29 July, 2008

Climbing Nohoc Mul - Coba - (part 4)

Coba #45
Okay, back to Mexico (btw - hit that link to see all of the honeymoon in order on a single page if you need to catch up as it's taking forever to go through all the pics) briefly now (and just to catch you up) we had just been warned - "Nohoch Mul is just ahead, you have 30 minutes, the transport will leave without you if you do not get back in time. Please keep in mind it is 40 degrees centigrade, or about 104 Fahrenheit, you will have to climb almost vertically 140 feet on uneven, slippery polished stone, humidity is close to 98% and your insurance is unlikely to cover you, so please, think carefully before you walk through those trees"...and I had turned heels and stepped towards the stones at the foot of the pyramid just visible in the distance...the trees parted (and the photo can't do it justice) our task was ahead of us...
Coba #47
Talk about a ruin compared to "El Castillo", it's hard to imagine it ever had any right angles...each step varied in depth, height, inclination and grip by a colossal amount, sometimes a step up would be a foot and a half, onto a two-inch deep 30 degree slope of glassy rock covered in a light dusting of fesh-fesh like sand (only the creaking rope being gripped firmly with both hands giving you any hope of making the next one) -
Coba #48
- the next step would then be perfectly straight, comfortably deep and a mottled surface affording you the perfect grip (meaning you are constantly, and literally on your toes the whole time)...it took about six or seven minutes to drag myself to the area just below the top, absolutely dripping with sweat now, my clothing soaked through, fingers slick, my camera banging into my back looped around head and arm (just in case)...but actually, getting up here hadn't been too bad (I thought to myself, with a considerable amount of relief)...certainly not an exercise to undertake without total concentration, but not too bad...that was (and I'm sorry for no pictures, but both hands were used for *proper* climbing at this point) until I saw the *tiny* ledge (big enough to hold about half of my footprint) over the 130 foot drop I was going to have to navigate next...this in order to reach the final three 1.5/2-foot tall steps that also loomed over the void that had to follow...people were *very* cautiously gripping on with all their might to the top of the sheer wall (about 5 feet high) and tip-toeing along this ledge and around the corner, doing a very passable impression of Lara Croft...only one person at a time could traverse this section...I had *very* serious second thoughts (my feet are much larger than most peoples)...I pictured myself slipping on sand and tumbling off pointed rocks all the way to the bottom...I had some very deep breaths...and then some third and fourth thoughts, none of which were very encouraging either, and then (uh oh) a gap appeared in the people and I just gulped and went for it (without looking down), scrambled incredibly inelegantly up the three dusty giant stairs and there I was - standing like a Mayan Elite - on the top of the Yucatan peninsula (I've still got no idea how I managed it)...! I could have cried (had I not been petrified of falling off and completely shattered)...so I contented myself trying to stop myself shaking and carefully getting the camera off my back without dropping it to smash below...
Coba #54
This was about as close to the edge I could get myself to take a picture (my powers of self preservation being considerable) - at the top right of the shot you can just see one of the water sources I spoke of earlier (the reason why the city is here at all), some kind soul has made a panoramic view though, which is well worth a look, but we didn't have time to be mucking around (unfortunately), next I decided to take a look in the temple on the top -
Coba #51
- with obligatory falling god above the doorway -
Coba #52
- and it was actually quite disappointing, I'm not sure what I was expecting to be there...the space was incredibly small, and absolutely nothing was inside (just about a 10 foot tall Mayan arch-shaped empty space - entrance and corridor in a T shape), just enough room for about 5 people to stand comfortably in elaborate costumes (perhaps a box or two of bottles of wine, some snacks, maybe a rack for sacrificial weapons...that kind of thing), but nothing at all there now, not even any decorations...

Anyway, starting to get breath back, it really was time to be heading back down now, had I had a choice I probably would have delayed that horrible gap as much as possible and got myself in a state, but the clock was ticking, so stashed my camera, waited my turn and then scuttled back across...turned around and took a peek at what I had to do next and absolutely reeled with vertigo...it was so steep...coming up had been absolutely fine simply because you didn't have to look at what you were stupid enough to be doing...shit! I have *never* been good with heights...what on earth did I think I was doing? I get reactions sometimes to heights when playing sodding video games...!

What can I say? Thank God for time constraints...? What choice did I have in the matter, we had to get down (although "I'll be fine, I'll just stay up here" did sort of cross my mind in a ridiculous way)...so I started to lower myself, one step at a time, perched on my arse...(at least, I thought, I am cleaning the slippery sand off the the people coming after me)...but it was incredibly slow going, my final solution was to cross (crab-like) over to the rope and then sneakily come down *backwards* (no view of bone smashing fall? No problem!) using the rope to support myself...when I got to a comfortable height (fracture rather than shatter sort of level) we paused for Flyingpops (who was having no problems at all) to take a quick snap (still about 70 feet up mind you) -
Coba #55
- and then I resumed my reverse descent until we finally reached Terra firma (and my heart-rate was allowed to return to normal)...

Jeez...did I really just do that?

We found a small stall selling ice cold water, bought and glugged down two bottles in about 60 seconds flat and then returned to where the guide was waiting (after promising each other we could get a bike back through the jungle)...he was talking as we were waiting for the stragglers to complete the climb - "So now I wish to explain to you, put the jigsaw together, how did these people rule? How did the elite control the people? It was simple, they ruled by..." and here, he hushed his voice, ducking down with a sparkle in his eye..."Magic!"...he stared directly at the little girl whose ears he had covered earlier (who looked incredibly shy and hid behind her mum)...

He smiled and stood up - "Put in your mind, these people, their heads deformed, looking not like the regular Mayan people, dressed in elaborate costumes, hidden at the top of the pyramid in the temple, word has been sent out to the people to come along on a certain day. They come, they assemble in their thousands, on this particular day the sun rises directly behind the pyramid, the top of the pyramid is covered in obsidian, when the sun strikes it the gold colour in the rock bursts out at the correct moment, out step the ruling elite, it looks from here as if they have walked directly out onto the top of the pyramid from inside the centre of the sun"..! "They have used their incredible mathematics and astronomy to create this illusion, the people are in awe already, and then, thanks to the acoustics of the pyramid, their voices are boosted to a booming level, they can be heard from miles away"..."What do they say? They use their calendar to announce the movement of the moon, the timing of the next eclipse, to these people it seemed that the Gods were manifested before them! Speaking the secrets of the heavens!"...it's all suddenly so clear...there is no mystery here, the Mayans were ruled through a combination of clever science and showmanship...

...and as we paid our money and collapsed into our taxi bike my mind spinning with everything we had already seen and done it came back to me that this day had much more left to offer - on the bus (at about 8am) we had been asked to choose what we would like to eat for lunch (chicken, pork or "vegetarian") as it was going to be cooked in a pit, wrapped in banana leaves in the traditional Mayan manner (which would take 3 or 4 hours)...and then after we would be privileged enough to go and visit a real Mayan village, not a tourist reproduction, but a current living breathing settlement taking it's first faltering steps towards integration with modern Mexico (but more on that later)...

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

wow scary stuff

Tom Hopwood said...

That was incredibly brave of you both, Lara Croft and Doc Savage could learn a lot from you. Good on yer mate, a great tale.