Monday, August 3, 2020

WHY WRITE ABOUT MEXICO?





Back in the 80s I fell in love with Mexico. When I began traveling to Mexico’s Caribbean coast, first stop was Isla Mujeres, an island just twenty minutes by ferry from Cancun.


In 1983 Cancun hadn’t become the tourist hotspot it is today, and getting there from San Francisco took eighteen hours. My husband and I flew Mexicana Air which was a drama in itself. Though the flight was said to have a lone stop— Mexico City—before we reached our Cancun destination, Guadalajara became a port of call along with another airport we stopped at in the dead of night and never learned the name of.  



With so many starts and stops, we lost time and ended up arriving to Cancun so late we nearly missed the last ferry to our little Mexican island. By sheer luck we reached the dock in time to board the empty boat, enjoying the warm Caribbean breeze as we chugged towards our tropical destination.





This was the beginning of my love affair with Mexico, and years later after we’d moved there from California, I opened a bookshop and began writing travel articles for local newspapers and Mexico websites, eventually writing a travel memoir about my life in a foreign land, Where the Sky is Born. 



After finishing another non-fiction, Maya 2012 Revealed, a journalistic overview of the 2012 calendar phenomenon, I began my research for Wheels Up—A Novel of Drugs, Cartels and Survival. I’d lived in Mexico and owned a business there long enough to see the creeping dominance of the cartels and their effect on the daily lives of citizens. I'd kept news clippings and written notes in a journal on various incidents I'd heard about.



Obviously it would have been folly to write non-fiction about the country's overlords. I was well aware of the cartels' swift carriage of justice to any Mexican journalist who dared write about their exploits: 125 assassinated and 30 missing since 2000.  My personal heroes—journalists Anabel Hernández and Lydia Cacho—had both undergone their own dramas by daring to be so bold. Hernández was targeted for writing Narcoland, a scathing exposé of government officials cozying up to the Sinaloa cartel. In a raw display of power to detain her, cartel henchmen dressed as federal agents cordoned off an entire Mexico City block, checking for her door to door. Luckily she was not home. 




Lydia Cacho was not so lucky. After reporting on the sexual peccadilloes of Cancun politicos, she was kidnapped, thrown into the trunk of a car, and driven to Puebla where her attackers planned to stage a kangaroo trial to put her in jail indefinitely. Through luck, friends in Cancun discovered where she was being held and secured her release. Afterwards she went back to reporting at Por Esto in Cancun. When asked about the attack she replied, "I don't scare so easy."



For me, I decided to write cartel fiction that pulled stories straight from Mexico papers. Using current news as prompts for stories is an old ploy. If Dostoyevsky could do it, so could I.



My Mexico notebooks were filled with outlandish, unbelievable tales. Since my love of Mexico goes deep, I wanted to expose cartel corruption and mirror the chaos and destruction they've created. By writing fiction, I felt I could reach a larger audience and make readers aware of the social injustice taking place in my adopted homeland. Thus I began my research for Wheels Up—A Novel of Drugs, Cartels and Survival. Four years later it was finished. Tulum Takedown came out in March 2020, book two in the Wheels Up trilogy.


I view the trilogy as historical fiction, an insider's close-up of a disastrous situation. As the quotation by Charles Bowden at the beginning of Tulum Takedown states, "Underneath the cartels lies the disintegration of a nation."






Friday, July 24, 2020

HOW THE MARGARITA GOT ITS NAME




Was there a Margarita behind the Margarita? Of course. But contrary to what you may have imagined, this woman was not a Mexican beauty, but instead a fledgling Hollywood starlet. And though other Margarita namesakes have surfaced and vied for the distinction, this starlet has all the trappings of the real McCoy.


Years ago I heard a eulogy aired on NPR's All Things Considered for a man named Carlos "Danny" Herrera, who passed away at ninety in San Diego. Although the name rang no bells, he left a legacy known far and wide. He had created one of the world's most iconic cocktails, the Margarita. On a wistful note in respect of the man's passing, the host unraveled a tale of how Herrera came to invent the drink that is synonymous with Mexico. It was 1992, and San Diego was paying homage to Herrera who had been born and raised in Mexico City at the turn of the century and moved to Southern California five years before he died.





