Cozumel, Cancun: The Rights of Nature Plowed Over, Sewage Saturated, Cruise-ship Imploded

Cozumel was derived from the Mayan "Cuzamil" or "Ah Cuzamil Peten" in full, which means the island of swallows (Spanish: Isla de las Golondrinas)

With the power of the telecom thieves and my cellular phone, and, viola, I am conversing via text and downloaded images with my 21 year old daughter on the Island of Cozumel, with her mother, stuck in the maelstrom of tourists and a denuded ecosystem. Yes, I admit, I loved that island, 1979, 1983, 1987 (1989 was the last time I was there), but I knew my very presence, my ecological footprint, the baggage of being an American, a scuba enthusiast, journalist, too, and dive bum, all were part of what was starting to become very out of whack in the world of those who have and those who do not have. Cultural genocide, the toxicity of Western things, Western mores, Western values, Western consumption and economy, well, it was easy back then for me to notice all of that. Of course, being a communist young allowed my Marxist view of things, but still, I knew my very presence there was part of the upsetting of the natural order of things.

I resisted being a typical American, and was working for international rights and universal human and environmental rights, young, 16, and yes, the power of human population and marketing and markets and consumerism to flip societies into poverty hell, I got at a young age, 16 or so. The beauty of a place is the palm tree frond cabanas, dirt roads, no air strips, no docks for Disney people, none of that, and yet, without all of that shit, American trappings, some of us especially sought it out, Cozumel, and lowered our destructive footprints, and our minds were deeply flooded with where we were and who was there – Mexico and its people and tribes and history.

It was clear that a true revolutionary lives with people, is a traveler, sometimes is not a resident or citizen tied to flag or stamp on passport, and the possibility of living that in 1975 when I first headed to Mexico as a diver in the Sea of Cortes, and, well, for forty-two years, I am still in the struggle to define myself as human, humane, a giver, and someone who knows the sham of capitalism, even in today’s marketplace of ideas that are swollen with idiocy.

Things have changed a lot, of course, since then – all of Mexico, 1975, hell, before Diego and Frida, under a volcano or inside the crucible.

Duelo / Mourning

This country has been defined for me by artists, like Graciela Iturbide and Octavio Paz,

Literature is the expression of a feeling of deprivation, a recourse against a sense of something missing. But the contrary is also true: language is what makes us human. It is a recourse against the meaningless noise and silence of nature and history.


and, Carlos Fuentes:

The United States has written the white history of the United States. It now needs to write the black, Latino, Indian, Asian and Caribbean history of the United States.

and all the exiled ones living in Mexico a hundred years ago:

I’m thinking here of the work by Helen Delpar on the U.S. artists and intellectuals who were attracted by The Enormous Vogue of Things Mexican (the title of her splendid book). More recently, the University of Chicago historian, Mauricio Tenorio has been exploring this phenomenon, employing the term “Brown Atlantis” to describe the appeal of Mexico City to these U.S. cultural and academic constituencies. In using the term “Brown Atlantis,” and the same is true of Helen Delpar’s work, the emphasis has been very firmly on Mexico as the center of indigenous politics, art and philosophy. I have suggested to Mauricio, somewhat cheekily, that Havana played a similar role, albeit rather less substantial than Mexico City, and that the label in this case might be “The Black Atlantis” — given the passion shown by U.S. and European intellectuals, musicians and artists for things African or African-descended in Cuba in the 1920s and 1930s.

But, Cozumel, back to that incredible stopping place for my journey throughout Mexico and Central America, and here, in a piece — short story I wrote, titled “Bird Stamp” – you can see the youthful vigor and romance of the place . . . .


Usually people wait until after the holidays to start voicing their frustration with Inland Northwest winters, but sooner or later the familiar lament begins: “I can’t stand another [foggy/rainy/snowy/ cold/dreary] day. Next year, I’m flying to Mexico.”

But what do you do when, as so happens in Paul Haeder’s “Bird Stamp,” the Inland Northwest follows you there?

Haeder’s story suggests that not only is Spokane a place, it’s a state of mind. And as such, it’s a potent literary device conveying undercurrents of hope and despair, possibility and dead ends. We’re proud to name Paul K. Haeder’s “Bird Stamp” the winner of The Inlander’s ninth annual Short Fiction Contest, and to announce that he’ll be reading from this and other works on Tuesday, Feb. 15, at Auntie’s Bookstore. In addition to offering some well-deserved kudos to Mr. Haeder, we’d also like to congratulate our second- and third-place winners, “Metaphorica” by Robert Salsbury and “Washtucna’ed” by J.A. Satori. Both stories will be available on our Web site, Congratulations, Paul, and our thanks to everyone who entered this year’s contest.

