"In early August of 2005 a few wispy clouds, like thousands of others have over the millenniums, slauntered off the west coast of Africa into the Atlantic developing into a low pressure system that eventually formed into a tropical depression around Bermuda. From there it turned into a hurricane that crossed over Florida into the Gulf of Mexico after having been given the name Katrina. On the morning of Monday, August 29, 2005 the center of the eyewall of Katrina passed about 50 miles a little east of due south from New Orleans, Louisiana, crossing directly over the small communities of Buras-Triumph on the western side of the Mississippi River."(source)
I was on my way to the ancient Mayan walled temple complex of Tulum to observe the spring equinox when I detoured my travels several days before the oncoming celestial event in order to visit a small Mayan site in Cancun called Yamil Lu'um. I had a certain fondness for the little temple because in September 1988 I sat out a Cat 5 hurricane all-night-long inside her walls. Interestingly enough, it was two Cat 5 hurricanes that hit the United States seventeen years later that brought me back. That and the six mile wide asteroid that slammed into the Earth nearby 65 million years ago.
In September, 2005, with the oncoming of Katrina and not even knowing if I would be good at anything relevant, I volunteered with the American Red Cross for hurricane duty. Because of the lack of qualified volunteers on a quick and timely basis as well as the sheer numbers of personnel needed on such a short notice, after completing a non-stop series of one-after-the-other back-to-back specially initiated abbreviated crash courses, I was expedited into being what the Red Cross calls a DSHR worker. Just as quickly I was deployed into Hurricane Katrina's main path of destruction and put to work without even having been issued a Red Cross identification card or even receiving a Disaster Services credit card to cover expenses, with most of the early costs coming out of my own pocket. No sooner had I earned my sea legs as a semi-productive volunteer when Hurricane Rita hit. Because of the on-rushing of Rita, already in place Katrina shelters in her potential path were evacuated and shut down.
A good portion of the shelter crews from the closed sites near the area I was deployed were sent to Austin, then reassigned. Some went to the mega-shelters in Houston and Austin, others like myself put into crews starting and running short term emergency shelters north of Austin near Round Rock then, when they were no longer needed, on to new shelters being set up in the hurricane's inland destruction path along the Texas side of the Texas-Louisiana border.
Eventually my original three week deployment was edging toward six. After working three shelters putting in 18 hour plus days with no days off for Rita, I was about to be sent to Houston when I was assigned to a Red Cross Service Center in Austin. I had just come out of shelter duty from what the Red Cross calls a "primative area" because it had no running water, electricity, phones, air conditioning, showers, or gasoline. When I told the person at the assignment desk in Austin I could really make use of a laundrymat and a shower before I was reassinged, rather than send me to the mega-shelter in Houston he assigned me to the Service Center --- I mean only nine hour days with Sundays off! Talk about plush. Anyway, as more and more of the Red Cross efforts were being re-shifted back toward Houston and the gulf coast, the areas inland found themselves with an excess of no longer needed shelter equipment. Since no new hurricanes seemed to be brewing on the horizon and the Service Center had a bob-tailed truck at its disposal, it was loaded with a whole slew of cots, blankets, pillows, and other miscellanous stuff and returned to the Dallas-Fort Worth area where it apparently came from.
After helping load the truck I was assigned to ride shotgun to Dallas. I had never met or seen the driver prior to climbing into the cab of the truck so neither of us knew anything about each other. We took I-35 north and along the way we began to indulge in small talk and BS, mostly circulating around the Red Cross and hurricanes. During one portion of our conversation, talking about the destruction caused by storm surges I mentioned it must have been something when the sea rushed over the top of much of the same territory we were driving across in the aftermath of the meteor impact reputed to have killed off the dinosaurs. With that his eyes lit up. He said when we get into Waco we will be crossing the Brazos River. He told me downstream from there is a series of small waterfalls that mark the end of the tsunami's race inland and that it was clearly visible by ancient sea floor deposits.
I had to see it. In that we arrived toward the end of the work day we had been authorized to spend the night in Dallas. The driver and I, with some assist from other Red Cross volunteers, unloaded the truck as quickly as possible. Then, instead of staying that night in Dallas on the Red Crosse's dime, we turned around and headed toward the small town of Merlin, about 30 miles south of Waco and, having kept back a couple of pillows and blankets, slept in the back of the truck for free.
