Invisible Neighbours

Urgh… Neighbours. On average, I move every 1.7 years, so as you can imagine, I’ve had plenty of neighbours over the years. There were the C-brothers, two fat Italian potheads. The marihuana smoke would enter through the airing into my bathroom turning a trip to the loo into a somewhat surreal experience. Then there was Mr. B., a ridiculously handsome photographer who would bring home a new aspiring young model almost every night. There was a lot of drama, a lot of heartbreak going on, very often I would see those pretty little things leave the apartment in the morning, crying and sobbing behind their dark sunglasses.

After moving into a new apartment, I had a similarly charismatic neighbour, a doctor. Being single at that time, I wouldn’t have minded a date with him, but every time we met, I embarrassed myself completely. Either I met him on one of those quick shopping runs, you know: Oh,  nobody is going to see me anyway… And then you leave the house with unkempt hair sticking out in all directions, no makeup, or worse: smudged makeup for you were watching the Ally McBeal episode where Larry left, some sloppy pants and flipflops – and bam, there he is, your gorgeous neighbour, grinning from one ear to the other. I also always bumped into him when I would take out the trash for recycling (meaning: plenty of empty wine and champagne bottles). Needless to say that I never scored a date with him.

In our first home here, we were living next to an American couple in their 60s. She liked to showcase her plastic boobs, the one part of her that was not wrinkly. And he liked to tell the story about her having hundreds of Victoria’s Secret panties. When I got up at 5 to do my asanas, they were already up smoking in the garden. But they were also very friendly, offered us to lend us their complete DVD collection of The Nanny. After we had moved to our 2nd home, a dream came true: Our neighbour was a terrific baker, and every Sunday they would pop over to bring us cake. On the other side, there was a young French couple who apparently spent all their money on marihuana and sunglasses for they had no furniture. I mean: NO furniture. No sofa, no chairs, no table, just a big flatscreen TV on the floor.

Now we have got new neighbours who like to party the night away. Rumour has it that they fight a lot, get drunk and, from what I can tell, bump into all their furniture. Well, at least they do have furniture.

And then we have some invisible neighbours: the aluxes. Some of you might have read my post about duendes and aluxes, if you haven’t: Aluxes (speak: alooshes) are little invisible people, dressed in Mayan costumes. If you treat them well, they can bring you good luck, otherwise they are quite vengeful. (Remember the Cancun airport bridge?)

Downtown Playa there is a little plaza called “Bosque de los Aluxes” (Forest of the Aluxes) where you can find miniature homes where people can leave little gifts. Some leave money, some leave cigarettes, but since I cannot imagine what aluxes would do with our money and since I also don’t want to support bad habits, MM and I left some almond biscuits for them today. I really hope they like biscuits, but who doesn’t, eh?

Apparently, aluxes don't need luxury homes.

Apparently, aluxes don’t need luxury homes.

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Mexican Mythology: Sacred Trees

In various places all over the city, you can find these huge ceiba trees, gigantic sacred trees that for the Mayan people represent the connection between the heavens and the underworld. They are 20 to 40 meters high (65 to 130 ft) and their canopy is up to 50 meters (9’10”) wide. Somewhere I read that their roots can be the size of a fully grown man. (Well, you know that in general Mexican men are not too tall…) Thanks to the formation of the branches that allows for the wind to pass right through them, these trees are resistant to hurricanes.

Up to this day people honour the ceibas and instead of felling them they rather build around them. Especially in a country that cares so little about the environment, this is something really beautiful, don’t you think?P1050693

Mexican Mythology: Aluxes and the Cancun Airport Bridge

Those year end statistics that WP kindly provided held a surprise for me: Whereas my German blog got the most hits by people looking for “nudity” (yes, Germans are kinky – and imagine their disappointed faces when instead of some juicy video clips they get to my little blog!), English readers apparently are most interested in Mexican mythology. In fact, most hits I got by people looking for stories on duendes and aluxes, those little fellows in Mexican mythology that I already talked about in a previous post.

Cancun Airport BridgeI, too, love all things mystical, and that’s why it always gives me a little kick when we drive to Cancun: Before you enter Cancun, you pass a bridge that leads to the airport, and underneath this bridge there is a little stone building like a miniature temple. For a long time I didn’t know what this was all about. Clearly, it is too small to fulfill any purpose such as holding tools or I don’t know what – even for not so tall Mexicans. So I decided it must be for decoration purposes only. I found out I was wrong when finally, a colleague of my husband’s shed some light on the dark: It’s a home for aluxes (pronounced alooshes), those small fellows dressed in Mayan costumes who can make themselves visible if it serves their purpose. Some may remember that aluxes often ask people, mostly travellers and farmers, for offerings. Grant their wishes, and they will bring you good luck, but in case you don’t oblige they can cause pretty severe damage. The latter happened in this case.

