Updated: Sep 7, 2022
In the ruins of Coba, I met a gentle Maya man who shared an incredible story. It was mid-morning and the sun was peeking through the dense jungle. We rode on a rickshaw type bike and our guide navigated the rocky dirt roads of the ruins, taking us to sacred sites. As we reached the base of Nohoch Mul, the main pyramid, he began to give us the gift of a story.
Our guide (Let's call him Paco, although we never got his name) described the small village in Yucatan that he is from. It is rural with corn fields all around. Small homes, many built from sticks in the traditional way, line unpaved streets. Life is quiet and peaceful during the day. But night time brings out dark magic.
There are demons who scour the land after dark, looking for souls to prey on. The local residents stay inside after sunset. They close their doors, fan their fires, and call on the gods of home and hearth to protect them.
And they CERTAINLY DON'T go out drinking!
Unless they are reckless, which is what Paco's uncle was.
One evening, after it was fully dark, Paco's uncle (We will call him Tio, which means uncle in Spanish) was out carousing. Tio had several chelas (bottles of beer) and was feeling a nice tipsy feeling. It dulled his intuition and left him feeling happy and free. He forgot about the demons that roam the streets and fields.
Now, there is a legend of 4 giants that guard the 4 corners of the earth. Even though they have no wings, they can fly very fast. They wear sandals and long flowing cloaks and love to smoke cigars. They are called the Yum Balames. The Yum Balames are neither good nor bad, or quite possibly both. Like most of the Maya gods and guardians, they love to receive offerings and are happy to help those who give them gifts, especially of tobacco. HOWEVER . . . they are ruthless with those who ignore them, ridicule them, or refuse to honor them with offerings. They steal people away, sometimes returning them days or even months or years later, and sometimes ripping them to shreds. They especially love to feed on the souls of children which give them strength and sustain them.
So, Tio roamed the streets, singing to himself and not paying attention to the dark. Then suddenly, he felt a very strong evil presence. Immediately he thought of the demons and he looked all around, but he saw nothing. The village has very few lights and the night was very dark. Then something grabbed him by the shoulder. He looked up and saw what appeared like a great eagle, more than six feet tall, its form dark and its shape flowing and silhouetted against a silver moon.
He shook it off, too afraid to scream, and ran, stumbling through the vacant byways until he reached his home. Its warm fire welcomed him and his wife, shocked by his terrified countenance, wrapped a woolen blanket around his shoulders and bade him sit on a small wooden stool by the fire.
As he told her the story of what happened, she told him a similar story about a girl who was stolen away years ago. Thankfully, the girl was eventually returned, but not for a full ten years, being only 6 when she was taken and 16 when she was dropped by off again, right in the same spot she was stolen from by the Yum Balam.
These stories are not to be discounted as drunken ramblings. Many people have seen the Yum Balames and other such guardians, creatures, and gods. The Maya are noble, honest people who share their hearts carefully and their stories are gifts.
Thankfully, Paco's Tio had only a scare. Others learn the lessons of propriety and sobriety in harsher ways.
Let me not be one of them!