[When we last left our Apocalyptically Doomed Beer Adventure, he had just found the seventh seal, TORRENT, behind Angel Falls. Now he finds himself back in the water again, but in an entirely different manner]
This is heaven, I thought as I floated around the pool suspended by my arms in a yellow inner tube used by shallow water divers to hold supplies so that they don’t have to swim all the way to shore if say, the batteries in their flashlight die or they just want a break from swimming.
I could see why every day people who visited Cancun traveled over an hour just for the chance to visit this place. Every day except today that is, as my current babysitter assured me that I would have the location all to myself for the day. A feat by my employers that probably wasn’t nearly as hard as getting me out onto Nazca, but was still impressive none the less. I closed my eyes, drifting quietly as I thought back to the meeting that got me here.
Initially I was worried that flying to Hawaii would prove to be a huge waste of time, but I hadn’t been in Lyle Campbell’s office for more than ten minutes when I was sure Robert had put me on to the right guy. As professor of linguistics at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and author of over 20 books related to Mesoamerica language, this was the guy I needed to talk to.
“The symbol on the bottom represents Xibalba, or what the Mayans considered the underworld. And that the figure on the top bears the symbol of Chaac, the Mayan rain God, as you can see he is pouring what appears to be water from a pitcher into the middle symbol. But it’s that particular symbol and the one to the right of it that have me the most confused.”
“That’s why I came to see you Doctor, I’ve never seen anything like them in my travels.”
“Well,” he paused and turned the pictures a bit, “the middle picture is obviously the heart of this depiction, but I’ve never seen anything like it in Mayan art. It’s simply a tilted spiral, like a whirlpool or a MAELSTROM.”
Whirlpool? Thank you Doctor Campbell!, I thought. Why had I not made that connection?
“And the figures on the right seem to be….”, he paused, stood up and walked to one of his shelves. “You know, they actually remind me of something I’ve seen in Egyptian hieroglyphics. ” He pulled a book down from the shelf and began leafing through the pages. Finally he nodded, spun the book and placed it on the desk between us. “There you go.”
I picked up the book and looked at the picture that was on the right hand page. The picture was of a hieroglyphic of people using jugs to get water from a fountain. Yes I thought, trying very hard not to smile as I began to put together the meaning of the images. “And the top right symbol?” I asked turning his focus to the one symbol I hadn’t totally figured out.
“A depiction of the Mayan solar calendar. It was used for various purposes like marking solar months, marking the equinoxes or solstices, tracking seasons. It could be a water mark indicating when the pictogram was placed on the rock, or it could be indicating an important date in regards to what the pictogram is trying to represent. You’d have to translate the markings inside it to get a better idea.”
“Doctor Campbell,” I said taking the photos back. ” I’d like to thank you for your time. If you talk to Robert sometime soon, tell him the first round’s on me.”
“You’re certainly welcome, Doctor Hunter,” he said shaking my hand. “Although you could have just sent me digital copies by email. It really didn’t require you to fly all the way to Hawaii.”
“I know Doctor. But running up my employer’s credit card puts a smile on my face.”
Sliding into my rented convertible I finally allowed myself to smile. It had been difficult to contain my excitement in my abrupt departure from Doctor Campbell’s office but I had to make him believe that the information he had provided hadn’t meant anything to me.
I unlocked my phone and called the number that filed me with reluctance me every time I dialed it. “Yeah, it’s me,” I said in reply to the voice on the other end. “I know where the next seal is. It’s going to take me a few days to do some research here, then I’m off to the Yucatan. I’m going to need a few things when I get there. I’ll text my list when I’m ready to leave.” I paused, “Oh and…I’m going to need a tourist attraction shut down for the day, think you could help me with that?”
And now here I was, floating in a clear pool of water, in an amazingly beautiful cavern. Xkeken is a very well known cenote in the Yucatan region of Mexico, something the people who had laid this trail certainly never envisioned. They no doubt thought they were hiding the seals in obscure locations, but Xkeken cenote was now a huge tourist draw, with over 300 visitors a day.
Mayans used cenote’s for a variety of purposes, not the least of which was the rare human sacrifice. But these under ground caverns had a more domestic role in Mayan society; to collect fresh water, mostly rain water, that the Mayans needed to survive.
That’s what the pictogram on the rock face behind Angel Falls was depicting. The symbol for Xibalba referred to the Mayan’s belief that these cenotes guarded the openings to the underworld. The god Chaac pouring water into the swirl and the picture of people filling pitchers from it was an obvious reference to fresh water being given to the local people as a gift from the rain god.
Putting it all together, the next seal had been hidden in an one of the hundreds of cenotes scattered all over the Mayan territories. Searching them all would be an impossible task, but luckily I happened to know a little bit of Mayan folklore. Xkeken cenote, it was said, had such a strong feed of water during the rainy seasons that the water already in the sinkhole would swirl gently like a whirlpool. Xkeken hadn’t exhibited this activity in modern times, but the stories persisted.
I deceptively made it seem like searching the whole interior of the cavern would take me most of the day I’d been given, but I was hoping that it would take far less time than that – in fact, the plan I had been formulating since I left Hawaii depended on it. The markings on the solar calendar, after a little research, proved to designate both the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. These two points in the solar year are unique in the fact that on both these days, the sun travels the exact same path across the sky. This got me thinking about another interesting feature of Xkeken.
