Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Where Maya Meets the Sea

December 26, 2007, Puerto Morelos, Mexico

It is known as the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. It's also abbreviated as Cancun for the airport, city, and tourist strip that bring the dollars here. But it is really home to the Maya, an ancient people of great strength, artistry, and civilization, and it is now home to my youngest daughter, who has married a fine Maya man, and with whom she is expecting their first baby in April. Our day of celebration spanned December 24 and 25 this year, as we spent it with his family (my first in-laws!) in Opichen, a jungle village south of Merida, about 4 hours drive from their home (and dive shop) on the Caribbean coast at Puerto Morelos.

Yesterday, after our hearty partying the night before, and as my family back in Canada and the US celebrated with other loved ones, we toured a Maya ruins east of Opichen, a ruins that may never be fully excavated and among many other cultural differences, perhaps this one above all, struck me with its unfamiliarity. We stood high on the pyramid to see mounds and hills all around us, further buildings and structures belonging to this city (about 500 - 1050 AD), all clothed in rampant jungle greenery. My natural ( trained) industrially-bred mind expected that it was only a matter of time (not geologic time!) before the rest of the city would be uncovered, but when I asked about that, I was surprised at the answer. This is an important ruins, but is well off the beaten tourist path, and its excavation for that purpose may not justify the expense. If there is sufficient archeological interest, then perhaps, but suddenly the shift from "not if but when" to a simple "if", made all the difference and I began to see that the very idea of leaving an historical record to the depths of its jungle cover could be as natural to a different consciousness here, as not leaving it would be to us.

Touring the ruins, we were Crescent, William, and two of his little neices, Monica and Maria Jose, but we had an extraordinary experience there that you will see in the photos to the right...a slim irridescent green snake with his head in a hole was not hiding from us, as we first thought, but was engaged in capturing and then ingesting, whole and alive, a baby gecko! We watched spellbound for the entire process!

Back in Opichen, other culture shocks continued to bang up against my ignorance and my comfort levels, but beneath it all was a warmth, acceptance, and genuine delight in which I am now a member!

ps - try this map link to see the outlines of the Oxkintoc ruins:

and go here for the website of Crescent and William's new dive shop, Aquanauts Dive Adventures:

Sunday, December 23, 2007

"Turtles All the Way Down"

December 21, 2007

“It’s turtles all the way down” (Sagan or Hawking?)

The morning to leave the Cabo beaches is always a sad time, but made less so this time because of the coming weeks in Puerto Morelos on the Yucatan coast, with Crescent, William, their unborn first, and the turquoise Caribbean.

I walk down to the beach to take pictures of the sand; coarse-grained, speckled with a few shells, but mostly eroded and eroding granite, with pink and white feldspars, white and grey quartz, and miniscule amounts of amphibole. It’s coarse sand, stacked high into a winter berm with a different gradient every year. This year the berm is so high and the ocean-side so steep, that from the top you cannot see clear to the crashing waves on the west side of the arches. I don’t swim here, gravity rules in the undertow and I am neither that courageous nor stupid. The sand is marvelous though, as it rasps pleasantly against the toes and heels, deep and permeable, golden and shining in the early morning sun.

An arc of about 30 people, open to the sea, stands on the berm slope, about half way down the beach; are they watching whales? Not in that configuration. I get closer to see the small dark ovals between the arc and the water, no more than 2-3 inches long, with flailing flippers and tiny heads, and it is a hatching of baby turtles from the protected nests on the upper surface of the berm. Mama turtles had dug those nests out of reach of tide, surf, even storms. Possible only a hurricane-driven storm surge and massive waves could breach their sanctuary and wash away in a single rush, all their effort of climbing this surface, digging their nest, and then laying hundreds of ping-bong ball size eggs.

The stronger waves run far up the sand and catch the nearest babies in their froth, and we see leathery backs and little flippers flip and flop until they are either washed out with the undertow, to be seen no more, or are left behind in the damp, to await the next life-giving surge. In the meantime, pelicans cruise the surf line, but perhaps they have already breakfasted this morning, as they do not seek out the tender hatchlings. The statistics tell us that about one in one million baby turtles survive to adulthood, a life span nearly as long as that of a healthy human.

