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Chiapas State

Yaxchilan in photos

If you read the previous post, you know that we’ve finally arrived at the Maya archeological site of Yaxchilan on the banks of the Usamacinta river.  There are more than 120 structures in the central area, distributed in three complexes at different elevations.  Yaxchilan shares similar characteristics with other regional sites, including roof combs, stelae, carved lintels, alters and murals, among others.  As I noted in the previous Palenque post, much of the ornamention was done by painting the layer of stucco covered the exterior of many buildings.  Very little remains, but what does is breath-taking; it must have been simply amazing.  Make sure to bring your flashlight!  We were the only group there for the majority of our three-hour visit and I was by myself much of the time.  It was pretty awe-inspiring to wander around alone and imagine what life must have been like over a thousand years ago.  Let’s start the photo essay, shall we?

We entered the site at the rear of a temple which had a bunch of underground tunnels.  You can see the base of the roof comb above my head.

We entered the site at the rear of a temple which had a bunch of underground tunnels. You can see the base of the roof comb above my head.

Descent into creepy darkness, anyone?

Descent into creepy darkness, anyone?

Checking out the tunnels.  Note the classic Maya arch.

Checking out the tunnels. Note the classic Maya arch.

In addition to bats, the tunnels had some awesome spiders.  Check out those jaws!

In addition to bats, the tunnels had some awesome spiders. Check out those jaws!

The main courtyard is about 50 yards wide, 400 yards long, and is flanked with buildings.

The main courtyard is about 50 yards wide, 400 yards long, and is flanked with buildings.

One of the lintel carvings

One of the lintel carvings

This Maya writing is on the underside of one of the lintels.  A good reason for tall people to duck and look up!

This Maya writing is on the underside of one of the lintels. A good reason for tall people to duck and look up!

A close-up of one of the stelae carvings.

A close-up of one of the stelae carvings.

Another fantastically detailed stelae close-up!

Another fantastically detailed stelae close-up!

Check out the staircase leading up from the main plaza to the Great Temple.

Check out the staircase leading up from the main plaza to the Great Temple.

The Great Temple, which still has a fair amount of the roof comb intact.

The Great Temple, which still has a fair amount of the roof comb intact.

The Maya in Yaxchilan supposedly believed their world would end if the head of this warrior, in the Great Temple, were replaced.

The Maya in Yaxchilan supposedly believed their world would end if the head of this warrior, in the Great Temple, were replaced.

Three temples sit perched a few hundred feet above the river and the main site.

Three temples sit perched a few hundred feet above the river and the main site.

A cross-section of a building shows just how big a fan the Maya were of this arch (sorry, I'm obsessed).

A cross-section of a building shows just how big a fan the Maya were of this arch (sorry, I'm obsessed).

Getting to Yaxchilan in Chiapas

Since Julie’s been slacking off a bit of late, I decided to revisit my promise made in my original post on our trip to Chiapas to check out Palenque with a rundown of our visit to the Mayan archeological sites of Yaxchilan and Bonampak southeast of Palenque.

Yaxchilan, on the west bank of the Usumacinta River which forms the border between Mexico and Guatemala, was a large regional center and a rival of Palenque (fought in 654), among others.  It seems war wasn’t its forte as I believe they were dominated pretty badly on at least a couple of occasions.  Yaxchilan was at its zenith during the long reigh of King Shield Jaguar II, who lived into his 90s (unthinkable at that time) and died in 742; the city was abandoned around 810 AD.  Yaxchilan is known for excellent sculpture including carved stela and narrative stone reliefs on lintels (the top of the door frame which spans temple doorways).  If you visit, make sure to crouch down in the doorways and look up – some of the coolest and best-preserved carvings are on the lintels.

The crew - Ashley, Bertie, Nicole, Alla, Emily, Ben and John!

The crew - Ashley, Bertie, Nicole, Alla, Emily, Ben and John!

Getting to Yaxchilan is half the fun.  First, one makes the ~2.5 hour drive (we had our own car) from Palenque to the town of Frontera Corozal, largely by way of the Carretera Fronteriza before taking a really cool 30-45 minute boat ride to the site.  The road is very nice compared to others we’ve driven, though be sure to start from Palenque with a full tank or make sure you hit the one gas station we saw on they way…it’s in a small town 30-45 minutes from Palenque; I believe it’s also the location of the first military checkpoint we hit – and where I took the below photo.

You may recognize this woman's striking Maya features on subsequent photos!

You may recognize this woman's striking Maya features on subsequent photos!

Like most of Mexico, it’s inadvisable to drive at night to avoid hitting animals, people, topes (speedbumps), and lastly (and likely the smallest threat) because a handful of signs along the road proclaim that this is EZLN territory (the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, a revolutionary group comprised largely of indigenous Maya folks whose 1994 uprising was quickly put down by the Mexican Army).  To be clear, we felt completely safe and no one we talked to in Palenque or elsewhere offered warning, but as we joked, it’s all good until dudes with guns jump out of the jungle. 

The countryside is lush with rolling mountains everywhere; standards of living are very basic.

The countryside is lush with rolling mountains everywhere; standards of living are very basic.

Escudo Jaguar  may be the only gig in town for lodging; it offers cute, if basic bungalow-style rooms at very reasonable rates which start around $20 and go to $60 for a triple w/ 3 double beds.  The grounds are very well maintained and folks are friendly.  We only ate there given our one night stay; the food was fine but runs no danger of being labeled gourmet.

