Monday, November 10, 2008

Jump in to the stygian darkness...

There are a handful of moments in my life that seem to stay illuminated. Flash-frozen in my mind, when I think back on them I am able to remember every sensory detail. One of those moments was in the library at Ashland Junior High, the first time I’d ever read about a Mexican centote. I remember exactly where I was sitting in the library, I remember the smell of books comingling with scent of yeast rolls baking in the school cafeteria, I remember the yellow linen fabric covering the slightly oversized book, and I remember the black-ink line drawing of a cross section of a cenote - a bottomless hole in the ground filled with water. The thought of a bottomless pit in which ancient Mayan relics had been found both thrilled and terrified me.

Though I did not go on to be a diver or an archaeologist, this moment in time has had a profound impact on where I am today, thirty years later. I find myself surrounded by things that bring me back to that moment: an extensive collection of books about the Maya, a deal with Flux for two adventure novels that involve the Maya, and an obsession with Mexico – last year I went three different times and visited six states and nearly ten ancient Mayan cities.

My generous mother treated me to a trip anywhere in the world and I chose – surprise! – Mexico. We landed in Cancun, rented a car, and zigzagged all over the states of Yucatan and Quinata Roo. We stayed at amazing resorts while descending into steamy limestone caves, exploring the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, Coba Ha, and Tulum, and floating in the Caribbean Sea. But the most profound moment for me was jumping into a cenote, that ghastly bottomless sinkhole that had enthralled me so many years ago.

We were the first ones to arrive at the fabled Ik Kil Cenote, early in the morning after a torrential tropical rainstorm. As we walked down the hundreds of stairs that led us to the black pool some 80 feet below the earth’s surface, I had to consciously calm myself down to lower my heart rate. I stood on the platform from which you dive, the water roiling from waterfalls that poured the previous night’s rain into the pool, and I thought alright, I’m good. Just seeing it is enough.

And then I remembered the yellow linen book, the words and pictures on a page that had driven me to be there at that moment. Here was where kings and courtesans from the magnificent city of Chichen Itza came to meditate and take their sacred dips, and here I was. Would there ever be another chance?

I jumped into the pool, trying to keep my legs up as close to my body as I could. Tiny black catfish nibbled at my skin. I forced myself to swim over to a waterfall and let the water pound on my head, I forced myself to work through the fear of being, at last, in that bottomless pool. You can barely make out my head, bobbing in this photo.

Today there’s an AP story about an archeologist who has discovered something utterly amazing, through reading 450-year old records of the of the Inquisition trials the Spaniards held against Indian "heretics" in Mexico. When questioned/tortured for information about where they held their sacred ceremonies, the Maya mentioned the same places but the recorded names changed over the centuries or were forgotten. Until now. Guillermo de Anda has pieced together the information and found, by diving down through Tzibichen Cenote, something magnificent.

Here’s an excerpt by the reporter who was taken down to this ceremonial center: “There, in the stygian darkness, a scene unfolded that was eerily reminiscent of an Indiana Jones movie - tottering ancient temple platforms, slippery staircases and tortuous paths that skirted underground lakes littered with Mayan pottery and ancient skulls. The group explored walled-off sacred chambers that can only be entered by crawling along a floor populated by spiders, scorpions and toads. Among De Anda's discoveries are a broad, perfectly paved, 100-yard underground road, a submerged temple, walled-off stone rooms and the ‘confusing crossroads’ of the legends.”

What can I say? This stuff just gives me the chills.

Today is my mother's birthday. Happy Birthday Mom! And thanks for the trip of a lifetime!


Katie said...

What a cool story! But those black catfish nipping at your feet would have freaked me out!!!!

Lordy be!

Happy Birthday mom!

Barb Slaton said...

What an adventure!!!

It must have made Carol so happy to see your curiosity, fscination and joy...

Happy Birthday, sis.


Disco Mermaids said...

Wow, Christy. Wow. That's all I can say. Okay, that's not all I can say. Here's more!

I have the chills after reading this. Not only is your descriptive writing so perfect and enchanting that I want to be YOU in my next life, but you also brought me back to a time in my life that served as a major pivotal experience.

After college I lived down in the Yucatan in a little village (not even on a map) and the cenote was where we got all our water, where we bathed, washed clothes, exercised and entertained ourselves. It was a magical place, like nothing I've ever seen before.

Thanks for the memories. And we really must chat about this obsession with the Maya...after living in a traditional Mayan village, I have a lot of stories that you would appreciate!! Some are so bizarre, many people think I make them up! But I know you'll believe me.


Christy Raedeke said...

Eve - We MUST talk about our shared obsession! I mean who goes out to the Yucatan to live in a village after college? Cannot wait to hear the bizarre stories - and yes, I really WILL believe them!

Graeme Stone said...

Umm, I went to an exhibit once, on a was really intense... there was even a diorama...

Ok, seriously, that has to be one of the most amazing blogs I've read. You go to the place you read about as a kid. Who gets to do that? Is that in a book? It's got to be. I once went spelunking in Georgia, and at one point, the crawlspace from one cave to another was so narrow that you had to exhale to pull yourself through. And this was, mind you, when I had a 28 inch waist. A bottomless sink hole with a temple underneath it. I don't know if I'm that brave anymore.

Rita said...

[breathes out]