Hasta Mañana

Hey guys! I have my current update all ready but the signal here at home isn’t strong enough to attach the photos and videos (we just endured a huge storm which knocked out our wifi all afternoon until now). I’ll upload tomorrow when I’m at school with a stronger connection. Until then!

Sorry,
Bliss

Hasta Mañana

Weekend Excursion to Tulum

Hey guys!

What a weekend! Because I only have my Maya class on weekdays, this past weekend, my host brother Javier and I decided to venture to a beach town named Tulum, one hour away from Felipe Carrillo Puerto, with my parents, who were staying there for the weekend.

First, on the way to Tulum, we stopped at a small, lesser-known set of Mayan ruins known as Muyil. Barely a small dot on my road map, the site actually houses one of the best preserved Mayan pyramids, built in the Peten style, in Quintana Roo. Also there is another pyramid, a temple, and much more stone and rock hidden under layers of palm trees, waiting to be excavated. Here is a photo of the main pyramid:

The main pyramid at Muyil.
The main pyramid at Muyil.

Next, we stopped at the Cenote Dos Osos. A cenote, one of the geological formations of the Yucatan peninsula, is a sinkhole which exposes the groundwater underneath the limestone bedrock shelf. The Ancient Maya used cenotes as an important source of water, and regarded them as sacred. This particular cenote was developed into a pool-like facility, with diving platforms, tightropes, and slides. Here’s a photo of me diving (excuse my form, I guess I can cross Olympic diving of my bucket-list):

Guess I'm not a diver
Guess I’m not a diver

After a week of home-cooked Mexican food, it was a welcome relief to go to a local Italian restaurant for lunch and an Argentine steakhouse for dinner in Tulum. The food was absolutely amazing, so amazing to the point that I ate too much and became sick later in the night…

However, I have not yet mentioned Tulum’s two main attractions. This morning, Javier and I visited the Maya ruins of Tulum. Ancient Tulum, known as Zama (Dawn) by its Maya inhabitants, was a walled city on the Yucatan coast that served as an important trading center and port in the region. And, thus, it was one of the first Maya cities sighted by the Spanish explorers in the early 16th century. Today, the ruins are famous for their marvelous scenery— ancient temples upon jagged cliffs overhanging a white sand beach and the turquoise Caribbean Sea. Although there were many tourists, as typical for many sites on the Maya Riviera, we managed to take a few photos without too many people in the way:

A protected zone for archaeology AND turtles!
A protected zone for archaeology AND turtles!
The main building of the Tulum site
The main building of the Tulum site
Featuring random tourist guy
Featuring a random tourist person

After the ruins, we stopped at the beach to take a quick dip in the water. Even for me, a part-time Florida resident, the water was exceedingly clear and warm. We could only stay for about 20 minutes, however, before we had to catch our cab back to Carrillo.

Typical Caribbean bliss.
Typical Caribbean bliss.

Although Tulum was a lot of fun, I’m glad to be back in Carrillo, sitting in the little thatched hut behind my family’s store, watching TV with all my delightfully restless siblings. Off to another week of Maya class!

My next update will be on either Wednesday or Thursday. Until then!

Bliss

Weekend Excursion to Tulum

Ba’ax? Qué? What?

Greetings from Felipe Carrillo Puerto! Sorry for the lateness of this first post; I’ve been enjoying life in Mexico so much that I haven’t even taken my computer out until now!

First of all, my host family, the Pat Cocam family, has been extraordinarily welcoming, kind, and helpful. We live in a house on the outskirts of town, right next to the jungle. Just next to the house is a store which everyone from the family, even the small children, helps to operate. At night, we hang out, share some snacks, and watch television around a fire in a small shack behind the store. As an only child coming from a rather small family, sharing a home with so many people has been quite an exciting adjustment. My host father, Señor Pat Cocam, is a policeman, and my host mother, Señora Pat Cocam, helps out around the house and store. I also have four siblings: two brothers, Javier (15) and Jnorman (4), and two sisters, Yadira (17) and Sandra (9). We’ve already done so much together, whether it be going to the local pool, riding the moped to the grocery store across town, adventuring into the jungle just outside of our house, or watching Disney movies in Spanish. At this point, we are communicating mostly in Spanish, largely because I do not know enough Mayan to initiate a detailed conversation yet. Only Javier speaks English, but I’m trying to resort to that as little as possible. My family always makes an effort to help me out with both Spanish and Maya, no matter how many times I have to say “Que?” “Como se dice ___ en español?” or “Yo no comprendo.” It’s exciting as ever to have siblings and a large family, and, even though it is not easy to communicate, I feel as if I understand all of them very well already, after only three days.

Every day, I bike 15 minutes across town to the Na’atik Instituto de Lenguas y Culturas for my five-hour Mayan lesson. Mayan, although extremely difficult, is very fun to learn. Not to mention, my teacher, x-Linda, does not speak English, so I have to think in Spanish, of which my knowledge is at best mediocre, and Mayan at the same time. From a linguistic standpoint, Mayan is very different from anything I have ever encountered before and therefore highly interesting. For example, there are different ways to conjugate a verb in the present tense depending if the verb takes an object or not. “I’m studying” is translated “Teene’ taan in xook,” but “I’m studying Mayan” is translated “Teene’ taan in xookiik ma’aya t’aan.” Also, numbers differ depending on whether they are modifying humans or inanimate objects. “One dog” is “jun túul peek’,” but “one house” is “jun p’eel naj.” As you can see in the examples I’ve given, the pronunciation is very difficult for English speakers too. However, x-Linda always finds ways to spice up the tedious verb conjugations, complicated pronouns, and extremely foreign vocabulary of the Mayan language. Today, for example, we made a cube with different colors and question words on each side to learn (you guessed it!) colors and question words. When she rolled the cube, I would have to say the color or ask a question using the word on the face which showed. Nevertheless, the challenge is extremely satisfying, and I’m really looking forward to diving into further depth these next few weeks.

