setting the stones 14

Isa, or the rune of danger, is the last rune you want to draw on a travel day, and so far, with all the flight delays and great storm upon my arrival in Cancun, it was living up to its reputation.  As with everything, however, there are always two sides of a coin, there is always some good and some bad.  While Isa is not a good sign, it doesn’t mean disaster is eminent either, rather that precautions should be taken. 

Isa is just one vertical line.  It stands for ice and cold.  Its month is January, and it represents the Snow Moon.   It is also associated with the number seven.  Drawing this stone means that patience is required.  It is not the time to act in haste.  It has unstoppable power, like a glacier, but events will take their own time.  When it comes to relationships, it may signify a cooling off of them.  High expectations may come to nothing.  Emotions may run cold.  It is a time to take things slowly.  Trying to rush across treacherous ground may lead to a downfall.

According to a healing interpretation of the stones, Isa represents fear.  Again, this may just mean that caution should be exercised.  There are things to be feared, and then there is fear itself.  There is a difference between skepticism and paranoia.  Fear has taken control when it shuts down life and the decision-making process entirely.  Although one should always have a healthy respect for one’s intuition, it is important not be let fear take control.  Things rarely turn out as badly as you may fear.  In fact, it is often quite the opposite.

Fear had been a huge and unhealthy part of my life, and I was usually catastrophizing or imagining worst case scenarios.  Some of them, like my current state of instability, and the fact that no one had ever paid attention to my writing, had indeed come true, yet I was still out living another adventure, and had made it to Cancun.  It was absolutely pouring out and didn’t look like it would be letting up anytime soon, yet the plane hadn’t crashed, and though my feet were still messed up, at least they were functioning.

The bags had gone around the carousel three times, before I recognized mine.  It was a small suitcase to have been living out of for a dozen years by now, and somehow looked even smaller and more battered on this day.  When I took it to the exit there were only independent taxis out front, and one young guy kept pitching me a ride into the city for twenty-five dollars.  That was too much, but the way it was storming, I didn’t have much wiggle room.  I blew him off and asked two or three other taxis.  None were much cheaper, and every time I turned around, there he was.  Finally, I relented, only to have him call an Uber for me.

The driver showed up with a shaved head and grim countenance, and then the tout who’d pitched the ride tried to get in the front seat.  I wasn’t having that, paranoid by now, looking at the skull that ran down the back of the driver’s skull.  I gave the tout the cash, but demanded he stay put.  He asked if I didn’t want company.  Absolutely not.  The driver and I pulled out into the pounding rain.

The last time I’d arrived in Cancun, only two years ago, it had been a bright sunny day, with a bunch of drink vendors outside the gate, selling pina coladas and mai tais, and a shuttle bus right to the center of town.  Now I didn’t know where we were going.  The driver could’ve been taking me anywhere There was almost zero visibility.

We stopped in a shady neighborhood in front of what looked like an abandoned building.  It was the hotel.  I had to jump over puddles to get to the door and my clothes got soaked.  There was a gate at the door.  I rang the buzzer three times and someone finally came down from the top flight of stairs.  He was wearing a baseball hat and never smiled once, seeming to wonder what I wanted and why I was bothering him. 

If it hadn’t been raining so hard, I would’ve just taken off and looked for another place.  Instead, I waited for him to open to the gate and followed him to my room up three flights of stairs.  There was a big puddle in the middle of the floor, as if it had been raining inside.  Outside of that, it was plain, but adequate.

I needed to get some food and the guy let me out the gate.  He didn’t give me a key for it.  Every time I wanted to get in and out, I would have to buzz him.  That was beyond inconvenient, especially since he hadn’t smiled once and acted as if he were doing me a favor just to open the door.  Crossing the street was like trying to leap across a river.  Both shoes got fully submerged. 

There were two children at the store I approached, only an iron-barred window to look into and order from.  The girl might’ve been twelve, the boy perhaps five.  I got a bag of chips, a cup of ramen noodles the girl heated in a microwave, some cookies, and a bottle of water.  The boy stood there shyly on a bench and counted out my purchase as his sister helped.  As I was leaving, I got drenched by a passing bus. 

Once back in the room, I left my wet clothes on the wet floor, and discovered there was no hot water in the shower.  There was only a sheet in the bed, so I got beneath it and lay there shivering.  The next day the air would be hot enough to boil potatoes, so the fact that it was now so cold was just perverse.  It had been an Isa kind of day. 

setting the stones 15

The next day the sun was shining.  The rune I drew was Berkana, representing birth, so I was ready for a new perspective.  I took it with me, hoping to find an interesting place to photograph it. 

