Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

February 20, 2008

Tinum...Can You Imagine

As some of you know by now, we have arrived safely home from our adventure in Tinum, and landed in...Iowa...another adventure. But for our last couple of weeks in the jungle, we were counting the days we had left rather than the 4 1/2 months we had already been there, and reflecting on the crazy and weird things that we had seen and done, that seemed almost normal because we had been there so long. Here are a few of them...

Can you imagine that...

...we haven't heard a phone ring this entire time.

...we can count the number of times we have ridden in a car...on one hand.

...no one in Tinum has ever seen a dishwasher or a clothes dryer.

...very few people in town have a bathroom.

...the lady down the street has never heard of or eaten at a McDonalds.

...every day it is 99 degrees F and perfectly sunny (until the rainy season, of course).

...during the rainy season, every day is hot and sunny and humid, with thunderstorms every afternoon.

...all cement is mixed by hand with just a shovel.

...no one that lives in Tinum has ever seen a mountain, a lake, a river...or snow.

...for over four months, we haven't watched television.

...everyone in town (including us) washes all their clothes by hand.

...every time we want a hot shower, we have to build a fire to heat the water.

...all the corn used for making tortillas is planted, harvested, and carried home...by hand, using no machines.

...everyone does all their cooking over an open fire.

...the village just down the road from Tinum still has to haul all their water out of a well using only a hand-drawn bucket.

...all of our groceries get home in bicycle bags via the thirty-mile round trip to the town of Valladolid (nope, no ice cream for us)

...it was so hot inside our house that the candles melted...which is the only picture that seems appropriate to include in this, my last Tinum story.

February 19, 2008

Tinum...The Wildlife

Sometimes when I write a story, I have to look for pictures to enhance the descriptions within the tale. This time, I am looking for stories to tell about the pictures...but maybe they describe themselves after all. Over three months, we have sometimes literally run into the creatures pictured here (like the lizard clinging to my hammock as I went to hang it up one night). Some of them actually sat still enough for us to run and find the camera and snap a shot of them. Others, like the iguanas that love to perch on stone walls, also love to run off when we get close. So I don't have pictures of everything..most notably the hummingbird that flew into the sala today, and the mouse that just happened to be running around in a plastic bag that I pulled out of the cupboard. Not to mention an oversized rat-like creature the size of a cat that lives in the backyard and only comes out at night. When I see a snake, I run the other way, and never mind the camera. Even though my guidebook says that the mouth on a Coral snake is too small to bite anything but the webbing between fingers and toes, I feel only moderately better considering how often I am wearing flip-flops. And the armadillos are slow enough, but where's the camera when you need it, right? But a few times we have been lucky with the shutter, mostly with the lizards, of which there seem to be lots of variety amoung them. The big one that is clinging to the sala doors is over a foot long, not counting the tail, and runs on its hind-feet like a dinosaur out of the movie Jurassic Park. The geckos, which are maybe two inches long at most, can cling to anything, and we've just discovered that they love to chase laser lights (and you wondered how we would fill our time here!). There are many beautiful butterflies out in the forest, some with brilliant hues of blue and green and yellow, but since chasing butterflies can be futile, I admire them from a distance, and only take pictures of the stupid ones that fly into the house and can't seem to get out again. So there you are for now, hope you enjoy our animal pics...and wish us some more shutter luck!

February 18, 2008

Tinum...My Mural

When the guy at the paint store sent me home with the wrong color of blue, our bathroom became caribbean blue instead of light blue, and started to resemble an underwater scene.  So I decided to help it out a little and paint a mural, so my mom sent some paint bottles down with my aunt and uncle when they visited, and I began to paint.   What turned out...is a work in progress....I hope to continue the next time I go to Tinum as well.

February 17, 2008

Tinum...Searching For Cenotes

After living in this strange world for a while, it gets more familiar, yet still remains alien. The landscape is just part of the strangeness. There are no rivers here, no lakes, no mountains, no hills, just flat, dense undergrowth as far as we can ever see. The true rainforest is farther south, so this is just a dry scrub forest, and the canopy never gets much higher than a two- or three-story house. There are only two seasons, wet and dry. In the spring, it gets dryer and dryer, until the humidity builds up so much in late May that it starts raining every afternoon. So begins the wet season, which lasts until about October. We come for the dry season because it is easy to ride bicycles and do laundry, etc, in dry sunshine. But the fact remains that it is hot, and there aren't very many places to cool off except the beaches 100 miles to the East.

The only exemptions are the natural sinkholes, many of which are still buried in the midst of untamed forest. There are notable exeptions, like the one at the ruins of Chichen Itza, or the one we always swim in, in the middle of the nearby city of Valladolid. But there are literally thousands of cenotes (say-noh-tays) in the Yucatan Peninsula, and most of them are only known by the farmers who plant their fields nearby. We know of five located around Tinum, and it is always an adventure to try and find them again on the ever-changing forest trails, and even more of an adventure to reach the water and swim in them.