According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Herrera had worked his way across Mexico as a young man, settling just south of Tijuana in 1929. He and his wife built their house in the rugged Baja California countryside. They added a bar in their home to entertain friends.


RANCHO LA GLORIA


More and more people dropped in so they decided to open for business, and a few years later, they added a restaurant. Then came ten hotel rooms and a pool along with a booming clientele from across the border. Rosarita Beach just down the road was becoming a fashionable getaway for the Hollywood crowd and Carlos' place was an easy pit stop for a quick refreshment on the dusty Baja road.


By 1935, traffic was heavy. Carlos was a friendly guy with a quick wit and his bar-restaurant, named Rancho La Gloria after his daughter, attracted stars and socialites who stopped in regularly before continuing south to Rosarita or Ensenada. 













A STARLET IS BORN


Among the bar's clientele was an actress named Marjorie King. While her friends took advantage of Carlos' talents as bartender, Ms. King did not partake in the afternoon revelry. She had an unusual problem. She was allergic, so the tale went, to all alcohol except tequila. 


What luck, Carlos cajoled. Tequila is the national drink of Mexico, he said as he poured the actress a straight shot of the clear, potent liquid, brought out a plate of fresh limes, and set a salt shaker on the bar in front of her. Marjorie wrinkled her pretty nose, gave Carlos a "not so fast" look, and informed him she hated the taste of it. 


What was a girl to do? In those wild and reckless days not long after Prohibition's last gasp, how could one sit idly by and not join in the fun? Herrera was determined to put an end to Ms. King's misery. He went to work. 



ULTIMATE CONCOCTION


Herrera decided he would create the ultimate concoction for the attractive actress. He started experimenting and came up with a winner: three parts white tequila, two parts triple sec, one part fresh lime juice, a pinch of sugar. As the day was hot, he added shaved ice and blended the mixture with a shaker. Ms. King liked the looks of the drink immediately, Herrera reportedly said. 


But how to serve it? Marjorie King was no ordinary gal, and Herrera wanted to pay tribute to her sense of style. Something special was needed. He grabbed a champagne glass, dipped its rim in lime juice, and twirled it in a bowl of salt. Re-shaking the contents, he then poured the frothy liquid into the champagne glass and presented it to the starlet. The result—the soon to be famous Margarita, shaken, not stirred. And by coincidence, the drink included all the ingredients of a traditional tequila shooter—tequila, lime and salt, but in a more appealing package. 



NAME RECOGNITION


How did the cocktail become known as a Margarita? Since Marjorie and her gang of friends often came to Rancho La Gloria, whenever their car caravan pulled up outside the bar, Carlos would spot the bunch, see Marjorie, and greet her with a hearty, "Margarita! Margarita!" the Spanish equivalent of her name. Then he'd start preparing her special drink.  


It was instant name recognition. What else could it be called? Margarita was the perfect name for this sexy new drink. Meanwhile Marjorie—aka Margarita—went back to the States where she hung out with all her swell friends and introduced the drink to bartenders at some of the finer dining establishments in Los Angeles and San Diego. When asked its name, she explained bartender Danny Herrera, the inventor of the cocktail, called it a Margarita. 



The name stuck and by the 1950s Margaritas were being served everywhere in Southern California. Soon after that, the Margarita began to make its way around the world as Marjorie's Hollywood friends were globe trotters and took their love of the cocktail with them wherever they went. So the next time you're taking a sip of that marvelous frothy concoction known as a Margarita, think back on a time when Baja California was just a rugged strip of sandy desert and Cancun didn't even exist. Think about a little bar with big views of the Pacific Ocean and thank Carlos "Danny" Herrera for paying homage to a Hollywood beauty by inventing a delightful drink to brighten up her day. Salud!


















