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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My vacation in the "Land of the Swallows"

Rather than losing my head, I could have easily lost my mind.  “Be careful,” a few of my friends advised when, with excitement, I told them that my husband and I were heading to Mexico, on a vacation. 

Despite all the macabre news of violence and crime in Mexico, our vacation was a go.  Being a native Colombian, I had already learned of similar violencia de las drogasdrug-related violence.  I sighed with disgust as I thought of the innocent victims of this violence.  I couldn’t repress my angry thoughts 

The social worker in me was thinking.  I sighed again, trying to push away my negative thoughts as I started packing.  I was able to switch my focus to more pleasant thoughts.  A white sand beach, a warm blue ocean, the splendid sunshine... the promise of a paradise island: Cozumel.

The brochures held true to their promise.  As soon as we arrived to Cozumel the peaceful and friendly island atmosphere embraced us.  We were received by fabulous local people proud to be our hosts. 

Cozumel, located off the northeastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, a 249-square-mile island, with a population of more than 75,000, was now our place of temporary solace.  We learned that the name Cozumel means "Land of the Swallows" in Mayan, and was named so due to the indigenous, graceful birds that can be seen regularly patrolling Cozumel's beautiful beaches and coastline.

Land of the Swallows, I repeated in my mind.  A piece of heaven, I grinned. 

A turquoise sea, with playful waves, welcomed the cruise-ships that stopped at the island.  Crystalline water made the beach a delightful place. Colorful fish were easily spottedFriendly fish, almost tamed, perhaps accustomed to being around ocean lovers swam by, or simply a behavior they learned from the localskind and welcoming Mexican people, who always had a courteous  “hola” for everyone,  with natural smiles blossoming on their faces. 

We learned that Cozumel is known throughout the world for its first-rate sport fishing and scuba diving conditions. That Jacques Cousteau first introduced the world to Cozumel’s  abundantly vivid sea life, and the area’s second largest coral reef in the world: the great Mesoamerican Barrier Reef (once called the Palancar Reef).

As for us, we indulged in reading, writing, walking, snorkeling, conversing.  All simple activities made dazzling and more intense than usual. 

Day and night. 

Following our adventurous spirits, my husband and I decided to tour the Mayan ruins on the island. We got in our rental car, and headed off to San Gervasio, an archaeological site of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization.

“Cozumel was settled roughly 2000 years ago by ancient Mayans, a seafaring people, who saw Cozumel as a commercial trading stop as well as a sacred shrine. 

“The island of Cozumel was a mecca to Mayan women who made the voyage from the mainland to Isla Cozumel in large dugout canoes to worship Ix Chel, the Goddess of fertility. Leaving the mainland from what is now Playa del Carmen and Tulum, Mayan women crossed the treacherous channel in open canoes to give offerings at the alter site of Ix Chel.  What remains now of the altar and ceremonial center of Ix Chel can be seen at the San Gervasio ruins site near the center of the island.” www.cozumelinsider.com/History

San Gervasio was a place for contemplation and admiration.  I could have easily bent my knee to the ground to express my deep respect to the Mayan culture.  An undeniable feeling to genuflect persisted as I continued exploring the ruins.  As my hands touched walls, rustic steps, loose rocks, road dust, my mind was fixated with what to me were images of the Mayan people.  Like in a time machine, my mind was taken to the past by the wings of my imagination. The Mayans. The Ancestors. My own ancestors, perhaps, as I wondered how intertwined they were with my genealogical tree of ancestors, the Andean natives.  

“And you probably wonder, what happened with the Mayans?”  My  thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a tour guide, being followed by a group of tourists, eagerly listening. “Where did they go? Did they disappear?” 

The man paused.  There was a touch of suspense in his voice.  The tourists remained quiet and expectant. 

“No, they didn’t disappear. We are the Mayans’ descendants!”  he proudly exclaimed.  Several people smiled, with a gesture that appeared to me a near sign of relief. 

I grinned, and continued taking more pictures. 

After leaving San Gervasion, we began another journey:  a drive around the island.  A road circles the entire island. The road is well maintained, so the ride was easy and enjoyable.  We visited the eastern or “wild side” of the island.  This side was  nearly deserted, spotted with a few little ramshackle beach bars and restaurants.  We heard that a hurricane devastated the eastern side of the island several years ago, causing major destruction, including wiping out of the power transmission systems. 

“There’s not much here to see,” my husband commented, blandly, as we looked at wild vegetation on one side of the road, and the rocky, turbulent beach, on the other.

“I actually think this is very interesting. We are exploring the rustic side of the island. Don’t we all have a wild side? And so does Cozumel!”  I raised my eyebrows, teasingly, then laughed.

Shopping had to be included in our schedule. Not that I care about spending a great deal of time, or money, on shopping during my vacation, but I do like to visit the local stores, and browse the locals crafts.  

While hunting for souvenirs, I was suddenly stopped by a young man who offered me yarn name bracelets. 

Friendship bracelets! I was excited. What better souvenirs that personalized handmade bracelets.

