Thursday, November 29, 2007

The cruise: tour guides that double as salesmen.

As I said before, these cruises seem to be designed to herd tourists from one money-extracting opportunity to another. The shore tours were just as efficient. On a ride to the ruins, a tour guide doesn't just recite historical facts about the ancient Mayan civilization. He also makes a sales pitch. On the ride to Chichen Itza the guide told us about Mayan calendars. Interesting stuff, and Wikipedia has a lot more on it. Of course, our guide did not give us a lecture of the same length and complexity as the article I'm referring to; he condensed it into a few sentences, from which I took away only that Mayan calendars were systems of interlocking cycles of various length; one of the most important cycles is 260-days long and based on the length of human pregnancy. (Oh, and two major cycles will both end in 2012, and that year will be a beginning of a Mayan new era; some apocalyptic nuts are already preparing for that. :-)). So, the guide told us we now had a unique opportunity to have personalized Mayan calendars made for us, and he passed around forms to fill out with personal info to put on a calendar. The calendars would be made by local artisans while we wander in the ruins of Chichen Itza. In what way a Mayan calendar can be personalized, I don't know; do they just mark your (spouse's, children's, etc.) birthday(s) on those cycles, or what? Or do they mark "significant" dates that result from interlocking of the cycles, as the dates to start major undertakings in your life? Is it a bit like astrology, then? I don't know; I sat too far in the back of the bus to hear the guide very well. ;-) Needless to say, I wasn't tempted by the offer.

Similarly, on the ride to Tulum, the tour guide (a different one) was offering to sell us little silver charms with our names written in Mayan characters. The charms were yet to be made; the guide passed around forms to fill out with personal information that would be collected as we get off the bus, and the charms would be made while we were on tour. But... Mayan characters are funny business. Our Tulum guide said ancient Mayan script was phonetic (i.e. each sound was represented by a letter), hence it should be possible to write any name, including foreign ones, in Mayan. However, our Chichen Itza guide said Mayan language actually used logograms or hieroglyphs. (And Wikipedia confirms it.) In theory at least that would make it impossible to write foreign words in Mayan characters, as I don't believe they had characters for Jim or Bob, or anything like that. :-)) So if anyone ordered those trinkets (I certainly didn't), I can only wonder what the characters on them said. Maybe "kill all the palefaces"? :-)

No comments: