Do Jaguars Cry Like Birds?

We went on a short vacation to Cancun. The husband is in charge of booking trips. He is the planner. I am the slacker. Give the husband a task like planning a vacation, and he bustles about most impressively (on the couch of course). In true form, he booked a lovely place to stay, surprised his daughter with a day with dolphins, and booked a van to spend the day  with the  ancient Mayans at the pyramid at Chichen Itza. All in all it turned out to be a marvelous vacation with novel experiences.

The drive to Chichen Itza is a good three hours from Cancun, and we settled down with books, games, snacks, and water to keep us occupied on the journey.

The husband was chatting amiably with the van driver, while we pulled out our books to read. Up in the front, the conversation was flourishing, if somewhat one-sided. The van driver liked his audience, and his theories grew wilder, and his stories more grandiose.

The scenery outside was rustic. We were passing village after village tucked away in the Yucatan province. Outside the opulence of the tourist city of Cancun was where we got a peek into the real Mexico. Small brick buildings, children in slippers and shorts, palm trees, livestock, dogs. The rising heat was already setting the tone for the rest of the day. The talk inside the van turned to regional flora and fauna. I asked about tropical birds, and he assured me that they were plenty and marvelous.

‘Have you heard the cry of the Jaguar?’, he said.

‘No! Indeed!’, we cried.

The van driver then went on to explain. ‘Well….what is most impressive about those ancient Mayans is that if you clap your hands at the foot of the pyramid, you will hear the Jaguar cry from within the pyramid. Jaguars are sacred animals to the Mayans. You’ll hear all from the guide no doubt’.

The toddler was impressed. ‘Could I really clap like this, and jaguars will come?’ he asked clapping his hands and blinking his eyes at the same time.

The guide at Chichen Itza, told us about the ancient agrarian economy, and how the ruling class were probably mathematicians and scholars, and not wizards like the peasant class believed at the time. There was an impressive sort of buildup to the clap-echo section: the children even scoured the bushes for hidden jaguars.

When it came to the clapping section, the guide’s CLAP reverberated through the pyramid. It just goes to prove that practice makes a world of difference – our claps were like birds rustling leaves compared to the thunder-shots that rang through when he clapped. That guide clapped for a living and it showed.

It was lovely to stand there in the heat under a perfectly blue sky with lazy clouds flitting here and there, and listen to the chirruping sound that emanates. For some reason, I thought the Jaguar ’s cry would sound like a roar or even a grumble – piteous, scary or ominous, but I was not prepared for it sound like a bird call.

chichen_itza
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/12/1206_021206_TVMayanTemple.html

The call we heard, the guide told us, was the sound of the elusive Quetzal bird.

The toddler was disappointed: maybe he expected a Jaguar to come out from the pyramid’s top. A bird flying out was not half as impressive as a Jaguar leaping out, but finally neither came out. We showed him an iguana sunning himself nearby, to which he gave us a look that made his teen sister proud and drooped away to the shade.

Moments later, he philosophically resigned himself to treating life’s disappointments with ice-cream. Jaguars and quetzals could cry or fly, but they didn’t get ice-cream and he did. That was all that mattered.

Coming up next: The Van Driver’s Theory Blasting Evolution to Pieces.

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Swimming With Dolphins

The daughter and I were lazing around one night a few months ago: she, reading me snippets from her Harry Potter book and gushing about Patronus charms, and self, reading out snippets from mine, The Cosmic Connection By Carl Sagan.

I was reading the fascinating piece on Elvar the Dolphin. The daughter’s favorite animal is a Dolphin. She has drawings of mermaids with Dolphins everywhere. The sea fascinates her in ways that amuse us. Dolphins, mermaids and narwhals enchant her mind, and her endeavor is to become one if possible.

So, obviously, I read the whole piece out to her.

wind-in-the-reef.jpgElvar had the brilliant scientist stumped after a brief interaction. Elvar-the-dolphin and Sagan-the-human, on being introduced, started playing a game initiated by Elvar wherein he swam to Sagan, and thumped his tail completely drenching Sagan. When after the fourth splashing, Sagan refused, the dolphin swam up to him and said ‘More’. Completely flustered with this turn of events, Carl Sagan ran to his fellow neuroscientist friend and said he might have heard the Dolphin say the word, ‘More’. To which the neuroscientist said that Elvar the Dolphin knew upto 50 words in English, and could use them in context.

