My experiences in Mexico, Summer of 2001.


Upon arrival one cannot help but to be taken away by Mexico’s extraordinary diversity. You are immediately presented with vivid and overflowing flora and fauna that seems to transfuse itself into the clothing and spirit of the people who live here. Much like the vibrancy of Mexico’s surface existence, Mexico’s past (much of what has still yet to be uncovered) is inexorably still very much alive with its cultures, history, textiles, archaeological sites, and temples. Such relics of the past lead to an understanding of the rise and fall of the their civilization, and perhaps lead further credence to their ferocity as a nation of people striving to keep their culture alive so as not to be lost again amongst the other many ruins that embellish the state.

Merida also known as the “White City” is not as white as it was once pronounced to be. During the War of the Castes (1847-55) Merida was able to resist the rebel forces (while the rest of the Yucatan came under control) and thus many of the inhabitants feel that this city is set apart from the rest because of its resilient past. However, in a non-derogatory sense, their esteemed view of the resilient Merida has been in fact conquered. It is now subjugated and altered by the emerging tourist trade that the inhabitants and the city commerce now rely upon. Although, such cultural transformations are not new to the Maya in any respect; when the city was founded in 1542 the Maya (by then slaves of Spanish invaders) were forced to demolish their temples and palaces to use the materials to reconstruct the Spanish buildings, cathedrals, and parks that are still standing today. Their culture in no way has been “lost,” but their image and way of life have been altered by Americans and Europeans who have found their tropical paradise in Merida. However, due to the influx of tourism and interchange the city has been coerced to accommodate the needs of such tourists. Such is the case observed concerning tourists around the area who, when asked, reply that their main concerns pertain to the “purity” of the water, and thus in response to such concerns Merida has taken steps to alter their sewage and water systems—along with manufacturing and selling the assets that define their culture.


Today I entered the realm of the Cathedral, where it is observable that it is customary to bow before each Saints’ alter before passing it. Also, comparatively, the confessional stalls in the Cathedral are open so that one may view the priest and the person confessing, whereas in American Catholic churches the priest and the confessor are hidden from public view as to only be judged by god alone.

In a ‘la tienda’ the owner explained that his merchandise is produced in the Mayan village of (Chacul?), and the mechanics of his entrepreneurial business is designed around a system of socialism in which the owner of the shop acts as a representative for the people of Chacul, wherein the people from the village make the products, he sells them, and gives them a percentage of the profit.

En la mercado it is somewhat refreshing and interesting to see how the production of meat is handled—there are no sterilized Styrofoam plates, no sanitized stainless steel meat cutters, no organic chicken, and no FDA approvals, just meat. It was reminiscent of the war scene depicted in Voltaire’s Candide; there were animals on hooks with their entrails exposed, blood stains in every orifice, and of course the rancid smell of decaying animal flesh—along with the blood and fish feces that seemed to have a magnetic attraction to shoes and never quite made it to the drains. Today I was reminded how sheltered we (westerners) are from the processes of manufacturing the staples that we depend upon for our survival. We have metal factories fenced away from public view that bloody their hands so that we do not have to face the reality nor the duty of killing what we eat, whereas the people of Merida have no qualms about the true nature of survival.


Today I ventured to Progreso (a town on the Gulf of Mexico that houses the seven kilometer-long wharf, the longest stone wharf in the world). I was told the reason for the wharf’s length is due to the fact that the Yucatecan limestone shelf declines so gradually into the sea that it was necessary that the pier be extended until it reached the deep water. The town used to be the place where heavy international shipping took place during the prime years of the henequen industry. Now Progreso is home to a sea of condos and hotels—my deduction for the budding high rises and hotels (apart from the fact that it looks like a quaint seafaring Mexican Las Vegas strip) is that one can go to the beach, go into the water, and not even have to get your hair wet. As of yet it is still the only vertically challenged people beach in the world. Not far from Progreso is the site where an immense crater (at least 180km across and even deeper than that) was found by Mexico’s national oil company while they were doing exploratory oil drilling on the Peninsula and discovered gravitational anomalies. Due to subsequent research from scientists from all over the world, it was confirmed that it was in fact a huge meteor crater, which accounted for the lines of caves along the outer ring of the crater. It also is believed that this is the crater that plunged to earth 65 million years ago that enveloped the world into darkness for an extended period of time that resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs. Therefore, let us not forget the tremendous historical importance that Mexico has had upon all our lives, for without such a sacrifice there would be undoubtedly real dinosaurs in Michael Jackson’s backyard.