Although the seventeen-dollar hotel I’d booked for three days was in a bad neighborhood, I found my way to the bus station and from there was able to get my bearings.  The plan for the next day was to head out to Chichen Itza, so I bought a ticket for the next morning, passing a wax statue of Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator on my way out of the station.  How many travelers walking past by it have quipped I’ll be back?  I know I wasn’t the first.

When I’d been in Cancun two years earlier, I’d stayed in a neighborhood close to Parque de Palapas, a park with a bandstand, carnival rides, and a number of vendors.  I was in the vicinity of it, but it still took a long time to find.  The day before my shirt had been soaked in rain.  Now it was drenched in sweat.  By the time I found the park, it looked drab and underwhelming.  I got out the Berkana rune and took a few pictures, then went looking for the hostel I’d stayed in before, remembering all the street art on the walls outside of it. 

Mexico is one of the street art capitals of the world.  As I walked, I passed a mural of a skeleton growing hearts in a garden.  There was a painting of King Tut with a skull for a face.  There was a sculpture of a man, just half of his head, juxtaposed against some flowers, then the blue and white elements of a Madonna, like two eggshells.  There was a lowrider and a pit bull, a bandita in a sombrero, holding a marker in her hand.  I passed two parrots and four Aztecs, an ofrenda outside of a restaurant, with orange marigolds and black and white photos.

When people think about Cancun, what they imagine is the resort hotels on Boulevard Kukulkan that line the white sand and turquoise water of the Caribbean Sea.  I was staying in the old town, but had been out to the Hotel Zone before and done some scuba-diving there, so knew that there are tourist buses that run out and back every few minutes.  On this day, I just wanted to ride to the end of the hotel row, so boarded a bus and sat on a high seat alone. 

I don’t have a problem with luxury, but have never experienced much of it either.  Everything that I need can be found in one room with a bed, desk, and fan, but if someone wanted to spring for me to stay in a top-end hotel, I would be delighted with that as well.  I remember a tale I heard about a king in India, who invited a very well-known aesthetic to visit his palace.  This old man had lived in a cave for years and was reported to be able to survive off a handful of grain every few days. 

Imagine the king’s surprise than, when the old hermit ate, drank, and indulged in more riotous gluttony than anyone else that weekend.  The hermit’s response was that he was happy in his cave, he was happy at the party, he was happy under all conditions, but the king, even with all his wealth and power, was rarely content.  He certainly couldn’t be happy in a cave if he wasn’t happy in a castle.  Although I was rarely overjoyed, I’d done a lot with a little for many years and was used to it.  I’d been OK in cheap hotel rooms, and would be OK at a resort, but the same underlying issues are always there no matter where you stay.

Now the bus driver seemed to be in a race.  There were only a handful of us aboard and he didn’t seem to want to stop for anyone, only slamming on the brakes when he had to do so, and shuddering to a halt at the last second.  We passed Playa Quetzal, the Ocean Dream, the Sunset Royal Beach, Luxury Avenue, the Hard Rock Café, the Wyndham, the Hyatt, the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company.  All these tourists strolling with their shopping bags were having the exact same experience, and that was OK for them. 

At Dolphin Beach Point the bus turned around.  I’d need to pay again if I wanted to ride back.  No problem.  I handed another fare to the driver who was visiting with a girl who worked at one of the hotels.  Now we passed Club Med, the Westin Resort and Spa, the Sun Palace, the club Coco Bongo with a big Spiderman outside and Madonna impersonator onstage. 

I could have been spending hundreds of dollars a night, thousands of dollars, but I was spending seventeen.  My room wasn’t that bad.  At least the internet worked.  For seventeen dollars I didn’t need smiles and service, as long as they opened up the gate when I got back.  If I could sit down on the bed and kick off my shoes, then that was enough, at least for today.

setting the stones 16

The rune Berkana looks like a B and represents birth or new beginnings.  It is obviously feminine in nature and relates to the birch tress that were featured in fertility rituals.  It represents the month of March and the Mother Moon.  If one were to draw this rune, it could literally mean a baby, but is more likely to indicate a new project or season of life.  Whatever it is, will require a lot of care and attention in the early stages to get by.  As related to health, this rune could mean a return to wellness after a long injury or illness.  In a relationship, it signifies that the woman will take the lead.