After seeing where the tsunami ended I wanted to see where it started. When I was finally able to catch a break in my deployment and be sent home, instead of flying I chose to be a co-driver on a 2000 mile trip returning what the Red Cross calls an ERV --- an Emergency Response Vehicle --- from Houston to it's homebase in northern California. The results of that trip included of all things a face-to-face meeting and a nearly whole day interview with Margaret Runyan, the ex-wife of Carlos Castaneda, outside of Phoenix, Arizona.
A few years later found me on the Yucatan peninsula on the way to the Chicxulub Crater to visit the center of the impact and see the outer ring, timing my travels so I could end up at Chichen Itza for the spring equinox in order see first hand one of the most amazing visual phenomenons from the ancient Mesoamerican world, the so-called Descent of the Serpents.
Arriving in Chicxulub before going to Chichen Itza and standing as close to the center of the impact site as I could get, I gazed skyward and wondered what it must have been like 65 million years ago when the object first broke into the atmosphere heading toward its eventual doom and that of an entire species. Later, in a small boat I was taken to what I was told was exactly over the spot and from there, on the open sea I could imagine the waves in an ever expanding circle rushing outward toward Brazos on the north and who knows how far to the east and south. The moment took me back to the following:
"Sometime back I was along an isolated section of the Meteor Crater rim in Arizona practicing a deep meditation method sometimes refered to as Jishu-zammi, Samadhi of Self Mastery, a variant of sorts on Dogen Zenji's Shikantaza. The crater is an immense impact-hole pounded out of the Earth thousands of years ago by a huge bolide that crashed through the sky...and something about the place holds a deep fascination for me since early childhood."(source)
On the way to Chichen Itza for the equinox I crossed over the nearly undiscernable outer ring marking the edge of the dry land portion of the crater's boundary. Stopping, I walked some distance along it's edge, which is actually more of a trough than a raised wall or berm. The trough is roughly 56 miles in radius from the city of Puerto Chicxulub running ten or fifteen feet deep from the general surroundings and five miles across. However, human habitation, millions of weather-worn years and thick local vegetation has taken its toll, most people would not even notice it if not looking for it.
Starting 56 miles west of the coastal community of Chicxulub and following in a circular half-circumference inland directly along the crater's outer ring until it turns north and touches the coast again 56 miles east of Chicxulub, are hundreds and hundreds of cenotes, but very few inside of the ring. So too, even though quite a number of small archaeological sites indicating the presence of casual or regular human habitation exists throughout the general northwest region, there are really only two so called first-ranked sites and five second-ranked sites located within the Chicxulub impact basin, of which one is the Mayan city of Dzibilchaltun, located about 10 miles from present day Merida. There is one first-ranked site, Uxmal, and six second-ranked sites immediately outside the basin. The large cenotes located all along or near the trough marking the ring feature itself does not appear to have been particularly attractive for settlement --- although the late capitol following the fall of Chichen Itza, Mayapan, sits basically on top a southwestern portion of the ring.
As for Chichen Itza, the last time I was there was a couple of years out of high school while traveling all over Mexico on a road trip with a buddy. We had bought a used six-cylinder 1951 Chevy panel truck that was in pretty good shape and over a period of a few months we outfitted it like a camper with fold down bunks, table, sink, stove, and portable toilet. Early one Saturday morning we crossed into Mexico at the Tijuana border with no idea how long we were going to be gone.
"After traveling east a short distance to Tecate we turned south ending up on the Baja Pacific coast near Ensanada. We continued south on some pretty crummy roads eventually turning eastward across the peninsula to the little town of Santa Rosalia, taking a ferry across the Sea of Cortez to Guaymas. Continuing on we passed through Guadalajara, turning toward the mysterious ancient ruins of Chicomostoc with an interesting set of results, then back toward Lake Chapala, San Miguel Allende and a bunch of other places ending up seeing the pyramids in Mexico City and Mayan Ruins in the Yucatan. We stopped whenever we wanted and stayed as long as we wanted. Compared to most of the people in the countryside we came across, as well as the locals in the towns we went through, we had all the money we needed to spend on anything we wanted including gas, food, lodging, girls, and beer."(source)
During the time of that first visit the whole of the temple site was still fairly isolated and pretty much leaned toward that of a working archaeological site nearly as much as it did a tourist attraction. I don't remember if we even had to pay to get in, nor do I recall any type of security or guards to speak of. You could climb the pyramids and go into most of the structures as I recall. We arrived sometime after the summer solstice, but left the Yucatan headed north before the fall equinox, crossing over the Mexico-Arizona border sometime late in the summer. Back in those days I had never heard of the descent of the serpents caused by the sun's position during the equinox on the staircase of the Pyramid of Kukulkan --- and I am sure not many other people had either. But, after I did I always wanted to see it.
