The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness

The Hour of the Jaguar
Chapter 5

2pm September 16th 1998

Maria's radio softly echoes with a dire Spanish pop song as the blue saloon continues to follow her car. Away from the driver's seat, clustered by the back, eyes dart around the minibus, stare meeting worried stare. The silence is broken when Rupert leans forward and fills his lungs to shout...

"Wait! Wait!" whispers Jo urgently, reaching across to restrain him. "We have to think about this before you go and do whatever."

"But..." Rupert catches Jo's eye, and then contents himself with a shrug.

"OK" says Sean. "At the next bend, slow the van, I'll jump out and hide in the bushes, you stop the van and block the road, when the car comes round the corner I'll double tap the perps before they've had time to hit the breaks! We'll be back in town before anyone knows we've murdered several secret police types!" He leans back and smiles.

George is appalled. "Are you serious? Are you seriously suggesting..."

"Oh, just what the fuck do you take me for?" comes Sean's brutal reply. "I could take them out but all hell will break lose in the area. I've seen it all before..."

"Right. Just shut up and stop arguing then" shouts Karyn, scared and annoyed. "This could be dangerous. When are you going to stop fucking around and start helping? We're supposed to be a team - you either work with us properly or not at all, OK?"

Maria turns the radio off.

"Umm, is everything all right back there?" she asks. There's a pause as everyone wonders how to respond, then Sean takes the initiative.

"Could you slow down a little please." He moves forward towards the driver's seat, and sits down behind Maria.

"Of course. What's going on?" she is confused. "Are you feeling sick, shall I pull over..."

"No, it's alright. Umm..." Sean glances at his companions.

"We'll explain in a minute" interjects Major Hardy, adding "thanks very much" as the minibus slows to a sedate forty miles an hour on the highway. The blue saloon draws in from the distance on the long, straight road. Closer, closer...close enough for George's sharp eyes to make out the same numberplate as had been outside the museum only last night. And then, the car begins to hold its distance once again.

"Shit!" says Sean, under his breath.

Jo begins to organise. "All right. Everybody calm down. They're probably just trying to find out where we're going."

"If they're the Zapas, they know where we live. If they're the police, they know where we live" points out Sean. "I don't like this one bit."

"Whatever, I say we stop and talk to them" suggests Rupert. "It's not like we're going to outrun them."

"Alright." agrees Jo; "There's a bit of a bend coming up. I say we stop just the other side of it. If the worst comes to the worst, we could try to hide in these dense trees..."

"Yes. For God's sake lets find out what's going on!" exhorts Karyn.

Agreed on a course of action, Rupert offers to stop the bus, and goes and grins at a concerned Maria.

"What's going on back there?" she asks, clearly concerned and confused.

"Umm. This is kind of embarrassing.." begins Rupert, betraying no traces of embarrassment whatsoever, "..but I need to have a pee. Could you stop right here?" Maria pulls over onto the gravel verge, frowning as she peers over her shoulder towards her tour group.

Seconds pass. Rupert opens the sliding side door and gets out into the heat, followed by Jo. Sean turns to the others.

"I'm going to pretend we've got engine trouble. Explain it to Maria."

Travis and Arabella give each other an exasperated glance, and then turn to their stupefied tour guide. Arabella begins to mention their suspicions about the blue car whilst Sean flips up the bonnet, and the blue car turns the corner, rolls straight past the minibus, and flashes its break lights angrily. It too halts, and waits as tension joins humidity in the air. George's authoritative voice urges the people inside the car to get below window level as he positions himself by the door.

Seconds pass. Two car doors open, and two men stroll with forced nonchalance towards the tourists. The driver is wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt, over which he has a cream coloured jacket. His companion's sharp features are quite recognisable, and his dark suit seems out of place here in the afternoon sun. Fidgeting nervously with his unbuttoned collar, it is the man from the museum break-in who addresses Jo.

"Have you got a problem?"

"Well, the engine just cut out. What more can I say" she replies with Sean's hurriedly concocted fiction. Sean watches warily, leaning over the engine. Rupert wanders up behind Jo.

"I see." The man nods, maintaining his distance at about five yards. There is a long and awkward pause.

"Are you out here from Merida then?"

"That's right."

