Most of the carts are laden with Mexican families out for a Saturday dip, but we occupy four of them, a passel of gringos swatting horse flies. My horse is particularly lazy and prone to wander off the track whenever given an opportunity – taking after his driver, who is whiny and ready to be home for the day. Occasionally we meet cartloads of people heading back from our destination, and since there are more of us, they all unload and lift their carts off the track for us to trot by. When we do meet a group that matches our size, some friendly banter gets tossed back and forth by the drivers – "We've got more!" "Well, we could beat you!" Eventually we get out and let them pass.
I keep my eyes peeled for a regional tree – I've forgotten its name – that has the mystical property of causing dreadful welts on the skin of anyone who crosses its shadow. There is, of course, a scientific explanation – potent black sap that drips from the leaves – but legend has it that centuries ago, Mayans who had been left to die for refusing to convert were tied to this particular tree – and cursed it. The antidote to the black sap is the bark of another tree that always grows nearby. I love my wise Creator, always providing a remedy for the curse.
Finally we arrive at the first cenote. The whole peninsula is teeming with underground rivers, and countless openings and caves that used to invite worship (and, some say, human sacrifice) now beckon us: "Refréscate!"
The water is cool and fresh and impossibly clean, redefining "deep blue." Openings in the roof of the cave let light filter down, and tree roots dangle just above the surface of the water, tempting a climb. We float on our backs, admiring the view. We hurl ourselves from the platform ten feet up.
Eventually they call us out and it's on to the next one – this one accessible by a slippery, rickety ladder down a narrow hole. I'm amazed there's no liability release form to sign. This cenote has an island in the middle but no platform to jump off of – we improvise, balancing on the railing of the balcony before taking the plunge.
It's dusk by the time we leave, and before long the fireflies make their appearance - luciernago in Spanish, but the Mayan is prettier and much easier to pronounce: cocay. We creak and rattle our way home. I imagine the Mayan workers when the hacienda was in its prime, urging the horses on, anxious to be with their families. My "family", a hodgepodge of gringos and Mexicans, heads back to our home away from home, exhausted and hungry, but with a story to tell.