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.
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.
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.