the Yucatan & Casa Hamaca
How to Make Aluxob (Mayan Leprechauns) 
Alux are leprechaun-like beings who guard the fields (milpas) of the Mayan farmers. An alux (plural: aluxob in Mayan or aluxes in Spanish) is supposed to be about knee-high. Now I'm not sure if that is knee-high to a Mayan or knee-high to a gringo since the Mayan people are generally much shorter than are gringos...but they are quite small. In any case, they pretty much stay out of sight, calling attention to themselves with pebble throwing in the night or whistling in the dark or playing pranks on passers-by. Any strange noise or strange sounds in the night are blamed on the aluxob. They are more or less harmless, just mischievous. But don't cross them or they will get even.

Farmers sometimes build a little hut in their fields for the alux to live in. Legend has it that as long as the farmer treats the alux right by giving him food and drink, the alux will guard the fields from both humans and animals. However, at the end of seven years, the farmer is supposed to close the hut door on the alux, trapping him inside. I'm not quite sure what happens then...if the farmer starts again with another alux or what.
Some think that belief in alux was imported into the Yucatan by English pirates, many of whom believed in faries. Others think that they are the living embodiment of the little clay figures sometimes found among the ruins.

Every village Mayan with whom I have talked, without exception, believes in aluxob. Everyone has a father, an uncle or a cousin who has actually seem an alux. Some have had close encounters with aluxob. Some people seem a little embarassed at believing in the aluxob, but they do believe. Now-a-days, alux also guard the casas, tiendas (stores) and even automobiles of the Mayan people.

A few years ago, I spent three days in the Yucatan jungle with a local guide. I don't think he was a shaman, but he had much experience in many things Mayan. We had many opportunities to talk about a variety of subjects during our breaks (we were photographing 70 different plants that had some importance to the village Mayas). On one of our breaks, he taught me how to make an alux and bring it to life. He did not swear me to secrecy so I will share what he told me. First make a clay figure of a person...a body with a head, two arms and two legs...the figure did not have to be very life-like. Size was not specified. I kind of picured the clay alux to be about the size and the general form of a gingerbread man. Then, with a small wood stick, make five holes in the alux...not all the way through the figure...just partial holes. Make them at the major joints (ie: the hips and the shoulders) and at the bellybutton. Let the clay harden, but don't fire it. When it is dry, wash it in a posole liquid...made from ground homminy and water. As you wash the alux say the words "xxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx". I could say I forgot the words, but that is not true. As I was about to write the words to give life to an alux, I had second thoughts and decided not to share that knowlege over the internet. If you want to learn how to do it, come stay at the Casa Hamaca and learn with hands-on experience. But don't let Nena know. She does not believe in aluxob, but she still seems frightened of them. Go figure. Anyway, here a schematic.


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Why Valladolid? 
Over 10 years ago, I started doing mission work in the Yucatan with Mano Amiga. The 1st year I went once, the 2nd yr. twice, etc., until I was going to the Yucatan 3 or 4 or 5 times a year. Many times we stopped in Valladolid for lunch on our way across the peninsula from Cancun to a small village near Merida. The town was always very tranquil with sort of a slow-bustle about the downtown area. Very authentic with many of the women wearing traditional Mayan dresses (huipiles), very traditional and very charming. I heard as much Maya spoken as I heard Spanish.
A few years ago, I took a two week driving trip with a Mexican family to the five Mayan states (sometimes known as the Republic of Yucatan)...Quintana Roo, Campeche, Tobasco, Chiapas and Yucatan. A number of the hotels in which we stayed as well as a number of the restaurants we visited were old Spanish colonials built around a center courtyard...a concept that flouished in Spain for 1,000 years during the Moorish conquest. I really liked the idea of having my morning coffee in an open courtyard surrounded by plants, flowers and birds.
So I decided to start looking for a house in old colonial cities. Since my base was Isla Mujeres, near Cancun, I drew up a list of prospective cities, the closest one first, to begin my search. I planned to look in Valladolid, Izamal, Merida, Campeche and San Cristobal de las Casas in that order (all Mayan cities, by the way). The third weekend that I looked in Valladolid, I found the house I now live in and fell in love with it. The house is probably less that 50 years old, but it did have a center courtyard. And it was located in the heart of the historic district, fronting on a small square acros from the San Juan church. The church is probably from the 16th or 17 century...no one seems to know for sure since many of the early records have been lost. The square reminds me of a square in Provence in the south of France. The casa was surrounded with fruit trees, flowers and flowering shrubs.
After some dickering, we agreed upon a price and I bought it and immediately started renovations. My first major order of business was to remove the roof surrounding the courtyard and the main hall...it was way too low. All of the surrounding rooms were close to 3 meters high (9 ft+) but the existing hallway roof was only about 7 ft high.. My idea was also to enlarge the courtyard since I had to build the new roof anyway. After a few rainstorms, I realized that the interior of the casa received too much water. Then came the decision to add a second story. There was still too much water entry when it rained! So, instead of an open courtyard, I now have a closed atrium, almost three stories high. It is a great, open space with lots of light. But I have my morning coffee on the wrap-around veranda, overlooking the gardens and the San Juan Square in front of the casa. A wonderful location to watch the hummingbirds visit the flowers and the children appear for the 7 AM opening of the school also located on the park.
The casa setting is almost unique in Valladolid (or for the entire Yucatan, for that matter) because in the billard table-flatness of the Yucatan, the casa sits on an exposed limestone crest, much higher than any of the land around it. This not only creates a great view, it also affords great drainage when the tropical rains come. I recently learned, because of the unique location, a Mayan structure may have been located here before the Spanish came in 1542. The city was then called Zaci and has been inhabited for, perhaps, thousands of years since at least two major water sources (cenotes) are here...a very important feature of most old Mayan cities. I also heard that there might be an entrance to a cave, cavern or underground lake (cenote) on the property. Since the entire region is honeycombed with caves, caverns and inter-connected cenotoes in the limestone bedrock, that is not impossible to believe. Then the story got a little far-fetched when the hidden treasure was mentioned. But, who knows?
Everywhere I look in the garden soil, I encounter broken sherds of clay pottery. I have no idea if the sherds are 10 years old or 1,000 years old. I do know that the former owners of the casa used the gardens for their rubbish so at least some of the sherds are quite new. I'll write more later about the plants in the garden, the wildlife and the guardians of the property...the alux...leprechaun-like beings who guard the fields...and, also, sometimes cause a little mischief.

