The Lost World of Quintana Roo
UPDATE: Please read the update at the end of this post.
It was on a periodic visit to visit my family that I first encountered the book. My mom knew that I was living part time on a sea side copra ranch and in the process of buying part of it. And, being the avid reader she is, had attempted to educate herself about the area her son had chosen as a part time home. She had placed several books on the bedside night table in my room.
And after picking up “The Lost World of Quintana Roo” I did not sleep. The young Frenchman, Michel Peissel had made this wondrous and adventurous trip along the coast where I was living, but thirty-three years earlier !
I devoured the book, made an illegal copy of it, and still live with it today. And true to the Hollywood adventure setting that I found myself in during that part of my life, I actually met three of the men Peissel encountered during his travels in 1958 and again in 1962. The book is now out of print.
On a scallop along the Mexican Caribbean, with the offshore reefs’ constant murmur or crash, I pitched my tent — which, in time, was converted into a home of coral stones, posts from the jungle and palm thatch. I risked my life daily attempting to catch or scour for food, diving and snorkeling alone on the reef. I bought an unstable small boat that easily took on water and I found that I could push myself out to the beginning of the reef with a 5 meter long wooden pole. My beach side home was part of a coconut ranch called Xamach. Peissel spells it Chamax.
Here is Michel Peissel’s 1958 account and description of Xamach (the place that we owned and where I lived part time from 1981 to 2001, from his book, “The Lost World of Quintana Roo” ————
” . . . as I looked through the doorway of the palace I saw to my dismay three figures standing upon the pyramid I had just looked over. Spotting me, the three men started shouting at me, and to my fright I noticed that two of them were the bandits who had crossed over from Cozumel with me on the Lydia and who had robbed the cocals on the coast; the third man was the one who had told me a few minutes before that there were no ruins at Chamax.
I immediately knew that they meant trouble, and with my heart pounding, and fearing the worst, I scrambled down from the palace and picked up my heavy bag and ran through the bushes, praying at every moment that I was not being followed, and not daring to turn my head. Three hundred yards farther on I ventured to look around; I could see no one. But this did not put me at ease. Through my mind flashed all the tales I had heard about chicleros, and I imagined fo more than an hour that I was being stalked from behind the bushes as at an accelerated pace I made my way down the beach. At the end of the beach the coast became exceedingly rocky and it was impossible to follow the shoreline. I therefore tentatively tried cutting inland. The vegetation was quite low and mostly made up of large, bushy trees. After five minutes I found myself facing a watery marsh, a little arm that cam in from the lagoon and practically cut in two the narrow peninsula I was on. I backtracked, taking a new course through the groves of spiny bushes and palms. Since I had no idea of the lay of the land ahead, all my directions were tentative. Never before had I realized how important a good map was. For although I had the sea to guide me, I could not tell whether the coastline I was walking along might not lead me later on the edge of some deep bay that might require more than three hours t o walk around.
Hesitatingly I made my way through the bushes, occasionally using my baby machete. Feeling safe at last from any pursuit by the ruffians from Chamax, I now started to feel the pangs of thirst and hunger. I had drunk nothing since dawn and had brought along no food, having foolishly counted on getting both food and drink at Chamax.
The sun was beating down on me in full force and from all around came the buzzing and screeching of thousands of locusts and crickets, announcing the hottest time of the day. In the northern hemisphere it is difficult for us to realize that the sun can represent anything but joy and pleasure. For northerners, a cold gray day is the symbol of despair and tragedy, but now I felt the full heat of the tropical sun, that crushing sun which is more often tragic than gay, all-consuming, blinding, a sun so powerful that all things under its glare lose their shape as if flattened out by that great ball that burns somewhere in the sky, that ball that no one can look at but which one constantly feels above oneself. ”
Of the persons encountered by Peissel during his adventure, three of them became a part of my life in Mexico. To be brief about something I plan to enlarge upon later — the three men filled the spectrum of types, from swashbuckling to foreign entrepreneur. My life has been enriched by Don Martin Choc (lifelong resident of the Lost World, a Maya man with amazing blue eyes) – Jorge Gonzalez (wealthy land owner, tall, elegant and educated who lived and worked the cocal and chicle camp called Tankah, and who turned out to be my next door neighbor in Merida) - and Arnold Bilgore (a little appreciated American expat who was a pioneer in developing the tourism of the Mexican Riviera, whose ideas showed the way to a multitude of others, my mentor, adviser, and a true friend of Casa Mexilio). All three are deceased.
UPDATE: Those of you who write a blog or who attempt online journals, know the thrill of seeing your readers increase. And we know that for every person who actually leaves a comment, many others would have liked to respond, and just didn’t . . . One morning I was surprised enough to cry when I found in my in-box a response from a reader. It was from the French author / adventurer mentioned in my post about Xamach.
Here’s what he wrote:
Michel Peissel wrote:
Roger I enjoyed hearing about the Gonzales brothers and reading your piece on
the net as you may know I spent my life after Quintana Roo exploring Tibet and
the Himalayas but returned to Quintana Roo (with three hovercraft and Roy
Disney Jr) and later paddled and sailed down the coast on a giant Mayan sea