It is of interest to note that while some dolphins are reported to have learned English — up to fifty words used in correct context — no human being has been reported to have learned dolphinese. – Carl Sagan

A marvelous essay that only serves to remind us about the virtues of humility. We can barely understand other languages that fellow humans speak, and are quick to erect barriers between ourselves, but here was a dolphin willing to pick up English in order to engage with human-beings.

“You know Amma? Dolphins are so lovely right?”

I nodded. I did love the little flubberty gibbets.

“I think I know what my patronus is – My patronus must be a dolphin. I love them amma. They are so magical and real too.”, she said her eyes gaining that dreamy quality that often accompanies magic.

So, imagine how we felt when on our recent vacation to Mexico, the husband had booked a ride with Dolphins.

We were first introduced to a pair of dolphins – a charming male and female, called Manta and Sole. We hugged, patted and kissed them. I have never in my life touched something that soft, warm, and plush pulsing with the robust health of life. I coo-ed with that tone of voice I use around babies, and the daughter tried her best to distance herself from me in embarrassment, unlike the dolphins, who seemed to enjoy the attention.

‘Would you like to ride with them?’, asked the instructor, and I got to tell you that I was apprehensive. I mean – weigh the facts. Dolphins can swim at the stupendous rate of 20 miles per hour. I swim, if you can call it that, at the rate of 2 strokes a minute, stopping to gulp water in between, spluttering a bit, gasping, coughing and rasping, then regaining my breath before taking another deep gulp to sustain myself for 2 strokes.

Would a Dolphin for the first time experience condescension? I had to find out.

It took me what felt like 20 minutes to swim a couple of hundred meters out to where the dolphins could meet me. I huffed and puffed, and flawlessly executed the gulped-water, sputter and choke routine before I felt able to say I was ready. The moment I nodded, she gave them the signal.

In under a second, I felt the dolphins streak toward me under water, and they were there wiggling their fins under my arm and assuring me in their playful way that all was well. Their faces looked like they were smiling which I suppose is a gift they are born with. Their demeanor indicated none of that condescension or judgment that I was dreading, but simply an amused curiosity.

In another second or two, they had deposited me on the shallow end. The pictures reveal an ecstatic look on our faces as we were carried gently ashore by the dear creatures. My heart was bursting with joy. Maybe my patronus changed to a Dolphin too.

dolphin_swim

If we truly were smarter than Dolphins, we would be totally giving you the works in Dolphinese. What I can do is to dance like they did for us.

I only hope their interaction with us was a happy one too. Boink – Thank-You in Dolphinese.

Buoyant Force, Tensile Strength & Parasailing

To think that we would leave Puerto Vallerta, Mexico, without the pleasure of para-sailing was gnawing at the old heart. I mulled the thing over and decided that the best thing to do was to ask the valet who was greatly impressed with us, to holler and let us know when the parasailing man comes around. Apparently, he was not one early to rise and early to bed. He took his time and came around noon. I like folks like that in general, for I am not exactly a lark. It isn’t too much to say that had I been born a bird, I would have lived life thinking shriveled worms were food and that too becomes hard to come by as summer progressed. I may have tweeted from the trees to all who could hear about the sad state of affairs, but gone on to peck at wild grains and enjoyed myself anyway. But the problem was that we were to leave for the airport home-bound at 1 p.m. and if the Parasail-er came at 12 noon and then, had to go through his waiver forms and insurance checklists where would that leave us?

The husband looked at me amused. “Forgotten we are not in the US have you?  I don’t think this guy is going to bother with forms, documents and waivers. “ said the husband in query to my quizzical expression. The sun shone down and hope raised its beautiful head and sailed along side the distant parachutes in the sea once more. At noon, two men came dragging a parachute behind them. That was my cue. I ran on the beach towards them. It looked like another lady was going toward them too and I knew that if they took her on, both of us had an even slimmer chance of parasailing that day. The morning’s practice run had done me a wave of good and I pumped through the sands as fast as I could waving my hands in the air and trying to attract their attention. I have been seen to better advantage certainly, but that did not deter me. Shy birds don’t catch worms or get their fills of wild grains for that matter.

