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A Tale of Two Jungles

by Eva Boynton on September 11, 2017

Trees in the jungle and a a city monument, symbolizing life in the jungle of Quintana Roo and the concrete jungle of Mexico City (images © Sam Anaya).

From the Mayan jungle to the concrete jungle
© Sam Anaya

Sensing Life in Quintana Roo & Mexico City

A symphony plays before me in an outdoor theater. The sun passes through a roof of leaves, tree branches crawl up and around the doorways, and rain delicately drizzles upon the earthen seats. This is the Mayan jungle in Quintana Roo, Mexico.

I had arrived here from another theater where sunlight illuminates towering structures and passes through glass windows. The red, yellow, and green of signal lights reflect in the puddles of afternoon rains. This is the concrete jungle of Mexico City.

Sometimes you have to see—feel, taste, and hear—things differently in order to sense their similarities. From 2015 to 2016, I lived in both a thick tropical forest and a crowded city. Although these two environments could not be more different, I found my sensory experiences revealing theatrical parallels.

Oh, I see more than just urban versus rural. I sense life in two jungles that are not all that different: one in Quintana Roo and the other in the middle of Mexico City.

Listen to the Symphony  

In Quintana Roo, I wake up to parrots chattering and to a “swoosh” of wings as they fly off from the trees. Neighboring birds sing to welcome the day. Their overlapping calls vary in note and rhythm.

A Motmot bird in the jungle, illustrating life in Quintana Roo (image © Sam Anaya).

A blue-crowned motmot (Toh in Mayan), adds a song to the eclectic symphony.
© Sam Anaya

Listen with me to an expansive aviary that stretches for thousands of miles around me:


I also hear the chopping of wood in the nearby pueblo. I smile at the familiar call;  “Booooooxxx (Bo-sh)! Panchoooooo!” Down the dirt road, our neighbor Máxima yells for her two dogs, a yellow lab and a black and orange chihuahua. I wonder if they are off following their noses through the jungle.

Back in the concrete jungle, I wake up to another symphony of sounds. This time, I hear a classical melody from outside the window; a woman plays her violin on the street corner.

A woman playing violin on the street in Mexico City, showing that sound helps us see things differently (image © Eva Boynton).

Morning serenade in Mexico City
© Eva Boynton

The sounds of doors opening and closing overlap with voices of family farewells as they head to work and school. I listen to this musical composition as the walls become windows, connecting apartment worlds for miles and miles.

I smile when a familiar voice crescendoes from the courtyard: “Gelatinnnnaaaaaaaass!” It’s Señora Ruano wheeling her cups of gelatin through the neighborhood. I wonder how many people will come out to buy her colorful treats.

Taste and Smell the Streets

The scent of the air in the Mayan jungle sends me to Máxima’s house. On the way, I smell the leaves of epazote, a Mayan herb, standing out among the jungle’s varied plants. I gather some leaves as I remember their lemony flavor, essential to black beans and quesadillas.

Maxima invites me to taste her caldo de carne (meat soup). My eyes squeeze shut from the spice hitting my tongue. She takes me onto a dirt path where a habanero pepper plant grows. She laughs as she shows me the tiny secret ingredient to her greenhot soup.

A hand holding two habanero peppers, illustrating life in Quintana Roo (image © Sam Anaya).

Some green peppers are red-hot in the Mayan jungle.
© Sam Anaya

In Mexico City, scents in the air always invite me to the downtown market. Leaving my apartment, I smell the limes growing from a manicured garden in the courtyard. I slip a couple into my bag, remembering how well their flavor goes with everything in Mexican cuisine.

A vendor with a plate of tacos and a spoon of salsa, showing life in Mexico City (image©alexsalcedo/iStock).

In the unique buffet of senses, first comes smell and then, undoubtedly, taste.
© alexsalcedo/iStock

At the market, a taco vendor waves me over to try his tacos al pastor (shepherd tacos with pork). I dip a taco into the salsa verde (green salsa), thinking it will be less spicy than the red one. Immediately, my eyes start watering, and the vendor laughs as he tells me to try the salsa roja (red sauce) next time.

Feel the Texture of the Walls 

Paths in the Mayan jungle are decorated by walls of smooth ferns, spiky ceiba trees, and firm chic palm leaves. I touch the bark of a chicozapote tree. It is rough and has deep lines running from root to branch.

The trunk of a chicazapote tree, showing one aspect of life in Quintana Roo (image © Sam Anaya).

Paths are enclosed by a green hallway. Here, nature is the structure that gives proof of time passing.
© Sam Anaya

My fingers trace the man-made lines that cut through the natural patterns of the tree bark. I imagine the Mayas who made those marks first, gathering the sticky resin to use as glue for their ancient structures. I carefully trace the grooves.

Such trees show up in the cities of Mexico, proving that even in the concrete jungle, nature reaches and changes structures. My fingers touch the peeling paint of old wood doors in Mexico City. I am careful not to take any of their splintering wood with me.

An old door with chipping wood and paint, showing life in Mexico City (image © Eva Boynton).

Trees become doors for stone walls of Mexico City.
Here, too, they stand tall through time and weather.
© Eva Boynton

See the Vistas

When I’m in the Mayan jungle, I take an evening walk to my favorite vista point and witness the forest changing from dusk to dark. I stop at a busy intersection where ants cover the ground in organized lines, monkeys swing from trees, and butterflies swirl by.

A monkey swinging from a tree in the jungle in Mexico, showing how a different vista can help us see things differently and see life in Quintana Roo (image © Sam Anaya).

Trees are pathways for the residents of the Mayan jungle. Play and survival intersect here. 
© Sam Anaya

From the roof of an abandoned building, I take in more of the evening view. I look down to see the intersection of jungle life. Fireflies turn on their lights and illuminate the dirt path below. Parrots return to rest in the trees. I watch the horizon turn from a lush green to a black backdrop for leafy silhouettes.

When the sun starts to set in the Mexico City jungle, I head downtown to the roof of a museum and watch the city’s evening transition. There’s a busy intersection there, too, where traffic zooms by and people file in and out of buses.

When cars stop, a man balances a bike on his head and does a juggling act. Kids play soccer, and a woman sells a colorful array of balloons.

A man juggles while balancing a bicycle on his head in Mexico City, showing life in Mexico City (image © Eva Boynton).

Like the Mayan jungle, the concrete jungle’s intersections are full of life:
travel, performance, and entrepreneurship. 
© Eva Boynton

Streetlights and car headlights turn on to illuminate an asphalt maze. The horizon changes from colorful architecture to dark silhouetted rectangles.

Sensing life in Quintana Roo and Mexico City, I see two jungles where the inhabitants of each balance creativity, spirit, and survival. Some may feel that one jungle is cruder, dirtier, or more arcane than the other. But in the evening light, I see their similarities; I see two very vibrant jungles.

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2 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Jungles

  1. Eva,
    What beautiful words! I’m immersed in the smells, sounds and can imagine it as if I were there! The photos that you and Sam took are amazing also. Thank you for sharing this with us! ? Shar

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