Tarnmoor’s ABCs: Yucatán

Temple of the Dwarf at Uxmal

Temple of the Dwarf at Uxmal

All the blog posts in this series are based on Czeslaw Milosz’s book Milosz’s ABC’s. There, in the form of a brief and alphabetically-ordered personal encyclopedia, was the story of the life of a Nobel Prize winning poet, of the people, places, and things that meant the most to him.

My own ABCs consist of places I have loved (Iceland, Patagonia, Quebec, Scotland), things I feared (Earthquakes), writers I have admired (Chesterton, Balzac, Proust, Borges, and Shakespeare); locales associated with my past life (Cleveland, Dartmouth College, and UCLA), people who have influenced me (John F. Kennedy), foods I love (Olives and Tea), and things I love to do (Automobiles and Books). This blog entry is my own humble attempt to imitate a writer whom I have read on and off for thirty years without having sated my curiosity. Consequently, in the next couple of weeks, you will see one remaining posting under the heading “Tarnmoor’s ABCs.” To see my other entries under this category, hit the tag below marked “ABCs”. We are approaching the end of the alphabet today with “Y” for “Yucatán.”

It was the start of my travels: November 1975. Before then, all my traveling was at the behest of my parents or schools. That year, I suddenly decided I wanted to see Mayan ruins—on my own. My parents were appalled. They were sure I would be captured by bandidos, roasted and eaten. It didn’t turn out that way: I had the time of my life. Over a period of two and a half weeks, I saw the ruins at Dzibilchaltún, Uxmal, Chichén Itzá, Kabah, Acanceh, and Mayapan. I went to a Mexican tourist agency called Turistica Yucateca and arranged, in Spanish, for tour guides. (When did I ever learn Spanish? I just winged it and have been winging it ever since.)

From the moment I landed at Manuel Crescencio Rejón Airport in Merida, I was in a world of wonders. It was a warm evening, and I saw shops open to the street and people sitting outside drinking beer and sodas and chatting with their friends and neighbors. I had great food at places like the Restaurant Express on Calle 60 and Alberto’s Continental Patio and Los Tulipanes. I stayed at fascinating hotels, including the crumbling old Gran Hotel, which dated back to the late 1800s when Yucatán was the hemp (rope fiber, not marijuana) capital of the world.

I was hooked. So hooked that, ever since, I insisted on people saying just Yucatán, not “the” Yucatán. I knew. I was there. And not once, but many times.I would no more say “the” Yucatán than I would say “the” California or “the” Poughkeepsie.

I loved the tropical ambiance of Merida and the surrounding country. And people were friendly, probably more friendly then than they are now.

So that’s when I caught in travel bug. The next year, I went to England, Scotland, and Wales. Then on to Hungary and Czechoslovakia. But during the 1980s, at several points I returned to Mexico and Yucatán, sometimes for a month at a time. I rode the rickety old buses, held babies for overwrought young mothers, snacked on strange foods, and felt myself growing as a person, and perhaps as a citizen of the world.