On the way to Progreso I met a woman named Teresa who lent me a religious book to look over, and explained that in her religion (which is Catholicism) they have many pre-written prayers for the president, governors, mothers, cousins, emergency prayers (such as those often chanted by local males at night clubs), and even a prayer for Richard Simmons...may god have mercy on him. The book also contained an interesting depiction of Saint Mary standing on a green serpent (probably Kulkulcan, the serpent god who governed the heavens) with defeated Mayans beneath it, and with Spanish conquistadors standing around her with their shields raised. It was definitely a thought provoking picture as it led me to conclude and reinforce my notion that religion (regardless of their cultural denominations) seek to depict deities in their image with the soldiers who rightfully reestablished the true belief system despite the beliefs of those before them. It is an interesting fact that people around the world depict their god(s) as being directly visually related to their appearance rather than being visualized as something more related to a universal spirit form. It shows the inward egotistical nature of man; simply put if God looks like them then others who do not have the same physical characteristics must not be the chosen ones or the ones who harness the truth of the heavens.

With all these deep philosophical concepts swirling about my mind I decided to observe the place where such ideas are reinforced. At 5:00 p.m. I attended a service in a cathedral church and noticed that it is also customary to bow before one enters, exits, or even passes the main door of the church. Somewhat to my surprise most of the mass (preached to the towns beggars in one of the side rooms) was communicated in Latin and not in Spanish—had I known I would have brushed up on my Latin, but apparently I left my dead ancient language index cards at home. After mass I wandered through a small market place where one of the vendors (after I bought some merchandise) showed me the local places where the Mayans (there are only 10-15% pure Indians remaining) from outside villages come to get their basic necessities. Surprisingly it was only a few blocks from the tourist market façade, but those few blocks were visually miles away. There was no hype, no kids running around trying to sell you chiclets, it was a normal non-sensationalized trading post for those interested in feeding their families, not for selling coin jewelry from sunken pirate ships, etc.

Chetumal/ Cenote Azul

En route to the Cenote (a natural well) I observed that many of the posts in the smaller villages were marked with paint advertising the PRI, and as I was told by a local it is unlikely that the local inhabitants painted them there (or even vote) and it should then be surmised that PRI activists put them there—perhaps in an effort to make it appear as if someone outside of the political organization and not on the PRI payroll voted for them—thus making their previous elections to power more legitimate.

The Cenote itself was a marvel of nature (I was told it was 90 meters deep and to not go in unless I knew how to swim), and while virgins were given as sacrifices to Chac (the rain god) in such places, the Mayan children who taught a group of high paying tourists a portion of the Mayan dialect were an equal marvel. Also, as a note, I noticed foreigners introducing gifts/toys to children and it was interesting to see how it instantaneously created inequality and quarrel amongst them. I suppose since we can no longer give them yellow fever we have moved on to toys. Again I do not think we realize the extent of our influence and impact upon people in foreign countries. We did not realize that we had immunity to diseases that they did not, and similarly we do not realize what kind of internal division we have created in cultures when we introduce items that we feel will aid them and provide them with the path towards civilization. I fear that somehow the introduction of useless personal possessions will eventually lead to a decline in interest among the youth in Mexico concerning their history, demeanor, and traditions as they are already attempting to socialize themselves with idols such as Brittney Spears and Oprah.