Friday, July 10, 2020

INDIE AUTHORS AND THE IMPORTANCE OF REVIEWS



NEW REVIEWS

New reviews are essential for indie authors striving to remain relevant after the excitement of the launch is over. Fresh reviews can keep one's name in the spotlight through social media and serve as an easy topic for newsletters to subscribers—Hey, look! Another five star review! Indies need to constantly remind the public they're still out there writing, producing, and getting attention.


With my first book, a travel memoir about life in Mexico,  I simply put out a press release to gain exposure. I published the book in 2003, a life time away now in how books are marketed. Back then I bought a copy of Writers Market, identified all magazines and newspapers that might run a review of the book, and mailed out copies to anyone interested.



OLD SCHOOL

A handful grabbed the bait. Most reviews were published soon after the launch. Basically, along with a newsletter to friends, I sold directly to bookstores and at book fairs. That was it. Afterwards, the book got some attention through Mexico websites as I'd pen a travel article here or there. Always included at the end was a sentence about my book and where to find it. And when Amazon got going, I listed it.


PUBLISHERS WEEKLY AUTHOR COUNT


Getting noticed isn't easy. Publishers Weekly reported there were 1.6 million self-published books in print in 2018. Even authors who've landed traditional deals say they must do their own leg work if they want to stay relevant. Publishers allow six week's marketing time for new books. Then they pull the budget.




REVIEW TYPES

The best way for indie authors to stay in the limelight is by getting book reviews, and there are various types: Reader reviews on Amazon or Good Reads, book blogger reviews, those prized reviews in newspapers, magazines or websites, and paid reviews like those on Kirkus.


One way to encourage readers to add a review on Amazon or Good Reads is to put a suggestion at the end of the book, requesting a short review. I make it easy for them by placing a link directly to the review page to encourage them to take action. 


After a review's been published, I place a line or two of it on social media, in the hopes of encouraging new readers to take the plunge.



BOOK BLOGGERS AND MORE

Another way to gather reviews is to single out book bloggers in your genre. This is laborious and oftentimes not so fruitful. But the beauty of landing a book blogger's review is myriad: They have a healthy list of followers and their review is blasted out to the faithful. I've learned to cull book bloggers through google searches, books on bloggers (though they tend to be outdated), Twitter and Facebook. I've become friends with most of them, and when I launched book two in my Wheels Up Yucatán trilogy, they were happy to review it. 




My favorite review is one that appears in a publication, be it newspaper, magazine, or website. These are tough to land, but depending on the media outlet, can gain an author a great deal of attention. These require pitching the publication after making sure the fit is right. 



MANY USES

Reviews can also provide quotes used in back cover blurbs, social media posts, and in  newsletters. Landing them is a tough go but without a doggedly determined attempt on your part to gain the spotlight, your star will fade into oblivion. Look at it this way: If you've spent all those years knocking out your treasured prose, don't let it lose its luster without a fight.



Friday, June 19, 2020

"DISORDERED TIME" — THE REAL MAYA PROPHECY



Quite a ruckus erupted last week over a tweet that suggested the Maya end of the world prophecy was off by eight years. That, dear reader, catapults us right into the cross hairs of—gulp—2020. The prediction, however, was not made by an eminent Maya academic or even a calendar researcher, but by plant biologist and Fulbright scholar at the University of Tennessee, Paolo Tagalogquin. His Twitter account has since been deleted. 

With recent global events, that very fear—the world ending—may have already entered your mind. 


You no doubt remember the 2012 Maya calendar kerfuffle. As a Mayaphile and long-time student of Maya culture, I wrote a book titled Maya 2012 Revealed: Demystifying the Prophecy, to quash false information about the end date of their Long Count calendar, one of twenty-eight in the time-obsessed Maya system.


