producer, guitarist, founder of Windham Hill Records
March 8, 2002
I'm in the Yucatan, a part of Mexico so far to the east that if I headed straight north I'd run into New Orleans. I'm writing from a place in the jungle called Hacienda Katanchel. It's previous worldly function was to grow agave cactus for the sisal that created a local gold mine in rope which nylon replaced in the 1950s, leaving the place deserted and destitute. It returned completely to the jungle until it was purchased by a visionary couple nearly a half century later who began hacking away at the growth to find not only the grand old Hacienda itself, but a small town of buildings built for the workers in the glory days. This suggested to the visionary couple that there might be the potential for a hotel here. The heavy adobe and concrete structures which became the outlying cottages of the hotel lie in a row like a town road. The road has its own cable car system on two rails pulled by a small horse named Margerita. I leave Margerita in peace and have tried to apologize for the laziness of the humans by trying to feed her carrots. She doesn't seem to recognize carrots and prefers to gnaw on tree branches they leave at her feet.
The place sounds idyllic and I guess it is, but there is something else going on here. You expect to open the bedside table and find Heart of Darkness and Mosquito Coast along with Gideon's Bible. This is a decaying grandeur and it seems to be only minutes away from being swallowed whole by the jungle. I am comfortable in nature, but this place frightens me. I normally go around in my politically correct mode, complaining about the destruction being wrought by humans on this planet. This is a place where it feels as if the humans are loosing. Don't get me wrong; I'm rooting for the plants, but when it's me here I've got to admit they look pretty hungry. This is a place where the plant life will send roots through the concrete. Even the drawings of the ancient Mayan city of Uxmal from 1839 show trees growing on the steep slopes of the pyramid called The Magician's Temple. It isn't rain erosion or ice which has toppled these pyramids; it's roots. I am reminded of the last line of a poem I read in a volume called Where Is Vietnam years ago? -- "and the jungle riots in eternal green." This feels like a riot; big, forceful and quite out of human control. I tend to think humans will make themselves extinct in this entire process and that this green will indeed riot and shrug off the temporary experience of homosapiens. This place seems quite ready to do so.
The landscape is numbingly flat. There are no hills, no valleys, nothing. Nothing. Just green and birds. There are trees which achieve rather monumental proportions, but as they're part of the green too, they are easily subsumed into the flat landscape. I'm sure the Mayan's created their monumental pyramids just to keep themselves from going mad in the flat, green sameness. Today overweight tourists stare balefully up the precipitous stone stairs of these pyramids in 100 degree heat and somehow elect to forego the climb. I ran up the things in near desperation just to experience a view. This isn't a casual "honey, look at the view" sort of situation. I'd actually begun to wonder if such a view still existed on this earth and had to reassure myself that it did. I'm going back tomorrow to do the same thing.
I cannot comment generally about the weather as I've only been here 24 hours, but the sky since I arrived has been an even gray. It is utterly impossible to tell where the sun rises or sets. It is gray. Given that you can see exactly ten feel in any direction, it doesn't give one much of a perspective on where exactly you are. Where you are, of course, is in the jungle. I've always thought I might enjoy going to the Amazon. I've reconsidered. Unless they install pyramids in a regular grid before I arrive, I'll leave that exploration to people who have not seen the director's cut of Apocalypse Now.
(I recommend reading Don Victor next)
Photo by Will Ackerman