June 7. Mexico!

I get up at 5am again, this time to be picked up by a shuttle bus to Palenque, Mexico. It is an eight-hour busride including a long section on a bumpy dirtroad. But the scenery is simply beautiful. Busrides can be a real attraction. This one includes another exciting complication: the border to Mexico. We unload the luggage and embark on a long speedboat. The crossing of takes twenty fantastic minutes, because the Mexicans built the road several kilometers downstream (vexing the Guatemalans?). I peel a starfruit that I picked for breakfast and throw the rotten bits overboard as the boat splits the water bow high up. At the Mexican side, another bus is already waiting and immigration services work quickly. However, a few kilometers into Mexico, the trip is interrupted by the peculiar moaning of the Opisthocomus hoazin turistica. We have to cross a national park and the park official is demanding a 15 peso tax which is obligatory even if you’re just passing through. The park reliess on local taxation to pay for helicopters to put out wildfires, they tell me. Some Germans in the back ask if they can camp here because “there is no way we pay this stupid rip-off tax”. Other tourists join in and soon the conversation turns into a grumbling tumult with the park official. Over slightly more than one dollar. I think they should rethink their attitude, the tourists that are by definition filthy stinking rich. As for myself, I have another problem. I just left all of my remaining cash at the exit post of Guatemala so I can’t pay the 15 pesos though I seem the only one willing to do it. So I step out of the vehicle, tell the park official I’m really willing to pay because I understand the cause being an environmental activist myself. What can I do? Sir, can I work, all I have to offer is what’s inside my luggage and my muscular power. Can I do some work for 15 pesos? No. Then I climb resolutely on the roof of the minibus, untie my backpack and start getting out things.
“Un guia turistica muy buena en ingles. Muy recien.”
-“No intiendo ingles.”
“Pero senor, puede venderlo despues a otro turista. Tiene que pensar como un hombre de negocios!”
-“Hahaha. Pero no gracias.”
“Este cuchara de una marca de alta calidad. Resiste el calor.”
-“No necessitamos aqui.”
“Crema de sol? Detergente? Camisa? Por favor…”
-“No, no… haha… es loco, haha…hihiahaha. Pffrrrrt…”
I am standing on the roof of the bus selling stuff from my luggage to pay for a Mexican natural reserve tax of 15 pesos and I feel so intensely happy! This is so good! Cool breeze in my hair, decisiveness in my mind and – admittedly – I’m in the center of all the attention. The roof of the bus is the stage and I’m performing.
“Quizas esta bolsa de documentos?”
-“No, haha, aqui en Mexico es diferente. No tenemos eso.” He symbolizes his throat being cut by a violent thief robbing the travel wallet.
“Pero para vender a otro turista…?”
-“Ok, ok”, another man says. “Compro la billetera para veinte pesos.”
“Veinticinco.”
A man gives me 25 pesos and I pay my taxes. I ask the park official to write down the name of the municipality so I can find it later, see on google earth if the wildfires have been put out properly. The conjuction of a German hand and a German accent urges me to get off the roof, because we are rolling on. As I get back in the bus, nobody talks with me. They have all paid their taxes because “there is no way around it”. The guy next to me says it’s not the money but the principle that matters. And do you want to know what I answer the guy?
“Look, I own a f…. PhD in philosophy and that’s as close to principles as you can get. But I left that behind me man.”
We still have 147 asphalt kilometers to go and I think about principles. All I can come up with is that I find them ugly when they are not capable of adjusting themselves to a different cultural context.

In Palenque, the tourists quickly disappear and I am alone again. I see an American couple in the bus station and decide to talk to them because the man has a pirate appearance like myself. They tell me they’re on their way to Tulum (it’s supposed to be a marvelous place). You could easily hitchhike in Mexico accordinig to them. I decide to try that on my way to Panchan near the historical Maya site, which is near anyway so I don’t have to rely on cars. So I walk down the road and one car after another passes without responding to my stuck out thumb or the question mark I wrote in the air with my fist. I just want to know how far it is to Panchan, but no-one halts. That’s good for the singing. It’s great for the singing. I march singing everything between Bach and Bob Dylan. I manage more melancholical registers and even have a go at David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”:

“I’m sitting in my tin can
Driiiiiiving down the road
And the little feller out there
I see him sticking out his thumb
But I don’t take him nowhere
Because I’m absolutely numb

Here’s ground control to major Tom
Just hold on you’re not alone.”

Finally a car stops and the grumpy old driver tells me I’m almost there. I explain him he is the only one who pulled over and wish him all of God’s love but he’s already gone. Panchan is a lodging complex where you can stay in a dorm room for 50 pesos. How grateful I am for the shower! And the calory-loaded Pasta a la Carbonara! And the live music! And the delicious chocolate sold by the guy who made it himself. He has all kinds of flavors: orange, ginger, mint, chili, and pssst (whispering conspiratorially), a new one, a very special one – chocolate with hongos, mushrooms. In this region, magic mushrooms are very common. You need about fifteen for a trip and it costs you about 200 pesos. For the chocolate he used thirteen mushrooms, well ground and blended with the cacao. It’s only 100 pesos for almost a full-fledged mushroom trip. Imagine how many crazy ideas you could get out of it. Imagine the hallucinations you fly through the jungle back to Maya times easily run up and down the temples, communicate with the Gods – time to make the priests redundant and wrap them in cotton – peel ripe mangos and avocados sharing them with sacral snakes that have seven head. Imagine the apotheosis of staggering bright watercolors pouring from the sky and ten thousand rainbows – I decide not to take the mushrooms because I think my imagination is doing pretty well anyway.

I can’t sleep in the hot cabin and mosquitos bite me. I rub my skin with diclophenac sodium. Then I go drinking with a group of Mexican anthropology students. They are traveling around Yucatan and Tabasco, visiting Maya sites on their way. Myriam and Mario are really fond of their studies and it’s good to talk with them and sharing a few 940ml bottles of delicious Corona beer.

I can’t sleep still and get some fresh air outside. A strange noise from the cottage next to me. I walk closer. It’s a woman screaming in the height of her pleasure. It goes on and on. I go back in my cottage but the noise is too loud. Panting, screaming, wheezing, groaning. For a short while, the man kicks in and produces a few short panting cries and then it’s over. A few seconds later excited wows and satisfied wemadeits. So this is what the origin of new life sounds like, I think. And then: as a writer you can pick one little detail out of a vast range of events and mold that detail into a story. You’re coiling and folding the general storyline of life you offer to your reader. Perhaps that’s an important job. Perhaps this is all rubbish. When one guy decides to enlarge certain details he thinks are important, what’s the big deal? Who cares? If he thinks the general storyline of life gets more streamlined, more interesting, more vital from it, good for him. Congratulations. But don’t bother your neighbor with it. It’s an individualist society where everybody has his or her episode of going to a romantic cottage in some beautiful country to reproduce. And the storyline remains as flat as ever.

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Kamiel Choi

Dutch philosopher and poet, sometimes sharing thoughts on the internet.

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