CALENDAR CONVERSION

Let me explain how the Maya 2012 end of the world "prophecy" made waves in June 2020 news. Even the New York Post took a shot at it. Apparently Tagalogquin did a math check between the Julian calendar, that dates back to 8 CE, and the Gregorian or Christian calendar that first came into being in 1752. After his re-calculations, he came up with this tweet:
"Following the Julian Calendar, we are technically in 2012. The number of days lost in a year due to the shift into Gregorian Calendar is 11 days. For 268 years using the Gregorian Calendar (1752-2020) times 11 days = 2,948 days. 2,948 days / 365 days (per year) = 8 years.” With his calculations, the date is June 21, 2020, summer solstice.

The subtext: I assume you have your affairs in order.

END OF THE WORLD?

Back in 2012, some believed December 21, 2012, might be the end. The media blared non-stop that this was when the Maya Long Count Calendar completed a 5,125 year cycle known as the 13th baktun. The ancient Maya, an advanced culture of mathematicians (they invented zero) and naked eye astronomers, viewed this moment as consequential.

Why is this even important? If the Maya code had not been deciphered a few decades ago, we wouldn’t even have known that an end date to the Long Count calendar existed.

In researching the Maya end date, I realized that converting both Julian and Gregorian calendars to the Maya calendar had been no easy task. Spanish speaking priests were used for the conversion and needed to interact with the Maya who had their own language. Not only was there room for error in language differences, but the Julian calendar had gone through several trial runs over the centuries as the world coped with a one-time-fits-all calendar system. During the conversion, some countries used different calendar renditions simultaneously, and sometime in the 1500s while trying to play catch up, eleven days were lost in a single month. My overall impression: whoever had been relegated to configure dates from Julian to Gregorian to Maya had stared down an impossible undertaking. And furthermore, who was their fact checker?

RIGOBERTA MENCHÚ TUM



As the end date became a media phenomenon, I took a wider view of the “Maya prophecy” as it came to be known. Great change can span decades or even centuries, and as with all things Maya, the present is determined by the past. Everything repeats. Everything is a recurring pattern.

In 2012, Nobel laureate in literature, author Rigoberta Menchú Tum, a Quiche Maya from the Guatemala highlands who was forced to leave the country when her government disappeared thousands of indigenous Maya, said this, “There are a lot of people speaking for the Maya with little respect for the sacred Maya calendar or the culture.

“For us, the Maya, during this phase, time does not exist. Time is completely dispersed. It is ‘disordered’ time,’ when the greatest breakdown of humanity will occur, plagued by loneliness, stress and fear.

“The Maya elders say if we do not take right actions today, one-quarter of the people of the earth will perish.”

Menchú Tum’s prescient words have cast her as a Cassandra-like figure in light of the Covid pandemic. And though world-wide protests over the death of George Floyd and an impending economic crisis may not kill thousands, the stark reality of both drive away any hopes for a soon to be bright future.

2012: THE TRUE MAYAN PROPHECY FILM


In a documentary film, 2012: The True Mayan Prophecy, by Dawn Engle and Ivan Suvanjieff, founders of the non-profit PeaceJam, interviewed Maya elders along with Menchú Tum. In the 2012 interview, Menchú Tum said we’re living in a moment of chaos, and though there is global disorder, 2012 would usher in a more balanced period, if only we allow it.

“A new time is drawing near so it is important to maintain the light shining in these days, our personal and collective light,” she said. “We are passing through a period of disordered time which began in 1992 and will last forty years. There are things that happen that are not merely caused by people. It is the age, the energy, the cosmos.”

MAYA ELDERS


In the film, Menchú Tum references her spiritual advisors, Maria Faviana Chocoy Alva and Pedro Celestino Pac Noy, who state that apocalyptic predictions misrepresent the meaning of the end of the Maya Long Count cycle known as the thirteenth baktun. Their position is that this would be a time of great transition.



And who cannot agree that this is a time of transition, said Menchú Tum. “For humanity, it is the darkest of times … humanity is being called to a great responsibility, affected by our actions. We call them natural disasters but they are not natural. Much pain is already occurring.”

Again, Menchú Tum's sagacious predictions are synonymous with what we are presently living with—the human pain endured by the Covid pandemic, the earth's pain due to our disconnect from Mother Nature, and the atrocities humans have unleashed on the planet. Time, as the Maya might say, will tell.