About the Author: Paul K. Haeder

Wouldn’t it be great if we all had English teachers who would do the same assignments they give their classes? Climb down into the writing trenches and get grubby with grammar like the rest of us? Well, that’s exactly the kind of teacher this year’s winner, Paul K. Haeder is. As a professor at SCC, SFCC, the Continuing Education Program, and previously at Gonzaga, it’s not uncommon for Haeder to do his assignments right along with his students.

“I threw out some ideas to the class and went home and wrote some of [‘Bird Stamp’],” he says. “I brought a page of this into class the next day and said, ‘This is what I came up with.” It was primarily just supposed to be an example, but I kept tweaking it and reworking it and thought, ‘What the hell, I’ll send it in.’ I never expected it would win.”

Haeder has only lived in Spokane for three years. Previously he worked in El Paso and has degrees from the University of Texas and the University of Arizona (where, as city editor of the daily college paper, he had the opportunity to go out drinking — on separate occasions — with Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Tess Gallagher, W.S. Merwin and Octavio Paz). He’s worked as a journalist for everything from the Miami Herald to E-Magazine and says that in his younger days he used to “hitchhike, pick up writing jobs for small newspapers and teach diving,” which is how he was able to infuse the Cozumel scenes of “Bird Stamp” with so much authenticity. “The diving-off-Cozumel parts weren’t just fantasy,” he jokes.

Haeder is married to writer and teacher Connie Wasem and has an 8-year-old child. He’s also a strong advocate for environmental issues. And it’s not surprising to find that, after hearing that he’d won The Inlander short fiction contest, he went right back to his writing desk to start a few new projects.

“I’ve got writing in my blood,” he says. “I think the real pivotal event for me was 9/11. After that happened, I had a lot of my students asking me, ‘Why do you care about literature and poetry?’ And I told them, ‘Now is the time to care. That’s where we can retreat and rediscover ourselves in times of trouble — in writing.'”

About the Artist: Amy Sinisterra

If the name of the artist for this year’s fiction contest sounds familiar, it might be because you’re used to seeing her photo credit throughout many pages of The Inlander. Amy worked as our editorial art coordinator for four years before launching her own photography business, Amy Sinisterra Photography. During that time, we were often astonished at what Miss Sinisterra could accomplish with only a basic, no-frills digital camera and her own imagination. It’s largely due to her intuitive and wide-ranging images of nightlife, downtown, local artists and food and drink that we’ve been able to present a vision of Spokane as a unique, edgy, attractive place to be.

A graduate of the University of Washington in Fine Art and English, Sinisterra is also an accomplished writer. Her ability to envision scenes served her well as the illustrator of this year’s fiction contest — the photo illustrations accompanying the story came to her while reading and re-reading Haeder’s evocative “Bird Stamp.” Sinisterra continues to take pictures for The Inlander on a freelance basis. To see more of her work, visit her website.

About the Judge: Beth Cooley

We were delighted to have Beth Cooley as the judge for this year’s fiction contest. Cooley’s recently published young-adult novel, Ostrich Eye, is a nuanced, suspenseful and ultimately satisfying novel that garnered her a Delacorte Prize (for first novels in the YA genre). In addition to teaching writing and literature at Gonzaga University (where she is also chair of the English Department), Cooley is a regular participant in EWU’s “Writers in the Rural Schools” program, an outreach effort in which published regional authors visit elementary, middle and high schools in outlying areas. She is at work on a second novel, tentatively titled Shelter, which will be published by Random House sometime around 2006. Cooley, who has been published in Mid-American Review, Roanoke Review, Poet Lore and other journals, shares her home with “my husband, Dan Butterworth, two daughters and a house rabbit named Scout.”

Of this year’s winner, she says: “‘Bird Stamp’ initially stood out among the stories submitted because of its vivid imagery and original language. The poetry of the story kept me involved almost as much as the protagonist, who is realistic and believable. Structurally, I found the interwoven plots of disease, love, infidelity, risk, life and death intriguing. The stories within the story, such as the lost Japanese divers and the marines, were fascinating. Paul Haeder makes us believe in his rough and colorful Mexico and his troubled, complex characters.”

The place — Brand Cozumel, 2017 — is home to 100,000 permanent residents. Once home to the moon goddess (Ix Chel) where women went on pilgrimages for fertility 2,000 years before present time, I knew then, working around environmentalists and cultural protectors, that the Island was up shit creek without a paddle. Rare species decimated, like a fox and coatimundi, and birds and alligators. The place once had 10,000 Mayans living here, and thanks to the Spanish conquest, the conquistadors brought smallpox, and in the ensuing 50 years after that first infected contact with the white race, only 186 men and 172 women of the Mayan culture were left. The island was refuge for people fleeing the Caste War of the Yucatan, and even old Dishonest Abe Lincoln was set on purchasing the island in 1861 for freed slaves.