We are quiet and awe-struck, cameras clicking, videos purring, as we witness one of nature’s extraordinary adventures in procreation and survival.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Wave Form

It illustrates motion, time, and lives, and it lives within us with every breath. In the raw presence of ocean waves, the cyclic and repetitive but ever-changing nature of existence shows up in the wave form. At Cabo Pulmo on the southeast coast of the Baja peninsula, the waves batter themselves against the granite and coral shore, eroding minerals and shells alike into coarse pink sand. But the shoreline slopes are shallow and inviting. Further west, by the famous Arches of Cabo, the beaches slope dangerously fast creating a powerful backwash or undertow and swimming is risky. I am inspired anew by these shores, this time to create new labs for my winter 2008 on-line Oceanography course...with still photos and videos of the way the incoming waves interact with the slope and shape of the shoreline.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ripples in the Ceiling

Monday, December 10, 2007

Cabo Pulmo, Baja CS

This time the floor is over my head…a rippling ceiling of pale blue and white, delicate as a petal. I float and paddle quietly, the 2’ chop moving me in every direction. I have only snorkeled a handful of times, but for the first time I am comfortable with the fit of the mask and the reassuring air flow through my snorkel. Under water, my breathing is slow and steady but loud, I sound like a Darth Vader here! At Mermaid Beach I drift over the sandy, rippled bottom, and the small fish roaming the shallows in their bright colours are oblivious of my presence overhead. I have been entranced under the surface in the past, but have never felt this comfortable. I took the “shortie” wet-suit off, not needing it for warmth, and as it turned out, I didn’t need it for buoyancy either. I floated and floated.

At Mermaid Beach, on the headland that forms the southern lip of the Cabo Pulmo cup, under the omnipotent power of the waves, the eroding granite has formed fantastic, organic-looking shapes that could, under the right tequila, appear to be flowing and rolling! There is so much geology here to contemplate…the opening, transporting rift that forms the Sea of Cortez (5-10 million years in the making, to date) has also pushed up a mountain range on the east side of Baja, and along with the granites and their inexorable exfoliation, are benches and flats of former seafloor sediments, and popped-up pimples of volcanic cones. I have much to do with maps and books ahead of me…it appears that after nearly 6 years of travel to, and interest in, Baja, I can design some projects for personal research interest, for my Oceanography courses, and perhaps, just perhaps, for other visitors like myself.

That was the first snorkel drop. The second one was at a banquet-table sized sea stack littered with lounging sea lions. The stack was being power washed by the incoming swells, but we went in anyway. Seven or eight sealions were flopped on their backs, heads hanging over towards us, like large, dark, slick and graceful children hanging over their bunk beds. Two came and went in the waves, and we dropped below the surface to watch as they twisted and spun their way around the rocks, nosing into crevices for snacks. A sudden stream of bubbles tickled the top of my foot in its ungainly flipper. Their element, my visitation, brief but sure of my place.

In the wider open sea, after a long bumpy run, our leaders pointed into the opaque blue and shouted “school of jacks”. And indeed it was. The hook was in, the bait was swallowed, and I was over the side in an instant. It took a few minutes of circling around, bum at the surface, head and limbs pushing against the water, before I saw them…but once I did, I doubt I’ll ever forget it. Individually, the fish (a type of tuna) were about 2’ long, 6 inches high in the middle, with large white-ringed eyes, and a flash of sliver from turning fin or belly as they swirled and streamed by the hundreds…maybe even thousands, beneath me, sometimes deep beneath and only presenting a blurry moving substrate to my peering; other times racing toward the surface but always turning, twisting together, in the same way as starlings in the Autumn…the unspoken, mysterious language of communion that drives flocks and schools and shoals into their choreographed frenzy.

And the cap of the day is a home dinner with Camille, then a flan in the restaurant, complete with candle and Happy Birthday in Spanish and English from the waiters and cooks. She is 34 today.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Cloud Floor to Baja

Saturday, December 01, 2007

A dawn flight with Camille to San Diego and Baja

The landscape of cloud beneath our flight has hidden the world far as the eye can see. It is as solid as snow. We could step outside this plane at 30,000 feet and slip right through.

The lonely top of Mt. Rainier pokes up through the cloud floor into the blue dawning; then a sister cone follows, Mt. Adams perhaps, the north side is not concave enough for St. Helens.

Finally the hard chariot of the sun beams a red shaft into the smoky window and the day has been birthed. We transit the west coast of North America in flight from winter, to the sun, sea and desert of Baja.