Seven a.m. practice sessions have now become routine and I no longer have to hear the girls’ near-dead whisper when I give them the morning wake up call. Thankfully, I’m already three miles into my day, having strode the sands beneath a rising Caribbean sun, and I’m realizing how well it prepares me for the day. That’s the thing about routines, they place you in a certain mind frame, they organize things so you can become comfortable in uncomfortable situations, they provide a roadmap for success. All that is to say I’ve been working on routines with these kids, explaining tactics and strategies and time management between points and myriad other unsexy things that help athletes compete better. While young minds absorb things quickly, they are also undisciplined and stimulated by any new sensory experience. It is a battle to help them become comfortable – after all this entire professional experience is new to them – but we are making progress.
After practice, we got off the tournament site for a few hours, heading out to Tulum, the ancient Mayan city that hosts ruins and one of the world’s top ten beaches. I was here last year and wrote an article about Tulum, so I’m including it at the end of this blog entry. The story won a travel writing contest soI guess it didn’t suck as badly as I first thought.
Today we swam in Bomb Pop blue water atop sands so white they could have been wearing hoods. A few thousand years ago, Mayan civilians tramped about this beach to ward off incoming invaders. Now, tourists pack the sea, shooting thousands of photos that do no justice to this breathtaking place. Across a five hundred yard expanse, Tulum hosts ruins of temples and government buildings and a few residential edifices. The place is swarming with iguanas, which, if you believe the local mythology, are re-incarnated warriors playing sentry to the city’s citadel. Based on how quickly they get out of the way when you chase them, I’m not sure I buy it, but it’s good legend.
When we return to the courts, the girls battle against an Australian and another South American. The tennis is stunning, as though Tulum’s power and history sunk into their souls. They are following routines now, playing with intention, staying focused for longer periods of time.
Crystal waters, ancient stones, and tactical awareness. For this I will travel anywhere.
The Mayan Riviera’s colectivos traverse the pot-holed, coastal thoroughfare with laughable disregard for anthropological safety. Fighting the vaguely digestivesmell inside, I shout “Tulum!” through nine perspiring passengers, and spend the next thirty minutes battling the spinal hum. Eventually, the white van vomits me onto the highway, and from his quickly-receding window, the driver’s brown finger directs me toward the Ancient Mayan fortress.
At the entrance, weathered women grasp and pull my six hundred pesos through flaking metal bars and then offer professional smiles developed over years of promoting this local attraction to curious tourists. Their insincere wrinkles betray my intrusion into their culture. I hoist my camera and begin the trek over Tulum’s gravelly trail.
Sunlight slants throughspiky palms and I’m uncomfortably aware of the avian life now squawking out my presence. A hundred crunchy strides forward, Tulum’s ruins sit atop a 12-metercliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Like sentinels, iguanas populate the site and legend suggests the reptiles are ancient Mayan souls still standing guard over their seaside home.
Ilock eyes with one of the beasts and stagger backwards as I sense his golden irises pulsing with the history of centuries. His power touches something in my limbic brain, liberating me from the constraints of civilization. I am now his guest, permitted to negotiate the terrain without the shackles of modernity. It is a feeling of freedom I’ve not known before.
Making my way across the seven-acre site considered one of Mexico’s most endearing locales for photographic indulgence, I see El Castillo strike its commanding pose above the coastline. Anthropologists believe the castle once served as a beacon to canoe-bound sea travelers. Today, however, it is one of three still-standing buildings at Tulum and the way the iguanas patrol its foundation, one gets the sense it will remain erect for years to come.
After some time, amidst the the rubble tunnels and tumbling structures, searching for a connection with the ancient culture that ruled Mesoamerica for over six hundred years, I venture toward the sea. A wooden staircase spits me onto oatmeal-colored sands. Along the sugary beaches that make my tanned toes look like churros, I am struck by the water’s warmth.
Around me, as though being attacked by the liquid army of an ancient civilization,
sun-screened children with fierce faces scamper from the water’s edge. Grown men groan at the beauty of their wives silhouetted against a backdrop the color of faded denim. Selling stitched linens and orange fruits, local Yucatan women pass through the touristy throng.
I recline at the water’s edge, succumbing to the power of the seascape. Eons have passed here above the sea’s slow shifts : El Castillo’s falling stones, bronzed men eroding into rising reptilian ghosts, and the Mayan culture fading from dynasty into decay.
Beneath me, sandgrains shift and I travel in this passage of time. Wearing leather sandals and cotton breechclouts, Mayan warriors once sat here. They created calendars, written langauge, and art. They stared into the morning’s sunrise, called out to their Gods, and perhaps even waved a welcoming hand to a floating tribesman. I close my sweat-filled eyes and imagine the arrival, relishing in the presence of the past.
As champagne waves bubble onto the shore, I gaze up to find my reptilian custodian eyeing me. A thousand years from now, a lady will raise her own welcoming torch and offer liberty to tribesmen of the world.
For now, however, this is freedom.