Thursday, November 25, 2010

Utopian community

Today we took an excursion to Tulum and Xel-Ha. Tulum is a small Mayan archaeological park, and I would describe Xel-Ha as a Mayan natural-aquatic theme park. The two are near each other and combine to make a well-balanced day. In the morning you get a small dose of ancient Mayan culture, some great photo opportunities, and even time to go swimming at a nice little beach behind a spectacular temple where Maya once performed human sacrifices and threw the bodies down toward the sea. (There’s more to this story, but it’s too disturbing for this particular piece.)

Today’s Tulum trip follows yesterday’s trip to Chichen Itza, one of the Seven Wonders of the World as redefined recently by some accredited standards body. Frankly, I don’t remember who comprised this standards body, but Chichen Itza certainly is big and impressive. Alla and I had been on both of these trips previously, but Nika wanted to see Chichen Itza and we felt that we’d enjoy the trips ourselves so we went with her on both of them. It was Alla and my third trip to Chichen Itza, and our first after visiting another archaeological site with a real archaeologist. We noticed yesterday that our guide was grossly less informed than the archaeologist, but of course we enjoyed being at the site anyway.

Today’s guide didn’t appear to be any more thoroughly educated than yesterday’s, but to his credit he did offer us some very interesting tidbits. We didn’t mind any lack of depth anyway because we weren’t in the archaeological area long enough to learn a whole lot anyway, and the place was just plain beautiful. And we got to go swimming even before moving on to the Mayan natural-aquatic theme park.

The latter offers a wide range of services, including snorkeling gear, rafts, life jackets, towels, beach chairs, zip-lines, bicycles, unlimited food and drink, showers, hammocks, and what-have-you. This is the place that struck Nika as utopian after we’d been there a while and hopped from one set of beach chairs to another to take advantage of the changing position of the sun. It’s utopian in a very modern way: The institution shares all manner of good stuff with the clients, but the clients aren’t obligated to give anything to anybody. Except money, of course.

I thought it was sort of utopian traveling with Nika anyway, because she likes to challenge herself physically, as do I. I got to swim longer and harder than I would have without her encouragement. (Or was it instigation?) And even though she’s a faster swimmer than I am, she hung back as necessary so we could swim the length of the park more or less together. And of course I’m grateful to Alla for her willingness to entertain herself with other activities while Nika and I introduced ourselves to as many fish as possible. Everybody reports having enjoyed the day.

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