Sunday, June 14, 2020

THE OTHER SIDE OF CHICHEN ITZA—WAS IT THE FIRST CANCUN?



Is Chichen Itza one of the Maya’s most revered and renowned pyramid sites or a glorified shrine-museum concocted by slick politicians to reap tourist dollars? It’s no secret that the Mexico National Tourist Corporation (MNTC) designed Cancun with the intention of creating a luxury destination that would pull in coveted currency to fill state and government coffers—and if some spilled over into the private sector, so much the better.


BIRTH OF CANCUN

In 1967 the Mexico government’s aim was to find the best locale for an international tourist resort with the finest beaches, the most beautiful water, and the fewest hurricanes. Another requirement would be proximity to its wealthy northern neighbor, the US, so flight times would be minimal.  A strip of unpopulated sand at the northeast tip of the Yucatán Peninsula fit the bill—Cancun—a destination so easily accessible that at 9 a.m. one could be in New York and by noon, landing at Cancun International, moments away from a white sand beach and a pitcher of margaritas.



And with that very same intent, as early as the 1920s, long before Cancun was even a glimmer in MNTC’s eye, the Mexico government, along with help from the Carnegie Institution of Washington, was priming Chichen Itza to become Mexico’s first full-fledged tourist destination.


Fullbright scholar and former Assistant Professor of Anthopology at University of Washington, Quetzil Castaneda detailed this in his book, In the Museum of Maya Culture: Touring Chichen Itza. Through prolific research, Castaneda's book explains how it all came about.  


TOURIST DESTINATION


Chichen Itza, translated as mouth at the well of the Itzas, had been a tourist destination for over five hundred years when MNTC and the Carnegie Institution hatched their plan. After being twice abandoned by both the Itzas (750 AD) and the Maya (1194 AD) the site became a pilgrimage spot for religious groups in the 1500s because of its sacred cenote. A tourist Mecca for centuries, Chichen Itza was a place the Maya came to pay homage to their gods.



Early explorers Edward H. Thompson and John Lloyd Stephens, artist Frederick Catherwood, along with others fueled the flames of discovery and from their explorations the Yucatec and Hispanic elite, according to Castaneda, began to create a Maya myth or identity—distinctly different from  that of  either Spain or Mexico.  


CITY OF FABLES


In the 1920s, the Mexico government organized excavations under its agency Monumento Prehispanicos, and permitted the Carnegie Institution of Washington, headed in the Yucatán by explorer Sylvanus Morley, to conduct ‘multi-disciplinary’ research in the Yucatán and to excavate and restore what Castaneda calls ‘a city of fables.’ In his book, Castaneda insists the main goal of the Carnegie Institution's Excavations Department was to create a tourist Mecca rather than to restore the site to its original state.


Castaneda believes not only do economic interests (from local to international levels) now compete at the site but different government agencies and levels of state jurisdictions also compete for the slice of Chichen Itza’s tourist pie. Castaneda’s book maintains that the Maya civilization, although very real, has been ‘tweaked’ by competing government agencies to make the ‘reproduction’ of the archeological excavations more desirable to tourists.



In his book he calls Chichen Itza a museum exhibit which represents the Maya through the epochs. The exhibit implies the Maya came from ‘a primitive society or race’ and then rose to a high stature through the creation of the pyramids. But Castaneda argues that the Maya are examined through ‘the eyes of European civilization,’ by which all civilizations are compared and judged. In many ways, Castaneda’s views are similar to those of author Daniel Quinn in his controversial book, Ishmael, which divides the world into two camps:  the takers—modern Western civilization—and the givers— indigenous cultures.  



Quinn’s premise is that  Western man usurps indigenous cultures and these ethnic societies and their “myths” are then lost forever, so that the takers can impose their myth—science—onto the entire world. Quinn equates this with the destruction of all indigenous societies. Castaneda’s book basically concurs with this premise, and in his lament for the Maya, calls what the state and government have done at Chichen Itza a “violation” against Mayan society, and goes so far as to call it on par with rape.


