Saturday, April 11, 2015

Chiapas: Land of the Mayans PART I

We headed for the south of Mexico on February 20, taking Interjet ( a great Mexican airline---with plenty of legroom, leather seats and good service)for the hour-and-a-half trip  to Villahermosa in the state of Tabasco. When we arrived at the bus station for our trip to Palenque, we learned that the road was blocked due to some type of demonstration and we would have to wait for two hours. We were approached by two gentlemen, who asked if we would like to share a taxi with them to La Venta, the famous archeological park and museum of the Olmec. They had arranged for the taxi driver to stay with our things and wait for us while we toured the park for an hour. We got two for one: a great experience visiting this interesting site (see photos) and also, two new friends: John, and Englishman and former ambassador from England to Brazil, and Reinhold, a friendly German from Berlin. The two were old friends having met at the University of Mexico fifty years ago when they studied Spanish here. They do a 2 week reunion each year. They were fun companions and later, we enjoyed being on the same bus for the two hour trip to Palenque and then to San Cristobal three days later.

Here I am about to enter La Venta, the archeological park 

We followed along paths to each exhibit

Our new riends, John and Reinhold

These ancient stone carvings of the Olmec people were pretty impressive 

These carved stone heads are famous for the story they tell about an ancient group of pre-hispanic people

The natural environment was pretty impressive, too. 

Look at the size of those leaves!

and these pylons carved out of stone when was no metal tools---one wonders how they did it.


An Olmec Alter 

Another alter or sarcophacus

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From La Venta, in Tobasco, we took the bus for the hour and a half drive to Palenque, one of the most famous archeological sites of Meso America. 

Palenque was an incredible look back in time to the ancient Mayan civilisation. It represents one of the most notable sites of the Classic period (approximately 230-750 AD) and captured our imagination from the beginning of walking out on the grounds surrounded by the temples and pyramids under the giant Ceiba tree. We were lucky to find a very gracious guide, "Case", (short for Carlos Sergio) who spent four hours, not the usual two (as he said he loved guiding people who asked a lot of questions and were truly interested in learning about the history of Palenque, not his usual tourist!) with us. He was extremely knowledgable about the history of Palenque as he grew up in a Mayan village not far from the site. After the walk up and down the stairs of the temples and pyramids and the explorations of these ancient structures we enjoyed walking through the "selva," the jungle with him and ended up at an excellent small museum where we continued our education.

Here's Gary  and our guide Case in front of the important temples, the burial site of Pakal, a famous ruler of Palenque for over 30 years.

In the center of the site stands this great Ceiba tree, tree of life for the Mayan people. 

Gary and I on top of the Temple of the Skull. See the carved relief in the background.

One of the reliefs of Pakal. Notice his deformed foot. Read about it below. 

The ancient Palenque builders even created toilets for the men---

And the women

Pasagge to the tomb of the "Red Queen" given that name as her body was painted red, evidently to scare off robbers. 

This "T-shape" was carved in the stone to signify life on earth and the underworld

We liked walking through the jungle where we could hear monkeys in the trees above and many birds

There's another one of those "Strangler trees" like we saw in Florida 

Getting my exercise 

And then we came to the beautiful water falls were some were swimming in the pools below---darn, we forgot our bathing suits!

They even do recycling here in what is now a national park. We were pleased to see that. 

We learned much about Palenque in the small museum at the jungle's edge near the main entrance.

And loved viewing the many artefacts from ancient times 

 By three o'clock that afternoon, it was getting warm and we were ready for a siesta back at the lovely hotel we found on line. We certainly lucked out. For a pittance we rented our small cabaña at Hotel Cabañas Safari set in the jungle not far from the archeological site. We were surrounded by lush and verdant flora and also, animals roaming about the grounds, such as peacocks, wild turkeys, sheep, and even a cute dog which we grew fond of. The owners were friendly and accommodating and we had the extra benefit of a small cafe on the grounds where we could have breakfast each morning and also a drink at night under the Chiapas moonlight by a pool.
We felt welcomed at Cabañas Safari, just a few miles from the Palenque archeological site
Our nice room with the interesting wall decoration

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Here I am standing next to the big bed like couch by the pool 

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Gary's pointing to a cacao tree from which we get chocolate
Gary's pointing to a Cacao tree (from which we get chocolate)
Here's the cacao nut---inside are the chocolate beans 

We even had coconuts

The second day we explored the town of Palenque, not as picturesque as some in Mexico but with a few good coffee cafes (Chiapas coffee is famously delicious) and an excellent restaurant specializing in typical Mayan cuisine. Our favourite side dish was the friend plantain. We often had them in El Salvador. We enjoyed getting from our hotel to the centre of town on the "combies collectivos," small vans that transport the locals and tourists from place to place for a very low cost. It's fun to ride in them and get a look at the local culture: mother's nursing babies, children peering out at us from behind their mother's skirts, people carrying things to the mercado. We also noticed a difference in dress on many: women wearing the colourful embroidered huipiles, for example
This large Sculpture greeted us as we entered the town 

City Hall: the clock was never correct 

We loved drinking the Chiapas coffee and enjoyed a good breakfast at this nice corner cafe 

Our view of the market across the street was very colourful 

This Mayan wished us an adios as we headed back to our Cabaña Safari hotel 
In the afternoon we took a Combie to a favourite "watering hole," a place famous for it's waterfalls and cool deep pools where we could swim. The name of it was Barrio Roberto. This time we sat in back of a pick-up truck and bounced along the rural roads for about 45 minutes, accompanied by a vivacious Italian woman and a young Mayan mother who was nursing her infant while her husband watched over the two with a proud looking expression. As we traveled along others jumped on and off. When we got to the site, we walked along a dirt lane, passing houses in the barrio and trailed by young boys offering to accompany us along the paths through the forest to  the waterfalls. We solicited the aid of one of them and after climbing over logs, down rocky dirt trails, we arrived at a magnificent waterfall and pools of clear aquamarine water. We changed into our suits, holding a towel up for each other, and jumped in. Climbing over rocks and rushing water, we spent a delight- ful hour here.
With towel and bathing suit under arm Gary climbed the trail to the falls 

What a glorious site on a hot and humid day---we couldn't wait to jump in!

Surveying the slippery stone before stepping  out 

The next day we took a Combie back into town to the bus depot where we met our new friends, John and Reinhold, and boarded the comfortable bus for the five-and-a-half hour trip to San Cristobol de las Casas, a city nestled in the mountains of Chiapas, and famous for its Mayan cultural roots and surrounding small pueblos.
Here we are in Palenque waiting for our bus ---Go to "Chiapas: Part II"

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