Welcome to the Chubby Chatterbox Newsletter, where I’ll be posting favorites from the Chubby Chatterbox archives. In addition, my complete thriller Return of the Mary Celeste will soon be serialized here for those who have asked for something beyond a regular post.

My novel is based on a true event, arguably the greatest maritime mystery of all time. In 1872 the crew and passengers of Boston brigantine Mary Celeste abandoned their seaworthy ship and its valuable cargo, vanishing in the middle of the Atlantic. Speculation over their fate has never abated. History records that after the Mary Celeste tragedy no one from that fateful voyage was ever seen again. History is about to be rewritten…

Return of the Mary Celeste


Tragedy struck the brigantine Mary Celeste on the morning of November 25, 1872. The hourly log was later recovered from the deserted vessel; At 8 a.m. the last notation was made. By 9 a.m. no one remained aboard to chalk the next entry.

Something had terrified Captain Benjamin Briggs and his crew, prompting the seasoned skipper to make a decision certain to affect not only himself, his ship and crew, but his family as well—his wife and two year old daughter were aboard Mary Celeste. Much ink has been spilled in fanciful and scientific attempts to explain the calamity that engulfed this perfectly seaworthy ship, yet all that is known for certain is this: in a matter of minutes Captain Briggs became convinced that the only way to save their lives was by ordering everyone into a hastily launched lifeboat. By giving the order to abandon ship, he also launched the greatest of all maritime mysteries.

On December 5, 1872, a month after leaving New York Harbor, Mary Celeste was found drifting on a calm and empty sea. The ship was in fine condition, perfectly intact with valuable cargo safely stored in her hold, but the crew and passengers had vanished. None were ever seen again.

Until now….

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Hotter Than Hell

April 15, 2015


Today in Portland there’s a chill in the air, prompting me to think about warmth, extreme warmth. I’m reminded of the hottest temperature I ever experienced. Mrs. Chatterbox and I weren’t in a desert; we were in Cancun, Mexico, on the Yucatan Peninsula.


I can only handle lying on the beach for so long, and after a few hours I’m clamoring for something to do. We decided to trek to Chichen Itza to see the famous Mayan city built between 600 and 900 AD, in particular its celebrated pyramid.


Chichen Itza is approximately a hundred miles from Cancun, and an uglier landscape is hard to imagine. There are no mountains or hills, and no lakes or rivers to break the monotony of scruffy trees and cactus. Halfway to our destination, we stopped at a roadside stand for refreshments. We got out and stretched our legs, and spotted a sign with a pointing arrow. A gravel path brought us to the mouth of a cave, a cenote—the reason the ancient Mayans were able to thrive in this hot climate. Water throughout the Yucatan was beneath the surface, cool, and crystal clear. I even noticed fish.





Steps cut into stone led down to the water


Heat was smacking us in the face when we reached Chichen Itza, and it wasn’t yet noon. We explored the incredible city, including an amazing observatory, and I paused to lean on a stone wall, until it started moving. Hundreds of big lizards were crawling around; I hadn’t noticed them at first because of how well they blended into their environment.




We finally made it to the pyramid, where ancient astronomers were able to study the stars, and Mayan kings were able to flaunt their supremacy by rising above the trees to see the horizon. Climbing to the top was no longer permitted to preserve the structure, but I didn’t mind when I saw how narrow and steep the steps were. All I could think about was that tantalizingly cool cenote we’d visited earlier.




We were sweating buckets by the time we arrived at the celebrated Mayan ball court. A leather ball was tossed about (sometimes heads of the vanquished) and points were scored when the ball made it through the stone opening. A guide paused to discuss a relief carving on the wall. I told Mrs. Chatterbox to keep walking or we’d pass out. A fellow behind me had a temperature feature on his watch. He said it was 126°. The temperature must have been incubating on that ball court between the stone walls.







Wall of Skulls near Mayan ball court



By this time we were getting lightheaded from dehydration and we raced to a stand selling bottled water, where we drank until I thought we’d burst.


What’s the hottest temperature you’ve experienced?  



