I could hear something different in Rob’s voice when he yelled from the garage. “Get a flashlight and come quick!” I grabbed the nearest torch, always handy for nighttime ventures, and squeezed through the doors into the garage, keeping a sharp eye on the walls. Rob pointed to a corner of another door, where there was a botacola. Turns out that it’s a pretty ugly yellow and black spotted lizard about 6 inches long. And it indeed did have a tail, wide and flat and shaped like a triangle about 1-2 inches long. We didn’t wait and see if it felt like throwing its tail today, … ya know, like winding up and winging it at you. Rob says he’s never actually ever seen a botacola deliberately take aim and throw its tail, and he’s dealt with quite a few of them through the years. Instead, we decided not to take a chance and got a long broom handle, and then Rob took a careful whack at it. On the second whack, the tail fell off and bounced around on the floor for about 5 minutes. Finally, the rest of the botacola fell to the floor after the 4th whack, and was finally good and dead. No sympathy from me, tail thrower.
The fine, friendly, and sometimes goofy populace of Tinum does believe at times, in an interesting sampling of superstitions. For example, a newborn child is never allowed to be seen by anyone outside of the immediate family until a month after its birth, and it will not receive its name until that time passes as well. Also, if you permit a young child to see itself in a mirror, that alone will be cause for it to die soon thereafter. It’s also never wise to visit a dead person if you have an open sore, cut, or wound, because it will infect. Well, that one makes sense to me, but what about the fact that if you want someone to leave your home, just stand a broom upside down behind any open door. Or, if you give someone a kitten from your cat’s litter, they’ll need to give you a chicken in return if they want that kitten to grow up and be a good mouse hunter. It’s also said that if a pack of dogs gathers near your front door in the middle of the night and they all begin to howl loudly and painfully, you are likely to experience something very soon that will be quite unpleasant or even fatal. And of course, if you ever see a scorpion carrying around its babies on its back, which is a rare sight, someone will surely die within a day’s time.
Everyone I know in Tinum has been stung at least once by a scorpion, and they say it feels like a good bee sting and sometimes your tongue will go partially numb as well. I’ve yet to be stung myself, but have seen hundreds of scorpions over the years, … usually crawling alone along the rock walls of our house. Often times, one will hang around for a few days and become sorta like a temporary pet to me. This is because I learned long ago, that scorpions aren’t a threat, and they do have a certain cuteness about them. They never deliberately attack you, and don’t move very fast at all, unlike a spooked botacola that has unnerving speed. Most scorpion incidents occur if you reach behind something without looking, are walking in bare feet, or they drop from guanos into your hammock with you.
One time, I was at a house with some guests in town from Australia eating lunch, when suddenly the host of the gathering flew into the air and dove across the table and seemingly punched one of his guests in the shoulder. It seemed like an odd thing to do to me at the time, until he then ran around the table and stepped on a fairly good-sized scorpion. Apparently, a scorpion had fallen from the host’s kitchen guano roof, and landed on Outback Jack’s shoulder without him knowing it. Jose said he saw it begin to crawl towards the guy’s neck, and then thought he’d better do something about it right away.
And once in my own home late in the evening, when scorpions usually appear looking for food, I saw an unusually large jet black one crawling high along the wall near the ceiling. Its size was intriguing to me because they usually don’t get so big, and I wanted to get a better look. So I climbed up on a chair with a flashlight and threw a spotlight on him. Well, it turned out to be a “her”, and she gave the illusion of being larger than most, because her back was covered with what seemed like nearly thirty pale-yellow baby scorpions. And as she scurried away to search for a deep crack to hide in, a couple of the babies fell to the floor. I stepped down from the chair and stepped on them, but I also knew what I’d just seen.
The next day, 27 year old Pedro, who lives just up the street, did what he always does the end of each work week, and drove to the coast in his boss’ taxi van to pick up his regular clientele of passengers that he brings home for the weekend. To explain, a notable percentage of men who live and have families in Tinum, leave early each Monday morning to stay all week in Cancun or other coastal resort areas, until Saturday at noon, working as gardeners, restaurant help, and general laborers. It’s a choice they and their families have made to try and earn some money, instead of just growing corn out in their milpas and living with a small to nonexistent cash income. But because the coast is three hours away, there’s no chance to come home each night. In fact, they have to rent a tiny room downtown and usually crowd together with others to cut costs, because they don’t earn very much (pocito). And when it is time to go home, they truly treasure the opportunity, because the city chaos at the coast, and all those rowdy and reckless “gringos” on spring break, don’t exactly equate to a peaceful and quiet environment like they find in their hometown. The sacrifice is barely worth it, but there is little other way to ever have a chance at getting even a little bit financially ahead. It’s a fight and scratch existence for everyone, that’s just the reality of life for the Mayans of the Yucatan. But luckily, commendably, and amazingly, the positive attitudes and firm values of these men and their family members, keep them all grounded and astonishingly content and happy, especially given the circumstances. They have very few material possessions, which in our world is supposed to create happiness. But what they do have, is each other, their deep pride, and their strong faith.
Anyway, Pedro had begun the long, straight drive through the jungle from the coast to Tinum with his full load of passengers, and most likely wanting to get back home to see his wife and two young children as much as anyone else. But the right front tire of the vehicle he was driving blew out at 60 mph, and the van eventually only stopped rolling over and over when it entered a roadside ditch. Three of the eleven people on board were suddenly dead, including Pedro, who’d been thrown through the windshield and then head first into a large boulder.