An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of January 15, 2012
Issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort adjoining Chichén Itzá Ruin in
YUCATÁN, MÉXICO

CHOPPED ONIONS & HOT-SAUCE

At 7:45 this Sunday morning I leave the hut on my weekly fruit-buying trip to Pisté. It's 64°F (18°C), so chilly that my nose-holes feel wet and icy. While preparing breakfast over the campfire I never notice the smoke odor but here outside the air has an acrid, ashy tang to it. Visitors say the hut's smokiness smells good, like a mountain cabin with a fireplace, and I wonder if I've become so used to woodsmoke's mellower odors that I no longer register them, just this ash biting my sinuses when I step outside; I'll bet, though, I leave a scent-trail of woodsmoke wherever I go.

Gardeners are watering the Hacienda's plants and as I bike past Daniel a summery, suburban odor of sprayed hose-water fills the air. Then on the road to the ruin pay-zone a bored taxi driver with droopy eyelids and black, grease-backed hair leans against his car sending a nervous quiver through the morning with his aftershave. Outside Mayalandia Hotel odors from the kitchen are baking bread, cooking flesh, dill pickles and yellow mustard, the latter two smells down here just found outside places catering to gringos, for yellow mustard and pickles are not Mexican things.

Inside the ruin pay-zone no visitors have arrived yet so on the straight, white, unpaved road running past the big pyramid, here in the dry season the only odor is that of dust and dry, curled-up leaves. Outside the Administration Building a fellow setting up his pushcart taco stand creates an odor-bubble of chopped onions and hot-sauce.

On the highway into town there are just exhaust fumes, especially after a motorbike burning lots of oil passes by. Even with closed windows a half-full minivan running between Valladolid and Mérida leaves behind that oily smell so typical of half-cleaned public vehicles: mingled linseed oil, dust and old sweat.

On a Pisté backstreet a small, one-room, square, cement-block home is going up, still with no doors and windows hung, and the whole area smells of fresh cement. Down the one-lane, potholed street around the Tortillaría Gretty, itself a square cement-block structure with no hung doors or windows but crammed with a dragonlike, squeaking, clacking, tortilla-making machine with roaring burners, for half a block around you smell thin, flat circles of moist masa/corn-flour being fired into tortillas coming down rollers, and it smells good, homey and wholesome.

Cheap handsoap down here is heavily scented, mostly rose and pine, and passing by many houses you smell it, rose or pine, plus what that pale blue laundry detergent smells like, and something like Pine-Sol, heavy-duty bathroom and floor sanitizer.

The forest north of town smells of dry leaves and dust, just that, nothing more.

Passing back through town later, the first odor comes on fast and strong, burning garbage, the universal burning-garbage odor no matter what the garbage, and it hits in a wave the same moment a Great-tailed Grackle screams his screeches, crackles and pops, and the sound and the odor perfectly harmonize.

Back at the hut at 11 AM it's 85°F (29°C), the odor of dust and dry, curled leaves, and just before stepping into the hut's cool shadows a hint of that homey woodsmoke odor people always talk about. Facebook Icon.