Revelations from a different kind of travel
by Phillip Ghee
In 1993, I headed down to Mexico and Central America to travel. Other than the phone number of my friendís grandmother in Honduras, I was en route without a destination, agenda or itinerary whatsoever. I was, however, prepared. With my big, nondescript straw hat, horned rimmed glasses and umbrella, I looked ever so much the part of relic tourist, but I went whichever way the wind blew and pretty much didn't know where I'd be going until the day I'd arrive.
After about a month, I was in Honduras, it was the eve of me getting ready to visit the fourth and what would become the final pyramid site I would tour. I was sitting in a park wondering if my Central American adventures had any meaning or justification, or had it been just interesting yet, aimless wandering.
While reminiscing over the paths I had taken and people I had met, I began to see a pattern, especially in regards to my visitation of pyramid sites. The first site was Chichen Itza, a massive site in the Yucatan region of Mexico. It was a blazing hot day as I recalled. Fittingly, this was the Solar Temple. It was dedicated and constructed to chart the Solar Equinox. On the day of the equinox, the steps of the main temple are aligned so that the shadow from the Sun to falls precisely within the parameters of a gorge channeling its way through the steps . The path is less than a foot in width and proceeds directly down the middle of the temple steps. A complicated civilization had built this, one as ordered and constructive as can be found in the modern world.
Traveling further into the Yucatan peninsular I came across a little magical town named Playa del Carmen. This town is located southwest of Cancun and unlike its sister city, it's not a vacation snare for tourist. I would best describe the town as the Mexican equivalent of Venice beach minus the performers. It echoed the same type of bohemian lifestyle and ambiance which I treasured in my dear Venice. While
Belize is for the most part, a dense and tropical jungle paradise. Unfortunately, in its capital city, Belize city, there are many signs of urban despair. Many of the places I had already visited had poor areas, but few showed the signs of urban despair such as Belize. Wherever there is despair you will also find hope. At night the city is alive with the praises of the faithful. Churches, grand structures of a past Victorian age arise on every block. The attractiveness of the children of Belize especially stood out. Many are a mixture of African, Spanish, and Indian blood. Belize has a considerably large Asian population whose genes seemed to have been thrown in the DNA brew also. Belize can boast of being a country rich in Mayan pyramids, but the spirits which guided me were modern, and I stayed in Belize City to observe and learn.
Days later, I climbed aboard the proverbial chicken bus headed for Guatemala. This bus was so overcrowded that the military actually stopped us, cited the driver, and had passengers ejected. Some were mysteriously lead away by the military. Guatemala was in the middle of guerrilla war at the time. After a brief argument, the bus driver convinced the passengers to at least put their animals in the luggage area on top. I think a few passengers may have been up there also. It wasn't London's Underground, Boston's MTA, Atlanta's MARTA, or San Fransisco's BART, but these were real people, too, with lives and loved one's, happiness and concerns.
I met a couple of traveling partners on that bus. One of them was on his way to Tikal, so Mika and I decided to tag along. I must admit Tikal is not the most excavated site for a tourist, and there were still archeological digs taking place there. We walked and explored at will. No one was there to tell us to stay on the path, don't touch this, don't touch that, no ropes to herd us in, just the Mayan air and history tugging at my shirttail. Tikal sits right in the heart of the Jungle. As you walk through the jungle trails, wild animals of all sorts scurry past you. Above in the thick canopy of the trees, Howler monkeys roar like lions. Tikal definitely echoed primitive Earth. I tried to remember if the zoos of North America ever echoed that even when I was a kid. No they didn't.
Mika is a remarkably small women with a large appetite for adventure. Japanese women rarely travel alone, so there we were at the beginning, two people thrown together by happenstance of culture and need. What ensued was love, something that would've never happened on the streets of Los Angeles.
We Mika met a new friend, a pot smoking, slacker, part-time substitute teacher. He was a fun guy who had a good command of the Spanish language, and even knew a few phrases in the Mayan dialect. Our trio had more than a few exciting adventures in Guatemala, on the road and blowing in the wind. They were beautiful times, and I remember every minute of every day. Remarkable.
Honduras, I donít know what that means in Spanish, but for me, I shall call it the land of many people. San Pedro Sula, Honduras, must be one of the most densely populated places on Earth. In every direction there appeared rivers of people. Just imagine the most crowded fair, amusement park, or downtown area and extend it to the circumference of an entire city. There I was on the eve of the visit to my last and finale site, contemplating my experience. The images started to flow into a wonderful and purposeful mythical adventure. There was Chichen Itza, the Solar Temple representing Fire; on the Caribbean Sea, Tulum representing Water; Tikal in the deepest heart of the Jungle representing Earth. Missing was a symbol for Air.
Immediately after the pieces of this magical puzzle had come together in my mind, I detected an unwelcome interruption heading in my direction. A traveler such as myself was marching in my direction with that look of ďHey ! letís communicate on his face.Ē Being a people person, I braced myself to receive him and sadly placed on the back burner thoughts about the exciting discovery I had just stumbled across.
With not so much as an introduction, this European traveler, in excellent English, asked me if I had viewed the obelisk in the middle of the park square. I told him I hadn't, and we walked over to view it. The obelisk was about three feet tall, and on each face of the four sided figure a Mayan image. I was astonished to find that at the base of the obelisk was an engraving: symbols each representing a cardinal compass direction: North, South, East, and West. There on each face was a corresponding icon which was easily identifiable as representing the four Earth elements: Fire, Water, Air, and Earth.
My European friend told me he was interested
in the Earth elements and was surprise to see it represented in Mayan mythology.
He was just as excited by his find as I, and I invited him over to the
bench to share with him my own revelations of the Earth elements and the
Mayan ruins I'd visited on this trip. There was one problem in conjoining
our two revelations into one. The Mayan site we were both to visit the
next day was dedicated to a Mayan Rain God, and isnít rain just another
form of water? Where was the symbol for the element Air?
Travel is a liberating experience where one's mind can entertain whatever one wants in whatever fashion one wants without the constraints of systems imposed or another's approval. When I started this trip I was en route without a destination, agenda or itinerary whatsoever. I went whichever way the wind blew and pretty much did not know where I would be going until the day I'd arrive. That is one kind of travel, and one filled with adventure and discovery found nowhere else on Earth.
If you go looking for the answer, it's
that answer you will find. Instead, try going without a question.
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