You see, when they started to build the bridge leading to the airport, the construction workers received a warning by a Mayan leader that they had to ask the aluxes’ permission first as they were about to build on land that belongs to these little fellows. Of course, nobody believed him but sure enough, the bridge collapsed soon after being built. Still, nobody took the warning seriously but after rebuilding the bridge, it collapsed again although even the smartest engineers couldn’t find anything wrong with its construction.

That’s when it was decided that the Mayan gentleman should take up negotiations with the aluxes. The price claimed by the aluxes was a little house for them under the bridge (I still wonder why they didn’t pick a more idyllic spot…), and believe it or not, after the house had been built the bridge collapsed no more.

So if you ever pass this bridge, I suggest you give them a friendly wave. Do not call them by their name, though, as this is supposed to provoke them – or at least have some food handy then. I would hate for your car to break down just because you insulted a little alux!

Mexican Mythology: Duendes and Aluxes

Mexico is a country full of old myths and tales, and although more than 80% of the people are Catholics, most of them seem to believe in the supernatural. I find it fascinating and comforting to see how old Mayan believes live on, and how some traditions are being passed on from generation to generation.

Recently, somebody told me about duendes, little elves in the Latin American mythology similar to leprechauns or Scandinavian trolls. Duendes are about 20 inches (50 cm) tall and run around naked. Both male and female duendes have very long hair, and the males also grow long beards. They live in large clans in the jungle and feed mostly on fruits like figs.

English: Shoe, supposedly from a duende, at th...

English: Shoe, supposedly from a duende, at the Museo de los Duendes in Huasca de Ocampo, Hidalgo, Mexico (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Only few grown-ups can see them – unless duendes get drunk, then they seem to lose all caution. If you catch a duende in that moment, you can keep him and have him do all kinds of chores for you. However, you have to treat him nicely and always offer him the first bite of your food in that you throw it over your shoulder. If you don’t, the duende will get angry and spoil your food. In former times, people used to have a much closer relationship with duendes and offer them food and licquor. Nowadays, with the destruction of large parts of the jungle, duendes have retreated farther away from the people.

A small relief figure on a Classic Period Maya...

A small relief figure on a Classic Period Maya Civilization olla (water) jar in Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave, Belize. The figure lacks thumbs and was described by a tour guide as a mythological Duende, though this is hyperbole due to the probable Spanish origin for the Duende myth in the Americas; this figure dates to at least 800 years before the conquest and may depict a monkey. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, we merely sense them in the wind, sometimes we catch an unfamiliar smell or hear them whispering. But since duende language is different from ours, we cannot understand what they are saying. That doesn’t seem to bother the little children, though, to whom they are visible. Being a little mischievous and childlike, duendes enjoy playing with them. Our housekeeper A. who is always my most reliable source for all questions on Mexican everyday life, told me that her little daughter used to chat with them a lot until A. told her to stop. Apparently, children can easily become enchanted by duendes and follow them into the woods. The duendes don’t harm them, they just play with them for a while and finally let them return to their homes, but which mother fancies a supernatural playdate that might go on for days?

A.’s sister had an encounter with duendes on her wedding day: The morning they were to be married, all their papers had gone missing. Both, bride and groom, asked everybody, but nobody had seen the papers. Desperate, A.’s sister went up to her bedroom to cry and noticed a very unusual smell of mango although there was no mango tree near the house. It dawned on her, that some cheeky duende might have played a trick on her, and she started to search the bedroom. And there under the mattress were all the papers they needed to get married!

And then my student A. told me that her uncle once met a duende on his way back home from work. He was riding his bicycle through a forest, and there was this little guy standing on the side of the road, holding bunches of fish in both hands. He asked A.’s uncle whether he could mount the bike and ride with him for a while, and the uncle being a little scared said yes. The little duende was sitting behind him, clutching hard on his shoulders, but after a while he just disappeared. Some might say that a little too much tequila after a long day at work might have easily taken the shape of a duende that evening, but A.’s uncle still insists on this incident to be true. However, I am not sure whether that wasn’t rather an alux.

This is what a female alux would be wearing.

Very often, people get confused with duendes and aluxes, a Mayan spirit. Aluxes look like miniature maya people wearing the same kind of costume but are only knee high. Aluxes are visible but can take any shape and form if it serves their purpose. It is said that aluxes often stop farmers or travellers and ask for an offering. If you don’t oblige, the alux will spread illness and wreak havoc, but if you do, they will bring you good luck and protect you from any harm.

So in case one of those little guys stops you during your next trip around Mexico, you better be nice!