Slice of Life #10: Maya


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I don’t remember the year, but it was a while back. For reasons I hesitate to expound upon, I was in Puerto Morelos in Mexico, and I was going to see Nohoch Mul, a Mayan pyramid, at the ruins of Cobá. I had seen Xel-Há and Tulum, and wanted to see Cobá, which was said to be one of the most extraordinary ruins and had a marvelous pyramid that they said wouldn’t be open to the public much longer. My tour guides were to take me in a van, with several other people, on a pre-planned journey.

Well nobody else showed up, so it was just my traveling companion and I. The driver was a native of Quintana Roo, the area of the Yucatan Peninsula on which Puero Morelos is located, at the north of the Riviera Maya, and the tour guide was a woman whose native stomping grounds evade me, but I recall one thing in particular.

She spoke German.

It is, to this day, the only situation in which I spoke German “in the field,” as I took German for seven years through middle and high school, not that my German is any good anymore.

Without anyone else to constrain us, I was presented with a choice: Did I want to take the tour as planned, or did I want to divert, and go hang out with some Mayans on the way to Cobá?

Uh, duh.

The village (“aldea”) was obviously receptive to tourists poking around, so I assume it wasn’t just our guide’s neighbors, but a bit of an arrangement, but who cares? It was just us, nobody else, and we got to sit and talk and be welcomed into their home.


The adults, all women but one male self-identified shaman, were kind, quiet, graceful. The kids were sparsely clothed, laughing, teasing good-naturedly, playing with animals, and making music that they genuinely seemed to love making, obviously for my benefit. Invited to play a drum, I gladly demonstrated that this at-the-time music teacher could jam with the kiddos! The entire place was hazy with a hanging cloud of charcoal smoke that would pervade my suitcase until I returned to Virginia. The food looked incredible, though I did not eat anything, knowing my GI system is somewhat twitchy – another story, another time. There were animals everywhere.  The structures were rounded on the ends, because “spirits live in corners.” There was a large, loping spider monkey who really wanted a hug, and some of the cutest baby monkeys I’ve ever seen.

One animal in particular stood out to me. I learned later, it was a ring-tailed coati, and one of the little girls had it as a beloved pet.


It was like a raccoon and a cat and a baby bear with a lemur tail, bright-eyed and intelligent, and playful! I, of course, being eternally 12 years old, squeed with delight, and of course I put my hand out when it came bouncing over to say hello.

The coati then reached up with surprisingly significant little claws and a biiig happy smiling mouth of ferret-sharp teeth, and claw-bit my hand and latched on. I yelped, of course, which the little girl found… charming? delightful? dunno… and the mother laughed a bit, and I made that “oh, yes, haha, oh $#!%…” half-laugh, and lifted my coati-gauntlet fur-glove. The little fellow – thankfully an adolescent; I understand they can get quite a bit bigger – went along for the ride, before eventually realizing I was climbable. Turns out, coatis like to be up high, so they scamper up things. Trees. Support pillars. Yam-shaped music teachers.

They’re really, really cute, and very brave, as this zoo video highlights. I loved the little guy, and took a few bite wounds with me just to prove it.

I did, eventually, make it to Cobá, and it is a breathtaking, stunning ruin, and the view from the top of Nohoch Mul, which I did get to climb before it closed, was worth the blood.

Yeah. I climbed that.


The temple atop Nohoch Mul is that of the “Diving God,” which may be Ah-Muzen-Cab, the God of Bees and Honey. Reaching the top and looking out over the Yucatan certainly was a sweet experience to savor, though I learned later that Mayan bees were stingless.

Unlike my coati bite.