Yucatan/Puuc Ruins

The Puuc architectural sites of Xlapak, Kabah, Sayil, and Labna were fascinating due to the grandeur of the temples, which leads me to think that most of the ancient Mayan populace (throughout generations) spent most of their lives constructing pyramids and temples-thus making their society dominantly religious. The Mayans lack of a consistent water source is also prevalent in the architecture and design of the temple’s layout; they all have chultunes and aguadas for the collection of water, and all of the temples had the graven image of Chac upon them.

However, Labna was an extraordinary site compared to the rest. It has a Sacbe (used as a ceremonial passageway), the Arch passageway (referred to as a portal vault), and the Mirador Temple Pyramid which is constructed of loose stones adorned by a temple roof and also houses the monument of a human phallic figure (they had large expectations).

It is curious as to why the Mayans constructed their temples and pyramids with such steep steps. Did it force those who ascended it to be in a bowed position to show humbleness, respect, and humility to the gods and priests, or is it simply a byproduct of the architectural plans to build high pyramids with smaller bases?

The rest of the day consisted of traveling around Merida aimlessly—but with purpose- to photograph the people in the town in their natural state. There seems to always be a facade masking people’s appearances; they hide under their expected exteriors in the presence of tourists—giving off the illusion of cheery disposition and contentment.


Uxmal and the Loltun Caves are simplistically extravagant, breathtaking, and mysterious but they also represent a great culture that utilized and dedicated most of their time towards building temples to appeal to their gods (mainly Chac). But moreso, these pursuits are perhaps at times more scrutinized than the more scientific accomplishments of their actual construction and use. Ex: their calendar system is based on a 365 day cycle with a 52 year recycle year of the calendar, and is more precise than the Gregorian calendar, they created the concept of zero, and most of their buildings are aligned with the stars, such as the Jaguar statue and Governors Temple which is aligned with Venus.

The Loltun cave also poses extraordinary questions: upon entering the cave is a long stalactite formation that when struck resonates a chilling deep sound throughout the cave, it also contains evidence of humans’ earliest presence in Yucatan (including mammoth bones dated back to 9000-7500 B.C.), the last room has strange rock carvings believed to be models of temples, and on many of the walls are handprints (in a negative outline) all only having 4 fingers, and as of yet the grave of only one person has been discovered within the cave. At the end of the appointed tour you come to an opening in the roof of an impressive two-story cavern. After the two-hour walk I was aptly rewarded by the vision that greeted me: the sun was streaming in, transforming the dust into an illusionary snow land. There were towering trees growing from the floor of the cave extending towards the sun creating lasers of light from the sun overhead, along with chirping birds and moist dangling vines. It was a truly a breathless image, that can only be fully comprehended through experiencing it and allowing yourself to be transported to such an Eden.

I am now in Uxmal where I have just witnessed the House of the Magician, the Great Pyramid, and the Nunnery, which are all examples of pure Maya design. The House of the Magician (distinctive by its elliptical form) is a bit steep to climb (the steps are at a 60 degree angle) but from its viewpoint you can see the entire site of Uxmal. The Great Pyramid was also quite imposing (it’s 30 meters high) and originally had a temple on the top of the structure. Later that evening I attended the sound and light show (much different from the Pink Floyd one). It was awe-inspiring to say the least to listen to the history of the Maya at night (with thunder looming above) and an orchestra played music in the background, while magnificently colored lights dramatically illuminated one temple after another. The show managed to capture the intense beauty of the structures, allowing one to imagine what the city must have looked like at its zenith and inducing the memory of the Mayas arcane beginnings and still unanswered disappearance.

In a sense ancient Mayan warfare was more civil than the grand scale warfare that takes place today—over such things as oil prices (hmm, Desert Storm). The ruler of the city would engage in battle with the opposing Mayan ruler, negating the need to have massive armies of men kill each other, therefore only allowing for a maximum of two deaths in a battle between two cities. But often times one force would capture the other ruler and hold him captive for a year which was an intelligent strategic move due to the fact that the conquered force could not replace their leader until he was dead, thus forcing the town into uncertain chaos which eventually resulted in a complete takeover of the city, and the disillusionment of the power of kings.