 

The digs at Escudo Jaguar

The digs at Escudo Jaguar

The river and embarcadero (boat launch) is just a couple hundred meters away, and you can arrange a boat to depart at your leisure.  I HIGHLY recommend leaving at or just before sunrise; we left around 6:30 am and Escudo made us box-breakfasts for dining on-board.  Watching the sun rise and fog lift from the river was magical, and there’s no gate at the site, per say, so if you get there before the caretaker you can just pay when you leave, after all, it’s one way in, one way out and a looong walk back to Escudo!

Your chariot awaits!

Your chariot awaits!

Gorgeous sunrise

Gorgeous sunrise

Bertie and Nicole are happy campers!

Bertie and Nicole are happy campers!

I'm unsure if this look is "Blue Steel" or "Imminent Death"

I'm unsure if this look is "Blue Steel" or "Imminent Death"

Sorry to keep you all in suspense, but this is already getting long and it’s well past my bedtime, so you’ll have to sit ON THE EDGE OF YOUR SEAT until I can do part 2 “Yaxchilan, this time for real”.  Saludos!

Picturesque Palenque

A few weeks ago while Julie was stuck in class a few friends and I whisked off to spend a long weekend in Chiapas, where we visited the archelogical sites of Palenque, Yaxichilan, and Bonampak – a perfect three-day weekend.  We flew into Villahermosa (in the state of Tabasco) late afternoon on Friday, grabbed a rental car, checked in to the very nice but not overly exciting Crowne Plaza just off Av. Ruiz Cortinez, and went downtown to the Zona Luz, near the river, to check things out.  Paseo Tabasco, the main drag heading downtown to the Zona Luz, has a number of higher-end restaurants and shops.  The Zona Luz itself has some nice pedestrian streets with shops and restaurants, and was bustling with locals on a Friday night; an interesting wander for about an hour, but nothing breathtaking.  While we spent little time there, we found Villahermosa to be a decent jumping-off point catering largely to businessfolk associated with the oil industry, with few tourist highlights except for the Parque-Museo La Venta, a neat museum. 

Heigh Ho Silver, AWAY!

Heigh Ho Silver, AWAY!

We got up fairly early on Saturday and made the ~2.5 hour drive East and South to the archeological site Palenque, a few miles SW of the identically named town.  About 2/3 of the drive is on 186 East, about half of which is four lane; they’re working to expand more of it to four lanes as we speak.  The rest is South on 199 to Palenque.  One highlight of the drive was the frequent and unexplained display of horse statues. 

Palenque, at its height from AD 630 to around 740 and unknown to the Western world until 1746, is noted as a mid-sized site (compared to Tikal and other huge sites), known for its architecture, sculpture, roof comb (more later) and bas-relief carvings.  While a good portion of the central area, assumedly containing the majority of the high-profile buildings, has been excavated, the site exceeds 15 sq km and is less than 10% excavated.  Heat, humidity, and frequent rainfall?  Check. 

Templo de las Inscripciones

Templo de las Inscripciones

The site is amazing, particularly in light of the fact that everything was built without metal tools, pack animals or the wheel.  The precision of the engineering and the scale of the buildings is stunning.  Among the many impressive buildings is the Templo de las Inscripciones, the mausoleum of Pakal, a key ruler from AD 615 to 683 who lived to the incredible age of 80.  Unfortunately, the public can no longer climb this pyramid and descend to his crypt deep inside.  Note the nine levels of the pyramid, consistent with nine elements/levels of Maya mythology.  

Underground river, anyone?

Underground river, anyone?

The present-day structures are impressive in their own right; I can only begin to imagine how amazing they must have been in the height of Palenque’s glory – covered in stucco and elaborately painted in strikingly bold blood-red, blue, yellow, and other colors. 

A couple of decent-sized streams/small rivers flow through the site; in the central area the Maya built an underground channel for the river, then covered it with a vaulted ceiling which was approximately at ground level.  I’m unclear whether this was used as a source of drinking water, sanitation system, etc. 

The Palace

The Palace, with its signature tower, is the largest building, with tons of carvings, multiple courtyards, levels, and undergound passages!

One of Palenque's famed roof combs

One of Palenque's famed roof combs

As mentioned previously, many of Palenque’s temples have roof combs made of stone, then covered with stone carvings, and/or stucco and paint.  Some of these grid-like structures are more than 30 feet tall; on some buildings, all that remain are the footings. 

Temples, Temples everywhere!

Temples, Temples everywhere!

The classical Maya arch

The classical Maya arch

The courtyards are another impressive but little-noted feature of the site – one thing you quickly notice is that very little of Chiapas is flat, so the construction of these broad, open courtyards must have been a hell of a lot of work.  The Maya arch is an archtectural feature found at all three sites we visited.  Many buildings are rectangular; upon entering you find yourself in a Maya arch hallway that runs from left to right; larger buildings employ more complex forms. 

One of the many bas-relief carvings

One of the many bas-relief carvings

Given sufficient demand I might be convinced to post entries on Yaxchilan and Bonampak, but for now I’m all Indiana Jones’d out!

Chiapas-style Car Wash

John made it down to Chiapas this past weekend (while I was stuck at class busy being a brilliant MBA student). A summary from him should be forthcoming, but in the interim, I was entertained by this photo of a car wash along the Usumacinta River along the border of México and Guatemala.

Because sometimes it is just easier to bring your car to the water, than the water to your car.

Because sometimes it is just easier to bring your car to the water, than the water to your car.

 

A gentleman hard at work keenly assessing his car's dirtiness from his vantage point on a rock.

A gentleman hard at work keenly assessing his car's dirtiness from his vantage point on a rock.

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