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Cinco de mayo parade 
This morning, about 7, I heard the sounds of drums and bugles coming from somewhere close. The past few days I had heard skyrockets and other fireworks. I did not really put them together until this morning when I learned that the Cinco de Mayo parade was forming up at the park in front of Casa Hamaca. It seemed that hundreds of kids, all in their best school uniforms, were milling around waiting to be told what to do. The corner store was doing a brisk business selling sweets and refrescos. Horses were prancing, riders were smiling. My wife told me that as a child she also marched for the Cinco de Maya and for Independence Day and other important celebration days.
One internet page suggested that the battle celebrated on Cinco de Mayo impacted US history. At the battle of Puebla, the Mexican army defeated the French forces which currently occupied Mexico. Because of the lost battle, Napoleon III decided not to support the Confederate States of America and so, perhaps, changed the course of US history.
Of course, in the Yucatan, they neither knew nor cared about this far-away battle. The Yucatan was having regular skirmishes and occasional more serious assaults between the government and the Mayans who were still unbeated after the War of the Castes (which started in Valladolid in 1848 and officially ended 1901 on Cinco de Mayo just south of Valladolid). However , the last real skirmish was in 1933, 85 years after the start of the conflict.

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Massage Exchange 
For the past few months a fellow has been coming around every couple of weeks selling raw honey from his fields. Each day of the week he goes to another town and walks his route selling his honey. The honey is bottled in used (but cleaned and washed), plastic, screw-top soda bottles (that's soda pop for you Mid-Westerners). The last time he was here we got to talking and he mentioned that he is a sobandero or traditional Mayan massage therapist. I told him that I was also a massage therapist (see: the aNeed2Heal website for further information). He quickly suggested an exchange and I agreed. So he came this afternoon and I gave him a typical "Swedish" massage with a few stretches thrown in for good measure. Next week he will be back to give me a massage.

I've done massage exchanges before here in the Yucatan (see:DalisLLama for the full story. I have found that the sobanderos really know their anatomy...all of the muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones...but they have no idea what the scientific name is for any of them. They also have a tendency, in my experience, of fixing or curing the problem rather than helping a body heal itself. What that means in practice is they hurt when they work on you! I mean really hurt! But they do "fix" the problems. Some sobanderos also set broken bones and fix dislocated joints; so they are used to causing pain.

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Where is Valladolid? 
Greetings from Valladolid, Yucatan. I am located almost exactly mid way between Merida and Cancun. It is warm here today...about 95°F, pretty low humidity with a slight breeze. A nice day. It will most likely stay hot and dry for the rest of May. This is the time that the farmers burn their fields. They still use traditional slash and burn farming techniques. In March and April they cut down all the trees and shrubs in their milpa and let it dry. This month they burn the dry wood and brush to fertilize the ground for another year. Last year at this time they had to close the Cancun International Airport because there was so much smoke from the burning milpas. Bad as it sounds, I think that it still puts less carbon dioxide in the air per acre than agribusiness. But I don't really have the facts to back that up.

The farmers wait for the first of June, give or take a day or so, for the rains to come. Then they poke a hole in the ground with a sharp stick and drop in some seeds and cover over the hole. They have been planting this way long before the Spanish came here in the 1540s. The only real difference is that now the stick has a sharp iron point. The traditional crops are the Three Sisters: corn, beans and squash. The corn grows up, the beans vine around the corn and the squash spreads out to cover the ground. These three foods are the basic diet of the campesinos or the farmers and their families.

More later, if I can get this to upload!

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