Saturday, January 23, 2010

Heaven and Hell

I've recently returned from Mexico and found it to be a place of contrasts. The beautiful sand and sun. The stupid drunk people. The incredible temples and stonework. The Outback Steakhouse. The pride, craftsmanship and heritage.
The different style of living.

Granted, I only saw a bit of the country. What I saw outside the airport and resort was really only a snapshot. I rode the city bus in Cancun. That was probably as close as I got to the truth of modern Mexico. Since it was in Cancun, I'm not sure that even really counted.

I traveled to and from Tulum on a large tour bus. Out the window we saw the Mayan Riviera and what surrounds it on the road. Empty buildings, houses that are smaller than my neighbor's detached garage.

I traveled to and from Coba in an ecotour van. We went to a Mayan village. We saw boys on bicycles with guns. I thought of my own son and what it would be like to send him out with a gun and the expectation of him finding food. He's not even allowed to ride his bike in the street. I won't even think about the gun. I certainly won't tell him about the guns. He'd want to move to Mexico.

I stepped out of my normal life in many ways during my trip. I traveled internationally alone. I have a new passport stamp. I hiked through the jungle. I zip lined. I took part in a blessing ceremony with a Mayan shaman. I was given a Mayan name that means flower princess. I rappelled. I canoed in a cenote that may or may not have had crocodiles. I bicycled. I climbed up a very tall ruin. I climbed down again. I ran in the rain. I picked up conche shells. I bargained at the market. I loved every moment of it.

The highlight of my trip wasn't what I expected. It was quiet and dark. The highlight of my trip was my time in hell. According to the Mayans, the world is full of dualism. Neither good nor bad, just two parts of a whole. Heaven is above the ground. Hell is below it. Neither better or worse just part of what makes the world. What a contrast from my Christian beliefs about heaven and hell.

During one of our days in Cancun we took a tour that included rappelling into a cenote. A cenote is an sinkhole. The cenote that we rappelled into was covered by the earth and only accessable through two enterances. We rappelled through the first enterance. From the other enterance dangled a rope and wood ladder that extended into the water below.

I'm not really certain of the distance from the earth above to the water below but it was deep enough and dark enough that my first glance did not enable me to distinguish water from dark, empty air. I'd never rappelled before and the fear of a long list of unknowns tightened my chest as I shuffled to the edge of the cenote and followed Edwardo's directions to lean back and step off into nothing. Once I got the mechanics of lowering myself on the rope, I found the experience to be exhilerating. The cool darkness and deliberate movement of ropes and pulleys was much more comfortable for me than the wild ride and questionable brake I'd experienced less than an hour earlier as I flew through the Mexican sunshine.

As my eyes adjusted from the bright to the dark, I was able to differentiate water from air and while the distance was still great, I was enjoying the journey and looking forward to the destination.

A guide in the cenote cushioned my landing with an innertube and I relaxed into it with the satisfaction of an accomplishment I'd never anticipated. This was something I'd definitey add to a list somewhere just for the satisfaction of checking it off! I spent the next thirty minutes or so floating in an underground sanctuary surrounded by slightly luminescent fish and lit by two people sized holes high overhead. I said a prayer of thanksgiving for being the first of my group to decsend into the cenote. Even now, I can breathe deeply, close my eyes and clearly feel the time I spent resting in the quiet peace the Mayans called hell.

1 comment:

  1. What a lovely description of your time in the cenote. I think I'll add it to my place to visit list. Also, resort towns/cities are a distorted picture of a society by their very nature of being a resort area.