|The remains of a hacienda are barely visible beneath trees and undergrowth|
If you travel around Yucatán enough, you notice the ruins. They may be Mayan. They may be Spanish or even newer. What all the wreckage has in common is that nature is in the process of returning some project or enterprise, some structure that at one time served a purpose in human society, back to its basic elements. Nature takes everything back, of course, but here in the tropics the process can proceed with drama and speed.
It starts out with erosion, rain, sun and neglect. A tiny seed extends its root into a small crack or joint in masonry, or sprouts in an accumulation of dust and leafy debris that has built up in the corner of a neglected roof. Naturally adapted to survive on scant resources, the tiny plant sends roots in all directions in search of the food and water it needs to grow.
Nature supplies abundant rains that dissolve the minerals and organic remains to provide the nutrients that the plant needs to thrive. Often in just a matter of a few years the tiny plant has become a substantial tree. Smaller shrubs, plants, fungi, insects and animals also colonize the space.
|Pre-Colombian Mayan ruins at Xcooch|
As roots that penetrate crevices grow and thicken, they displace stones that were carefully worked and crafted to fit tightly together, and dissolve cement and mortar. Insects and animals burrow, further displacing or undermining carefully-constructed foundations. Eventually even the strongest roofs and walls crumble and fall. As thick layers of leaves and other residue accumulate, it can be hard to recognize that something was ever built there.
|Alamo tree roots slowly disassemble walls of hacienda buildings in Uayalceh|
|At Kabah, the partial clearing of trees reveals rubble of an ancient Mayan building|
This is not just a phenomenon that occurs in the countryside. Neglected buildings in the city suffer the same fate. It is not unusual, even in Mérida centro, to see structures that are rapidly being razed by plants and the weather. One of the more curious things I've seen was in a modern house downtown that had been abandoned for perhaps eight or ten years. An alamo tree had taken root on the roof and its roots penetrated through the walls and into the building. On a kitchen counter where some discarded phonebooks were stacked I discovered this interesting sight.
I am awed with the rapid rate of decay and destruction of human works caused by nature in the tropics. I am equally impressed by the enduring quality of many ancient Mayan structures in Yucatán. Against all odds, an amazing quantity of ancient ruins remain in good enough condition to allow us to admire their beauty and sophistication, and to provide glimpses of what life was like here long ago. It's a tribute to the architects and builders of long ago that we still can appreciate some of the riches of that civilization.