Now, let me give you a bargaining tip : Don’t let on that you are eager to have something when you negotiate price.

You are welcome.

When I reached the men, and asked them to state a price, they grinned. The sun caught the gold glinting in their tooth filling, and their eyes sparkled. They knew this customer was in the bag. None of the little tricks around not wanting it really, but doing a good turn to benefit the tortilla-winner of the family. No Sir. I still tried, so half-heartedly that they smiled even more, and said, “Come. Come Señorita. Just give big teepps okay? Big teepps.” (Tips)

I smiled, consented and dutifully pulled on my look of intense concentration to listen to the training they were to give me before the adventure. The husband turned his head by 3 millimeters and I knocked his knuckles and asked him to concentrate too. By the looks of it, there was a life jacket, but it was not one of those life jackets that instilled confidence in the wearer. The straps were broken for one thing, and for another they did not look buoyant enough. Not that I weighed the thing in air and studied the difference of displacement in water or any such thing, but I just knew. For another, if I fell into the ocean from  a height of 150 feet, life-vest or no, buoyancy force calculated or no, the shock of it would have me convalescing for a goodish amount of time. Obviously, I wanted to understand what to do in case of change in wind directions, changes in pressure or if the sea below grew choppy. There was a tiny boat that had a slimm-ish looking rope attached to the parachute. Somehow, everything the men said to make me feel as ease were doing the exact opposite. (Señorita! Very safe – new rope. Just 5 months old. Just give big teepps and I bring you down safely okay!) The mind boggled to think that depending on the tips, the rope could let you plunge into the ocean or be sturdy enough to get you back to land. But the Apparently-Brave do not dwell on the ratio between the tensile strength of ropes and tips.  They fly.

The sparkle in their teeth and eyes were a little distracting, but a butterfly could have grasped the directions, for that was all the time it took.

When I whistle you pull right shoulder rope okay Señorita? If it is becoming dangers, then I whistle again and you pull left side rope. Simple. Okay start now.

“What? No No. Wait. That’s it?”

That’s it – very easy. Very safe. Just remember teeppz.

“What if I hear a third whistle?”

I whistle only two times. How you will hear three whistles?” he said with a kindly expression that one adopts while talking to the idiot child.

“Okay okay. Fine! What if I don’t hear your whistle? I am going to be 100 feet above the ground. “

Don’t worry Señorita. We are there. We will get you down here.

I saw there was no point arguing, so I nodded and the next moment the boat took off into the ocean and the parachute lifted. Higher and higher it went taking my spirits with it. I looked around whole-heartedly enjoying the views from up there. The heart beat a little faster at first, but then settled into a steady, euphoric state that I could get used to. Maybe this is what people say when they say that they dip into their inner selves and experience pure joy. I gulped the salty air, drank in the fantastic views and lifted my hands in a smooth glider-like motion and at once a great feeling of gratitude filled my heart. To have experienced something like this is pure joy.  I have since had the pleasure of talking to a wonderful person who attempted parasailing at the age of 74, and she whole-heartedly agreed too. This feeling is there to dip into whenever you choose.

parasailing 2
That is some other person parasailing – a picture I had taken the previous day while lolling around with a book

I can’t say that I looked forward to the pull-right-strap-on-first-whistle (or was it the left strap?) part of the landing, but when I saw that I was nearing land again, I tucked in my nose and stuck out my ears as hard as I could to hear the whistle. Right enough I heard it and then, I heard the second one too. So, I used all my strength and tugged on the left and right or the other way around.

Wonder of wonders. The husband had apparently set their mind at ease on the tips they could expect while I was flying, for had I not seen such a smooth landing, I would not have believed it possible. I landed on the exact spot from which I had taken off and that too like a butterfly descends to sit on a flower. I gave them a delighted and effusive ‘Thanks’ and asked them to give the husband the same experience. The older of the men, touched his hands to his heart ( What is Mexico without a touch of melodrama?), and said, “I will do for him also Señorita.

parasailing

The men beamed with the teeeeppppzzz and we floated back to the hotel to pick up our belongings.

