ANOTHER Roadside Attraction

There are problems with having your consciousness come adrift in time, but also advantages. Or at least novelties. Yaxche had grown a bit jaded from savoring moments standing on high thrones in various centuries and even of presiding, thus enthroned, over the end of all time and works, but she never lacked perspective. And just as she could stare down from the peaks of stone pedestals, she could appreciate the much humbler layout represented by CroCun, even seeing it when it was no more than one more roadside zoo.

With a mere glance, or whatever you would term the ability to cast one’s point of view down through the helical process of time, she could see the site as it will become, as it stands at whatever locus you want to consider “now”, and as it once was. And how it became.

She could see the sinkhole itself over thousands of years, but it didn’t really get interesting until people showed up. With the usual complications and transactions. The temporal point that made her curious was how the scruffy little patch of scrub jungle had remained in the hands of a Mayan family when the highway from Cancun to Tulum went through. The first anomaly: first clue to a miracle. Yaxche could see it happening, but not interpret or understand.

Under the stewardship of the Pop family the sinkhole had become a water source for milpas, providing subsistence corn along with the secondary plants woven among the corn hills in the ancient fashion: beans, chiles, hedges of prickly nopal. The Pops had even managed to grow enough maize to trade. Then came a fortuitous stroke from an alien and catastrophic source: the Europeans who had infiltrated the area would pay money for chicle, and bubble gum created a bubble economy for the Pop clan.

It was at about the same time that the Pop homestead was operating as a chiclero camp that it also became a Rebel Base. The sinkhole, created because an odd concentration of cenotes had eroded into one unstable hollow and collapsed, was close enough to the coast, but deep enough in untracked jungle to avoid scrutiny during the Caste Wars, as the Spaniards called them. A waterhole with food supply owned by a family deeply committed to the rebellion against the Spanish, the Pop property was a major focus of the combat with civilization that the Maya never really lost. And a thorn in the side to colonists frustrated with their inability to put down the last next of resistance in all of the Americas. A period of interest when her gaze popped into those times, borne by a fierce young woman who’d taken the nom du guerre Kisin, a bloody earthquake of violence against the big, pale men who had abused and defiled her. Yaxche sometimes thought that the unquiet spirit of her fiery young avatar might have been responsible for setting her afloat on the circling currents of time.

After the wars were abandoned and the price of chicle reduced to nothing by the introduction of synthetics, time was a low, somnolent eddy at the Pop place, as flat and uneventful as the boring green carpet of jungle that overlays the flat slab of limestone Swiss cheese-riddled with cenotes that is the Yucatan. Then came the highway.

Once again, unpredictable foreign presence forged into the ancient jungles bearing mixed gifts. It became the backbone of a bustling, destructive, construction-addled entity known as the “Riviera Maya” and strewed the stretch with tractors, condominiums, cities, hotels, restaurants, airstrips, churches to foreign non-entities… and tourist traps. And the Pop clan, suddenly located a short distance from the right-of-way, inevitably decided they should trap a few tourists themselves.

Their first venture had, predictably, been a humble restaurant that was ignored by tourists because it looked too shabby to be sanitary yet too modern to be “touristic”, but frequented by locals and drivers because of the merited reputation of Kaax Pop, matriarch of that time slice, and mother of Puch Pop, who would capture more attention in later slices of years.

Señora Kaax supervised a kitchen crowded with Pop children, emitting fragrant steam like a volcano in Eden. And flowing with key lime soup, tamales tinted green from the plantain leaves they steamed in, salbutes and panuchos with flaky tortilla shells, papadzules in spicy pumpkinseed paste, poc chuc with the pork practically dissolving in its sour orange sauce… timeless, lip-smacking feasts laid out daily within a few yards of the plummeting tourism buses and trucks full of spare parts for the re-invention of local civilization.

But not a particularly brilliant use of prime frontage location, thought Puch and his older brother, who went by Juanito because he thought Mayan names were bush and wanted to get his hands on the new world and new wealth that flowed past their little mom and Pop operation. He worked with tourists at the Cobá ruins and saw how money would flow out of people who were offered a reason to stop blasting around and pause a minute in the world they’d come to look at. He was hot to blow the Pop stand.

Puch, as befitted a youngster named after the Diving God, chief deity at the nearby ruins of Tulum, had always worked as a diver; first plunging down the reef on sheer lung power with a cane and re-bar spear powered by inner tube straps, then a guide to the fish and coral for foreign tourists, most recently a certified PADI Cave Diver shepherding goggle-eyed visitors through the underwater caves and rivers that connected the cenotes.

Their exposure to foreigners let them to conclude that the gringos and europeos and japoneses wanted to see wild life in a wild, but controlled, setting. They captured a large portion of the local surviving caiman population and trapped a dozen spider monkeys from deeper jungle remote from the villages and westernization and opened the Mark I version of CrocoCun, a reptile farm with Mayan trappings, idiotic spiels that were absorbed as if valid, a T-shirt and curio shop and, of course, a killer restaurant/bar.

At some point Juanito was feeding the little gators and gazing around the eroded limestone walls of the sinkhole, ticked off that Puch had beaten his time with the cute Barcelona girl on their last tour. As he reflected on the irony that the foreign babes he kissed up to so shamelessly were more interested in his brother because he played that whole Maya thing, an inspired instant fell around him–a concept that would twist the Pop estate into its final manifestation. They wanted Mayan, he would give it to them. He left the little lizards struggling over their grisly feed and jogged up the hundred yards to the main buildings, calculating rapidly. The first thing he’d need would be stucco. And lots of cement.

Eyeing him from her bailiwick of millennia, Yaxche exulted again at having witnessed the Beginning of the End.

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