I spoke to a local musician (Jose) who was an advent political activist; he seemed to think that Vicente Fox, while not corrupt, was too new to the political game to be able to enforce any reforms. He said that before Fox became president he only had about a year of political experience, and due to his naivete of how the system works and how politics in Mexico must be bought or done by force, is his reason for not being able to pass any of the reforms he promised to the people. However, he noted that the majority of the populace is willing to be patient during his six-year term—so long as the reforms passed don’t mirror the policies of the PRI. He also mentioned that the majority of the illiterate and ignorant inhabitants (found in the northern regions) support the PRD Party, which he said was equivalent to a Socialist Party. Well, now I must sleep for I face a twelve-hour bus ride tomorrow to go to Chiapas, the associates at the bus station however did make a point to say that the bus did have air-conditioning. Sometimes small luxuries are appreciated.

Chiapas/San Cristobal

San Cristobal, a colonial city, was for me a cultural goldmine. It is located in the center of the Mexican highlands, and is a place to observe the people who still adorn the clothing styles and rituals that date back hundreds of years. Somewhat surprisingly the city appears to be more socially integrated with other cultures than Merida; they have the common Mexican people, Mayan highlanders, and the ever-growing hippie community who appear to be seeking asylum in San Cristobal from the American Government who still wants to question them about certain events that took place in the sixties. However, what makes this city unique is the manner in which the ethnic groups have grasped onto their ancient beliefs, with each group having its own traditions, textile patterns, and mystery. The church in San Cristobal is quite provocative because of the air of forbiddances that surrounds its interior activities: there are rows upon rows of Saints wearing mirrors around their necks—this is so the gods that govern the saints can see you. The candle ceremonies are also very traditional; it is believed that if one were to step on a candle that was lit that whoever stepped on it would curse the person whom the prayer was intended for.

The people of Chamula are a quaint group of Mayans and one of the only ethnic groups in San Cristobal who have partially altered their traditions to bring in commerce from tourists; the children have been trained (or entrepreneurial adapted) to ask for money to have their picture taken, which is completely against the traditional morals of those living in San Cristobal. But it is these people who showed the greatest hospitality towards me; primarily expressed when one woman invited me to experience the daily rituals of her life, including inviting me to their house (which did not yet have a roof), allowing me to partake in cooking dinner (delicious tortillas and corn), and (since I missed my bus) I got to live as they did for a night by sleeping on the ground (on a dirt floor that they ironically sweep). This occurrence is one that I will remember for the rest of my life, it is a complete foreign concept to me that someone (who has no knowledge of who I am) invited me to live with them for a day—it exemplified a form of generousness that is now endangered, and I feel due to that I will never have an opportunity such as that again. However, I will always be grateful for that reminder of Mans’ gleaming moments of humanity.

Chiapas/Grijalva River

Today’s activities consisted of travelling down the Grijalva River through Sumidero Canyon. It is one of the main sources for hydroelectric power, is one of the largest rivers in Mexico, and is the resting place for the sculpted image of Saint Guadeloupe and of the image of the crucified (and decapitated) Christ-which is a new take on the crucifixion!

According to Indian legends, it is said that the warrior tribe of Chiapa settled in the Grijalva Valley, but were discovered by Spanish Conquistadors in 1523 (who defeated them) only to be defeated again in 1527 by Mazariengos. Once the conquerors moved towards the highlands the Chiapans regained their freedom, and then took revenge upon the Spanish and their allies (which was a devastating move for the Chiapans) because the Spanish had utilized the gunpowder technology. It is said that once the Chiapans lost their freedom completely, they (all 15,000 of them) jumped off the Cliff of the Tepetchia Canyon, and their leaders body (Sanquieme) can still be seen—dried out under a Cieba tree in Chiapa de Corzo.

Bonampak Rainforest

Na Balom had much to offer in the realm of knowledge about the Lacandan Indians who live in the rainforest of Bonampak. There are only 300 of the Lacandan left due to influxes of disease and due to their marital and sexual practices; it is considered inappropriate to marry or have sex with anyone outside of their isolated group, thus forcing inbreeding that often results with deformities, which is visually apparent by the one albino Lacandon. In order to differentiate between people from separate villages they would (and continue to) drill a circular hole in one of their front teeth and place a stone in it that was native to their dwelling place.