Unlike as found in other major momuments of the ancient world such as the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the Pyramid of Kukulkan was not built to align with the four cardinal points. Instead it was built so that twice a year, on the spring equinox and the vernal equinox --- and to some degree a few adjacent days --- there is a play by the sunlight and shadows so it appears there is a snake on the edge of the staircase with the carved serpent head at the base of the stairs becoming the head of the snake.
The whole pyramid from top to bottom was built with a master design. For example, each of the four sides has a staircase. Each of the staircases has 91 steps, of with all four added together equals 364. If you add the top platform it makes 365, the number of days in a year. You could go on and on, but I'm sure you get the point.
It was the year following that second visit that I was on my way to Tulum for the spring equinox as mentioned at the top of the page. I had been told that is was not until the 1950's that non-Mayans were truly permitted into the ruins of Tulum on a regular basis. As late as the 1940's, you would have been killed. I also heard that only those of full Mayan descent are allowed INSIDE the walls of the complex on the morning of the equinox. Nobody I talked to seemed to know if it was true or not. However, if such was the case, it could mean that accessing the complex might present a problem. If such WAS the case, and, although I could invoke other options, it still remained that my Uncle, who was well accepted and well respected by most spiritual members of the indigenous people of the desert southwest he interacted with as a person at one with the Earth, had instilled in me at a very young age that it was an impropriety to usurp for ones own gain or any other reason the traditional spiritual beliefs and realms of others. So, my plan, if need be, was not to actually be in the complex proper, but as a lone figure and in the dark, position myself on the wall directly opposite of the Temple of the Descending God on the day of the equinox. I figured it was possible for someone to access the temple grounds by just coming up from the beach sometime after midnight but well before the pre-dawn hours if one was so inclined. However, it is not that it could be done or that you might be intercepted by authorities, but that for the Mayans it is a sacred time at a sacred place.
To get from Cancun to Tulum I went to the downtown main bus station and, across the street, boarded a colectivo going to Playa Del Carmen. It wasn't long before the van was filled and we were on our way. The passengers consisted of a mix of Mexicans and Mayans of which a couple were women traveling with a couple of kids. I was the only gringo. When the main highway south out of Cancun crossed the road that goes from the airport to the Hotel Zone the Mexican man next to me pointed out what appeared to be a small Mayan-like structure. He told me it was't an old ruin but a new, recently built temple. He said right after the offramp between the roads was built it started to sink, so the road builders shored it up. But, despite all their efforts the offramp continued to sink. They were told it was built on sacred Mayan land and that it would continue to sink unless they paid homage to the gods. So they built the temple to Mayan specifications given them and a Mayan priest blessed the whole thing and the offramp stopped sinking. I don't know how accurate the story was one way or the other, but I liked it, so I told him of my exprience at Yamil Lu'um, the sound of the clacking stones and the scorpion. An older Mayan man sitting in the seat in front of us turned and asked the man in spanish what I had said. Seems he had overheard Yamil Lu'um and scorpion. When the man I was talking with told the Mayan about my experience he looked at me for the longest time, then asked the man what I was doing or where was I going. I told the Mexican man I was going to Tulum for the equinox. He inturn translated what I had said and the Mayan man shook his head ever so slightly as though he understood.
Along the way a few people got on and off. The Mexican man got off sometime before we reached Playa Del Carmen, but the Mayan man stayed clear through. I noticed after he was told about Yamil Lu'um that he had turned to a couple of other Mayan men and by his hand gestures apparently retold the story to them.
