Camp Coati

Atentamente le presente la relación al ingeniero don Alberto Vez Sosa Arce.

Camp Coati

Engineer Alberto left me in the foggy morning after we spoke at the Hotel Puuc in Oxkutzcab. Later he would contact the Mayas, and they would come for me, and he stressed that I must be ready to leave without delay upon their arrival. Cautioning me that I would have no opportunity to make buys after their appearance, el ingeniero insisted that I visit the Casa Huacho and buy thirteen meters of bridal veil. When I did so, the Señora asked “¿Y el color?,” and I chose blue.

Came a tapping on the door just at dark and I opened it to see a slight-of-figure young Maya woman dressed in traje. Her costume was that of the Maya highlands, not of the peninsular lowlands of Yucatán. In the dimness behind her stood four men. She named the engineer, and I responded by asking her name, and I heard “shy-adee,” and I spelled Xaidi in my mind. I picked up my woven hemp food bag and leather mochilita to show that I was ready. She asked revisar, and I nodded yes that she could see the contents of the bags, and I invited her into the room. She spoke Mayan to the men, who came to the doorway and followed her inside. The men wore whites and knee-high, black mud boots and carried machetes in leather scabbards. No Mayas in the room stood as tall as the extranjero at a meter plus sixty-five.

Xaidi approved or disapproved each piece of my gear. She asked if my GPS was a brújula, a witcher, a compass. She told the men that the GPS was a magnetita. Disapproved were my camera, iPad, GPS, paper and pencil, maps, and objects appearing electronic, such as the spare battery and two picture cards for the camera. The only metals allowed were my flashlight and belt buckle. Approved were my food bag holding three kilos of tortillas, a medio kilo of orange chiles habaneros, and six liters of water in plastic bottles, and my mochilita holding my hammock, clothes, and new blue bridal veil. (My camera was not allowed. Although my jungle landscape and road photograph included herein were not captured during my excursion to Camp Coati, they are representative of what I encountered. My photograph of the choza and Mayas is from the highlands, but is representative of the Coati area.)

Engineer Alberto had instructed me to have five hundred pesos in twenty peso notes to give to the Mayas. The bills had been in my mochilita. Xaidi nodded to them and said efectivo, and I answered propina and she took the thirty dollars without expression.

Outside the Puuc squatted a dusty, mud splattered pickup with burlap bultos, wooden boxes, and leather hides in the back bed. Xaidi and three men jammed themselves inside the cab, while one Maya and me the

extranjero crowded into the back of the overloaded vehicle. The pickup jerked to a start and we bounced over potholes into the darkness, heading south on the road to the gruta at Loltún, but then we veered onto a narrow dirt path and quickly I became lost.

We bumped well into the night, stopping intermittently to unload cargo at clusters of stick and thatch huts. Delivered cargo at these chozas resulted in more space in the back bed, but, in the case of removed burlap bultos and hides, less cushion. Some roads were potholed pavement, some were dusty dirt with occasional mud holes, all lacked shoulders because the jungle grew to the edge of the road. Tree limbs scraped and lashed me on occasion. Looking out the back of the pickup, the Big Dipper appeared between clouds and pointed my eye to the North Star, assuring me that we were running away from it. The lone Maya traveling in the back remained mute. A silent ride southbound through darkness.

I recall several clusters of chozas, none illuminated, all announced suddenly by barking dogs and Mayas in the headlights and the scent of smoldering cookfires.   Gasoline from a drum was provided at one stop, and I observed that the five hundred pesos efectivo in small bills that I had represented as a propina were not a tip, rather were effective cash for fuel money.

My septuagenarian body was exhausted and I nodded off to sleep at times, and it was during one of my dozes that we reached a cluster of chozas where everyone departed the pickup and disappeared, leaving me and three bultos as the only remaining cargo. Suddenly erupted a deep vibrating resonating bass growl that became a roar that I recognized as a mono aullador, a howler monkey. But even that roar could not prevent me from falling asleep quickly, and I recall nothing more until dawn when I saw Mayas moving around the chozas, and I lowered myself out of the truck bed, abruptly scratching newly realized bug bites.

No one wanted to notice me, and if by chance I caught someone’s eye, they shied away immediately. I stood silently amongst Mayas avoiding me. I was gente de afuera, people from outside. After finding a private place to tirar agua, I retired to the pickup and sat alone on the bultos in the truck bed, watching children stare at me from a distance.

