Continuing five more kilometers through San Francisco on the road from Tinum, you come to a tiny hand scratched sign that says “Loopxul”, and an arrow on it pointing down a dirt road that disappears into the jungle. Well, should you be brave enough to go that way, two kilometers later you’ll actually reach Loopxul, the end of the line. Loopxul (pronounced lope-shool) is a very small town of 50 people, all of whom are part of an extended family, who live in a total of eight nas. Life in the village is perhaps as traditional as it gets across the Yucatan Peninsula, although there are many other hidden and isolated communities just like it all over.
I was just hanging out at home one day, when I suddenly heard a knock at my door. 17-year old Daniel introduced himself with a firm handshake and wondered if I’d be available to teach him some English. He’d heard that a “gringo” lived in Tinum, and that “Roberto” often gave English classes to anyone interested in learning. Daniel explained that he lived in Loopxul, and was willing to make the 18-kilometer ride each way each week each way to my house to attend classes. And before long, Daniel was a regular visitor.
Well, it was inevitable that Daniel ask me to visit his home sometime also, and I jumped on the chance when he invited me to a celebration his family was planning on having there. I expected to see a lot that I’d already seen in Tinum, as far as the process of preparing festive foods and the like. But there was something uniquely different about Loopxul that was a great fascination to discover. Loopxul had neither running water nor electricity. I mean, Tinum itself barely even has such services, although a very crude system of pipes and tubing does carry pumped water up from a cenote to almost everyone’s house for a short while twice a day. And precariously hung cables reach most homes with electricity. But Loopxul was void of those basic luxuries, and that makes things quite interesting there.
As was the case for the all Mayans throughout their history on the Yucatan Peninsula, it was necessary for them to live near a cenote, the only source of water around. It turns out that the porous limestone rock, of which the Yucatan is made, is incapable of holding any water, meaning that there are no streams, ponds, rivers, or lakes anywhere. All rainfall immediately seeps down to a water table 75 feet underground where an elaborate network of subterranean rivers if found. Every once in a while, the ground caves in and a sinkhole is formed, exposing the water. These sinkholes are called cenotes, and ultimately allowed the chance for the Mayans to have water. Unfortunately, the steep walls of a cenote are usually perfectly vertical, and that made it tough to get the water. But of course systems were developed to haul it up with rope and containers, and it was imperative that you didn’t fall in, because there was no way out.
The ancient and not so ancient Maya were lucky to have a plant native to the region called henequen, that contains a fibrous material that can be wound into rope. And of course for them making a container to carry the water itself wasn’t too difficult a challenge. An alternative to having a cenote at your disposal, was to dig a well and hope that you struck water. But that meant digging at least down 75 feet by hand, which is exactly what has been done many times in villages across the Yucatan. In Tinum, there are between 7 and 10 such wells that these days have lids on them, but can still be easily opened up if the town water system breaks down, and even I have spent many hours hauling buckets of water up the old fashioned way. But in Loopxul, it’s the only way.
There is one well in Loopxul, dug who knows when ago. They do have metal buckets these days with handles to tie sturdy rope to, but it still means hauling countless buckets of water up 75 feet everyday. Heck, you need water for cooking, washing, watering, bathing, and drinking. And the stuff goes fast no matter how prudent and conservative you are. I found out there, that the women were responsible for retrieving and keeping adequate water supply on hand. And after witnessing their flawless, practically poetic technique of controlling a rope with a moving weight on one end, … and without gloves, I definitely concluded they were most certainly adept at handling the important chore, … and quite strong as well.
Daylight hours of course allow for anything to be done, including having a great fiesta. But once the sun sets, there’s no light switch to flip on. You’d think everyone in Loopxul would just go to bed after dark, what with no TV to watch, no music to listen to, no bowl of ice cream to get from the freezer, and no telephone to talk on. But a day in Loopxul is usually longer than the mere time between dawn and dusk. The sheer volume of chores and tasks that must be completed daily just to produce sustenance from their fields to survive, as well as taking care of their animals, takes every sunlit minute of day. So it’s often after dark, when they do whatever’s left to do.
Daniel’s family lots of times uses their nighttime to create wares, … things to sell and to earn some always-useful money. Both the men and women stay up late hand stitching huipil designs and weaving hammocks somehow by flickering candlelight, whereas Daniel’s mother Doña Josefina is the expert basket weaver of the family. It’s an art form that requires collecting special, super pliable vines from the jungle that must be boiled for over an hour so that their skins can be removed. Then, Doña Josefina makes sense of the miles of entangled vines by size and color, and sits down for hours next to a candle.
Life in the village is as basic as it used to be everywhere around the world at one time or another, but in Loopxul, it’s still that way even today. It takes a long-term compounded confidence in yourself to withstand the rigor of a lifestyle like that, and a persona of great depth to be able to appreciate its profound union with all that it has made out of you. I could tell by simply just being around the folks who live in Loopxul, that they knew several things I’d never ever even thought of before. You can see it in their stern faces and in their telling eyes. Yet, I’ve also wondered if I would ever be able to even conceive those things, and if I was even entitled to.