In the city of Playa Del Carmen, as well as the surrounding area, are a series of small Mayan ruins spread out up and down the coast just into the tree-line over a couple of miles that are, for the most part, centered directly across from Cozumel. The general collection of ruins are called Xaman-Ha, which means "waters of the north." Although not a tied-together town or city in the classical sense, it was more of a place where people gathered to travel back and forth from the mainland to Cozumel. It also served as a stop off point for the Mayan commercial sea route that extended from present day Veracruz in the north to what is now Honduras to the south and beyond. One of those small temple areas, which is an actual working archaeological and restoration site, is right in the middle of Playa Del Carmen with access off Quinta Avenida between Calles 12 and 14, the main tourist area above the beach. After visiting the site and returning back to street level I saw a man wearing expensive dark sunglasses sitting at a table across the way who seemed to have been following me over a period of a couple of days. As I started to approach the man, he stood up, handed a folded piece of paper to a young boy standing nearby, and pointing to me, sent the boy my way. In the few seconds that transpired between the time he gave the piece of paper to the boy and the boy handed it to me, the man in the sunglasses was gone. I unfolded the paper and written in english was the word "WAIT." With that I went to the same table the man had been sitting and made myself comfortable. Instantly upon having done so and without me saying a word, a young female server put an open bottle of cold Victoria on the table in front of me. And there I sat. After a modest amount of time elapsed without anything happening I decided to move along. Just as I was getting up a man I had never seen before sat down at the table and asked me in spanish if I remembered the old Mayan man on the colectivo who asked about Yamil Lu'um. When I nodded yes he told me the old man would like to talk with me. I waved over the young boy who had given me the note and who had been sitting in the shade across the way as long as I had been sitting at the table, most likely paid to follow me if I left, and handed him two five peso coins. When I turned to pay the server for the Victoria the man that wanted me to go with him waved her off with no money being exchanged.
A number of blocks later, after going down several backstreets and turning a few corners the two of us came upon the old man from the bus standing in the shade from the eve of a doorway along a brightly colored building. Thinking we would be going inside I turned toward the door but was quickly redirected toward an old pick-up truck parked along the curb. Inside the truck on the passenger side was a man that truly appeared to be much, much older than the man on the bus. The much, much older man looked at me for what seemed like an eternity, but was really probably not much more than a few minutes. Then looking past me, he spoke in what I presume was some Mayan dialect to the man from the bus. The much older man signaled the man I walked down with to get in the truck and the two of them drove off. When I turned to ask the man from the bus what was going on, he too was gone.
That evening, well after sundown and the twilight faded into dark, the man in sunglasses came to my room. He told me the old, old man in the pick-up was a Mayan priest, a spiritual elder, and, even though it wasn't at any governmental or official level, he had given me, at the tribal level, sanctuary to access the Tulum temple complex at night for the equinox. However, he said, there were a few things I should see on his laptop first, and inorder to connect online asked that I meet him at Starbucks the next day. Which I did. The man in the expensive sunglasses, who also wore a Rolex and Prada shoes by the way, had three pages bookmarked to show me. The first was a picture of the official entrance to the complex. The second was a Map that showed where the official entrance was located, where the exit was, and where along the walls several other openings were. He then pointed out which opening I was to use to access the complex, saying a man would be there to guide me across the temple grounds at night. To secure myself somewhere out of sight during the day close by, take water, and meet the guide at the designated time.
FOR MORE, CLICK THE TEMPLE SUNRISE PHOTO BELOW:
THE SPIRITUAL ELDER AND THE SANTA FE CHIEF
THE MAYAN SHAMAN AND CHICXULUB
THE SUN DAGGER
Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.
ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT IN A NUTSHELL
ON THE RAZOR'S
AMERICAN RED CROSS
Disaster Services Human Resources (DSHR)
All Red Cross disaster volunteers are encouraged to become part of the Disaster Services Human Resources (DSHR) System. Through this system, which is coordinated at the National level and using bar-coded photo IDs, the American Red Cross can quickly and efficiently move highly trained and experienced Red Cross disaster volunteers into affected areas at home and all across the Nation. The DSHR System also provides both new and veteran Red Cross disaster volunteers with career-development paths within Disaster Services.
A DSHR volunteer is usually classified as ready to serve in one or more group functions such as Mass Care, Individual Client Services, Disaster Health Services, Disaster Mental Health, Partner Services, Material Support (Logistics), or Organizational Support. In addition, a DSHR volunteer is likely to specialize in a specific activity within one of the major functions, such as Sheltering, Feeding, Warehousing, Staff Support, Welfare Inquiry, etc.
To Participate in the DSHR Program a Volunteer Must:
- Be 18 years of age or older.
- Have a formal education sufficient to meet the demands of disaster work, preferably having earned at least a high school equivalency diploma.
- Complete and successfully clear a background check and fingerprinting.
- Complete the Red Cross training course Introduction to Disaster Services and appropriate functional training.
- Participate in the local chapter's Disaster Services program.
- Be available to serve in disaster operations on short notice.
- Be willing to live and work in adverse conditions such as those resulting from natural or man-made disasters.
- Be willing to work long daily hours for extended periods with little or no free time.
- Be in good health.