Hippie Squared: Landsick Impressions


A blogumn by Jeff Rogers

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza

Second day back on land and the earth still sways under me like the deck of a ship. I teeter when I stand and stagger when I walk and I’m queasier than I was on the boat. I understand now why Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow is always swaying.

Our Yucatan cruise departed from New Orleans, where I experienced the French Quarter for the first time—its narrow streets made for horse and carriage flanked by flagstone sidewalks. The weathered shabbiness, beautiful because old and earned, of its brick and stone two and three story houses. The lacy iron railings fronting balconies hung with lush green plants that drape thick curtains of rain to the street when watered. Wooden shutters flank all doors and windows. Narrow walkways and old carriage lanes lead back under and between buildings to mysterious courtyards.

We visited rival voodoo museums and rival absinthe houses. In a Pirate’s Alley bar we met Warren, whose National Guard cousin was in the helicopter when President Bush flew over the Katrina devastation, he said. “Remember when they shot at Dubya? The Secret Service couldn’t tell who fired so they opened up with AK 47’s where the shots came from and killed every man, woman and child. They turned to my cousin and said, ‘You didn’t see this.’”

Folklorists say urban legends are always told as second hand, sourced to a friend or relative who “was there.” Of course, so are many true stories.

From Progresso we bussed two hours through low dry forest to Chichen Itza, the Mayan-Toltec ruin that recently made the New Improved Seven Wonders of the World. Our Mayan archaeologist carries a thousand year grudge against the violent Toltecs who subjugated his people, the peaceful astronomers who first invented zero, and converted them to the bloody ritual of human sacrifice.

Both African-derived voodoo and Mayan-Toltec religion deify the snake demonized by Middle-eastern monotheism. One voodoo pamphlet suggests Egyptian sources for the religions of the African west coast. Meanwhile, one Mayan tour guide noted the eyefolds and broad nose of the ancient Olmec giant head carvings and cited rival theories of human arrival in his neck of the woods: by land bridge from Asia or boat from Africa. Could the snake arbiters between heaven and earth in black slave religion and the Mayan-Toltec mythos be direct relatives of the snake that slithered into the Eden of the Jews who escaped Egyptian slavery?

Speaking of whom, could that have been Legba, voodoo Lord of the Crossroads, from whom Robert Johnson procured his mystic blues powers—mistaken for the Christian devil? Ask the bayou python.

Despite the obvious knocks against cruising as a method of investigating foreign lands it’s got one thing over other modes of travel: the ocean, which can slow down time. From a high oval deck mid-ship I surveyed 360 degrees of ocean and sky; all the wide world in restless motion; peaks and valleys and rolling swells of waves never to be fixed by human gaze because they will not stand and pose. Stare down long enough at the surf churned up in the wake and you can hypnotize yourself—to lose weight maybe, or stop smoking, or just to dwell deeper in your very own life with all its churning moments.

Every evening my party of five assembled on deck for the sunset, the feathered orange tail of the sun on the purple water. Like the Mayan plumed serpent painted by sunlight descending the stairs of Chichen Itza each March 21st to signal planting and September 22nd to call the harvest, due to the temple’s careful placement by the Mayan astronomers.

Every night before going below we walked the decks under the stars. On the Mississippi a fierce chill wind blew. In the Gulf the Mexican nights warmed and stilled. Returning up river on the final night we eased like a ghost ship through gray streaming fog without surface above or below.

Cradled by the tender rocking of mother, mother ocean our sleep each night was sound and deep.

So let me know your thoughts on my thoughts, your questions and answers to my questions—all you archaeologists amateur or pro; folklorists and mythologists; astronomers; students of comparative religion; you scholars or practitioners of voodoo or the blues; cruise aficionados or haters; sailors and travelers armchair and otherwise; French Quarter prowlers; Katrina conspiracy theorists or debunkers; absinthe swillers and distillers—am I sailing true here, or has my land-sickness knocked me wildly off course?


Photo Credit: Karen Morris