In its healing interpretation, Berkana represents prayer.  Much prayer is always required in the infancy of any new person or project, when so much is out of our control and the conditions need to be just right.  Communication with God, or a higher power, should come before everything, both for the desires of the heart and well-being of the planet.

Even though I was out on the road again, the pandemic had ushered in a new season for me, one where’d I spent most of it in California with my mother, unable to go anywhere.  It had come at a time when I’d been looking for a transition from living out of a suitcase and going from job to job.  As much as I’d been ready for a change, that was not the way I’d wanted it to happen, being forced to evacuate Vietnam, having a seizure, losing my driver’s license, living in a pop-up camper for a year and a half. 

Essentially, I’d been destroyed, blown to bits, totally humiliated and humbled, but then things had begun growing again, I’d gotten my license back, some unemployment money had come in, I’d taken a car trip all over America.  There were ideas I had about promoting my music and travels, but the person who did so would have to be a more stable version of the one who’d lived them out.  I couldn’t go forward carrying all the depression and anxiety from the past anymore.

There is no sea bluer than the Caribbean.  As we raced along beside it, it appeared that the driver of the bus should’ve been driving in the Formula 1 races that were happening in Mexico City that week, going eighty miles an hour, weaving around the other cars, stopping on a dime when he needed to.  Back on Boulevard Kukulcan, I got off at a roundabout where the centerpiece of blue walls and seashells had been tagged by a team of graffiti assassins.   Some art elevates, some defiles.  This was just ugly scrawl.

I walked past City Hall.  A Mexican flag waved alongside an odd assortment of heroes: Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, the singer Juan Gabriel, and Khalil Gibran.  I stopped at a pharmacy to get something for gout.  Although I wasn’t sure what continued to attack my feet, once again I was nearly crippled by pain, my toes all pinched up and going numb. 

It was late afternoon and I headed towards the Parque de Palapas to get something to eat.  There wasn’t much going on.  A few kids were driving little cars across the plaza.  The stage was empty.  Over at the food stands, I got in line for tacos al pastor.  There were a few German tourists behind me with a Mexican girl who was answering questions for them.  They wanted to know what was safe to eat.  Not the tacos al pastor.  Twenty minutes later and I would’ve warned them.

setting the stones 17

When you speak of pyramids, most people on the planet will immediately think of Egypt.  The pyramids there are much older and have achieved more notoriety.  The pyramids of Mesoamerica are smaller and steeper, and in some cases, much more intricately carved.  Having just visited the Aztec pyramids at Tenochtitlan, the plan now was to visit the Mayan ones at Chichen Itza and Uxmal.  Chichen Itza was one of the largest and most culturally diverse Mayan cities, and the ruins of it are among the most popular tourist attractions in Mexico. 

Before leaving for the bus station, I drew a rune to take with me.  Gebo, or the rune of generosity, was the seventh rune I’d drawn on the trip.  There were eighteen runes left, seventeen for the days left on the trip, and one for the day I got back to California.  The fact that I hadn’t sat down and planned it like this when I booked the trip, led me to believe that something mysterious, and right, was underway.  For what purpose, I had no idea, but I try to follow where passion leads.

The bus to Chichen Itza left at 9:45. I got a coffee and cupcake at an Oxxo Store and then went and boarded the bus.  Once we got out of town, we drove, and drove, and drove.  I thought it was going to be two hours to get there, but it took double that.  It seemed like we were only going twenty miles an hour, like a slow boat going up the Amazon, which I know from having been on one.  We got to Valladolid and had a ten-minute stop, and I realized I should’ve gone to Tulum first and then hit up Chichen Itza on my way to Merida.

By the time we got to Chichen Itza it was already mid-afternoon and I was ready to pitch a fit.  The first thing I needed to do was buy a return ticket to Cancun, but I couldn’t find the ticket booth anywhere.  Someone told me to look for the lady wearing the blue vest.  She was hiding under a shade tree and told me to find her when I was ready to leave.  That wasn’t much of a plan.

There were tourists that day from all of the resorts.  The ticket was almost thirty dollars to get in.  All of us were being filmed as we entered the site.  They had an infrared warning that went off if someone was carrying the COVID virus.  It was a mixture of ancient civilization and futuristic science-fiction terror.  The row of vendors lining the entrance was immense.  An Aztec warrior with his shield stood for sale on a table, right next to Captain America and his shield.  There were hats, T-shirts, blankets, sunglasses, keychains, all attracting as much attention as the ruins.

