I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not the most well travelled Aggie out there. Up until the summer of 2016, my most significant venture from good ol’ Dallas was attending a military ceremony in New Jersey for my Uncle. As a young child though, I had found myself in a foreign place where I hardly understood the accents and traditions of the locals. My biggest cultural takeaway was that New Jersey is awful because you have to attend your Uncle’s very long military ceremony, and your parents don’t let you watch cartoons. However, in the summer of 2016 my world got a little bigger—my family took a cruise to Southern Mexico. Here’s what I learned on my first venture into the world.
First of all, if you’re thinking of taking a relatively cheap cruise with your family, don’t! Or, at least bring a couple of books. We quickly discovered that while you will spend 80% of your time on the boat, there isn’t much to do except sit in a pool brimming with perpetually inebriated 40-something year olds. If you or a loved one is a perpetually inebriated 40-something year old, this is great. If you are not, not so much. As I read back over this, I realize this is perhaps the most first world problem anyone has ever experienced. Let me be clear—this was a great trip! I just think if you are easily bored, this may not be the trip for you, and you should know what you’re getting into! Now, although there was a lot of downtime, we also had a lot of very cool experiences.
The first thing I want to mention is more of a sensory memory than a story, so I don’t know how well this will translate to text. However, if you ever find yourself on a boat in the middle of the ocean,
go out on deck by yourself as late as possible.
Chances are, this is the most devoid of light pollution you will ever find the night sky to be, and the view is breathtaking. Soak it in while you can. Then, look over the side of the boat. There is absolutely nothing but languid, dark waves as far as the eye can see, unperturbed and indifferent to your presence. This will perhaps be the smallest and most alone you will ever feel. I thought it was very beautiful, and certainly a unique experience. If you are prone to existential crises, proceed with caution. Honestly though, it offered some insight into why ancient civilizations thought the world was flat, and why they invested so much time and thought into the movement of the stars. The Mayans thought the flat world was balanced on the back of an alligator, and they built temples and observatories positioned with respect to the motion of the sun and moon through the night sky. By using shadows, the Mayans were able to make a fairly accurate solar calendar, and trace the motion of celestial bodies with astounding accuracy. This was used to create truly impressive structures. For example, at the Pyramid of Kukulkan at Chichen Itza (pictured above), during the equinoxes, the shadows left on the sides of the stairs, by the ridges of the pyramid, create an effect reminiscent of the slithering of a snake to imitate the descent of the serpent god Kukulcan. During my time in Mexico, I was lucky enough to get to visit some of these ruins.
Though the ruins we went to were not as grand as the iconic temples of Chichen Itza (like I said, this was a relatively cheap cruise), this was still certainly my favorite part of the trip. We were given a short tour of the grounds during which we were made privy to all sorts of interesting facts about the Mayans. They believed the sun and the moon ventured through the Underworld, threatened by evil gods along the way, and needed human help to complete the journey. This was the reasoning behind the practice of self mutilation and ritual sacrifice in their culture—these human sacrifices ensured the continued existence of the universe as we know it, and as such, these sacrifices were bestowed immortality. People weren’t just not afraid, they were truly eager to die, a feeling that even over a thousand years later I can relate to every time I face a minor inconvenience. Interestingly enough, in the midst of the Mayan temples stood a traditional Catholic church, a staunch symbol of their conquest by the Spanish. It was truly a pretty ominous sight, the familiar yet out of place architecture serving as grim reminder that everything the Mayans had done, their architecture, inventions, and beliefs, were summarily wiped out and replaced. For a second I honestly got pretty depressed, not only at the culture that was lost, but at the loss of the civilization that they could have developed into. However, thankfully, immediately outside of the ruined city there was a gift shop that had really cute little animal figurines for cheap, so my worries were soon forgotten.
The rest of the trip was a lot of fun, but relatively banal. We went snorkeling along the coast of Cozumel, which was wonderful. There were a lot of really gorgeous fish; if you’ve ever been to an aquarium and wished you could jump into the tank, I’d absolutely recommend snorkeling. If not, I’d still recommend it, as it may be just the thing to warm your cold heart and restore your sense of childhood wonderment. The touristy sections of the city we went to were also pretty neat. It was mostly a lot of shopping. The craftsmanship that went into everything from fish bone sculptures to painted skulls to homemade jewelry was truly really impressive.
Overall, I wouldn’t pretend that taking a cruise to Mexico was a life changing experience or anything (I respect you, dear reader, too much for that), but it was certainly fun, and if you ever get the opportunity to go, you should! It’s always nice to expand your horizons a little bit, and this was a lovely chance to connect with some cultures, not only removed from my world geographically, but temporally. I will absolutely look for more opportunities to explore other regions of the world, and I hope you do, too.