Another pause.

"We, er.., saw you up near the Mayan village" says the suited man.

"That's right."

The man nods, knowingly and nervously.

"What were you doing there?" he asks hopefully, finally deciding on a direct approach.

"I'm sorry, we've only just met" replies Jo, "and I didn't catch your name?"

She is answered by yet another silence, which is swiftly interrupted by an impatient Rupert.

"Look old fellows, let's lay our cards on the table here. We know a lot about what is going on around here, with these thefts of Mayan artefacts. We are not from the police or any government, but we just want to know who you are, and what you have to do with all this stuff."

The man's eyes open wide, and his hand freezes over his shirt button. He glances at his companion, who takes a step back.

"Why are you interested in 'all this stuff'?" he asks.

"That's what we asked you" replies Rupert. "We know about the connections to Cukulcan, and we know about some things you do not, so if you scratch my back then I'll scratch yours. Not literally, of course ...well not unless you have an itchy back."

Spanish is muttered quickly, the word Cukulcan standing out amongst more Latin syllables. The smarter of the two takes a step towards Rupert, his eyes narrowed with caution.

"My friends and I" comes his response, "want to know more about this Cukulcan business. So we can scratch each others backs." He pulls a newspaper clipping and a photograph from his pocket, and scribbles something with a pen. He hands them across to Rupert.

The clipping is one Jo has come across before, during her researches in the library - it is from a report on the theft from Mayapan Museum, including a picture of the contentious statuette that was stolen. The Polaroid appears to be of something very similar to the crystal skull of Mahucutah, but rather than matching human bone structure, it seems warped in some fleshy way. Despite the grainy blurring of the photograph, some resemblance can be seen between the grey stone head of the statuette and the white crystal features of the 'skull'.

On the back is written

2, Plaza Della Madonna. (Next to old church)

"My name is Ricardo," says the man. "You should talk to Mr. de Reconvaco about this. He'll be at that address. Tell him that Ricardo sent you. If you tell us what you know, we'll tell you all about that photograph, and more besides..." he smiles warily "This is important, you know. Very important."

"We know" replies Jo.

"Where are you staying, in case we need to get in touch?" asks Ricardo.

"Who are you people, and who is Mr. Reconvaco?" rejoinders Sean quickly. Ricardo looks a little bit taken aback, then grins and shrugs.

"Very well. God be with you. I don't think we have much time." He starts a conversation with his friend as they walk back towards their car. Four minutes later, the blue speck disappears over the horizon, two miles down the road.

In Sean's room at the Esplendido, the curtains are drawn shut to prevent sunlight glaring off the laptop screen. Arabella is sat on a chair next to Sean as he taps away, using her expertise to guide his way through a morass of archaeological and mythological Internet sites.

"We've tried lots of variant spellings of Cukulcan..." mutters Sean. "If only this link wasn't so damn slow..."

"There's just too many sites. Look at this. 1600 sites with the words 'Chichen Itza'. For heaven's sakes..."

"Keep going" encourages Arabella. "Something will turn up. Try 'Chichen Itza' and 'September'."

"OK...we're going to need all the luck of the Irish..." Sean's fingers tap out the request.

"What about that one, the 'yucaruins' one?" asks Arabella, as a list of random and obscure material presents itself.

"Let's see. We're running out of time, I've got a date to keep" complains Sean. "This is the last one."

He starts typing...


It takes a few minutes for the text to download. It turns out to be promotional material for a certain travel company advertising their tours - a diary report written by a happy customer. As the file downloads it becomes clear that the happy customer visited Chichen Itza in September 1995. Sean and Arabella become speechless as they read it.

"Bingo?" Arabella suggests.

[Extract reproduced at end of turn. NB - this is a real Web site, if any of you want to check it out! - ed]

Back on the main street of Merida, the Rio Bolivar, Jo and Sean sit by themselves at a white plastic cafe table. Protected from the sun by a parasol, they watch as Mexicans bustle up and down the street, with an unusual display of activity. The road has been barred to traffic, and a large number of long tables set up with seats and flowers. Stalls are being placed strategically to sell alcohol and food, and their owners are bickering over the choice locations.

"She hasn't exactly chosen the most secluded of locations, has she?" Jo says to Sean.