The Island is mangroves and cenotes, underground freshwater holes and wet caves from thousands of years of percolated rain purifying underground. There are still Maya ruins on the island, and the west coast faces the mainland a few miles away, and the east side is currents and winds from the Caribbean stretch, with thus far, little development, but there are developer sharks out there looking for huge resorts and wind farms and anything else that moves capital along while killing culture, peace, peace of mind, ecosystems.

Now, tourist submarines, 300 restaurants, resorts, bars, para-sailing, kite surfing, dolphinariums, and the crud that is tourism on steroids run what once was a sacred place of communing with dimensions lost on the white zombie race and those co-opted by the race’s shekel-love.

Imagine, dolphins penned up, queued up, performing on cue, held in prison to perform for the sick race of people who can afford to fly to Cozumel and sit on their asses or snorkel into the dolphins’ prison.

The very notion of shifting baseline syndrome (generational amnesia) is what this Western Culture brings with it everywhere, destroying everything in its path, because of that great six percent of the global population’s – USA’s — attitude: “What I see now, what I do now, what I know now, what I experience now, what I touch, taste, hear, taste smell now, what I perceive now, what I want now, what I dream now, what I take now, that’s my baseline.”

Now my daughter is not one of those myopic ones, now five days in Cozumel, texting me how lucky she knows she is to be here where all the service workers plod through their lives cleaning up the shit of the tourists – cruise ships by the hundreds yearly (3 million people drop in, in a year), divers by the hundreds of thousands a year, and resort-goers by the same amount per annum. She has difficulty squaring the raw beauty of the sun and sky and azure water with her own status of being privileged enough to spend a week away from Spokane to be with her mother in a bonding ritual of mother-being-with-daughter. We talk a lot about shifting baseline syndrome, and generational amnesia, and how hard it is for scientists now, starting out, to realize they are working with a short deck of cards and a stacked deck, to boot. This is evidenced in so-called marine stewardship, or management. The oceans’ harvest and disgusting by-catch waste is evidence of shifting baseline syndrome getting it wrong and killing the planet. There are four times the number of fishing vessels in the ocean compared to the oceans’ capacity to regenerate.

The same holds true for Cozumel – 100,000 homo sapiens, 2017, and 20,000 in 1984. The bloody stupidity of developers and merchants and people wanting a piece of the ever-shrinking slice of the commons pie is that population density of humans is exponentially destructive to the commons, the ecosystem, the culture, the animal and plant life.

The irony is her own father, me, was a bum on Cozumel in the 1980s, writing newspaper stories, diving a lot, and finishing up a novel that ended up raked over the coals in New York City’s perverted publishing world (rich summer interns from Vassar or Smith College acting as first readers of manuscripts, both unsolicited and those, like mine, through an agent). I was there taking out tourists for dives, and then, back at the shop at night, smoking joints, drinking rum, and talking communism with a couple of dive shop managers from mainland Mexico (read my story “Bird Stamp” for some of that narrative). Fun deep dives 210 feet (7 atmospheres was my max with two scuba tanks strapped on) under that line of surface and air, with one big inhale of sativa right before descent, and imaginary worlds, but real eight foot black coral formations, hundreds of barracuda gazing at us, eagle rays, lemon sharks, blue sharks and a carnival of fish and corals and sponges not seen anywhere along the island’s shallower dive spots. The black-blue trench west was pretty darned deep – 3,000 feet.

How do we tell our children “there are no more sleepy fishing villages,” and how do we square the fact some of us, like myself, were able to hitchhike from Nogales to Panama, hit all the spots along the Yucatan-Quintana Roo coast, into Belize, into Honduras, for a pittance. Dirt roads, indigenous villages thriving, animals and ecosystems at least somewhat intact and in places vibrant?

How can we tell our daughters that while the old man was, in his own consciousness/mind, someone special and not some cruise-ship loving, monolingual tourist with red-white-and-blue coursing in his veins, I/we still have helped set the world on fire now, with Western culture and USA/USIsrael the demon of the world, with our NAFTA, our ripping off of everything, the nano second by nano second of extreme exploitation?

I remember in the 1980s how the island was still moderately wild, tame, but still, not overrun as it is now. I remember a modicum of discussion by locals and even the expats and tourists about keeping the place as pristine as possible. Oh where oh where does the smart growth go, planned growth thinking disappear, limited growth thinking vanish, small is better mentality dissipate to, when, in the end, the cancer is Capitalism, and Capital, and the developers are like incinerators, burning land, men, women, crustacean, mammal, reptile, fish, bird, what have you?

You will not find much on the internet or in the hearts and souls of people today, or much power of people and environmentalism and cultural survival for-about-because of Cozumel these days. Once you build it and keep building it, they will come and never stop coming. Cozumel is a tourist trap, and almost anyone dives, but few are true spiritual kin to the marine world. Even (or especially) Trump had his feces-covered hands on the island, along with his daughter’s and son’s mitts. All wanting this huge north island crap trap built that would be a winter playground for the rich and the others, with insanity and hedonism the number one operating currency in an unholy project to kill the island off permanently.

