The Odyssey
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Latin America Jamila Dispatch

A funny thing happened on the way back from Coba!

Some of the ruins Klaus and I have visited have been famous, but the largest Mayan site in the Yucatan Peninsula is not as well known - Coba. It is also the least 'tourist-y.' Its lush tropical environment covers more than 27 square miles of jungle. The site consists of several pyramids surrounded by lagunas (ponds). Several structures and pyramids in Coba are being restored. As we hiked on the humid jungle paths, I tried to imagine what life must have been like for the over 40,000 Mayans who lived here long ago.

Fearless Jamila holds up the mighty stela
Caption

In addition to the pyramids, one of the most interesting areas of the site was the "stelas." A stela is a giant stone that was often carved with pictures of Mayan rulers and inscribed with hieroglyphs. Many of the stones were used to refer to historical events or to events in the future that the Maya predicted would occur. One such stela even had the date 12 . 21.20011. I wonder what they were predicting! Remarkably, the stela in this location resembles the stela of Tikal in Guatemala. This resemblance is puzzling because Coba is geographically closer to the sites of Chichén Itzá and Tulum than it is to Guatemala. One theory that might explain this puzzle is that marriages were arranged between Mayans from both Guatemala and the Yucatan to make trading among the two groups easier.

On the way back from the Coba ruins, I met two little girls, Leidi and Margarita, on the side of the road. I smiled and they giggled. They were playing with a cooking pot so I asked them "Qué cocinan?" (What are you cooking?) They giggled. "Tengo hambre, me venden algo para comer por favor?" (I'm hungry, will you sell me something to eat, please?) They giggled again. It went on like this for a good five more minutes! I asked them if they lived close by and they said "Si, vamonos." (Yes, let's go).

We walked along a long dirt road and arrived at Margarita's house. She invited me into her home and introduced me to her mother. They live in a traditional Mayan home. This is a style of home that was common during the ancient Mayan era, and still can be seen today. It is an inexpensive way of building a house by using tree trunks and palm leaves for the roof. The houses are built to last. I noticed that there were no beds in the house, just hammocks. This is a very common sight in many Mayan households. I think it is actually a more comfortable way to sleep. Margarita's family has the top of the line hammocks because her mother makes them for a living. Her father is a tour guide at the ruins. Next, we visited Leidi's house. Her family owns a neighborhood tienda, or store. They sell everything from eggs to batteries--you name it, they've got it. In small towns such as this one, tiendas are very common because there are no major grocery stores.

They wouldn't let me go back to my hotel until they gave me a tour of their pueblito. They showed me the park, their school, la señora que vende cervezas (the woman who sells beers), the tortilleria (tortilla shop),el señor que vende carne (the man who sells meat), the basketball court, los borrachos (the drunks), I could go on forever. Margarita and Leidi know everyone. Then again, you probably would, too, if you lived in a town of 1,000 people. Thanks to them I feel like I know Coba inside and out!

Coba students being nice and pretending they 
understand Klaus' Spanish
Caption
The next day was the best! Klaus and I surprised Leidi and Margarita by showing up at their school, Juan de Aspire. Coincidentally, they are both in the second grade which is the same grade that I teach in Los Angeles. Being a bilingual elementary school teacher myself, I was excited to visit a school in Mexico. Using broken Spanish, Klaus tried to explain to the students how he loved the weather of Coba, and that it is snowing right now in his hometown in Ohio. The kids got a kick out of him.

Not all youth get this opportunity
Caption

Unfortunately, there are many students who do not attend school for various reasons. Many stay at home to work with their parents while others cannot afford to buy the books or uniforms that are required. The students are not the only ones who do not have enough money. The schools need more money, too. Just as in the United States, there are many public schools in Mexico that lack funding from the government for reading materials or technology in the classroom.

Should I eat Jamilaa or Klaus first?
Caption

We ended our last day in Coba by buying ten pesos worth of meat to feed to the local crocodile who was lurking in the laguna near our hotel. In case he decided to eat us for lunch, we had our escape route planned--to climb up the nearest tree!

 

Jamila


Monica - Modern Day Traders; Scoring Internet Access
Monica - A Mayan god who smokes cigars
Klaus - Trekking the road to ruin
Abeja - History, Chaos and Change in Guatemala City

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