Suddenly appeared Xaidi, bringing a rush of a half-dozen Maya women clad in peninsula traje, who clearly and certainly acknowledged Xaidi as the authority, and whose eyes begged to know why the extranjero

was present. Xaidi nodded to my food bag and the bottled water therein, telling me in chopped Spanish that I would require more water, and that I must drink only that which they provided. A Maya man handed me six large hollow gourds, each with a hole punched into it and a corncob employed as a stopper, each with a woven hemp cord by which to carry it. Xaidi motioned for me to go with the Maya and three others, so with two Mayas in front and two more behind me, we five stepped into the trees and walked over a well beaten path into the green.

So suddenly did it happen and was then over that I was dazed by the event. My memory recalls a burst of shouting, a brief chase, two naked painted men fleeing through the trees.   My reconstruction afterwards is that we had arrived at the entrance to the well, and that we had surprised two water robbers just emerging. The robbers were naked, with their front torso from the abdomen to the knees painted black, and their back torso from the small of the back to the bottom of the buttocks painted white. The event provoked animated ranting by the four Mayas. For the first time I noticed that each of the Mayas carried a tira hule, and that all had drawn these strong rubber slingshots during the ruckus.

The well was in a cavern. The Mayas used a thick hemp rope to tie each of them to another, including me, and we formed a rope line of two Mayas leading me the foreigner followed by two other Mayas, all five roped together, the Mayas barefoot and each of us carrying large gourds. We descended over a damp slick limestone surface covered with fungus. Within the first few steps my footing slipped, and I fell, but was snagged by the Mayas around me, and I never hit the limestone. This slip and snag happened a number of times.

The backlight from the entrada provided only brief diminishing illumination, and darkness quickly smothered us until we reached a level spot where one of the Mayas ignited some candles at a stone altar. A pool of water spread before us. The Mayas filled their gourds, as did I, and my empty plastic bottles as well. My flashlight probed the cavern to see stalagmites and stalactites, and black catfish in the pool. Then we climbed out, this time burdened by the weight of our water gourds, the foreigner continuing to slip and snag.

The four Mayas and I filed away from the chozas after returning from water collection. I think that our departure retraced the dirt road over which I had arrived in the pickup. After a while the two lead Mayas stopped and mumbled softly to one another, then left the road and entered the tangle of vines and trees, followed by me, and finally the other two Mayas.

Upon reflection I understand why the Mayas did not cut our way through the tangles – they wanted to leave no sign of entry. Snags, snatches, scratches, lashes, stickers, stabs, cuts, trips, falls, crawls, climbs, squeezes, pinches, pokes and other unpleasant endurances are my memory of that entrada. Eventually we came upon a thin tunnel cut through the jungle. The tunnel cannot be seen from the sides or the top, as the canopy hides it from above, and its narrowness conceals it from the sides. Only the knowing would likely find it.

The Mayas, with me in the middle always, moved through the tunnel. I had to stoop, but the Mayas walked upright. In order to extract a vine snagging my shirt, I turned and faced the two Mayas behind me, and I was surprised to see that we were not alone. Following us like dancers came a trio of coatimundis, their long, ringed tails erect, their tapered, whiskered, white snouts bobbing. They padded softly behind us, waltzing all the way to the clearing that was our destination, and they remained as wary, curious companions throughout our stay. I named the site Camp Coati.

The undergrowth at Camp Coati had been cut away, but the overhead canopy remained to hide the site from above. The camp lay inside a hollow carved from the jungle. The density of the forest around, with the umbrella canopy overhead, isolated me inside a green womb, and silenced my sense of time. Everything became simply now, the moment.

Stark screened cages squatted silently in the camp clearing. Sturdy sticks formed coffin-shaped frames to which wire screen was attached to form cages. A small door was fashioned at one end of each screened coffin. As I wondered about these contraptions, the Mayas turned to them.

A yellow bridal veil was fastened inside one of the cages such that the enclosure was fully lined by the veil. A hammock was then strung tightly from end to end inside the cage. Thick hemp ropes were extracted from a stash in the trees. One of these was tied to the cage, and the cage was hoisted a meter off the ground, then fastened securely by attaching the rope to a tree. A floating yellow bedroom nest appeared.

Shortly three more yellow nests hung. Finally a lone blue one for the extranjero. During the nest preparation, one Maya took my blue veil and macheted two strips from it, returning to me the large scarves. I observed that each Maya had a yellow scarf.

After the nests were hung, the Mayas moved to a trail that had escaped my notice until their activity disclosed it. Once again they sandwiched me between them and we entered the jungle, me ducking under the canopy and them walking upright. Along the way I watched them grab red lizards off red barked trees.   The short, fat, slow reptiles were invisible to me until I finally trained my eyes to see them. The Mayas handed me four lizards and I put them in my pocket.

