Monthly Archives: December 2011

Mexico Trip (Mayan Riviera) Pictures 3/3: Xplor Caves

So this is the last of the pictures I’m going to post, at least for now, so I haven’t presented you with everything — I’m omitting many fun things, like the “giant Mexican hamsters” (little capybaras basically) and monkeys that were all over the resort, or the other tours we did.

But I really have to include what was the highlight of the trip for me, a rafting trip and then a long swim through a couple kilometers of incredible natural underground river. Last time we were in Mexico we had a great time at Xel-Ha, and this time Nefarious and I went to sister resort XPLOR (and the Caitlin and her went to also linked xcaret the next day which sounds amazing as well). Later in the day we did a ton of zip lining which as I said was the death of me, although tons of fun, but we began by exploring the underground rivers.

The entire peninsula is a mix of limestone and coral which was originally under the ocean, which is why it’s so flat. 65 million years ago there was a huge asteroid strike in the Gulf of Mexico (the same one that significantly contributed to the end of the dinosaur era) that raised it up out of the ocean. This violent even also caused a myriad of caves to form, many of which became underground rivers. The entire area is essentially hollow. Anyway, we began by taking a small two person raft that we paddled by hand, and then finished the second half of the journey in life jackets without the raft. Because we were there so early in the day (a rainy day, not that this matters underground) it was completely deserted and it was just us in the cave adding to the wonder of the spectacle.

The caves were incredible — I’ve never seen anything like it. Stalactites and stalagmites everywhere. Not the sort of thing you’d think you could ever experience so easily. I can’t recommend it highly enough. There are lots more pictures after the break.


Mexico Trip (Mayan Riviera) Pictures 2/3: Cenote Swim

On the way back from Coba (see the previous entry) we stopped at an amazing cenote. A cenote is a sinkhole or natural cave full of water. The one we went to was accessed by a spiral staircase that took us — and I’m guessing — four or five stories underground where we found a large cavern going nearly up to the surface (with only a small hole for light), and then a dock extending into its centre. The water was fresh with small fish, and went down to a depth of about fifty feet in places, so it was quite eerie to be honest. Definitely part of me expected some prehistoric leviathan to come surging out of the depths to swallow me. It was quite serene though — certainly more serene than frightening — and we stayed down there until everyone else had left and the tour guide eventually came down to retrieve us so we could head on to our last stop, one of the few remaining “authentic” Mayan villages like the one he grew up in, where we watched them preparing traditional food (grinding cornmeal and baking tortillas with it) and some entertainment by their numerous and very cute kids.

Again, some more pictures of the cenote after the break.


Mexico Trip (Mayan Riviera) Pictures 1/3: Coba

I’m just going to post a few of the things that we did in Mexico on this trip rather than everything. The first tour that we took was to Coba, a large ruined city that has a couple of ballgame courts, some of the largest Mayan (not Aztec, Olmec, Incan, or Toltec) temples in Mexico (and the only ones you can still climb), as well as much of the carvings that are relevant to the 2012 Mayan Cosmogenesis mythology. It’s probably about a five kilometer hike through the grounds, although you can take a “taxi”, which is actually a little Mayan guy peddling a cargo tricycle that you can sit in — it was somewhat comical watching a tiny little five-foot hundred pound-soaking-wet fellow straining to carry an outstandingly massive solid five-hundred-pound American woman whose bulk must have tested the frame — and his muscles — to the limit. Nefarious and I climbed the ruins of a small temple in the forest, and then I climbed about half way up the big one.

As I said, this was the first excursion we took and I was quite proud of myself for doing so well on it. Even though I did more climbing than anyone else in our group… The main reason I didn’t get all the way to the top was that come half way up it got quite narrow and congested with people sitting for photos. That and I knew that if I got weak on the way down it would be quite the tumble — a warning I’d received along with a gory story about a woman who was killed via an exploding-watermelon-skull as she struck the stone slab after a fall down the 130-or so over-sized steps up (down?) the structure.

There are plenty more pictures after the break.


Like a tiger defying the laws of gravity!

