessing of the Great Kukulkan” she called me.  She always hoped I’d be a bard, a scribe and a scholar, communing with the Gods and creating masterpieces from mathematics, but such is not the destiny of a poor second son of an artisan.  My father knew that.  Yet, a jaguar knight; he never dreamed of that. 

“Rise.”  Knees strait.  Weapon out.  Head straight ahead.  The face looking at you does not matter.  The hot breath of the master on your neck does not matter.  The sweet scent of gardenia from the diminutive third figure that has been silent this entire time does not matter.

“I like him, Father.” Music.  The wind blowing through the trees, the voices of the birds in the sky, the call of the great Kulkulkan himself cannot sound as sweet, cannot send the conch call through my veins the way that voice and the whisper of Gardenia. “Then he shall be your bodyguard, My Sweet.”  How can such ugliness as the voice of my Devine Lord, father something so beautiful?  Head straight.  Do not look at her.  Do not move.  Stay quiet, oh faithless heart.  Boom-che-che-Boom.

A poor boy become jaguar knight in service to the royal household: it is a tale fit for legends, too good to be true.  A blessing, but perhaps the Gods are fickle or perhaps, I was never blessed at all, but indeed cursed, being touched while in formation.  But that’s the nature of a good curse right, you are thankful for it until the very end, when you realize that it was all just a game, a game where you and your loved ones are simply rabbits in the paws of the jaguar.

It was five years later and I had fallen in love with my royal charge, the divine princess, and she with me.  But she was destined to marry another, the evil prince of Chichen Itza, and to melt away his evil with her goodness, transforming enemy to friend.  And there was no doubt in anybody’s mind that she could do it. The princess was so pure and so good that she could light even the darkest of places; she could go to the Inframundo and win with love the blessings of the Lords of Hell, blessings that the hero twins could only take by treachery and lying games.  And nobody worried for her, except me, the poor boy turned warrior who knew only too well the strange vagaries of destiny. 

“I love her, My Lord, and I will give my life and my soul to see that she is safe for all eternity,” I told my Divine Lord, begging him to let me go with my princess to Chichen.  He smiled benevolently, almost as if he were proud of my foolish outburst, and granted my wish.  My mission: I was to accompany the princess to Chichen Itza and ensure that she was delivered into the hands of his rival king safely and that the Lord of the big city followed through on his promise.”

His voice died and they walked on, story teller lost in memories and old woman hanging on to his words, a child again along the winding sac be.  “We are at your village.”  The words rang like gongs, cold and harsh, though the now soft twilight air.  “What happened?” the old woman demanded.  The warrior looked surprised, as if he had forgotten that he had shared the story aloud. 

“We arrived in Chichen, both us desperate to be together and yet too dutiful to break our promise to our Divine Lord.  Heartbroken, I accompanied my princess to the palace and we walked the steps of the great pyramid.  Boom-che-che-Boom-che-che-Boom.  Something was wrong.  My heart had not pounded like this since the day I was assigned to the royal guard.  We reached the top of the steps.  “Bow.” A voice like broken shards resounded and a hand touched my shoulder.  A voice and a hand I will always remember: that of my Devine Lord.

Breaking the warrior’s code for the first time I my life, I looked up and saw that the man who was to take my beloved was no prince of Chichen, but King of Uxmal.  She screamed upon seeing her father.  “What are you doing here?” I managed, half strangled. He laughed a laugh more at home in hell than on the planes of this earth.  “So, you would think to love another, you foolish girl,” he roared.  And in a single sweep, he slapped her across the face, sending her down the steep, steep steps of the Great Pyramid. “No!” I ran to save her, but was bound by vines that sprang from the ground and held me tight. 

“And, you, young fool! You think you can dare love my daughter.  She is too good for the likes of you? How dare you sully her with your impure thoughts!  No, she will never be yours.  She will stay by side forever, like the gods intended, when they gave me the power to take the body of your weak and pathetic half-king.” And he laughed, the evil cackle of a madman, power streaming from his fingertips and enveloping the fair body of my princess.  She screamed, crying like no person has ever cried before and never will since and her long black hair swirled around her, chocking her, wrapping her in a cocoon of black silk, strangling her cries.  I fought with all my strength to reach her and to stop the Lord’s evil magic.  I failed.  The first and only time in my existence, I failed. And the king laughed.

But his laughter was cut off, as the voice of the sacred Ix-Chel filled the air.  “You may curse them all you want, Oh Petty King, but you will never keep them apart.  Never.  Never while their love is strong.” And the black cocoon burst open, hundreds of Maquech flying out, but one glowing so beautiful and bright, her shell encrusted with the fairest jewels in the land.  But I wouldn’t have needed jewels to recognize her; she glows so brightly, even in this form. Ix-Chel smiles as I caught my beloved and the air glowed gold around us.  When we awoke, we were deep in the jungle, a gold chord binding us together, the reminder of our love. 

And the monster who would tear us apart reigns still.  From the joint thrones, he works his evil magic and reigns terror upon the people of the city.  Old woman, be glad you live here, in this small and blessed village.”


All children, except one, grow up.

  – J.M. Barrie


She didn’t remember the egg, but there it was when she woke, sitting in the fire pit outside, quite unlike any egg ever seen before: round and red, rounder then the earth itself and redder than the setting sun.  The old woman stared at the egg, glowing and pulsing slightly in the pre-dawn grey, drawn to it, mesmerized.  Something felt alive.  Alive not in the way all eggs are, but alive as if whatever lived inside was awake, conscious and listening for the right moment to make itself known.

She studied it, not quite sure what to do with this magnificent treasure, a deep chocolate brown now swirling in the depths of the bloody red.  Slowly with her shaking hands, the old woman reached out to the egg and caressed it.  


She knew the smooth perfection of the egg better than anything else in this life; so she knew even before inspecting it that something had changed.  Nothing seemed different on first inspection, but it was dark in the little house and her eyes were old and worn.  She set down the pots of honey in their usual place and went to the egg, nestled in its bed of leaves exactly as she had left it in the clay chalice she had shaped for that purpose. 

She ran her fingers along the surface, as cold and as smooth as ever.  Or perhaps not as smooth; perhaps not as cold.  Heat blossomed beneath the surface of the egg and hair thin cracks radiated from the chocolate depth. 


She woke, startled, in the still of the night.  Immediately, she turned towards the egg and saw that it was broken.  A tiny hole had been punched through the shell and a miniature hand waved, five perfect plump caramel fingers with tiny fingernails danced in the dark; the little body inside the egg rolling around and crying to get out.  Hurriedly, the old woman went to the egg and removed it from the chalice, sitting down and placing it in her lap.  Then she set to helping the poor little creature escape.


A more beautiful child never existed, his honeyed skin soft and perfect, lashes thick and dark over wide, sleepy black eyes.  Already, he had a full head of hair, softer than silk and shinier than the stars in the sky.  Five fingers on each hand and five toes on each foot, miraculous in their smallness. He stared up at her and open his mouth in that unformed expression of happy babies everywhere.  Gently the old woman brought the child to her chest, hugging him close and rubbing his back.  Her fingers brushed across something that was not skin.  Startled, she turned the baby around.  In the soft grey pre-dawn light, she gasped.  Embedded in the baby’s back were jewels, jewels she had seen once upon a dream in a land far too true to be real.