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I was thinking that my client was extremely lucky when he died during his sleep after sharing his last night with his dearest friends. I was thinking that he was even more fortunate to have passed away almost at the end of a restful spa weekend in such a beautiful hacienda resort in Campeche, Mexico. I was thinking I would also like to be caught by death right in the middle of the mystic Mayan region of the Puuc, where every place you turn your head there is a sacred temple. I was thinking what a blessing it must be to release your spirit in such a sacred land. I was thinking about the least painful steps to help his family return his beloved grandfather’s corpse back home in the US when I realized that I was lost not only in my thoughts but also in the middle of nowhere, somewhere in the Yucatan.

I know Puuc’s roads better than anyone. And I have driven the roads so many times. I was angry at myself; I had no time to lose. I must have missed the right turn and then the jungle started to look just the same for about 20 minutes, the road also looked just the same and I could not find any familiar landmark to guide me. After about 20 kilometers without finding an intersection or a soul I decided I was too far away to go back. This road must lead me somewhere.

With no time and no gas, little by little the jungle ceased its attack and let a humble stone fence appear as the road became narrower and poorer. Those stony albarradas let me see little shy Mayan homes trying to hide from the road, placing themselves under the shadows of magnificent flamboyances, as if the trees needed to defend their fragile content. As if they regretted the existence of brief gaps in their stoned fences, they guarded the entrance marked by a drunken aisle crossing the front yard.

I drove past three rows of homes until I got in the middle of the main plaza, looked at both sides as my disappointment grew, when I realize I was the only human in the entire town. I turned around the plaza looking at a closed little church and a closed little comisaria, and not even the dog enjoying the shadows of a centrally located tree seemed to care he was the only witness of my visit. There was not even a rotten sign with the name of the town.

Aware of the time I am wasting I drove out to find the only Mayan casita with an open door, a light behind the tunnel, to ask for directions, I thought. I parked next where a family of turkey babies had decided to cross the road. As I walked through the aisle and pass the humble Mayan gate I entered the only round room to find no one except a handful of saint’s images standing on tiny altars with hardly shimmering candles. An impressive wood cross laid in the middle of the altar as I looked at the floor and immediately think the stone aisle I just walked past was better paved than the open dirt floor of this circular room.

On the wall the cross was hanging next to a ceiling of never ending spider webs, and an ancient colorless photo of a Mayan family posing. The portrait is poorly framed with a wood similar of that of the cross officiating the moment. Thousands of fingerprints have left layers of dirt all around the frame. I assume many hands have handled that photo after a hard day of work in the country. Despite the couple of desperate “buenos dias” I mourned I have no answer.

There is a jar full of watermelon juice attacked by hundreds of flies. Then I wonder if what is flouting on that water surface is actually seeds or some insects in disgrace. Finally, as I trespass more, I see a woman at the farthest side of the patio. She does not respond to my greetings. Without another choice, I walked 15 steps between endless hurdles of flower pots that artificially wanted the jungle to proceed. As I stand right next to her she begins to feel my presence. Her absolute attention is caught in her craft.

When she finally responds it is now me whose focus changes to a magnificent wall with shelves stuffed with a myriad of colorful hammocks. She is imprisoned behind two wooden bars linked by an intertwined wall of turquoise threads. She has a flat wooden needle in her hands that she uses nonstop to weave up her prison even more. When I recovered from the astonishment I could not tell the reason why I was there. I only said, “Madam, good afternoon. How much are your hammocks?”

With the sweetest 80 year old voice she answered, “80 peso.”

Thinking immediately in how to multiply my limited gas money, my impulse decides to buy one. As I am choosing between oceans of colors I ask the lady, “How can I get to Merida?”

Once again her sweet voice gives me this time a bitter answer, “I do not know.”

I continued my interrogation and she tells me the name of the town is Xcaloc. Her helpless words still mean nothing to me. Then I picked the most perfect hammock and I demand to know the size. She stops for the first time what she is doing and as she turns up her silver hair, perfectly woven with colorful ribbons, just like her hammocks, her eyes confessed to me she is completely blind. She tells me with her hands to get closer so she can touch the hammock. A simple touch was enough to tell me the size. In that moment I simply responded with, “How can you tell between the colors?”

She justifies herself by saying, ”I have done this since I was a child.”

“Let me get the money from the car,” I responded as I walked out.

I overlooked how she started to follow me out, slowly but with perfect awareness of her space. When I come back to her door she is patiently already awaiting for me. I described the value of every coin and bill I am giving her hoping she would trust me, but that seemed unimportant to her.

Before I proceed with my getting lost I cannot help to ask, “Who are those people on the photo?”

She says, “It is mom and dad, and me. When I could also see with my eyes.”