When we landed in Mexico customs took a look in our bags so I had to show them my massive collection of bottles of liquid-form medicine — something like two or three liters in total, spread over a couple dozen bottles. I went to pull out the letter from my doctor explaining the medicine and the treatment of my genetic muscle disorder which requires it, and came upon a horrible discovery — the letter was completely soaked through. The pharmacy, probably trying to do me a favor because they know how weak my hands have become, hadn’t tightly closed the bottles and on the airplane, perhaps made worse by the reduced pressure, had leaked out much of their contents. The letter was thankfully still readable and we didn’t have a repeat of my Cuban horror story, but it meant that I was on a reduced medication load. We still had a great time although on the last three days I was effectively bedridden and pretty much unable to walk — not just because of the spillage but also because I had too much fun going zip lining with Nefarious which involved a great deal of tower climbing. I then made matters worse by accidentally throwing out five bottles in a packing-for-the-trip-home error… So right now I’m in a rather bad state and going through unpleasant withdrawal because of a symphony of incompetence, half of it my own.

I was looking at videos online of my favorite airplane of all time, the Me 163 Komet (I’m loathed to include that Wikipedia link because it gives inaccurate technical data, grossly underestimating the plane), an overpowered diminutive Nazi rocketplane, by far the fastest plane of its time and perhaps the first supersonic plane. In an era where the average fighter — for example, the also remarkable powerful Spitfire — could climb at about 3,000 feet per minute, on take-off the comet would almost immediately shoot straight up into the sky like a rocket at around 15,000 feet per minute. It’s amazing. I get the chills watching this beautiful flea explode into the sky.

Gotta love the Queen soundtrack, it’s just perfect.

I could watch that moment beginning at 0:36 over and over. In fact, I have.

The plane was actually almost too fast. When attacking incoming bombers appeared (in an error before modern surface-to-air missiles, its role was to stop any incoming air threats), the Komet would shoot up far above them, and then dive straight at them, the distance closing at above Mach 1.5. Since it took a few hits to take out a bomber, it took not just precision flying but also precision marksmanship to achieve the defensive goal. The end solution to this problem was suitably unique — a collection of sky-facing 50-cal guns were mounted in the Komet, and the pilots would aim their dive to take them just below the bombers. As soon as the shadow of the bomber passed over the Komet, a photocell circuit triggered and fired the guns automatically. By the time the bomber crew realized they were done for the Komet was already miles away, it’s seven-minutes of fuel spent (transforming it into the world’s fastest glider), and it would head back to base and come in what must have been a rather terrifying high-speed landing.

I grew up reading everything about space I could get my hands on, and even now as an adult I am deeply moved watching the Shuttle or any rocket launch. I don’t have any regrets about how I have lived my life, but if I was going to live a different life, I sometimes wish I had chosen to pursue my ever-present youthful dream of becoming an astronaut. Ignoring my genetic condition, I know I could have done it. I’m smart enough and was strong enough, and by the time my muscles started to fail and it all came falling down, I could already have achieved the dream of traveling to space. It’s the only other life I can imagine living besides the one I did.

Back to the Komet, I like what Hanna Reitsch, an amazing German test pilot and (somewhat uncomfortable because of her unrepentant Nazism) hero of mine, had to say about flying the rocketplane (if you have the time, and you enjoy this subject, the interview is worth watching — part one, part two, and part three):

And I can not tell you, it was fascinating! It was like thundering through the skies sitting on a cannonball, like being intoxicated by speed! It was not difficult to fly it, it was only and overwhelming impression. At the end of the airfield, at the airfield boundary, you already reached about 500 miles per hour, and with constant speed you were climbing up, in one and a half to two minutes to a height of 30,000 feet.

It must have been incredible. The fastest plane I’ve ever flown personally is a Cessna 172 (the most popular airplane ever built, with something like 45,000 of them being built), which I don’t think I’ve ever had above 150 mph. But even that was a joy. I can’t imagine flying a transonic plane half the size of the Cessna. I really wish that XCOR had gone through with its plans to build the Komet II, taking their modern rocket engines and putting them into a visually identical plane to the original but built using state-of-the-art composites. For some reason, perhaps political, they ended up sticking the engine into an EZ-series canard kit-plane for their “Rocket Racing League” — here’s a video of one flying at an airshow so you can see the similarity.

