Stoned Skeletons and Ancient Pyramids: Tales from the Yucatan Peninsula

On the far reaches of the Yucatan peninsula, I struggled to take the last step to reach the apex of a mighty pyramid in the jungle, high above where the trees meet the sky. After climbing 130 steps in the July heat and turning to appreciate the distant horizon, I was overcome by a sense of awe. As I projected my gaze upon an eagle in the distance, I could hear nothing but the sound of my own labored breathing and the wind rustling through the leaves of the canopy below. I could not help but think that the ancient Mayans were somehow trying to communicate with me through the ages as a zephyr whimsically whispered their lost secrets through the trees. Majestic sites like this one - the Nohoch Mul pyramid in Coba - tend to have a profound effect upon their visitors. These imposing structures, having withstood the tests of time, project their magnificence outwards and into their visitors. In the shadow of these ancient behemoths, it’s hard to resist feeling inspired and humbled by the accomplishments of the great civilizations which came before us. The mere presence of such eminence is enough to leave you spellbound by all of humanity’s great unanswered questions: space, time, and the human experience that binds us all. Here I sat, looking down on the earth, perched above a thick jungle that had hidden this pyramid from the outside world for a thousand years. The zenith of the temple I had just summited was a spot once reserved only for the most elaborate ceremonies and sacred blood rituals, yet somehow, I had managed to casually climb up the dizzying structure and keep my heart in my chest and my head on my shoulders.

A few days before this temple escapade, I had gone to a part-bar, part-restaurant, part-wooden shack on the beach at the recommendation of a friend. You’ll like it, he said. They have amazing tacos and it’s right on the beach. My girlfriend and I looked at each other. Yeah, that sounds perfect. The sign outside the bar beckoned us in: "Today, relax and eat some fucking tacos." We looked at each other again. This is exactly what we needed. Upon approaching the shack, we walked in. It’s bright on the beach. The sands are white and it is high noon. As we adjusted our eyes to the shade inside, we could not believe what we saw: three massive men in full traditional Mayan warrior garb smoking a massive joint in the middle of the bar. The leader of the group was painted head to toe in dark red, his chest and arms covered in traditional tattoos. The sides of his head were shaved in an intimidating show of force, and he was donning an impressive green-feathered headband. The second was completely painted as a skeleton: black holes around his eyes, face morphing into a skull, some sort of dried brown leather around his waist, and a big spear-shaped wooden staff at his feet. Stoned companion number three was wearing a large jaguar skin (replete with the animal's skull) draped over his head and shoulders. Two big black lines came down his chin and covered his torso down to his abdomen. It was one of the most unexpectedly hilarious encounters, stumbling upon these half-men, half-death eating skeleton warriors getting stoned out of their minds in the middle of a taqueria, looking blatantly conspicuous in the midst of more diminutive, sunburnt Canadian redheads. The warriors were taking the ‘eat some fucking tacos’ mantra seriously, too: in front of each of them sat a large plate of tacos that they appeared to inhale more quickly than the joint itself. Curious as to what they were doing there, we only needed to wait about half an hour before they rose from their seats and proceeded towards the water to face a crowd of drunken tourists and perform a sort of tribal dance. Fully aware that they were blitzed out of their skulls, we could not help but chuckle under our breaths. It made the performance all the more entertaining, as the skeleton and jaguar lethargically danced to the rhythm of red warrior’s drum beats. The men were much less intimidating, prancing around in their visibly uncomfortable leather undies on the beach in front of a bunch of pina colada imbibing tourists, than they were towering above everyone else in the bar, passing around a symbol of Mexico’s current instability and violence. Exhausted from a week in sprawling Mexico City, spending a week in Tulum was a truly unforgettable experience. This gorgeous hippy beach town has everything a traveler could possibly want (except for hippies, maybe): ancient temples spilling into sea, beaches of crystal white sands and clear turquoise waters, and underground cenotes where you can explore connected cave systems of beautiful waters the Mayans once believed were the underworld. I snorkeled with sea turtles, had the best tacos of my life for pennies on the dollar, and learned to scuba dive. Truly unforgettable, what an adventure the Yucatan peninsula provides!