Saturday, March 17, 2012

Wanderings: Learning From Nature's Call



Regular readers know that occasionally I jump into my car and take to the back roads of the Yucatán. Whether or not I have a destination in mind, I always try to allow plenty of time for stopping or meandering off-course. Wandering in remote areas, and taking plenty of time to do so is a wonderful way to discover new things, and a guarantee that you will experience aspects of the Peninsula that are not found in any guidebook.

And it may seem funny, but I have seen some of the most interesting things when answering the call of nature along the side of the road. So this is a post about things seen during a "comfort stop" along Yucatecan back roads where formal facilities are few and far between.

Once, while in the middle of my business along a swath of thick roadside brush, I heard a loud sigh, which seemed to be coming from very close by. Startled, I jumped back, and only then did I notice that just on the other side of the bushes was a large, black bull. Heart thumping, I backed slowly toward the car, no harm done. This frightful moment was an exception, however. Most of the sights I encounter in these situations are of a less startling, quieter variety.



The act of stopping the car, getting out and stepping off the road gives me a chance to notice things that I would miss completely otherwise. Often, these are small things. For example, this fruit which apparently had recently split open to flash a brilliant yellow interior studded with shiny, red seeds, grew along a road near Telchac. A more obvious advertisement  for "eat me" is hard to imagine. I do not know what this plant is, but a local friend confirmed to me that the seeds are favorite food of various birds, who obviously aid in spreading this species of plant around.



Another time I was driving along a dirt road, noticing the numerous, multi-colored butterflies arising and flitting in and out of the roadside bushes. When I stopped, however, I was able to observe these insects congregating in the mud of a dwindling puddle. The car had startled them, but as soon as unfamiliar movement stopped, the butterflies began to return to this source of much-needed moisture. I was able to crouch and watch as the white, yellow and green creatures slowly congregated on this damp spot.



It pays to look upward.

This unusual-looking tree, known in Spanish as bonete, is native to the area, but apparently is less seen than in the  past. A friend tells me that it's in danger of dying out. Once eaten by the Maya of the countryside, the fruit is now little-used, and many town and urban residents do not even recognize what it is.

The disinterest could be in part  because the hanging fruits, which with their fin-like structures bear a striking resemblance to a cartoon bomb or Buck Rogers space ship, never fall to the ground. Humans either must climb the tall trunk or use a long-handled collector to harvest the fruit. In nature, the tree depends upon birds to liberate and spread seeds when they eat the bonete, apparently aided by the protuberances which I am guessing may aid the birds' grasp as they hang on. The inside resembles a papaya. The seeds readily sprout. The two green bonetes at right, which I managed to get down and take home, never matured to an edible state once off the tree, but after throwing them in the garden to compost I now have a number of small trees.


Ruins can pop up just about anywhere in rural Yucatán, and sometimes they are so overgrown that one must stop and look carefully to see them. The arch above is part of an old hacienda I noticed when I pulled off the paved road and onto on a dirt track near Ticul. The arch, and a number of old buildings, are completely invisible to passing cars, but their odd shapes become apparent, as breaks in the regular patterns of brush and trees, if one takes a moment or two to observe.

Here is another tree with interesting-looking seeds, seen near Santa Elena. The seed pods are red, and when they dry and curl open reveal shiny, dark seeds dangling from tufts of white fiber. When I first saw these, my reaction as a northerner was that they looked just like late wild blueberries capped by an early snow. I still have no idea what this plant is, either, but I guess knowing really isn't all that important.

What is important to me about all this is that it points out how much we miss along the side of the road. In zooming along the highway en route to some destination, we don't see even a small proportion of the interesting things we pass by.

This is the way many of us live our lives. A great number of people spend the workday looking forward to quitting time, the week looking forward to Friday night, the year in anticipation of a vacation, and a career looking forward to retirement. As we do this, we allow many wonderful moments to pass by unappreciated.

I try not to do that, preferring now to enjoy every day by heeding "nature's call." I am not completely successful at it, but have noticed that it's a lot easier to do in Yucatán than it was up north. And the more I practice, the easier it gets. Boredom does not exist. Every day is an interesting day.


21 comments:

  1. Nice piece. It is not as safe as it once was to wander off the beaten track in Jalisco. But I try to do it now and then just to keep in touch with the amazing details that surround us. There may be a post from me in there. Certainly a message to me.

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    1. Thanks, Steve. I always proceed with caution, but fortunately it's still pretty hard to get into much trouble in Yucatán if you just use common sense. Of course, it's not strictly necessary to hit the remote roads to see interesting things. Often I find them along the main highways. Maybe that's because when there is a bit of traffic and I need to go into the bushes, I walk a little farther off the road than I would if on a back road with no one around.