Their religious practices are also unique and essential for their cultures mental survival. They buried their dead in a jar where the deceased’s energy could accumulate until it was able to rise towards heaven. In addition, they also developed the symbolic cross before the ‘Catholic Persuasion Movement,’ but its purpose was different from that of the Catholics. For the Lacandan the cross represented the direction of the elements, and the three crosses together represented the three Sacred Mountains—not the Son, the Father, and the Holy Ghost.

Na Balom

Due to physical and environmental conditions it can be theorized that although the Mayan culture is plagued by its low-income status, it is more so emersed in its ability to grasp their creativity and culture more than is present in the high-income American culture.

Physically Mayan daily life consists of anyone (regardless of gender) from the ages of 10 up to 100 work to sell their products from sunrise to sundown—regardless if they are missing a leg or if they appear to have leprosy. During the day you can see little children sitting on the dirt ridden ground eating their bread and corn from the road, while their parents attempt to sell their handmade products for pennies with tourists who barter because 10 cents is too expensive for them to afford. At night there are children walking about the streets selling chiclet gum and cigarettes for those who can afford to spend two pesos. But the fact that the Mayan/Mexican culture does not become an automated machine like its American counterpart has become emphasizes their creative demeanor that was present when the ancient Mayans built their pyramids. Comparatively, the demise of the American culture seems to be that the lives of the working class is environmentally and mentally sterile. Most American jobs are now centered towards the influx of technological advancements (not to mention the arms race ) so a majority of the population spends its time in front of an automated machine—much like themselves—with no noticeable end product to show for their time.


The historical remains of the ancient Maya represent a rich culture that was fulfilled with creativity, genius, and power.

The structures (such as the Temple of Inscriptions and the Temple of the Skulls) are creations of science masked by artistic beauty that also tells their history. The statues and images carved onto their temples are believed to be actual realistic representations of kings/nobles who they sought to record on their temple stelaes. In 1952 The Temple of Inscriptions revealed a secret that it had kept buried within its depths—the untouched crypt of the ruler of Palenque—Lord Pacal. On the sarcophagus were numerous glyphs depicting Lord Pacal surrounded by monsters, serpents, and sun and shell signs that recount the passage of death. This is of note because previous to this finding the function of temples/pyramids were believed to simply be the site for ceremonies, however now it is known that they were used as crypts for revered leaders, which undeniably bears a resemblance to the culture and beliefs of the Egyptians. The Palace is yet another unusual structure at Palenque. It is a four-story tower that (during the winter solstice) the sun appears to drop directly into the temple. It is also believed that the Palace was used to make astronomical calculations. Their calendar system is also another form of their perfected scientific art. It is based on a system and base of 20, with single dots representing 1 and the long bars representing the number 5. Their calendar symbols also are associated with their writing system, which have individual sounds to form words, dates, and names.

Despite all the knowledge that has been discovered about the Mayan culture in Palenque, a great deal of information is still unclear. Their language and writing have only been approximately 60% deciphered, and even the actual original name of Palenque is not known.


Yaxchilan has proven to be an intriguing site due to not only the architecture but also due to the story behind its ascension. In order to enter the site one must travel by boat to reach the Labyrinth and only then can one view the towering glyph stones that depict the reign of the Jaguar Kings. The fascinating story behind Yaxchilan and the Jaguar reign is that the majority of the site was centered upon legitimizing the kings right to the throne, this is why there is a temple dedicated to Lady Xoc—which is unusual in mainstream Mayan culture. Also, in Building 33 there is a beheaded sculpture of Jaguar Bird, and as Lacandon legend has it that when the head of Jaguar Bird returns to its place, the world will be destroyed by celestial jaguars.