Lastly, the food has been excellent. Although not what is typically regarded as “Mexican food,” I have thoroughly enjoyed every last meal, whether it be “kaax yeetel arroz” (chicken with rice), or “baak’ yeetel buul beyxan waj” (beef with beans and tortilla). Tonight, I’m going to a taqueria with the staff from Na’atik. I hope to order in Maya!

Here are some photos from the last few days:

It took a ten minute trek through the jungle to see this field. It was worth all of the mosquito and ant bites!
It took a ten minute trek through the jungle to see this field. It was worth all of the mosquito and ant bites!
A little survey to fill out about myself.
A little survey to fill out about myself for homework tonight.
What I ride to school every day.
What I ride to school every day.
He's honestly one of the cutest kids I've ever seen.
Jnorman’s honestly one of the cutest kids I’ve ever seen.
I love how colorful the buildings are here!
I love how colorful the buildings are here in downtown Felipe Carrillo Puerto!
One of at least ten pages of conjugations I've learned. And it's only day 3 of Mayan class!
One of at least ten pages of conjugations I’ve learned. And it’s only day 3 of Mayan class!
My home for the next three weeks.
“Mi casa” for the next three weeks.
The store my family operates.
The store my family operates.
Quesadillas con Queso y Jamon
Quesadillas con Queso y Jamon
I'll take this over a Harkness table to be honest.
My classroom. I’ll take this over a Harkness table, to be honest.

My next update will be on Sunday night. Thanks for reading!

-Bliss

Ba’ax? Qué? What?

Xíiktech Uutsil! (Bon Voyage!)

Hello! ¡Hola! Ba’ax ka wa’alik!

Thank you for taking the time to check out my blog. I will be using this page to provide a day-to-day account of my trip to the Yucatán over the next month with posts, pictures, video, and more. Hope you enjoy it!

As many of you know, my main academic passion is the study of the Classical languages, history, literature, and culture. However, ever since I was a child, I have also been fascinated by the lesser-studied, yet still significant, Maya civilization. Now shrouded in dense tropical jungle, the Maya city-states such as Chichen-Itza, Tikal, Copan, Palenque, and Uxmal once controlled a region encompassing the entire Yucatan peninsula and Guatemalan highlands. Interacting with the other Mesoamerican societies, they accomplished spectacular feats, including but not limited to: advanced knowledge in mathematics and astronomy, the only documented writing system in Pre-Columbian America, and a complex religious, mythological, and cosmological tradition. When the Spaniards arrived in the Yucatan in 1517, they were indeed amazed by the splendor and sophistication of the culture they discovered.

However, these explorers from the East, originally prophesized by the Maya to be gods arriving from a distant land, were to spell certain doom for this civilization. Conquistadores from Spain arrived in many waves, forcing their Catholic religion on the locals, whom they perceived as non-Christian “infidels,” and toppling each of the Maya city-states with the support of thousands of resentful native allies. Even more crippling to the Maya was the arrival of Old World diseases such as smallpox and measles, to which they had no resistance; over 90% of the indigenous Maya population was eliminated through those means.  However, the Maya resisted fiercely and refused to capitulate to Spanish rule; only in 1697, after nearly two centuries of fighting, were the last remaining Maya strongholds in the Petén basin defeated.

Nevertheless, unbeknownst to much of the world, the Maya people still endure to this very day. Millions of Maya still live in the regions once controlled by their ancestors and speak their traditional languages. Preserving many of their cultural institutions, they form a very distinct element of Mexican and Central American culture.

Tomorrow morning, I will be setting off at 7:59 AM from New York’s LaGuardia Airport via Atlanta and Cancún to Felipe Carrillo Puerto, a small town in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula inhabited mostly by Maya. Carrying with me only a limited knowledge of Spanish and even less of Yucatec, the local Mayan language, I will be living with a Maya family who will not speak English, and I will be one of very few Americans in the town. My goals there are twofold: first, to learn and explore the linguistic structures of the Yucatec language (which, by the way, is wildly different from any traditionally studied language) through daily classes at the Na’atik Instituto de Lenguas y Culturas, and, second, to evaluate the current standing of the Mayan language in the region and determine if it is in danger. I plan to write a research paper after my return home to present my findings. Throughout the last few weeks, I have been preparing for this trip by learning as much Spanish as my brain could process and reading through many books about the Maya, their history, and their language. I know I’ll end up learning much more when I’m actually there.

I’m really looking forward to immersing myself in an indigenous culture extremely foreign to and, sadly, largely unappreciated in the United States. The opportunity to dive into a new community and forge new transnational relationships and cultural understandings is truly remarkable. I hope to represent Exeter, New York City, and America well through these new relationships, and, in addition to learning about Maya culture, to expand my new friends’ knowledge of American culture and tradition.

Deep stuff. Don’t worry, my next updates are sure to be more lighthearted and fun. I look forward to sharing my experiences with you. Thanks for reading!

Until later, hasta luego, and taak ulak k’iin!

Xíiktech Uutsil! (Bon Voyage!)