Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Monday, January 29, 2018

Merida #3: On Swimming in a Cenote

All I knew before we slipped on bathing suits
and stood under cold showers,
is that we were on an adventure,
you and me, traveling so far,
some forty years, to this place,
just outside Chichen Itza, Mexico,
to swim in a cenote.

From above, we peered at people below, anonymous dots,
several hundred feet down, encircled by limestone,
waterfalls, and long, tree roots searching for water.
We hiked down the stone staircase,
down and around, and down again
to float and splash in this black water alive with
history, for here, Mayans once came
in a time of drought. 
 
In some such sacred pools, cenotes sagrada,
the salt water and fresh mingle in the clearest blue,
blurring vision. The cenote connects a network
of underground caves, a doorway opens
quite properly to another world.
Researchers have found artifacts of obsidian,
turquoise, and jade, woven textiles,
and the bones of young boys.
What was lost in joy or sorrow, we still cannot decipher.
Not even the tears of the elders
could stop the Spanish from burning the codices, 
precious books. 

I cannot account for history. 
Today, it is enough to float on my back 
atop this precious water, thankful
for the waterfall tumbling down, the sky above all,
and you beside me 
for this day.

Cenote X-cajum (January 2018)
Our day trip to Chichen-Itza, where one of the sacred cenotes is located, included a side-trip to X-cajum, a nearby cenote. We were the only ones in our group to actually walk down that stone staircase to swim in the cenote. I didn't stay long, for the water was cold but curiously buoyant. 

Later I read of divers who explore the underground caves of water and who, every year, lose their way. Perhaps they can no longer see, when halocine (that mix of salt and fresh water) blurs their vision. In a similar way, time blurs our understanding of what really happened, what people believed then, and what caused them to consider these cenotes sacred, life-giving and life-taking waters.