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I've said before I don't travel well and I never want to go to Mexico. Now I don't have to, I just read your experience and that is enough. 126! Holy Hannah! I think maybe 105 is the highest I've been in. Probably not even that high. Anything over 95 is not pleasant.
By: cranky on April 15, 2015
My brains would be baked. It got hot in Arizona when I lived there, but I don't remember the exact temperatures beyond well over a hundred. I'm sure you startled that lizard. Dude, get off me - it's hot!
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on April 15, 2015
When I worked in the pulp and paper industry, our mill made newsprint for a global clientele. During the summer months the temps around the paper machines ranged between 120 and 140F.
By: Daniel LaFrance on April 15, 2015
I should have mentioned that scuba diving in the cenotes is wonderfully refreshing. But you must have your Cave Diving certification. A number have lost their lives in these underground labyrinth.
By: Daniel LaFrance on April 15, 2015
It sounds like a fascinating HOT trip. The hottest we have here is 50c.
By: John on April 15, 2015
One of the neatest places I ever visited were the Mayan ruins at Altun Ha, Belize. Spooky and majestic, I was very glad we traveled ten miles of lunar landscape to get there. It was also hotter than Hades, too. My undercarriage got a little sw...well, you can guess how hot it was.
By: Al Penwasser on April 15, 2015
118, here in the northern end of California's Central Valley.
By: Uncle Skip on April 15, 2015
i've always wanted to go on that tour, but now you've made me sort of glad i didn't! :)
By: TexWisGirl on April 15, 2015
oh my goodness....126F ? I think the hottest I've been was as a child living near Boston MA and the humidity increased the heat to a point of total misery. NO AC back then. Also at the age of 13 I went with my Grandmother to Washington DC in AUGUST....I was so hot and my feet were so swollen I could not shove my shoes on my feet- so I took them off and carried them with me on our tour of the White House. Really! There weren't any flip flops back then either. I was born in the dark ages! But you win the "prize" for being in extreme heat. What month was it? Cheers!
By: Kathe W. on April 15, 2015
Heat & I don't get along!!
By: fishducky on April 15, 2015
You have been given a truly wonderful life to live in this world.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on April 15, 2015
I think I was outside working in Phoenix when it got to 122F (50C) and we tried to fry an egg on a sidewalk. It wouldn't but it did sizzle right up when we put it on the hood of a car.
By: Catalyst on April 15, 2015
Well, i've never been anywhere quite that hot! It gets above 100F here sometimes, but not often.
By: mimi on April 15, 2015
I've been to Chichen Itza twice. I've climbed those stairs. The first time we took a bus from Cancun. The second from Cozumel and after we ferried over we took a puddle jumper that held maybe 10 people and landed on a short dirt runway. but I think the hottest I've been was on the Rio Grande in Boquillas Canyon in Big Bend on a Memorial Day weekend. It was so hot you could not drink enough water to stay hydrated.
By: Ellen Abbott on April 15, 2015
I can'remember anything extreme but I would think 104 F. I don't like heat. 70 F suits me.
By: red on April 15, 2015
When I first came from Germany (which frequently has cool, rainy, cloudy summers) to the States, I lived in Louisiana. It was 114º F for three days straight. Talk about a shock to the system! But that was the hottest I ever experienced. The pictures of the cave are stunning!
By: Pixel Peeper on April 15, 2015
Whew! For a minute there, I read that you went to Chicken Lizard! The hottest temperature? I think it was 107, in my classroom with a row of windows that overlooked the black tar paper gym roof. This was no dry heat. It was Missouri in August. No air conditioning in that school, either. So all day I taught with sweat dripping off every overhang of my body. My clothes were drenched, and my hair looked like I just got out of the shower. The kids were just as bedraggled. Not a lot of learning went on. We were in survival mode. Do you know how long it takes for 34 kids to get a turn going out in the hall to get a drink?
By: Val on April 15, 2015
I really do better when I do NOT know the temp... I think that it was about 102 maybe, the hottest I can think I've been in. However, walking around in 90+ weather in full ren garb isn't exactly chilly, either... I must say, though, that looks like it MIGHT be worth it to go see. In the off season, when it's cooler, and maybe even raining... Cat
By: Cat on April 15, 2015
You're not lying! I've been there. But I've been somewhere HOTTER. I rode a bus up to Caracas when I was in South America; the bus was actually air conditioned (amazingly). When they opened the doors and we got out downtown, it was like I walked into a real oven. It almost sucked the air out of my lungs. WHEW! When we were in Cancun, a tour guide kept wanting us to go to his house so he could show us how he made tacos with Iguana meat. Uh...NO.
By: Cherdo on April 15, 2015
I've always wanted to visit pyramids - but I think I'll enjoy your pictures and two digit temps instead.
By: Robyn Engel on April 15, 2015
I understand what you wrote about the steps on the pyramid. I visited several when working on a documentary about Mayan Temples. They were/are treacherous. As for heat--the hottest temperature I "sensed" from magma- or molten lava moving through a "firelight", a window burned in lava crust. We were with USGS Volcano scientists-it was absolutely extraordinary. The most I sweat was working under triple canopy in Honduras and Belize. When the generators in our camp went off at night, the fans stopped and it was so dark you could not see your hand in front of your face, and the humidity and heat were on you like an oppressive force.
By: Tom Cochrun on April 15, 2015
Ugh. That's even hotter than it's been here, and it's blazing hot in the summer. Glad you didn't succumb to the heat!
By: Shelly on April 16, 2015
I'm thinking 111 her in Ar.. Arkansas has much hotter summers than Florida. It is just that Florida's last longer. You have really been some fascinating places Stephen. Think I might have hung out at the water till dark.
By: Akansas Patti on April 16, 2015
I visited the same place early last year when the temperature was, thankfully, moderate. Hottest place for me was Cyprus in August - although the high humidity was probably more of a problem than the temperature per se.
By: Bryan Jones on April 16, 2015
I think you've got me beat by a long shot! We've had over 100 degree temps in Ohio in the last few years - but I spent them indoors with the air conditioner on :)
By: The Bug on April 16, 2015
Wow! 121F is the hottest I've experienced and it was when we lived in Palm Springs. Much easier to tolerate when there were misters all along the shopping streets, restaurants and shops all had AC, and there was always a swimming pool to jump into.
By: Mitchell Is Moving on April 17, 2015
About 126 here in Arizona four years ago. Way too hot. I was amazed that the tour guide continued on!
By: Michael Manning on April 17, 2015
I would love to go there, especially if I was able to study up on it first. I guess the hottest I ever experienced would have while working in attics, but the hottest outside temperature as probably in Fresno, and would have been about 115.
By: Snowbrush on April 21, 2015

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