However mystifying this site is it is rumored to be an adventure and should only be undertaken by the dedicated naturalist or archaeology buff. While on a short bus ride to Bonampak I was told that I was fortunate for not running into any altercations since there were recent reports of robberies and assaults on women. It is apparent that there are sociological and economic differences between the U.S. and Mexico, but the underlying presence of corrupt human nature unifies (at times) the two cultures. Elaborate schemes to rip-off people in the United States for personal profit is not uncommon, and neither is it in Mexico—especially when tourists are involved. The notable dividing factor between the US and Mexican scams could be attributed to the fact that the Mexican economy has not paved a way for a high-middle class to emerge, and thus corruption and large scale scams ensue to make up for their lacking profit and go largely unnoticed by the government or police officials.

Na Balom/Bonampak Ruins

Although Bonampak is a small site, it houses the most magnificent murals that depict an essential part of religious Mayan history—sacrifices. The mural is in three sections and represents the event of the child heir taking the throne, the celebration and battle for the event, and finally the ritual torture that took place for Chaan Maun.


Behind the ocean of stern Mexican faces there is hidden a liberal humor which appears to only surface at night. Family entertainment in the Plaza Square consisted of three clowns, but the surprising aspect of their performance was the content—homosexual jokes and positions mirroring classical poses in paintings—and the ones depicted in the Kama Sutra. It appears that the Mexican people are extremely open about sexuality—even when it concerns the socializing of their children.

It should also be noted that business solicitations are permitted in practically every store and restaurant in Mexico, which is one cultural aspect that would not (and is not) tolerated in America. The difference between Mexico and America with solicitation is that Mexican workers sole purpose is for survival and a large portion of the street and tienda owners would be homeless if they were not permitted to solicit to the booming tourist influx—even if the tourists are eating in peace.


It is interesting and notable that the cathedral floor is composed of tombstone plates with the names of those who died. In essence to enter the church to either attend mass or to pray, one must walk on the visage of an indoor cemetery. The American relativistic perspective would recognize such an act as being disrespectful, but for catholic Mexicans it appears to be the opposite—unless the case is that the Catholic Church is low on money and had to sell grave spaces on the church floor.

It is also provocative as to why the Catholic Church tries to portray the meeting of the Maya with the Conquistadors as being peaceful and docile. The Cathedral has a large painting depicting such a meeting—with the Mayans warmly embracing the Spanish Conquistadors in front of the church. If anything that depiction should be considered as the complete opposite event that occurred. There was no embrace and mutual acceptance to the practice of Catholicism, but rather a clash of weapons and bloodshed before the church doors—there was a rebirth and a new breed of Maya constructed out of the warfare; a class of Mayans born from the Mayan blood soiled crops of corn that were later eaten by the conquistadors.

Yucatan/Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza is one of the most complete Maya restored sites, and has consequently allowed archeologists to peer into the practices of Maya history. The Maya had sweathouses that were used for health and religious reasons, along with the Group of a Thousand Columns that were at once probably the foundations for a vast market place. Chichen Itza also houses the Temple of the Bearded Man and the Great Ball Court where the acoustic mathematical and scientific genius of the Maya is displayed, and is also where the sacrifices of the Ball Game are illustrated on the walls that make up the court. The Observatory is believed to be the place where the Maya calculated their theories on the moon, sun, and their calendar—but this is a disputed claim. The imposing structure of Kulkulcan was probably one of the structures that was rebuilt during the 52 year cycle, and was built with strict astrological guidelines so that during the equinox the sun casts a shadow that creates the appearance of a bright zigzag serpent slithering down the north steps of the pyramid towards the Sacred Cenote that was believed to be the home of Chac. Occasionally human and material sacrifices were thrown into the Sacred Cenote in an effort to bribe Chac to send rain to the village.

I leave to go back to the America’s tomorrow, and with great sadness I have to leave the consuming pillars of Mayan achievement, the history, and the people behind. However, it is my sincerest hope that at least a fraction of my experience will be conveyed through my photographic documentation of my many journeys and adventures in Mexico.

Thus ends my journey and adventure to Mexico.