The path ended at a limestone outcrop. Not until the lead Maya dropped out of sight behind the gray rocks did I see that we had reached the edge of a cenote, a sinkhole with an entrada that widened as we descended. A pool of water occupied the cenote. The modest Mayas discreetly separated and disrobed. The naked men threw their clothes into the water. Each man tied his yellow scarf around his head so that only his face remained uncovered. The yellow veil became a hair net under which the Mayas inserted several fat red lizards before lowering themselves neck deep into the water.

Only as I disrobed did I become aware of the scores of ticks covering my body under my clothing. Hurriedly I became naked, all the while suppressing my desire to brush and pick. With hair net in place, complete with lizards in my hair, I lowered myself to my neck into the pool.

Came a rush of minnows to my body. They began to feast on the ticks. Tickles replaced ticks. I stretched to allow the fish full access to my body, hoping to aid them in finding all the bloodsuckers. I arranged my floating clothes so the minnows could clear the ticks from those also. The cleaning was not restricted to ticks. The minnows also found calloused and loose skin and proceeded to exfoliate my body. At the same time I felt the lizards moving all about my head, even poking into my ears.   They were eating ticks, too. In the end, I departed the cenote as slick as ever have I been.

The Mayas constructed a rail upon which to hang our wet clothes over a fire for drying. The fire smoked more than heated – thereafter I became a smoked foreigner. The Mayas ate sparingly, ingesting exclusively pozole and tubers. I enjoyed tortillas, habaneros, and water from my gourds. After dinner activities focused on securing bags for the night. Hemp ropes strung from tree limbs provided a hang, elevating bags off the ground as intended.

Entry into my blue coffin cage bedroom required agility. The doorway was Maya size, and I could barely squeeze through. Once inside and onto my tightly stretched hammock, the space between the floor and ceiling of the coffin was such that turning over in my sleep, or sleeping on my side, would press my shoulders against the blue veil covering the ceiling. As I had brought only one set of spare clothing, I slept in my dry, smokeless clothes. By dark, hanging wire nests housed five hammocks holding sleepers.

The jungle erupted at night. The howlers produced sporadic roars; fireflies flashed; mosquitoes buzzed; coatimundi and other unknown critters rustled and rooted around the camp; mysterious bumps against the bridal veil made me uneasy; sudden sharp cries snapped my eyes open. Restless ruled the night.

Came the urge to tirar agua. I flipped on my flashlight. This brought a startled gasp and thankfully I froze rather than jerked. To the blue veil clung creepie-crawlies of all descriptions, some only inches from my face, attracted by my breath. The light invoked panic, and some insects and bugs lurched or crawled or flew away, but the orange centipedes stayed. Bats flapped away when my light struck their faces. The only barriers holding the jungle at bay were the wire cage and the blue bridal veil. Exercising expedient agility sharpened by avoidance of touching the blue veil, and while hanging over the edge of the hammock, I peed through the bottom of the cage without remorse before carefully returning to a prone sleeping position, realizing that skin on veil was perilous.

At daylight we all dropped from our cages, me so after shaking some crawlers off the blue veil so I could hurriedly scoot out. My rummaging around in the bush seeking privacy demonstrated that a startled iguana will likewise startle a foreigner and send him flailing backwards into the tangles. My morning bowel movement proved that the cavern water was alien to my system, ensuring that I would tirar agua out both ends. My morning clothing activity exchanged dry sleeping clothes for off-the-rail, damp, smoky daily clothes, well shaken before placed on my body. My Maya fellows had shown me that the second blue scarf cut from my bridal veil was to be worn as a loincloth, like a jock veil or a bridal diaper.

The Mayas moved to a heap of vegetation. The green mound was truly a rock pile overgrown with tangles hiding fragments of ornate stucco, stone sculpture and rectangular and columnar blocks, some decorated with glyphs. The mound was Maya ruins rubble veiled in the jungle. I am certain that I would not have seen it had I stood beside it prior to the clearing by the Mayas. This wonder introduced me to Coati Ruins.

*

We hung in our colorful wire nests for three nights total, and were scrubbed by the feeding fish an equal number of evenings. During daylight of that time I accompanied the Mayas and also explored on my own.