EQUINOX PHENOMENON


Castaneda theorizes the height of the deception takes place every vernal and autumnal equinox (roughly March 20, September 21) since 1974—when Mexico figured out these date were significant to the Maya. According to Castaneda, specific knowledge of the phenomenon dates back to when Morley was excavating the site in 1928, but it was ignored by archeologists, local Maya, and Yucatecos until a thesis was published in Mexico City in 1974 by researcher Luis El Arochi.


 El Arochi, after years of study, noted that at 3 p.m. on these dates, sunlight bathed the main stairway of the pyramid Kukulkan (feathered serpent), creating a serpent-like shadow which crept down the pyramid’s massive stairs. El Arochi called this the “symbolic descent of Kukulkan,” and believed it related to Maya agricultural rituals. 





Once word was out about the equinox display of light and shadow, Chichen Itza’s Kukulkan pyramid became a tourist magnet. Tourist numbers jumped thirty percent that year. A star was born.

In 1921, Yucatan Governor Felipe Carrillo Puerto signed an agreement with Carnegie Institution that gave Sylvanus Morley a renewable ten year permit to conduct scientific study at the ancient Maya city. Among the site projects, studies would be conducted in geology, botany, zoology, climatology agronomy, medicine, physical anthropology, linguistics, history, archeology, ethnography and sociology.



Through these studies the Maya way of life could be dissected. Castaneda insists this allowed the structure of an evolutionary fable that created “ a museum of history” at Chichen Itza.    


"With Maya labor from nearby towns, the jungle was peeled back to reveal the ancient stones of decayed buildings. Chichen Itza was restored as a replica of itself and reconstructed into a life size model of an ancient Maya city.


Y TU, FELIPE


Castaneda even goes so far as to state that Felipe Carrillo Puerto, progressive governor of the Yucatán, permitted Morley and the Carnegie Institution to conduct research to create a class consciousness amongst the Maya and forge an ethnic group identity onto them, which was essential to complete the socialist revolution in the Yucatán for which Carrillo Puerto was striving.



In the Yucatán, however, the plan would serve another purpose as well. It would bolster a long stagnant economy based on the former reign of henequen—an all purpose fiber used for making rope and Panama hats—with something yet unseen—tourist dollars.


This contradictory view of Chichen Itza only heightens the mystery of the Maya. For a culture whose entire past was wiped out in an afternoon bonfire conducted by a fanatical priest in 1539, it makes one wonder anew—who were the Maya?






Thursday, May 28, 2020

PIRATES OF THE MEXICAN CARIBBEAN — HIGHWAYMEN BY DESIGN


Pirates! Images of swashbuckers with gold teeth, eye patches, and peg legs come to mind -- or Johnny Depp. But in reality, many of the pirates who navigated the waters just off Mexico’s eastern shores from as early as the 1600s were men with unlikely backgrounds for the sport they took on.  A handful were full-fledged gentlemen, most with seafaring backgrounds. Many were sanctioned by queens or governments, and a few ended up with titles. Some were hailed as heroes.

A better description of these romantic buccaneers is privateer.  In an era when slave trading, spices, and territorial expansion sparked global economics, European nations—England, France, Holland and Spain—waged their wars on the high seas.  With Spain’s recent discovery of the New World and its riches, the only unity on the Atlantic was the common goal of sacking all Spanish galleons.

Adventurers by nature, highwaymen by design, the word pirate conjures familiar names from history such as Jean Laffite, Sir Henry Morgan and Sir Francis Drake.  Lesser knowns, however, such as Giovanni de Verrazno and Fermin Mundaca have equally compelling stories.

ISLA MUJERES

While Morgan and Lafitte are said to have walked the shores of Isla Mujeres in Quintana Roo and buried treasure there, Isla’s most notorious resident was Fermin Mundaca, a slave trader who transported African slaves to Antilles, preferring the more ‘respectable’ title of pirate. In 1860 when the British campaigned against slavery, Mundaca took a powder on the white sand beaches of Isla Mujeres. There he rented out his boats to the Yucatán government to capture rebel Maya along the coast who were then sold into slavery to Cuban sugar plantations, an act that hardly endeared him to the locals.