"I thought it'd be a private house" he replies. "Quarter to six. If she isn't here on time, you're going to miss the others. I still think it would be better if I met her alone."

"We've both got good reasons to talk to her" points out Jo. "Anyway," she laughs "at least be grateful that I got rid of Rupert. This is one meeting that I think we can have without his unique negotiating style."

"'Let's lay our cards down on the table'" mimics Sean with a grin.

"I persuaded Senor Vizcaya to let me use his fax in private, by the way, and sent something back to SITU. I've given them an appraisal of the situation so far. Maybe they can tell us something about these skulls?"

"Maybe" agrees Sean. "Any feedback about Hernandez?"

"Not yet. I did have a word with Maria about her last tour group form Artifex, though. She said they were an odd bunch who kept themselves to themselves. Apparently, none of them were much interested in cliff diving, and they didn't visit any really touristy sites. They managed to crash their hire car, too."

"To be honest, I think we're going to have to tell Maria something. She's got no really good idea about what's going on, but she must know that we're up to something. What if the police talk to her about us and the museum robbery when they next come round? What's she going to say?"

The conversation is cut off by the approach of a rather tall young woman, her dark black hair pulled back tightly around her delicate face. She is wearing a long white skirt and a white blouse, subtle eyeshadow, and red lipstick.

"Would you be Sean and Jo?" her voice is soft and assured. Her conversation begins in a relaxed yet guarded manner, opening up as Jo and Sean give the right, friendly responses.

"My name is Lalina..."

"...Thank you for your inquiries. So many tourists come to Mexico, and leave without seeing the real country..."

"...It's a shame, but at least I manage to meet a few travellers whose eyes are open to the world and its ways..."

"...My family were quite rich, you know, rather like yourselves. But then when I grew up I realised that I did not fit into the false, petty world of the landowners..."

"...You know, if you and your friends would like it, I could take you on a free tour of my own, for the, umm, moral and ethical tourist. I will show you some of the things that go on. Some of the things that you can help with..."

"...What are your professions back home exactly...do they pay well...what about the others you are travelling with..."

"...The Zapatistas are a very honest, upright people. The only people in the land with a passion and with the integrity and the vision and with the strength of character to not only see what is going on but to try and change things." She becomes rather passionate, and consciously checks herself.

"We've been reading a lot about the Zapatistas recently, about how the Governor has been accusing them of a spate of robberies on museums and suchlike." mentions Sean.

"Robberies?" asks Lalina innocently.

"Yes. You must have heard...," says Jo, surprised.

"What do robberies matter, compared to the struggle to unite the people to fight for their own rights. The struggle to persuade the common man that his destiny lies in his hands, that revolutionary change is just one step away, if only we will all take it together, brother with brother?" She finishes, and takes a breath.

"Certainly, but aren't you upset that the Governor is blaming the Zapas for these thefts?"

"Why are you so worried about the thefts of a few old artefacts? Museums are too expensive for the common man anyhow. I think you would find my tour to be illuminating, if you would like to participate. For free, I add. The more people that know the truth, the better. Tell your friends, I would like the to come too.

"And thank you again for caring. So few foreigners do. They give all their money to the oppressive state system and its supporters, and give nothing back to the real people who make up the country the tourists enjoy."

"I really must be going. Good day."

Lalina sways off into what is becoming a crowd. A few posters are now being put up, saying things like "13 today" and "Happy Birthday Simon Comos" and also "Free Beer". The meaning is clear despite the Spanish. Pictures of a beaming young boy standing next to his proud father smile out near the stalls.

"Now there's a disturbing re-election ploy if ever I saw one" complains Jo cynically.

"Come on. Or we're going to miss our bus" says Sean.

Back in the Hotel, Karyn and Rupert are lounging on Rupert's bed.

"Boy, do I need to chill out after all this tension" says Karyn.

"Yes indeed, old girl." agrees Rupert. "Like a cigarette? These ones are good for you, perk you up a little."

"Thanks. I need it. When are we going to get something to investigate that isn't wearing a suit?" she sighs, and leans back.

"So, dear girl." Rupert continues, trying to stimulate a conversation. "What is it that you do for a living again?"

"Journalism. I write for a magazine called Mysteria."