The famous pyramid, El Castillo, was roped off, just like the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon had been at Tenochtitlan.  This was annoying.  A few months later, I saw footage of a tourist who’d slipped around the rope and did a strip-tease atop the pyramid, only to be pummeled by other tourists upon her descent and then arrested.  I was here solely to take a picture of a rune.  No one could stop me from doing that.  I got out Gebo and placed it on a stump in front of El Castillo.  It turned out to be one of my better rune pictures, as the gold lettering is illuminated by the sun.

The crowds were too big and the vibe was bad that day, so after getting the picture I took one quick lap around the grounds and then headed for the exit.  There was the woman in the blue vest, almost napping beneath the tree.  I had to make sure to get a ticket before everyone inside the site made their exit at the same time.  It was sure to be a stampede.  Ten hours riding the bus and one frantic hour at the ruins.  I should’ve known better than that.  It had been a badly botched travel day.

setting the stones 18

Gebo looks like a capital X and means generosity or giving.  It represents universal love and the willingness to help others.  Drawing this rune may imply that you are about to get a gift from someone.  It may also mean a lucky break or opportunity is about to arise.  One should also be willing to give if asked to do so.  If this is the case, one needs to ask what is right and how often they should give.  To refuse to help others may affect not only one’s future karma, but reputation as well.

In the healing interpretation of the runes, Gebo represents trust.  What is trust outside of a belief that good things can happen, that circumstances and others won’t let you down.  One needs to be able to trust one’s self and believe that the present situation is the right one at the moment.  This is hard to do.

For most of my life, I’d been very unhappy with my situation, always feeling like there’s so much more I could be doing if only given the chance.  It often felt like I’d been cursed, that the universe was intentionally ignoring my desires, just out of spite.  I’d always taken as much as I could out of any situation and not been very grateful.  What had I given in return?  Not much, fleeting moments of humor and compassion at the most. 

In the richest country in history, I lived like a pauper, terrified of taking financial risks, terrified of falling into debt, too full of doubt to ask anyone for help, only willing to help others in the short term, if at all.  What had that netted me?  Almost no friends.  No home.  No base.  No supporters.  No family.  No children.  No career.  Nothing but a few stories and songs, with virtually no one to share them with.  Talk about a lonely way to live.

By the time I got back to Cancun it was past eight o’clock.  I went to buy a ticket for Tulum the next day and the only time they had available was eight in the morning.  It didn’t feel like I was making good decisions.  Even though I’d kicked off my shoes on the bus, my toes were still swollen.  The arthritis had also spread to my right elbow and down to my wrist.  The pain, from out of nowhere, was infuriating and medicine didn’t help.

When I got back to my hotel, there a long line of black ants, probably ten thousand of them, raiding the trash can in the bathroom, and carrying the booty out the front door.  I went out of my way not to step on them.  From high enough, that’s what all of us at Chichen Itza would’ve looked like that day, filing in a procession to the pyramid, returning with souvenirs and selfies, voracious collectors, stocking up on ego.

The next morning, a few of the ants were crushed on the tile floor.  Were they traveling through the bardo now?  How can an ant be good or bad?  They would get what they deserved.

setting the stones 19

The ruins of Tulum are among the most picturesque in the world, built up on a forty-foot cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea.  The city was built by the Mayans and at its peak between the 13th and 15th century.  It is a favorite haunt of mine, and I’d just been there a few years earlier, but now I was returning to take a picture of a rune stone there.  The rune that I chose for the day was Jera, or the rune of celebration.

The bus left at 8:20 so I had to get up early to walk to the station in time.  The pain in my feet had spread to my elbow and my wrist.  My seat was 24, on the right side of the bus.  Traveling down the Mayan Riviera, we had a brief stop in Playa del Carmen, then passed Akumal where I’ve done some cave diving in the past.  There was a lot of street art under a bridge we passed.  Mexico is full of color and art.  A surprise waits around every bend.

The bus dropped me off right at the entrance to Tulum.  There was a long street full of touts to greet me selling T-shirts, tours, day trips, souvenirs, food and drink, tourism at its most aggressive.  Like Chichen Itza, you are not under the impression that you are traveling with Indiana Jones when you arrive at Tulum.  If anything, it resembles an outdoor shopping mall with some ruins thrown in for decoration. 

