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Tulum was constructed close to the Aztec expansion.Given its seaside location, it was important mostly as a trade center, especially the trade of obsidian.Although its exact history is a bit of a puzzler.It appears one of Tikal’s stelae was carried away by what must have been the strongest battlefield looter in world history, eventually winding up in a coastal settlement over three hundred miles to the north.Incidentally, the next dated monument at Tikal wasn’t created until 695, or 130 years after it was sacked by Caracol and Calakmul.Tikal’s revival came under the leadership of Jasaw Chan K’awiil I, otherwise known as Ah Cacao, whose legacy I would encounter in a highly memorable way the next day in Playa del Carmen.The sprawling site, really a small city, sits high on a cliff just above the majestic turquoise expanse that is the Caribbean Sea, and fully half the tourists were down in the water swimming.Our own guide made a point of insisting that we bring our bathing suits, and as soon as we’d reached the main plaza the high school faction of our group splintered off and made a beeline for the beach.The older crowd, my associates and professors, elected to follow Irving around the place so that he could interpret everything for them.Noting how densely packed the place was with tourists, given the time of year, I turned south, aiming for an inviting stand of trees.Thus did I find myself in a dense forest, standing in front of a section of the great stone wall for which the place gets its name, suddenly among a group of local teenage boys who’d slipped over the wall from the outside.One of them spoke English.So, this place is beautiful, but what do you think about all of the tourists? I asked him.Like fish in an ocean, man.The boy had a devilish grin on him, and I didn’t venture to ask how he intended to capitalize on that bounty.I wished the boys good luck, and I meant it.I wandered around the wall, marveling at its construction, and followed it all the way to the coast.There, I ran into a ledge with a sharp fall straight to the rocky coast, out of which the stone seemed almost to grow like an extension of the landscape.I could imagine invaders, thinking that they would sneak around Tulum’s defensive wall by utilizing the sea, staring up that sheer cliff face and reconsidering their strategy.Far below us, another young couple had managed to escape the main congregation.Many of the other swimmers would probably be afraid of getting dashed against those rocks by the roiling current, but I imagined that most of them were quite simply afraid of stepping outside the lines.I bade my new pals farewell and wandered back through the central portion of the site toward the prearranged meeting place.I met up with Irving halfway there, and asked him some rote questions about the Mayans, but mainly I just wanted to escape that place and the maddening crowd it attracted.The revenue generated by such places is, of course, important for the local economy.And the interest and respect they generate or propagate toward Indigenous communities like the Maya cannot be understated.Knowing that some lambs must be sacrificed is a different experience from actually watching it happen.I hoped those young local lads were making a killing.Even at first glance, Playa del Carmen is infinitely better than Cancun.It was much smaller, for one thing, which I greatly appreciated.And the whole place had a basic authenticity that glitzy and gaudy Cancun couldn’t match.I could even imagine myself trying to get lost, there.We dined that night at a place called 100% Natural.This should have been a lesson to the rest of us, but it wasn’t.I still drank the local water with cavalier recklessness.But not just chocolate.You can find that almost anywhere in the world, wrapped in some sort of foil, heavily sugared, sometimes heavily milked as well, and running 30 percent pure or less.I mean the real stuff.The word cocoa is an Anglicization of it, as the word chocolate is an Anglicization of the Nahuatl xocolotl.It’s an evergreen tree that grows up to about twenty feet tall.The seeds are then laid out and allowed to ferment, usually underneath banana leaves, which produces the actual chocolate flavor, after which they are dried, roasted, and processed in a similar fashion to the way coffee is made.The result, called chocolate liquor, is about half cocoa solids and half cocoa butter, which are then separated.The cocoa butter is sold off for other uses, such as cosmetics, and only a small amount of it is reintroduced to the cocoa in manufacturing chocolate.The cocoa solids, which harden when the butter is removed, are sold as solid blocks, which is how most people buy it in the baking sections of supermarkets.Later Aztec and Mayan folks were certainly fond of the stuff.To find and consume chocolate in the Yucatan was, I must admit, nothing more pragmatically special than finding and consuming halibut in Alaska, which I have also done.This proved itself in spades upon my first encounter with a chocolatería in downtown Playa.This is exactly what it sounds like.It is a chocolate café.I hadn’t realized they existed.I couldn’t believe it.Same as the ruler who’d brought Tikal back to life in the seventh century.Curiosity may have killed the cat, but I hate to think what kind of life it might have led otherwise.The island of Cozumel was the clear winner.It sits right off the coast, a short ferry ride from Playa del Carmen.It is roughly the same size as Lake Tahoe, so it can be easily covered via rental car or even mountain bike.And, once you get outside the port city of San Miguel, the place is practically empty.It is the quintessential tropical desert island upon which a person might be marooned, but with the amenities of San Miguel a stone’s throw away and the mainland sitting just across a narrow channel.My goal was to rent something mobile, cruise the island, and essentially do reconnaissance for whenever it was that I returned, with maybe a side trip to snorkel and/or visit something archaeological while I was at it.I could hardly wait.Which, of course, meant I could hardly sleep the night before.