"Isn't it a bummer having to go to work all the time? I don't believe in it personally. Against my religion, you know."

"To be honest, I don't. My parents give me a little allowance, and the magazine tops it up. But it's not a nine to five or anything."

At this point, the door opens and Jo slides in unannounced.

"Oh" she says, seeing Rupert and Karyn. "I was just looking for you two. Everyone's getting ready to go to Chichen Itza."

She frowns at the 'cigarettes'.

"See you downstairs."

"I think" puffs George as he crawls underneath the high wire fence on his hands and knees "that that Hacavitz fellow will know that we were collecting our friend here in Solula."

"Yes" replies Karyn. "There were certainly enough people giving us hard stares. One of them is bound to mention it."

George continues "In the meantime, though, I suggest we are especially careful to keep our eyes out for any security personnel. And anyone else who might be around" he adds pointedly.

The eight continue to slither underneath the wire as Sean, Jo and Rupert hold it up with some effort.

"Don't get too physical now, you two." Rupert suggests to Arabella and Travis. "It could ruin your boffin image. If I were you I'd fall over a few times, or just get scared of heights. You know, just to keep up the pretence."

"Thank you very much for the advice. I'll be sure to consider all its merits," responds Travis carefully.

"The main square should be off to the east there" points Arabella, through a dense clump of trees. "The land around here undulates much more than elsewhere, doesn't it. I expect it's the result of centuries of building and destruction - defensive walls being raised and razed" she suggests, then turns to Mahucutah. The old Mayan needed a fair few helping hands to get underneath the fence.

"Where do you want to go?"

"Cenote. We will go to the cenote. That is where we want to go." Mahu's use of the plural is beginning to sound suspicious. He carries his head-sized bundle of cloth gingerly in front of him.

George leads the way, having spent a couple of hours on the site in the late afternoon.

"As I remember it, the cenote is east of the main complex. Due east, in fact, of the main pyramid. Which would put it over there..."

At the cenote, the ground falls suddenly away to reveal an enormous hole carved out of the ground. It is a natural formation; the peninsula is littered with them, all linked by freshwater underground rivers.

"This cenote was the lifeblood of Chichen Itza" George explains as he approaches the edge. "Their only reliable source of fresh water."

Mahucutah sits down, and starts taking things out of his bag. Due west, the sky is lit a very dull red as the sun, long since disappeared behind the horizon, throws rays towards the night. The pyramid is framed with a dark red halo. The large, open walkway leading from the cenote to the pyramid is silent and empty. The trees all around are alive with the sounds of insects, but nothing more.

Rupert is hanging behind the others, and arrives muttering to himself.

"Oh look, there's some stones! And there, and there! By Jove, there's some more really stone-like things over there as well! Wow! This is so fascinating! Just think, so many stones all in one place!"

Mahucutah gives him a withering stare, and fishes out a small clay bowl, into which he pours the contents of what looks to be a reused coke bottle. He begins stirring the dense brown liquid with his finger.

"We will need to build a fire. We will build it small, and we will put it out swiftly, so that it won't be seen."

"What is that liquid?" asks George. "Are you going to heat it up?"

"That is right. Heat it up. It is mostly water, with a little bit of chocolate added, and a few other things. My friend here," he taps the skull that he has brought "is called Hunahpu. Hunahpu saw Chichen Itza when it was a magnificent city. This is Hunahpu's home. And Hunahpu has lived near it always. And Hunahpu has seen many things."

Mahucutah waves a magisterial finger at his audience.

"Things are happening around here now. Perhaps Hunahpu can tell me what it is that is happening, because Hunahpu knows many things. Here, by the source of Hunahpu's life, we will see what my friend can see. We will drink this sacred drink, and dream with the gods."

Mahucutah finishes heating his concoction, which appears to contain a few local roots and herbs, in only a few minutes. He kicks out the tiny fire with his foot, stooping to inhale the smoke deeply. Then he places Hunahpu reverentially in the centre of the ashes, and smears the skull's lips with a little of the chocolate drink. With the light of the fire gone darkness floods back from the forest, and the stars light up brilliantly in the sky. Mahu holds out the bowl with both wizened hands.

"Who will drink with me?"