Rodrigo Rodriguez is a human rights and immigration lawyer living in the Yucatan among the Mayans. He is a lover of good music and food, and is always looking to be amazed by nature. Rodrigo is a student here at CUNY SPS working on his Advanced Certificate in Immigration Law.

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I own a piece of land in the middle of the Mayan jungle in a small town near Valladolid called Uayma. I bought it because I love its church. But soon after my purchase I fell in love with the people.

Miguel Xooc is my unaware Mayan Professor and helper. He keeps calling me to tell me every detail of what happens in this isolated and abandoned, by me, piece of land. He gets extremely excited when I visit the place and he shows me all the progress he has made in keeping the jungle away from the small destroyed construction of the Hacienda home that used to be there. He keeps track of every wild animal he sees and of every snake he kills. He even saves their skins for me. I had to tell him to secretly inform me all the details of what he does and specially keep any animal skin he kills away from my wife or I will never convince her to move there in our retirement!

Last weekend Miguel told me that he discovered a cave. He anticipated my desires to give it a look and so he made a path so we could walk with my son to explore the cave. It was about one kilometer from the entrance of the lot so he really worked hard to create this path. While we were walking I told my son to look at the wild orchids blooming on tops of the trees. While looking at the tops of the trees Miguel warns us to watch our steps and be careful with the thorns of one of the branches of the trees he cut earlier. I asked him, “What do you call this tree Miguel?” and he said, “It is a Tzubim.”

We continued walking until I saw an identical branch and I warned a friend of my son by telling him to be careful with the Tzubim. Miguel immediately corrected me by telling me, “No, Patron, that is not a Tzubim, that is a Chimmay!“

“How would I know? They look all identical to me,” I responded.

Miguel could not believe that I was not able to tell between such tremendously evident differences. He decided in that moment that he was going to give me a botanic tour and he started to name and describe every tree he saw while we were crossing such a densely thick forest.

“So Patron, this is a Chaka. Look how red its wood is!”

It has a very soft wood.

“Now look! This is a Dzilzilche, this has very beautiful shells around its trunk.” Miguel said. “This is a Chacté. This one has bigger shells around its bark and it has a very red Chulul.

“Hey Miguel,” I said, “Stop there. What is a Chulul?”

“Ohh! Chulul means heart in Mayan. The Chacte’s chulul is very red and its wood is very hard.”

“Look that is a “Bacabché. In this one the trunk is very smooth, it does not grow thorns and its “chulul” is brown,” he said. Then Miguel gets extremely serious and tells me, ”Patron, this is a Chintoc.”

Miguel introduces me to this tree as if it were a person. “This tree is so hard that it breaks axes.”

We slowly continued moving our steps into the forest when we found more than fifty flowers laying on the floor. Miguel tells me those are the flowers of the Piim. That tree has many thorns but its flowers get bees crazy. Then he points to the top and there they are, hundreds of flowers coming out of the branches like a miracle. Then I asked Miguel why bees get so crazy about these flowers. He takes one and asks me to smell it. In that moment I joined the bees as the most incredibly intense and unexpected vanilla essence escapes from the flower.

We moved on and then he points at a tree and tells me, “That’s a Mahahual, this tree’s bark is so thin that we use it for tamales’ wrapping.” Then we walked next to a Tzubim, and Miguel’s experience sadly tells me that this tree has such big thorns that if you step on one you cannot sleep all night long. We walked again next to a Chimmay and then he tells me that it has a very, very hard wood with an extremely brown “chulul” but it compensates those sins with its very beautiful fruits.

He goes on with and describes trees with names such as pomoCHE, bacabCHE, chinCHE, ikiCHE, piniCHE, yaxCHE. Then I asked why most names end with “che.” Well, it means wood. So the beginning describes the type or purpose of wood we Mayans give to a tree. Some are the wood that cures, the wood that hurts, the wood for shelter, the wood for the gods.

While he describes all the trees features, I get close to them, I look and touch them, I start to detect their subtle differences as Miguel tells me what they are used for until we found a “Chechen.” In that moment as I approach to that tree a scared Miguel yells at me to stop. “No patron, do not touch that one! Its bark is highly poisonous, you will get a terrible itch and the swelling will be unbearable.”

As I am impressed by the height of the thousand oaks among their Mayan friends I cannot help asking Miguel, “How come do you know all these trees?” Miguel tells me, “Well, we are all Mayans. The trees and us were born here and for us knowing the trees is like recognize a family member.”

Overwhelmed by the immense variety I end our tour by asking, “And who planted them?”

Miguel, with absolute conviction answers, “God, of course!”

Rodrigo Rodriguez is a human rights and immigration lawyer living in the Yucatan among the Mayans. He is a lover of good music and food, and is always looking to be amazed by nature. Rodrigo is a student here at CUNY SPS working on his Advanced Certificate in Immigration Law.