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Turning 29 at the End of the World

I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend my 29th birthday. We had initially planned to go and lounge in the sun all day at the all inclusive Reef Club, but damned if there aren’t electricians, plumbers, contractors, and laborers to pay…so we decided to save the money, and really test out the new Jeep by driving farther than we have ever been up the coast.

We zoomed past Telchac Puerto, past San Crisanto, past San Benito, watching small villages give way to smaller clusters of buildings which may or may note even deserve their own name. We drove through coconut groves, past hurricane-destroyed homes, out into the middle of the jungle.

Oh! And before arriving in Dzilam Bravo (which we decided should be our turn around point), we got hauled into our first honest-to-goodness military checkpoint. We were ordered out of the car, while they searched EVERYTHING, including unwrapping little twisted up bits of garbage. It was not altogether unpleasant, the military guys quite polite, and wanting to see only the registration papers for our car. Their primary question seemed to be, “What are you DOING out here,” since for miles and miles there is nothing but jungle and natural salt and gold deposits. Still, in a situation like that, you can’t help but have your first thought be, “…and then, they took the Jeep, and there was nothing we could do about it.” That’s certainly how we’ve heard things work in other parts of the country, and in insane asylums like the Guatemalan border, but not in the Yucatan, a region I am really starting to believe may be one of the most civilized and polite in the world.

At any rate, with the heavily-armed soldiers satisfied, we were back on our way. We finally arrived in Dzilam Bravo, one of the last towns before the coast turns into state-protected national park. All images click through to larger versions.

Jillian on the boardwalk-to-be, at the end of the world.

We took a moment to explore the World’s Deadliest Playground.

Case in point.

A mock crucifixion to honor Easter?


The town square at Dzilam Bravo.

And believe it or not, that was pretty much the extent of what we found out there. It was so amazing…so quiet, not a soul to be found on what were hypothetically two-way streets, but still required you to ditch into the bushes when a car approached from the other direction. So it was back in the Jeep (which was performing, by the way, like a CHAMP in the heat), and began the long drive back to Telchac Puerto.

Hurricane devastation.

Only you can prevent dengue fever.

After a quick stop in Telchac Puerto for a sandwich, a beer, and (almost) a swim, we decided to head over to the ruins at Xcambo, less than a mile off the main road between Progreso and Telchac Puerto. Jillian describes these as “casual ruins,” because they are not often visited by tourists, have no museums, guides, or entrance fees. They are simply the ruins of a civilization, tucked away. We were the only ones there, and this has officially become my new ruin site. To be all alone in one of these places really changes the way they feel.

A Catholic chapel in the middle of the site…

…which is still seeing some use. We plan to return on the 30th, during a ceremony at which a shadow of the Virgin is said to appear.

View from top of the Southern pyramid.

Found at the top of the northern pyramid.

Jillian wouldn’t come in the tunnel under the chapel.

For one of the first times, my birthday was spent quietly and thoughtfully. And while I will ALWAYS love the raucous, song-and-laughter-filled, surrounded-by-friends-with-30-pints-in-you birthdays, this one stands out as particularly special. I believe the way you spend your birthday is a pretty good reflection of where your life currently is (okay, so I think I stole that from About a Boy), but if that’s the case, I feel pretty good about being 29. Thank you Jillian, for making it one of the best birthdays ever.

The author on his 29th.

There Are 5 Responses So Far. »

  1. Are you sure you’re 29? Really?

    Seems like you know yourself better than a lot of people do who are twice your age.

    And that is something worth toasting to!

    Happy birthday!

  2. My last comment was lost in the ether…

    but I wanted to tell you that you seem to know yourself better than many people twice your age…

    and that is worth toasting to!

    Happy birthday!

  3. Glad to hear you had a happy birthday Malcom. I’ve been to Dzilam de Bravo a couple times and really like it there. We found it the same way you did, by just driving east until we couldn’t go any further. Did you see the grave of Jean Lafitte? It’s at the waterfront area, not really sure if it’s his real grave though, I’m sure he has a dozen burial sites around the caribbean and gulf. Anyway, happy birthday!

  4. Beautifully put Malcolm – and happy birthday, by the way. It was nice to hear your voice today! I agree about “casual ruins” they are by far the best in the world and I am happy to hear that you have found some that touched you.

  5. Hey Happy Belated. This post was especially fun! Thanks!

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