Walking the footpath that led to the ruins I passed a cantina with pictures of Frida Kahlo, a tuxedoed Senor Frog, a large painted skull, Voladores bringing their spinning routine to the beach, Catrina in a bikini, more Frida Kahlo, a skeleton horse attached to a carriage.  Four kids dressed as Aztecs were showing off a python.  When they caught me taking a picture on the sly, they began to jeer, calling me a paparazzi.

There were hundreds of people lined up to get in, as if they’d just been transported from a cruise ship.  I didn’t expect to have the place to myself, but was surprised at how long it took to get in.  When I I finally did, I followed the trail past the Temple and Palace of the Frescoes.  There were many large iguanas lying around, getting almost as much attention as the stone buildings. 

Most of the other tourists were in groups of twenty to thirty, following a guide around, perhaps getting more details than they would’ve signed up for if they had to do it again.  I walked fast and made my way straight to the Castle.  Here, was the number one selfie and group photo shot.  I wanted to get a picture of my rune, Jera, with the Temple of the Wind God, in the background and had to wait patiently until a clear view opened up.  I set the rune on a post and snapped a few pictures, the stone fortress and crystal sea in the background.

The bus that dropped me off, didn’t pick up passengers from the same location.  I would have to walk into the city of Tulum to catch a bus back.  It was a few miles and I was just going to have to ignore my feet, which were already starting to complain.  Since my elbow and wrist were temporarily hurting more, it seemed like the pain had been dispersed.  My feet didn’t hurt as much as they did when they were the only things hurting.

There was another ruin called Coba that I briefly considered making a run to, but it would be complicated to travel back to Cancun from there.  Once I made it to the bus station, I decided that I’d seen enough for one day.  The bus didn’t leave for another hour and a half.  I decided to walk around and take pictures.  Since I’d recently been In Tulum, there were no real revelations but still enough to see to keep me occupied.

setting the stones 20

Jera looks like two arrows back-to-back, the right one slightly higher than the left.  It is the rune of celebration and relates to the harvest which comes after much work and tribulation.  The month for it is August and its moon is the Harvest Moon.  It is the time of the year when the crops are gathered.  Drawing this rune signifies a major turning point.  Misfortunes will fade, projects will be completed, new dreams will come to life.  This may mean a new job or a new home.  It is time to reap the rewards of all the efforts of the past.

When it comes to healing, Jera represents patience, and the need for it.  It is time to appreciate all the work that has been done.  If the results have not surfaced yet, know that they soon will.  Patience is aligned with courage, as sometimes it takes courage to wait and not despair.  If times are difficult, know that they will pass.  Put in the work and the results will follow.

When I was very young and just got interested in writing songs, I found heroes in folk music, older people who’d relied on music to survive life and celebrate it.  For most of them it never even occurred that they might be recognized for it.  It was just something that they did.  I looked at all these great songwriters and travelers who I admired, and realized that I had years ahead of me before I might even begin to have something to offer.  Looking at it that way, made it easier to endure years of obscurity and hardship. 

In time I realized that you can do great things and create great works and derive your satisfaction from doing so.  If someone else cared or was paying attention that was only secondary.  By now I was getting pretty old by society’s standards, but I realized that following my vision all these years had prolonged my life and given it meaning.  If there was any reward beyond the songs and memories I’d acquired, that was fine, but it more important to focus on what came next then what had already been done.

While I waited for my bus to Cancun, I wandered around and took pictures of street art in Tulum.  There was a mural of a god with many faces conjuring a serpent from the top of a pyramid.  Another showed a river goddess nourishing a tree.  There was a corn god, a green dragon, two stone figures squatting on the ground.  In a plaza there stood a Mayan Calendar.  There were murals of Jaguars, a statue of a priest lifting a severed head, aliens, and a large hand holding the world between its fingers like a marble.  I got a guava ice cream and somehow it wasn’t until the very last bite that a seed got lodged in my teeth.

On the bus back to Cancun I sat in front of a couple tourists who believed that the bus was taking them to the airport.  I knew for a fact that they would have to transfer at the bus station and that they might not have time.  At one point I turned and let them know they should probably get a taxi right when we got to town.  If they wanted to consider me an eavesdropper, that was up to them.

When we got back to Cancun, I bought a ticket to Merida that was leaving at eleven the next morning.  The logistics of my trip had been a little whack.  I should’ve gone to Tulum first and then stayed one night close to Chichen Itza, which would’ve eliminated all the back and forth that I was doing.  Still, I was accomplishing what I set out to do.  Nine runes down and sixteen to go.