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  2. I like to amble off the road and look over the stone walls along the back roads. Many have a good many bits of carved stone mixed in with the field culls, makes you wonder what it all looked like before they needed the walls to keep the cows in. I like the bit about the bull, I've never ran onto a bull loose along the road but pigs are pretty common. A mama pig is nothing to take lightly.

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    1. Norm, I also am a fan of old stone walls. Although I have never noticed carved stones in them I love to stop and take a look. I guess I will have to be more observant.

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    2. The old stone walls are certainly fascinating. The balance with which large stones are fitted together and stay in place, lasting generations, is just amazing.

      A friend in Merida repaired a house and had a dry-stacked wall built around the garden. It was beautiful - a real piece of living art, in my mind. When he sold the house a few years later, the new owners cemented the wall and raised it with blocks. Always felt like vandalism to me, but he just brushed it off with "it's theirs, they can do as they like now."

      Stone wall building predates the Spanish and cattle. Houses were set aside by walls or even low stone walls filled with earth on a type of small platform (to stay out of the torrential rains?). Walls served to keep wildlife out of the gardens and mark off family space. When archeologists turn their attention away from pyramids and to the commoner dwelling sites, they find thousands of low walls and small platforms surrounding the cities. Now, they just seem like undulations in the terrain, but many were constructed.

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  3. How very interesting. I remember roaming the woods as a child in Northeastern Oklahoma...also very interesting, and as you said, not at all boring. Love the pix you posted, especially the butterflies, but the unusual fruits & their seeds are also very interesting. Well done.

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    1. Really just about anywhere it is possible to roam and find interesting things, if you take time and pay attention to details. My Dad was born in Oklahoma and although I never lived there, I recall fascinating childhood trips to visit relatives in rural Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas. The little towns and abandoned farms were always fascinating. One of the things I love about Yucatán is the mix of tropical nature, Spanish and ancient Maya remains. You never know what you are going to stumble across.

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  4. Great photos, Marc. I'd love some to plant that lovely bird-loving one.

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  5. Alinde, if I ever see another of those plants, I will save you some seeds.

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  6. I take off in uncharted directions often. I have to say, it is my very favorite way of learning the Yucatan. In September, 2011, and I'm sorry I can't tell you where I was, the roadside was covered in every variety of Morning Glory imaginable! I jumped out of the car, took a look around, and found other familiar flowers - lantana, with soft pink and yellow faces, and a several different varieties of red lipped sage. Just this past December, as I was leaving Mayapan, I decided to take a single dirt road. To designate pathways into jungle homes, the owners placed a some very interesting markers. One of them was a giant doll, with blond hair, skewered between her legs! YIKES! It was spooky and AWESOME! Let's plan a little day excursion once I'm settled in!

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    1. Many times on back roads, and even off the main roads like on the drive to Sisal, you will see an inverted plastic bottle inexplicably perched on the end of a sturdy branch. Often the end of the branch has been cut back to the thicker part, better to hold the bottle.

      These, too, are 'road signs' for a path to someones nah (thatched home) hidden back in the trees. With much of the rural land ejidal, there are a lot of people who live back out of sight in a home of their own making.

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  7. Benne, roadside flowers are yet another huge category. At certain times, as you have mentioned, they are absolutely unbelievable. I've got a lot of photos, but never have been able to identify them. There's a topic for a future post.

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  8. What strange and striking sights. The green butterflies look like leaves walking upright. And do you think that hanging fruit looks a bit like a cacao pod? Maybe I just think too much about cacao.

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    1. Yes, there are many amazing things to be seen out there. The beautiful thing about the butterflies that does not show in a photo is the movement. From a distance, they shimmer. I want to try to go back to the same spot with a tripod and shoot some video. In response to your question, I don't know enough about cacao to have an opinion about that...guess I need to go visit the new Cacao Museum.

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  9. I also love exploring, coming upon old ruins is majestic. The arch pictured would be a great entrance to a home--dream on right?
    Never saw so many green butterflies in that particular shade, or didn't notice because of their camouflage!

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    1. I love not knowing what I'll run across next, but I have a soft spot for the mystery of ruins. However, I'd have to say that the butterflies took my breath away, the first time I saw so many together, in a way that no ruined building, pyramid or old arch could do.

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    2. Don't know how boredom could exist?

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    3. I know that boredom exists and that some people are bored a lot, and need "entertainment" or be bombarded with novelty all the time to fight it off. I think that these folks often don't notice or appreciate all of the interesting things around them. What I meant by the comment in the post is that when I am thinking this way, I almost never get bored. If I find myself feeling that way, I generally consider it to be my own fault.

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    4. Understood. Life has many actions and reactions.

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  10. Love your window into another world. The colors of that fruit with the red seeds are amazing. Jeanne

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    1. Well, Jeanne, I am still looking forward to seeing you-all down here one of these days, so I can share it with you.

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