Solitary exploration was deeply impacted by my fear of becoming lost. The tangle was overwhelming, intimidating, claustrophobic, simply smothering. Once away from clear spots the body was touched everywhere by vegetation, such spreading chiggers, gnats, skeeters, spiders, biters, and the ubiquitous ticks. Normal walking was impossible; such was replaced with the sensation of wading through thick green stringy gelatin that you could not shake off. Spider nests the size of golf bags hung in the canopy. Sudden bursts of buzzing announced black clouds of hornets in the trees above. I saw orange centipedes crawl down vines to the ground, understanding then how those hair-raising things reached my blue veil.

Underground cavities were hidden beneath the collapsed rubble. The Mayas had found three entradas into the underground and they inserted me into one. In order to pass through a narrow tunnel to the cavity, my successful entry was head forward, face up, backside down, push with feet to move ahead because arms are useless in the narrows. The cavity was part of a vault. By flashlight I saw that one wall was a mural, a fresco. The plaster on the wall was painted blue, with faint figures barely discernable. The strongest impression was the blue color, not the dim figures. I was unable to enter the other two underground cavities because of my size.

The Mayas had cleared a place in the rubble and exposed a corbeled arch. During my time at Coati Ruins, the Mayas continued clearing around this vault, revealing a foundation of stones carved into faces. Also uncovered was a stone head the size of a basketball. Artifacts of a non-architectural nature included a clay whorl, a carved obsidian disk, and potsherds that the Mayas added to the scores already found during their rummaging about the site.

On the day after the third night, the four Mayas returned me to the chozas from whence we had departed for Coati Ruins. With only a slight nod of head to bid me adieu, the four yellow nesters melted into the stick and thatch huts. I sat alone in the shade. In the evening arrived the familiar pickup, this time with bultos of oranges in the bed. The noise brought the Mayas. Xaidi appeared dressed in highland traje, while the other Maya women dressed as peninsulares. Only Xaidi spoke and she told me that the men would leave me where I could find a way to where ever I wished to go, that I should remain where dropped until transporte arrived. She then brushed me front and back with the slender leaves of a branch from a fragrant tree. Limpia se va, Señor. Que le vaya bien she wished me before turning away.

Three Mayas rode in the cab, and another with the gente de afuera in the bed with the oranges. We bounced intermittently most of the night, sometimes stopping to unload oranges at clusters of chozas. I am confident that we moved south. We took no fuel. For a good while before dawn we stopped. This undesirable lack of movement attracted insects to passengers.

After dawn and pozole, we bounced for only a few minutes before reaching a good dirt road. This is where they put me out. One Maya gave me a folded leaf and I put it in my pocket. Voice was not heard. Nods and nuances spoke, as they had from beginning to end. The pickup turned around and disappeared into the trees. I was left standing solitary in the bush.

Waiting for transporte presented stillness. I felt movement in my pocket where I had put the leaf. Inside were some fat red lizards. I found my blue hair net and applied the lizard remedy, all the while shuddering that I was covered with ticks. I considered putting on the clothing in which I had slept at Camp Coati, but I just could not suffer the sight of all the ticks and red chiggers under my smoky clothes.

The jungle hummed a constant note, so when a distant vehicle approached, I first heard its intrusive noise long before seeing it. I put on my hat to cover the blue hair net. When the van stopped, all the Mayas silently stood up to stare out the windows at me and down the aisle at me as I entered the vehicle. They were dumbstruck.

The van ride ended at a parada on a major highway.   When I asked the driver about the road, he pointed left to Chetumal and Belize, and right to Villahermosa and Tabasco. After learning that the closest big town was Escárcega, I knew my location, and I hired the van driver to carry me there, and he let me out at the Posada Escárcega.

While receiving his fare, the driver offered to step inside with me in the event of a question, and I thought it a good idea and a sincere concern by the chofer. After all, a dehydrated, tick infested, lizards in hair, smoke reeking, runs possessed, scraped, scratched, and bumpy bug bit foreigner might be of concern. White privilege might not be sufficient to allow me access to services. Issues were not to be, however, as the chofer smoothed reception, and I was welcomed.   Especially encouraging to the manager was that I would acquire new clothing in order not to expose his room to my pestilence.

Astonished stares focused on me during my search for necessities. Clothes I found at a ropa baratoda, which dressed me as a young Mexican. A farmacia provided poison powder to kill things on human bodies, like ticks and chigger larvae. My last stops were at a papeleria for pencil and cuaderno and a street comedor to eat empanada de queso panela.