9:00pm September 16th 1998

The Cenote at Chichen Itza

london, 16/9/98

dear rupert, arabella, travis, george, karyn, sean and jo,

thank you very much for keeping me informed. as you will be aware, much of the information that situ has is kept under lock and key, for reasons of security. usually, the information that i enclose would only be made available to members with more extensive track records than yourselves. a week ago, we had no evidence at all linking your investigation with the activities of another group of situ operatives some time back. however, since jo's report suggests to me that a link might exist, i am sending you our files: the briefing and debriefing given to the operatives involved. it is not at all clear to me whether the connection between your investigations and those conducted prior to your arrival in the Yucatan is significant. please exercise your own judgement over its relevance.

i will take this opportunity to expand your remit somewhat. jo mentioned that some of you have fears that a ritual of some kind might be carried out in the near future. you are situ's only operatives in the area. if this is the case, then once you have evaluated the likely outcomes, you must decide how to act to further the best interests of SITU and the public. I will be able to offer you advice, but I must advise you only to use means of communication that are completely secure.

Good luck to you all,
keep safe,

yours sincerely,
Martin Raimbaud


From: Andre Swahn, Briefing/99

To Operatives: George Kellsal, Damien Knight, Diana Knight, Benjamin McDonald, Corrin Muir, Dimitri Redchenko

Subject: 'Las Cabezas de Muerte' - proposed TV documentary programme

Code: B/99/573/43A

Rendezvous: Gatwick Airport South Terminal, 0600 hrs BST, 24 November 1997

Destination: Merida, a small resort town in the Yucatan, an area in the East of Mexico, with a population of around 20,000. Its primary industry is tourism, with cliff-diving at nearby Progreso and ancient Zapotec remains being the chief attractions.

Travel Arrangements: British operatives - you will fly British Airways to Mexico City, departing Gatwick 0855 BST, then transfer to an internal flight to Merida airport. You should arrive at 1200 local time barring weather difficulties. The total flight duration is 12 hours. You will return on 29-30 November by the same route, leaving Merida at 2000 hours local time and landing at Gatwick 1400 BST. Mr Knight - you will fly British Airways Washington DC - Mexico City, departing 0930 EST, to transfer to the same Merida flight. You will return to Washington DC from Mexico City at 0645 EST.

At Merida airport you will be met by a local courier, Maria Tengue. She has been engaged to act as guide and translator during your stay in Merida and will be available to you during working hours or otherwise by mutually satisfactory arrangement. She will conduct you to the Hotel Esplendido, where you will be staying.

Cover: You will be in Merida as a party of tourists, there to watch the cliff-diving contests which will be running throughout the week. You will be travelling with Artifex Tours Ltd, of 16-18 Boundary Row, London SE1 8HN, tel / fax 0171 865 0088. You should be clad and equipped accordingly.

Note: this cover is rated Code 3. Calls to the above number will authenticate your story.

Background information: During your week in Merida, an independent TV production company called Ghost in the Machine will be making a documentary called 'Las Cabezas de Muerte' ('The Skulls of Death'). This will centre around an occult ceremony to be conducted using a number of crystal skulls, which will be taking place in the Sheraton on 28 November. The programme is to be broadcast on BBC2, the American CBS network, Rai Uno in Italy and DSF in Germany.

These crystal skulls have varied histories. Some are ancient Zapotec artefacts, some are more modern, and others may be forged. Their owners have agreed to unite the skulls together in Merida for the purpose of enhancing and combining whatever occult powers the skulls are purported to possess. In Zapotec days they were used as ritual items in sacrifices to the goddess known as Ahuantepec, the Sea Mother. It is not known how long this cult persisted after the fall of the Zapotec culture in the eleventh century AD, but it may well have been still extant even after the Spanish conquest.

One of the skulls, known as Tezcatlipoca, owned by US Congressman Brett Darling, was tested by bombardment with radiation of various wavelengths in 1974, at Rank Xerox's Palo Alto Research Centre (PARC). All results of these experiments have been made unavailable, but SITU has reason to believe that the skull emitted ultrasonic frequencies, exposure to which was severely traumatic to the researchers involved. Within the next two years staff at PARC were responsible for the invention of the laser printer, the graphical user interface and the Ethernet.

