"Teach me about the goddess Xtabay (esh-ta-bay)."
We were riding on a taxi-bike with Jose, our Maya tour guide and valiant peddler. There were two of us riding, Maria and I, and I know Jose got his workout for the day as he transported us down jungle paths, past sacred trees, Maya bees, and to the base of the tallest pyramid in Mexico.
"Esh-ta-by " he corrected my pronunciation. (My spelling here, Xtabay, is correct. But the way I said it was a bit off.) "Xtabay is a bad goddess," he explained. "She lives inside the ceiba tree."
Ceiba trees have strong, deep roots that penetrate the limestone ground of the Yucatan Peninsula and make their way into the immense, water-filled cave system below. The Maya people believe they connect Heaven and The Underworld.
I believe them.
Jose went on to explain, "Xtabay is beautiful. Her spirit lives in the tree and at night she comes out and finds men who are drunk and she lures them back into the tree with her."
This was my um-teenth time touring the ruins of the great city of Coba and Maria's first. I was excited for her to see something I had fallen in love with long ago. The history of the Maya people is mysterious, to say the least. No-one knows why they left their elaborate cities and fled into the jungle. Well, they say no-one knows. I am not so sure. I have been on a mission to learn more about these lovely people and their culture and history. So every time I have the chance, I talk to them. I ask questions and listen to their stories. And I am learning some interesting things.
On my previous trip to Coba, I talked to Alejandro, another biking-peddling tour guide. He enlightened me regarding a very interesting practice his family adheres to.
"My family lives near the ruins of Chichen Itza in Yucatan," he said. Yucatan is a state in Mexico. It is the next state west from Quintana Roo where I live. Yucatan is mostly dense jungle and little pueblos that still have an air of authentic and ancient culture. Two really interesting things about the area are:
ONE--That the Maya people in Yucatan still live within the boundaries of the ancient ruined cities--Chichen Itza being one of the biggest and most famous. They live in stick houses with grass roofs or cement homes with tin roofs, or any combination of the two. They don't live in the stone houses that were built over a thousand years ago, but they basically DO live in the back yard of those ancient homes. So the Maya people did leave the ancient cities, but they did NOT disappear.
TWO--The entire Yucatan Peninsula is limestone and beneath the jungle floor is the largest under-water cave system on earth. Hundreds of miles of caves wind through the jungle, and much of the system is still unexplored. The way into the caves is through the cenotes (si-no-tays). Cenotes are places where the limestone ground gives way leaving a sink hole that exposes the crystal clear, underground water to the air. In many places, you can climb down into these caves and go for a swim. Some have rocky places to hang out on that are not underwater, but for the most part you have to use scuba gear to swim through the cave system from one cenote (opening) to the next.
The next thing that Alejandro told me was something I had never heard before.
"My parents live on a farm," he explained. "They grow a lot of food and they store big bags of dried rice, beans, and corn in the cenotes in case it ever happens again," He did not bother to explain what "it" was.
Apparently, whatever "it" was forced Alejandro's ancestors to flee into the jungle and hide in the caves. They must have hid for so long that they want to make sure that if "it" ever happens again, they will be prepared with enough food to survive for an extended period of time. Eventually "it" stopped being a threat and Alejandro's ancestors were able to leave the caves and come back to the surface where they built homes from whatever was available in the jungle and settled into a simple farming life in the shadow of the great city of Chichen Itza that used to house 50,000 people.
So my questions are these (bear with me, I know this is a bit of conjecture); If Alejando's parents know the family story of their ancestors fleeing from something terrible and having to survive in the caves, how is it that they do not know what they fled from? (They must have this information. How can they not?) And if Alejandro's parents know the story, if they KNOW what happened and are storing supplies in case it happens again, how many other families are doing the same? And if all these people know what happened, why are they hiding "it" from the rest of us?
looking for answers,