The water table is located 75 feel below the surface, and most cenotes have sheer cliffs straight down to the water. The only way in or out of those would be to rappel down and climb out. Fortunately, three of the four we knew of had small paths leading down to the water...if we could find the cenotes. We set off on our bikes with vague directions and a sense that we had been there before. Four miles down the highway; we turned off on a dirt path for another two miles, and then we started checking every path. Many of them dead-ended in beehives or small fields, but no cenotes. Finally we found one small cenote, down a path so narrow that branches brushed us on both sides. After sweating through 15 miles of dead-end trails, we were good and hot, and needed a swim. A steep path descended on one side, and we used roots and trees to keep from falling down to the water level. At the bottom, there was a tiny ledge to hold our shoes, and then a plunge into leaf covered crystal-clear water that hadn't seen a visitor for probably years. We could see the bottom far below us, and the sheer limestone cliffs surrounded us, and it was a tiny private paradise all our own.

And finally on another day with better directions, we found the big cenote, which became our oasis to escape the heat several times a week. And then during our time here, more just kept popping up, in nearby towns and cities and on the forest trails. But one was possibly the best one of all. It seems to be just another impenetrebly deep hole with steep cliffs. Yet when we walked about 500 feet away, we found a tiny cave that opened up into a small cavern with about an 8 foot drop into it. A decrepit ladder helped us down, and from there with our headlamps, we worked our way through narrow passageways lined with stalagtites and hanging bats. When the ceiling dropped, we duck-walked under it a few meters, until finally we could see natural light ahead of us. With luck, the cave opened up right at water level, and this was truly an undiscovered paradise.


February 15, 2008

Tinum...Taking Out The Seeds

It is always interesting to visit a farmer out in the fields where he spends most of his days, so one day we arranged to meet Tachi at his milpa. About a mile and a half out of town, Rob luckily remembered to turn off on a dirt trail that ended at a cornfield, and around a corner we found Tachi's little farming operation. It consisted of a small stick hut to house his ears of corn, and two larger thatched palapas where he could rest, eat, work in the shade, and store various other items. Around all of it were plants of all types set into old cans and bottles, and even a fruit tree or two. In fact, this was the most comfortable setup that we had ever seen out near somebody's fields. Tachi proudly offered to let us sleep out here some night in our hammocks to enjoy the outdoors, and, with a moment of silence, we could hear nothing but birds singing and the wind in the trees. Yet he told us that his wife and kids had never even been out here to visit...it is just his private abode where he comes to work.

Of course, there is no electricity and no water out here, but Tachi rides his big tricycle out every day with big jugs of water, so he has water for washing, drinking, and watering the plants. After gathering our materials, we walked back out to the small, weedy, dilapilated field, where Tachi explained how the whole growing cycle works. To be used as a field, first the trees and undergrowth are chopped down, and then at the end of the dry season in April, the whole field is burnt durning a (hopefully) controlled burn.. After the rainy season starts in May, the area is planted with several seeds, including corn, beans, squash, and sweet potatoes, all growing out the same holes and coexisting. The squash and sweet potatoes provide groundcover to keep down the weeds, the corn is their main foodsource, and the beans use the cornstalks as poles to climb up. Then the fields sit until everything is dry and ready to be harvested.

At this point in January, the beans and the corn had already been gathered, the cornstalks were all bent over, and the weeds were high. But somewhere in there were still squash, and our job was to find them. I armed myself a couple of leaky old buckets, Rob had a big burlap bag, and Tachi had a wicker basket hanging on his back from a strap around his head. We split up swathes of the field and set out to gather the squash, which loved to hide amoung the rocks, leaves, and undergrowth which made up the field, but soon enough we filled our containers up and found a shady spot to dump them all in a pile, which started to become a large mound as we continued to search out more. By the time we had cleared the field of squash, we were hot and sweating, and there were probably 400 squash in the pile.

We went back to the palapa for a break and snack, and in the shade Tachi proudly showed us his single-action rifle and explained some of the animals that he hunts out in the jungle. In the course of the conversation he asked if we had ever eaten duck, and we said we had, in a Chinese Restaurant in Paris. He still kept a blank look on his face, and we realized that he had never heard of either Chinese food or the city of Paris. With that, the break was over, and we headed back out to deal with the squash. They are of course very heavy, so bringing them home on a bicycle isn't a very good option, but they are highly valued for the seeds that are inside. Tachi started splitting them in half with his coa (which is a long curved blade used for all sorts of tasks), and it was our job to remove the seeds from inside. It is actually easy work, but for me, the idea of sticking my hand into the mushy interior of a squash was one of the grossest sensations that I have felt in a long time. I more or less got used to it after doing a few, and soon enough one hand was dripping with squash mush, and the other was caked with dirt from holding up squash halves.

The pile inside our buckets grew slowly, and after about 4 hours, the three of us each had a five-gallon bucket almost filled with seeds. After being washed, cleaned, and dried in the sun for about a week they would finally be ready to eat. Then some of them will be ground up for use in cooking, and some of them left as seeds to munch on. Tachi had plans to sell some of them in tiny bags for about 10 cents each. We asked how many bags could be made from a bucket, and he estimated maybe 100. So with our three buckets of seeds, we had worked the entire morning to someday earn the family maybe $30 worth of squash-seed sales.