I picked two bracelets from his display board, and asked him to make a couple more with more uncommon names. He told me it would take about 10 minutes to make them.  I agreed to wait.  As his skillful hands started to work on the yarn, I initiated a conversation.  We talked about his job.  He had moved to Cozumel just four months earlier, along with two of his brothers.  He said he came from Guerrero, where  unemployment was a serious problem.  We talked about Acapulco and the recent violent events.  He regretted that it was happening and affecting his country. 

“I am sixteen,” he said, and I thought he actually followed quite well my grown-up conversation considering his age.  He was polite and  knew how to keep the customerme motivated.  I was amazed at his dancing fingers which, as if by magic, transformed the threads of yarn slowly into colorful names. The bracelets looked precious. He well deserved the twenty dollars he charged me.  Watching him craft the bracelets was as entertaining as the product itself. 

I was thrilled as I envisioned my friends’ faces of surprise when I’d hand them the friendship bracelets.  Bracelets with their names, handcrafted by a fine young man.  My nameless, winged-hearted friend from the “Land of the Swallows.” 


floweringmama said...

What a beautiful post. I'm sure your friends will be thrilled with their new bracelets. I have been following the news of all the violence in Mexico. It is sad, senseless, and tragic.

Thanks for sharing your vacation with us. I've always wanted to go to Mexico. Maybe one day.

Cathy @ Country Cathy

Karin said...

Looks like you had a fabulous time! Beautiful and fascinating place. Thanks for telling us about your experiences!

Jules said...

WOW, the only place in Mexico I have been and yes it was gorgeous! I recognized several of your photos. I too have a soft spot for the Mayans, a hillbilly who empathizes with Mayans? Sort of similar both under rated cultures.

Wonderful post and glad you had a good time.
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

DUTA said...

Interesting post and great pictures of a lovely place!

The island of Cozumel seems to be, indeed " a piece of heaven".
Lucky you to have had such a wonderful vacation in this fascinating place!

Mariette VandenMunckhof-Vedder said...

Dearest Delores,

You had quite an in-depth visit there; cultural and historical + relaxing time. It makes one feel so rich to engage in conversation with the locals, or those that recently moved there. Too bad that there exists violence and all for the power of narcotics. But is sure is the 'demand' that causes all those problems and affects the lives of so many, honest and hard working people.
You did bring home meaningful gifts, made by someone who put more in it than just a 'name'...

Lots of love,


Rita said...

Looks like you had a wonderful vacation. It is great to get away just for a while, isn't it? I know your friends will be thrilled when they see the bracelets you brought home to them.

Asia said...

Looks like you had a great time...I love the pictures too.

A Plain Observer said...

I had no idea we are paisanas!!! I am Colombian too, native of Cali.

When I finally went back to Cali, I was afraid of what I would find, bombs, crime, poverty. What I found was a beautiful city blossoming with beautiful people and technology. I found out that they KNOW how to live and have fun.
I have been to Mexico a number of times too. I love Mexico City and the Templo Mayor as well as the pyramids somewhere (can't remember the name). It is sad to see that such culture perished under the hands of ignorant Spaniords. It makes me laugh when my own people feel so proud to be "white" and not indian.

Amrita said...

This looks like a marine paradise....enchanting place. Glad you had a great holiday

Mary Aalgaard said...

I love the story of the crafter. That's what I'd want to do, too, talk to real people and hear their stories. I think you paid for more than a bracelet. And, he received more than money.
Sweet trip!

Unknown said...

Glad you had a wonderful holiday.Sweet memories to remember for a long time. The bracelets look really well crafted.

hyperCRYPTICal said...

Wow - what a wonderful holiday and thanks for sharing. My son is getting married in July and has not yet decided on a honeymoon. He mentioned Mexico and re the drugs related violence we hear of - I hoped that this wouldn't be his chosen destination. However, after reading your post - I will direct him to same.

Anna :o]

Libby said...

what great stories you tell!!

Bica said...

What a beautiful and memorable vacation you had. I've never been to Mexico, so thanks for sharing your experiences so eloquently!

Nikki (Sarah) said...

I think you guys are brave...and your trip sounds so awesome...

guímel said...

Linda fotos!


Kittie Howard said...

Thank you for sharing your holiday to Cozumel. I've always wanted to go there, especially after I read 1491. Such a rich and deep history! And the bracelets are gorgeous. I love handcrafted items and can only marvel at how the young man wove them so quickly.

dr.antony said...

I have heard lots of stories about Violence in Mexico.Paulo had written about it in one of his books as well.
Are they for real or bloated up?

Happy to know you had a safe trip.The last time I heard of swallows was in Oscar Wilde's story, "The Happy Prince".They are small birds,aren't they?

First time here, and good to know you.Happy blogging!

Anonymous said...

I so enjoyed reading this. Loved the history and hearing about your feelings. And as usual, your appreciation of the simple things, the spirituality of the ordinary. Thanks for this.

Lloyd said...

This is a great post. I love it.
Your photos are awesome too. Thats a beautiful to visit.

Thanks for sharing this experience to us.

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