Your mission:

Priority A: to establish who was responsible for the initial suggestion to unite the skulls. Was it a group decision, or was it an individual? If so, who? And who has organised the event?

Priority B: to prevent the skull reunion ceremony from taking place. See note below on extra-legal activity.

Priority C: to recover one or more skulls for SITU. See note below on extra-legal activity.

Expenses: SITU will reimburse Operatives for all reasonable expenses incurred during the investigation. Receipts will be required. Note that this does not include the purchase of souvenirs, cliff-diving lessons etc, except as is absolutely necessary for the maintenance of your cover.

Extra-legal activity: All Operatives should be aware that, while they may choose to operate outside the Law, they are not above it. SITU does not condone or sanction unlawful activity of any nature. Note that SITU will not act on the behalf of an Operative who is cautioned, arrested, charged etc in the course of an investigation. Indeed, if an Operative were to attempt to contact SITU in such a situation, s/he would find all telephone numbers unobtainable and all addresses unoccupied.


From: Andre Swahn, Debriefing/99

To Operatives: Madeleine Hook, George Kellsal, Damien Knight, Diana Knight, Corrin Muir, Benjamin McDonald, Lawrence Saint-John, Dmitri Redchenko

Subject: Las Cabezas de Muerte

Code: B/99/573/43A

Achievement of aims: all Operatives are to be commended on their actions during this investigation, which has been significantly successful despite some major setbacks. The kidnap and imprisonment of Operative Kellsal was regrettable, but the success of Flying Squad Operatives Hook and Saint-John is a testament to SITU's capability. The success in this instance will add to the list of recommendations for this new system.

Your primary objective; the identification of Jaime de Reconvaco as principal organiser of the event, and a significant co-ordinator of the Merida Black Madonna cult. It is to be noted that this individual's motives are still unclear, but be assured that many lines of enquiry are now underway.

Your secondary objective; the disruption of the ceremony. Your reports, and the other accounts gained from those contacts you maintained - most notably Mr Enright and his company, Ghost in the Machine - have proved most interesting. The power of the ritual is certain to have been lessened by your efforts, which is to be considered fortunate. It seems the skulls were activated by Jaime's and allowed the release of energy to each other, those present and the structure of the building. The main conference hall at the Merida Sheraton is being used as a store-room still; complaints of nausea and headaches persist whenever any worker is there for an extended period. The film of the ceremony was successfully sabotaged, many congratulations for this. As a result the documentary - Las Cabezas de Muerte - has been cut to a half-hour, and the subject is treated extremely sceptically. This will securely smokescreen the actual events and your involvement in them. A pre-release video copy is enclosed. Pleasingly just one of your faces appears, that of Diana Knight, seventeen minutes in. This will not be considered a security breach.

Your tertiary objective; to obtain at least one of the crystal skulls. The success of the follow-up work by the Cuervo Cojaente and Mr Vizcaya of the Hotel Esplendido is to be celebrated. I am aware that not all of you have been kept abreast of the events, so to summarise: A group of the Cuervo Cojaente, heavily armed and reasonably trained attacked the church of the Black Madonna. This caused panic and the members of the cult to flee, down the tunnels and into the underground river. This method of escape was predicted by SITU members and so they were picked up by waiting gunmen as they emerged. Jaime de Reconvaco was not captured, it is suspected he may have had an extra hiding place somewhere. The trade for prisoners gained the Cuervo Cojaente two of the skulls, identified as Troilus and Ed. Operative Saint-John has purchased both, and they have been extensively examined by our team, along with Aleister. The hacking activities of Damien Knight were influential in directing our research; it is to be suggested he continue to work on such a level.

All three have significant power; Ed's very positive, Troilus' greedy and Aleister's domineering. They appear to affect the consciousness of the owner and, when handled correctly, to project that consciousness at another. Jaime's skull would have been of great interest to us, but he has disappeared following the Cuervo Cojaente attack. The fact that he seemed frequently to communicate verbally with it is to be considered significant. As a methodological note however, it is not to be considered standard practice to encourage gangland violence in pursuit of SITU's aims. In view of the success of the operation, no further action will be taken, no further comment will be made.