Back to the room after flashing assurance at the manager. There place all clothing, scarves and blue veil in plastic bag for destruction. Release the lizards in the hotel garden later. Shower until convinced most things are off. Apply powder and discover most things not off. Two additional rounds of powder. No evidence of pestilence. A final shower before new clothes convert me to a twenty-year-old Mexican disguised as an old Gringo, or the other way around. Ready to go eat more and to learn about transporte to Oxkutzcab.

Me tocó la suerte. As I walked into the terminal, a fine cruiser was leaving for Campeche. Nothing but soiled clothes had been left in the Posada and the room was paid, so I stepped aboard and went to sleep immediately. Another passenger awakened me in Campeche. There I found bus transporte to Ticúl, then a van to Oxkutzcab and a short walk to the Puuc. Circle completo hecho correcto.

*

Where had I been? The dominant direction of both pickup rides was south. The finca van found me south of Coati Ruins, and north of Escárcega, so Coati Ruins are north of Escárcega.

Archaeologically, Coati Ruins are south of the Puuc metropolis and west of the Chenes and Río Bec proposed regions. Edzná, Hochob, Dzibilnocac, Pustunich, and Sacha are the nearest notable sites.   I am able to offer counsel as to the architectural style at Coati Ruins only to the extent that it possesses Puuc elements. Whether Río Bec and Chenes elements are present remains unknown to me, and consequently, cannot be excluded, thereby concomitantly holding open the exciting possibility of either or both of the proposed Chenes and Río Bec regions being expanded. The potsherds will be authoritative, not my novice notions about architecture and stonework.

The location of Coati Ruins was not betrayed by the traje of those at the nearby chozas. The Maya women there dressed in huipiles of the Yucatán peninsula, revealing only that Coati Ruins are on the peninsula, as independently corroborated by the ruins being north of Escárcega.

In contrast, Xaidi dressed as a highland Maya from south and west of the Río Usumacinta, from Chiapas or perhaps Guatemala – she was not a peninsular. That the authority figure at the Coati chozas was a young woman from the highlands intrigues me because it is counter-intuitive when viewed from my perspective. Her brushing me limpia upon departure suggests that curanderismo might be that which bestows an authoritarian status upon her.

Ingeniero don Alberto, thank you kindly for including me in your diligence. I hope that this relación serves as attestation that gente de afuera have seen the site and are witness to its existence.

Así escrito 19 Diciembre 2014.

3 thoughts on “Camp Coati

  1. What's in the Water January 6, 2021 / 10:12 pm

    On Jan 2, 2021, at 1:32 PM, John McElligott wrote:

    Paco.

    Camp Coati
    Was very scary and reminded me of working with the Montagnard in Nam. It was always scary and we always lost men for one reason or another. Luckily I always got to fly away. Call me some time and explain to me exactly what you were doing.

    Juanito

    PS you need to talk to Jerry Callaway one of our contributors. He helped produce “We were Soldiers Once” This Paco book is a movie waiting to happen!!!!

  2. What's in the Water January 6, 2021 / 10:13 pm

    On Jan 3, 2021, at 1:13 PM, Paco de Otrome Jico wrote:

    
    My adventure into Coati was arranged by a Mexican engineer working with some archaeologists. The Mayas had denied the Mexicans entry into their territory. As I mentioned in some of my Anthology, the indigenous people often distrust the non-indigenous people of their country. Foreigners like me are often afforded entry that is denied to the non-indigenous.

    The archaeologists were puzzled by the rumor about a ruin in the Coati area. The Coati area is between named cultures. Look at my Map of the Maya Area. See that I have located Coati between two populations – to the north is the Puuc, to the southeast are the Río Bec and Chenes. If one accepts where I have located Coati, the ruin appears to lie in “blank space,” or in “no-man’s land.”

    To know if the ruin exists, and, if it does, the culture to which it belongs might expand the boundary of one of the known cultures. The only way to find out was to send in a buscador, a searcher, and that was me. Although I was gente de afuera, an outsider, I was not a Mexican, therefore the Maya accepted me. I was selected because I was the only such person like me known to the engineer, that is, an outsider with knowledge of Maya cultures.

    To the engineer I reported that the ruin indeed exists, that it contains elements of one Maya culture, Puuc, but that I could not determine if the other cultures, Río Bec and Chenes, were either present or absent.

    Never was I in danger or threatened by the Maya. Mostly I was just ignored.

    No thanks on a movie.

  3. What's in the Water January 6, 2021 / 10:15 pm

    Jan 3, 2021, 6:57 PM John McElligott wrote:

    Paco
    Thanks for the explanation. That makes the reading a lot more interesting 🧐

    Juanito

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