Very vaguely in the same subject-sphere (and only very vaguely), I have been reading “Grey Wolf” on vacation. It makes the surprisingly strong case that Hitler survived the war and ended up living to an old age — like a great many Nazis fleeing potential war crimes charges — in Argentina. Here’s an interview with the author that serves as a good enough introduction:

I have not yet read enough of the book to give it a full review and critique but so far I’m enjoying it greatly and more importantly, every fact and claim I can check out appears to hold up. At an utter minimum there isn’t a shred of physical evidence that he did die in the war (you may recall that quite recently the History Channel managed to DNA test “Hitler’s skull” held by the Russians and showed it to be a young woman), the existing stories claiming he did have been completely disproved as fantasies (and after all, both the Americans and the Russians and the British leadership made public statements saying they thought he could be alive until at least the mid fifties, and the Russians much longer, not that I’d put much faith in their propaganda). In addition there is a mountain of circumstantial evidence that is much more difficult to denounce supporting the escape theory. Anyway, it’s a fascinating read so far and when I have time I’ll try and write more.

Those who don’t respect copyright can surely track down the audiobook and decide for themselves. It’s definitely a difficult idea to promote because the suicide myth has been so effectively beaten into most of us… Now that I think about it I’m quite certain that I have German relatives would would know the truth, but I’m just as certain that they will take it to their graves. Perhaps when Sub Sea Recovery and Trident finish their legal battles to raise the immense Type XI-B u-boat (which “officially” doesn’t even exist — four are known to have had their keels laid, but none were thought to have been launched) sitting off the Maine Coast will have some answers since it’s believed to have been part of the SS operation that moved plundered gold into Argentina… WWII is fascinating in general because it’s both part of living memory and part of today’s culture, but also because it’s long enough ago that people are able to speak freely and records — although far from all of them — are finally being released from their formerly classified status.

Given what a silly evil caricature the Nazis are to most people it would certainly be nice to have a more nuanced understanding of history. I was just telling Caitlin that I think we’d have a much more sensible world if a less black-and-white/good-vs-evil story was told… it would stop out pathetically inaccurate understanding of Iran, Al Qaeda, and so on for starters. War itself is evil, and I might be willing to say that war profiteers are evil, but I would never go so far as to say that either “side” is good or evil. The fact that we are willing to believe such simplistic fallacies is a large part of the reason we have such xenophobic politics. But that’s something that I will ramble on about another time.

PS. Argh. Uck. Seriously, I don’t think I have felt more awful in years. If I didn’t think that the bullshit politics of restricted-substance prescriptions would work against me, I would be begging my doctors for help. But I just can’t take the chance that they decide I’m playing a scam. It’s not worth the risk, as high as the stakes might seem right now. Tomorrow afternoon I am taking Nefarious to the ballet, to see “The Nutcracker”. Do not envy me. I will however smile, clap, and pretend that I am not in hell.

To Mexico and beyond!

I’m walking out the door now to pick up Nefarious at the airport, and then in the morning all of us are heading off to Mexico for another week. Then we are heading down to the falls to see Caitlin’s parent’s for Christmas, and then down to Florida to see my father as well (although much to Caitlin’s disappointment she can’t join us for that because she’s taken so much time off work already to travel). I’m looking forward to every bit of it.

The good news for you is that I’m running another completely insane sale over on Etsy. If you enter “ZENTASTICMAS” (that sounds like a disease, doesn’t it?), you will get a whopping 50% off your order. I am only doing these nutso sales when I travel to help cover my trip expenses, and this is the last trip I’m taking for a few months so if you want to get something cool on sale, this is your only chance for the next while.

I suspect the resort will be online, but last time I didn’t bother logging on once because I was enjoying myself far too much with the ocean. So, other than that I hope everyone has a great holidays and I’ll see you all when I get back unless I am eaten by a shark.