Ideas for wind farms on Cozumel – ugly, ecology killing, and why these for the island? What is it with the white race and the developers wanting every stitch of sacred land for more artery-fouling feeding resorts and golf courses and pathetic suites of balcony-ed luxury. But, thankfully, the wind farm has been somewhat halted — by the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (CEMDA). The group argues, “Among other things – that the wind farm would threaten endangered species in Cozumel, destroy precious mangrove and jungle, damage underground water supplies and cause years of disruption to the local community.”

Think of the power of Mayans 1,800 years ago, starting with pilgrimages from the mainland for fertility rites and medicine, eventually making Cozumel into a sacred destination for women from the mainland. Ruins in San Gervasio, about 6 miles down a dirt road from Carretera Transversal, the only main east-west route across the island, I have visited. The place had been populated for 1,350 years, until 1650. A religious center for the island, the three groups of temples, platforms, shrines and plazas are connected by sacbeoob, the “white roads” common to another place I spent a lot of time at, Chichén Itzá.

So, my daughter is there, where her father dove and learned the power of Mexicans from other places, leaving villages behind to serve the Americanos and diving lust. Cozumel was a side-trip, and while I knew all 31 Mexican states, and attempted a few of the hundreds of states of mind the Mexican possesses, I knew deep down that the shit of the world, America and then transnational corporations, would pollute more than just the minds of the Mexicans thinking somehow a Trump Golf Resort would move them any closer to the dung heap that is capitalism eating its own young.

I give my daughter hope in words and artists, and the legends of goddesses:

The Maya words Ix Chel have many interpretations. Ix means woman, Goddess, divine feminine; Chel means rainbow or translucent light. Her name is Lady Rainbow or Goddess of Divine Translucent Light. Ix Chel was always associated with bodies of water like lakes, rivers, creeks, streams and oceans where it is more likely to see rainbows and her beautiful sparkling light. Even in modern times, women sleep at watersides and pray to her for guidance in a dream – myself included. Just as in ancient days, many Maya women still relate that their weaving patterns were divined in dreams.

Like many other Goddesses of the world, Ix Chel depicts the three stages of a woman’s life – Maiden, Mother and Grandmother. The first image is of young Ix Chel the maiden, Goddess of weaving. She wears a snake on her forehead to signify that she is the Goddess of medicine and to symbolize intuitive knowledge as well as great control over earthly forces. Maya midwives placed her wooden image under the birthing bed.

The second image is Ix Chel, the Mother Goddess of fertility, the moon and motherhood. As Mother Creator of all Maya people and consort of the Creator God, Itzamna, she decided the face and sex of every person in utero. She and Itzamna (Lizard House or House of Sastuns) lived at the crown of the ceiba tree where they invented sexual intercourse to create the world and its people. She sits elegantly poised on a crescent moon to signify the moon’s effect on menstrual changes in women. She holds a rabbit in her arms, another fertility symbol. The Maya saw the shadows in the moon as the outline of a rabbit. The Maya discovered that one moon cycle and one menstrual cycle are 29.5 days. The calendar priests determined their famous 260 day Tzolkin calendar based on women’s menstrual cycles and the duration of pregnancy.

The third image is the Grandmother Earth Goddess of the moon, rain, medicine and death. She receives the bodies of her deceased children into her physical body, the earth. Revered for her wisdom and knowledge, her glyph demonstrated the vital importance of elders. Again, we see Ix Chel with the snake on her head, signifying medicine, healing and intuitive wisdom. Only the maiden and grandmother have a snake (to symbolize medicine) on the forehead because (as Maya women have told me) the Mother Goddess is too busy raising and caring for her own brood. Grandmother Ix Chel’s clay pot, shaped like a uterus, pours down rain to fertilize the earth. Often glyphs show a rainbow pouring out of her clay pot. Ix Chel was also consort and wife to the rain god, Chac and one of the Nine Benevolent Spirits that guide the Maya people to this day. Interestingly, this Goddess had at least three husbands – Itzamna, Chac and Ah Puuc.

NOTE: Black and White photos, Graciela Iturbide.

Paul Haeder's been a teacher, social worker, newspaperman, environmental activist, and marginalized muckraker, union organizer. Paul's book, Reimagining Sanity: Voices Beyond the Echo Chamber (2016), looks at 10 years (now going on 17 years) of his writing at Dissident Voice. Read his musings at LA Progressive. Read (purchase) his short story collection, Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam now out, published by Cirque Journal. Here's his Amazon page with more published work Amazon. Read other articles by Paul, or visit Paul's website.