Funcionando en México

Puerto Vallerta, Mexico found itself entertaining some folks who were determined to make the most of the couple of days in the place.  We gorged on fruit smoothies, had our fair share of entertainment by looking up the local art galleries like we were aficionados, and enjoyed a kind of a salsa-belly-dance program put up by the staff at the resort that made us look down at our own flourishing mid-sections a bit wanly (but we quickly washed this uncharitable thought straight down to the belly with another smoothie). The room had a dashing view of the ocean and the mountainous coasts nearby, and I enjoyed lolling around with a book in hand. The husband liked the idea of room service and we found ourselves eating at midnight just because we could (Could those poor belly dancers do that?). All fine so far, but for one snag. The day after we landed, we were to run a half marathon and say what you will about a run like that, it demands that you put in the time and effort before hand. Last minute efforts can only take you so far. We thought of it every now and then and then waved a hand away at it, and the thought went away – lifted and replaced by a beautiful tropical thought of taking a walk in the beach, or worse, lying down on the beach with that book.

puertov

On the day of our departure, however, I felt like I had to do a great many things in Puerto Vallerta. We had not done parasailing yet, we had not run in preparation for our half-marathon, we had not been to the cool, swirling waters. Say what you will about the Nourish-n-cherish household, but we do not hold back on whims like that. We take spurs-of-moments for a spin, we act impulsively, enthusiastically and then, wait and lick our wounds and let the experience ferment itself till it can turn into a good tale for the blog.

I set the alarm for 6:30 a.m. and got up promptly at 8 a.m. The husband is never pleased with the alarms I set, but that makes for another blog entirely. The mists of sleep shroud me and refuse to disperse when the blasted alarm rings every time. This is one of the times, I am lost for words and the poor h feels like a complaint lodged in the wee hours can have an effect on me and improve my alarm setting capabilities. I like his optimism.

Anyway, so there we were, at the hotel entrance at 8:15, ready for a run through the streets of Mexico. The hotel valet looked us up and down politely and said that people do run sometimes and we were welcome to try, but it is not a hot pursuit in Puerto Vallerta. I disagreed. It was the hottest thing to do. The temperature was a raw mid-90 F, the humidity a trifle high, but that apart, ideal conditions.  We ran on the streets of Puerto Vallerta for a good 4-5 miles taking in the sights of a stirring business community. Small shop owners were up and about splashing water on the pavement outside their shops. They came out with their little hooks and started hanging their wares for folks to see. The humidity, splashing of water before the shops, hanging-the-wares, everything reminded us of India and the more we looked the more similar people were. Some people smiled at us, some could not mask their curiosity as they looked at us, children peeked at us shyly, some looked warily to see why mankind does things like running when there are hot Huevos Rancheros to be devoured.  We gave them all a pleasant time by thumping up and down their pavement on the way to the beautiful Pier.

Running_mexico

We beat it back to the hotel looking like dogs thrown into a stinky pool and panting like the best of them. The high temperature and humidity in the place had drenched us with sweat through and through.   A dog on the sidewalk gauged our conduct with professional interest. I felt that we must humor him and tried a dog shake to shake off the clinging moisture, but apparently I don’t make a very good dog, for the fellow was not impressed and turned away. The mild sea breeze we encountered at the pier was long gone. We may have made poor dogs, but red-faced monkeys? We could have taught them a lesson or two. We crawled up the stairs to the hotel lobby and the valet asked us where we had been with concern in his eyes. I told him we had run to the pier and back.

“To the end of the pier?” he asked, his eyes widening with surprise.

“Yes. “ said I

“Very good Señorita. Great Señor” said he.

I don’t know about you, but when we impress hotel valets (who came to know of our existence about an hour ago) like this, we beam widely. We are not the kind of folks who regularly impress those around us with displays of our physical prowess and this kind of enthusiasm strokes the dormant hero in us. We feel like we have the potential to achieve great heights and that is why you could have seen me charging down a beach and chasing a man with a parachute an hour before we were to leave for the airport.

Part 2: Parasailing Adventures.