On Isla Mujeres, Mundaca used his wealth to build a large hacienda named Vista Alegre. He filled it with livestock, birds, and exotic gardens, still viewable today. The entrance arch, El Paso de la Triguena (The Brunette), was named for a beautiful girl from the village, Martiniana Gomez Pantoja, with whom the elderly pirate fell in love after seeing her one-time only. He nicknamed her the brunette. But the dark-haired beauty, 37 years his junior, married her childhood sweetheart and Mundaca grew lonely and mad.  He died at age 55 in Merida, still in love with the girl. To be near his lost love, he built a tomb that remains empty and can be found in Isla Mujeres’ colorful, crowded cemetery, one street before North Beach.  Etched on the headstone are the symbols of the pirate—skull and crossbones—with the words he carved as his epitaph, “As you are, I was.  As I am, you will be.”

JEAN LAFITTE


Jean Lafitte, born in either Haiti or St. Malo, France, liberated New Orleans twice: first from high tariffs by supplying stolen goods to customers without a middleman, and then by liberating the city of the British in the U.S. Battle of 1812.  Targeted at first by Andrew Jackson as a bandit and rogue, he was later named a gentleman and a patriot, for without him, one of the war’s most decisive battles against Britain would have been lost. Soon after he was named Territorial Governor of Galveston, (still Mexican soil) but with changing times, he was harassed by stricter U.S. policies that restricted his maritime activities.




As a farewell and parting shot, he torched Galveston and according to legend, sailed into the Caribbean.  Rumor has it he stopped on Isla Mujeres, then moved on to the Gulf of Mexico.  In the Yucatán, in the small pueblo Dzilam de Bravo, not far from Progreso, a CEDAM (Club de Exploraciones y Deportes Acuaticos de Mexico) memorial plaque commemorates him. In the town’s cemetery, CEDAM workers found a weathered tombstone with the epitaph, “Jean Lafitte Re-Exhumed.” Could it really be the grave of Lafitte?

CHINCHORRO REEF


Mexico's Quintana Roo coast is rife with pirate stories. Xcalak (100 miles south of Cancun) was a known haven for pirates. Bacalar narrowly escaped their ruin, and Ascencion Bay was one of the great pirate harbors of the 17th century.  Wild and isolated, its treacherous mud flats sent countless vessels to their doom, while pirate ships waited in hiding for the passage of Spanish galleons laden with gold, fighting against trade winds on their way to Santiago de Cuba.

In the Museo de la Cultura Maya in Chetumal, Quintana Roo, one exhibit displays how pirates used Banco Chinchorro to their gain. Chinchorro is a deadly circular string of rocks on a low-lying limestone shelf that extends out from the sea. It’s 30 miles long and 20 miles wide, just off the shores of Majahual.




Pirates placed lanterns along the reef, signaling ships this was clear passage. But actually, the lanterns lured them to their doom onto the treacherous rocks. It’s rumored that thousands of ships had their downfall on Chinchorro Reef. A May 2020 archeological expedition near Mahajual brought up a 200-year old sailing ship believed to have fallen prey to pirates.


For more pirate tales, there’s the CEDAM Museum in Puerto Aventuras, north of Tulum.  Check out Museo de la Cultura Maya in Chetumal, and Petit Lafitte, a hotel four kilometers north of Playa del Carmen, to see the white sand beaches that may have attracted one pirate extraordinaire. Find a copy of Pablo Bush Romero’s Under the Waters of Mexico. Venture over to Isla Mujeres, and see the renovated Hacienda Mundaca and stroll through the pirate’s gardens, now made into a small zoo. Walk through the cemetery there or drive to Dzilam de Bravo, Yucatan, to view Lafitte’s commemorative plaque and find the gravestone with his name on it.  Ahoy, matie!  There’s treasure to be found.