We have had no luck in establishing the reasons for Operative Saint-John being so extensively searched on his return to this country. Apparently he was suspected of smuggling heroin, but it seems of course likely that the skull was the target.

Mr and Mrs Willoughby: Both have suffered nervous breakdowns, but are recovering on a South seas cruise, courtesy of a large insurance payout.

Arsenio Vizcaya: The Hotel Esplendido is still under his management - Operative Knight confirm that his financial situation has improved with the settling of his debts to the Cuervo Cojaente.

Mahmoud: Our operative collecting the skulls was questioned by this street-kid. Having heard of him, she asked a few questions - apparently he more frequently visits the Sheraton to talk of the 'super cool' events that occurred. His increase in standing is not considered a security breach.

Black Madonna: The local cult has been damaged by the gang attack, but the religion as a whole continues to be popular. The links between it and the worship of Ahuantapec are perhaps more significant than generally acknowledged.

Congressman Darling: He has returned to the United States, hailed the visit as 'remarkable, and strengthening for the people's of the Americas.' He has declined to comment further and is currently 'considering his options' on his Texan ranch.

Extract from the internet site visited by Sean and Arabella. [apols for pics looking a bit tacky - ed]


The magic, majesty of Yucatan's Mayan monuments are best absorbed
outside the confines of organized tours
By Susan C. Hegger, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, (Distributed September 1995)

It was almost dusk by the time we arrived at the Hotel Mayaland at Chichen Itza after a very long, very hot drive - no air-conditioning in the car. We unpacked, unwound on our balcony with its view of the Daracol, or observatory, and then got a large, cold margarita.

Maybe it was the combination of the rigors of the day, the margarita and all the sites we'd visited. But as I walked on the park grounds at night, I had something of a mini-epiphany. I had never seen so many stars in my life; the sky was blanketed with an eternity of flickering lights. The celestial world was alive for me in a way it had never been before. Then I understood, instinctively, why the Mayans, and other ancients, felt compelled to chart it, to map it, to write the story of their universe in it.

The next morning, we were at the site early, hours before the thousands of bus-trippers from Cancun. I looked at El Castillo, the 90-foot pyramid that dominates the complex and that is oriented toward the movements of the sun. I looked at how steep the steps were, how secure the chain looked. Finally, I took a deep breath - and the first step up.

At the top, I had a stunning view of this city in the jungle. It was a beautiful vantage point for the temple of the warriors and its 1,000 columns of stelae etched with the portraits of individual warriors. We could see the ball court, the largest in Mexico. In the distance, the tips of the buildings in the south part of the site were just visible above the trees. The way down was another trial.

After my triumph on El Castillo, we explored the site to our hearts content. We examined the murals depicting human sacrifice on the walls of the ball court; we climbed the miniature El Castillo in the south part. In Chichen Itza south, we saw houses that could have been built at Uxmal; they had the typical Puuc stone flourishes. There was even a nunnery.

Around 4:30, in the intense heat of the day and glare of the sun, we ambled back to El Castillo and plopped down on the grass. By then, thousands of tourists, including a loud contingent of white-robed New Agers, had arrived for the "show" that takes place around every vernal and autumnal equinox.

Over the course of the next hour and a half, a pattern of light and shadow cast by the sun forms the body of Kukulcan. Finally, the shadow body connects to the ferocious stone serpent's head on the bottom of one side of the pyramid.

We sat patiently, watching this ancient phenomenon unfold. As each triangle of shadow composing the body was complete, a Mexican archeologist made the announcement in Spanish and English. Much to the Mexican archeologist's dismay, eager Anglo New Agers blew conch shells. He finally announced over a loudspeaker that Kukulcan preferred silence.

As Kukulcan slowly descended, I had plenty of time to think about the marvel of it all. El Castillo was constructed for this day; it was no accident or idle coincidence. What an act of faith and dedication. What an act of worship, I thought, while younger, more impatient tourists squirmed under the heat and pace of the event. They were too used to the speed and the technological wizardry of futuristic Arnold Schwarzenegger movies.

But I was perfectly content. For me, there was something infinitely more captivating, in fact more magical, in the slow descent of Kukulcan and the way his body vibrated momentarily before it quickly disappeared.

Copyright (c) Scripps Howard News Service

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