Besides being filled with stalactites, the cenote has a large hole, resembling an oculus, in the ceiling of the cavern through which the sun would shine and cast a beam onto the water below. I was betting that solar calendar had been place on the rock face to indicate that on those particular days, at some particular time, the beam of sunlight through the hole would hit the water directly over where the eighth seal had been laid.
Of course, the people who had conceived this little puzzle had probably thought that this was very clever because it meant that not only did you have to be in the cenote on one of only two days out of the year, but you had to know the specific time as well. Based on several markings I found around the depiction of Kinich Ahau, the Mayan sun god, on the solar calendar I believed that the correct time was when Kinich Ahau was in his “high house”, or noon. Of course, I couldn’t wait for the next equinox, but luckily I had my own version of a solar calendar – my cell phone with Google Sky Maps.
As I got out to the middle of pool I opened the Sky Maps app and set the time and date in the “Time Travel” mode to noon on the date of the recent vernal equinox. Holding the phone up I moved it around until I found the icon for the sun. Keeping the phone as steady as possible I paddled over to the spot in the pool where the icon of the sun lined up with the hole in the cenote. If I was correct, on noon that day the beam from the oculus would have been shining directly on me, and the eighth seal was directly below me. Of course, there was probably some astronomical error I hadn’t considered, the Sky Maps program could be off a bit, the normal level of water in the cenote could have drastically changed, or I could just be dead wrong about this whole idea. But I had to start somewhere, and this was as good a place as any.
After placing my cell phone into the waterproof compartment of the diving ring, I pulled my mask down onto my face and popped my respirator into my mouth. Then, with a quick raise of both arms, I sunk down into the clear water.
I had to go down about 25ft before I hit bottom, but once there it didn’t take me long to come upon an odd rock that appeared to be about twice the size of a bowling ball. The rock was partially covered by silt, but enough of it was exposed to see that it was different from those around it, looking more like the ones that had surrounded Angel Falls.
I examined the area around it for a minute and not seeing anything out of the ordinary, I slowly attempted to move it. It took a few tries to finally get the rock to break away from the surrounding sediment and slowly roll off to the side. I waited for the silt that had kicked up from the movement to settle back down again and was rewarded with a box, about one foot by 6 inches that was lodged in a niche that had been concealed under the rock.
I rose back up to the surface and returned to the shallow end of the cenote where I began ditching my diving gear. I looked around the empty cavern, glad to see that my babysitter had heeded my request that he and the others remain outside until I was finished. I opened the solid box and smiled as I saw the quartz like bottle nestled peacefully in the cavity inside. My happiness turned to joy as I notice markings on the lid of the box. I’d found both the seal and the clue as quickly as I’d hoped, if all went well, in just a few more minutes I could carry out my plan.
I sat down on the rocky shore in a place where my feet could hang in the water, and opened the eight seal. The liquid was cold as always, and poured a cloudy, orange color with only a very light, quickly dispersing head. I raised the glass to my nose and sat there for a moment, taking in the gentle aromas of malt and citrus. I was in no hurry for the revitalizing properties of the liquid as, for the first time, I’d managed not to bust myself up finding this one. After a bit I detected something else, there was more to the liquid than just the citrus like aroma you’d normally get. There was definitely a real fruit aspect to the nose.
Finally I put the glass to my lips and took a deep drink. The liquid gave an initial bite on the cheeks as if it had a fair amount of carbonation to it, even though this appeared not to be the case. The liquid had a nice mouth feel, with a taste that reminded me initially of grapefruit citrus not with just the flavor, but with the slight bitterness one gets from eating to close to the rind. The finish was clean, with a mild lingering bitterness that left my mouth watering for more. As I drank more, I started to detect more of an orange than grapefruit quality about the liquid. Considering the inconsistency of the last bottle I’d found, I was glad to see that this one was pretty good from front to back.
The warming properties of the liquid coursed through my body as if looking desperately for some pain to alleviate and, apparently finding nothing it could work its magic on, finally dissipated leaving me with a calm, peaceful feeling.
After sitting quietly for a few minutes, I decided it was time to put my plan into motion. I packed up my stuff on the shore, and then swam back out to the diving tube. It took me several tries, but I finally managed to hop into it, ass first, like a vacationer drifting down a lazy river. I pulled the cell phone out of its protective compartment and pressed the quick dial key for the new number I’d just been given. “Hey! No luck yet. No, I’m sure more people wouldn’t help, they’d just get in the way. I have to do this very methodically and the only way I can do that is to do it by myself.”
I listened to the agitated reply from my babysitter as I reached into the netting that hung off the side of the tube and pulled out one of the several Arrogant Bastards I’d managed to smuggle into the cenote with me. “Nope, this is the only way, don’t come in until you hear from me,” I stated firmly as I pinched the phone between my shoulder and ear, and with my now free hand, opened the bottle. “That’s right…fine…I’ll call you if I need anything.”
I put the phone back in its compartment and removed a glass from the netting and poured my beer into it. I looked around the tranquil cavern that, for at least the next several hours, I had all to myself. The ninth seal had waited several hundred years to be discovered, it could afford to wait a day or two longer. After all, thousands of people a year visit Xkeken cenote to relax in its peaceful waters, and I had always wanted to be one of them.
[TO BE CONTINUED]