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.