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Published: November 5th 2009
road or river
the photo dosen't really do it justice - it was torrential rain
The groups grasp of Spanish is somewhat questionable. Everyone has the hang of 'mas cerveza por favor' (more beer please) but when faced with the road sign 'despacio - curvas peligrosas' everyone goes great lots more sweeping bends and hairpins to ride at high speed!! It actually means 'slow - dangerous bends'. While the boys are all excited by the 'curvas peligrosas' I'm excited by the fact that we are now heading into 'ruin territory' and will be passing through areas inhabited by numerous pre-Colombian civilisations.
Overnight there were torrential rainstorms. Consequently the roads are well flooded and there are waterfalls coming off every building, even the manhole covers are starting to lift as the drains are so full. Kit up for a wet day and set of (thankfully not on cobbled streets). Are still in green fertile country and all the rivers we cross are well high and flowing rapidly, some have actually burst their banks. Today there weren't too many bends as we are heading for the Caribbean coast. Most people went straight to the hotel for a relaxing afternoon on the beach. However, we are now well and truly in ruins territory so when the route went
within 10 miles of the ruins at El Tajin we went off on our own little expedition. The ruins date from 600-900AD but nobody seems to know who built them. Its a huge site with lots of stepped pyramids, ball courts where the losing team lost their and remains of some grand dwellings probably for royalty. We still make it to Costa Esmeralda for an afternoon swim in the Caribbean (naked of course in the true tradition of this trip).
Keep going south along the coast - past the place where the Spanish first landed, through Veracruz and overnight at Catemaco on the edge of the lake and an ideal location for sundowners, through we did do our duty and walk round the mains square and pop our heads in the pretty little blue and white church first. Stopped briefly on route at Santiago Tuxtla to see the largest (3.4m diameter, 50 tes) and smallest (1.47m diameter) Olmec Heads. They don't know much about the Olmecs as the only stone structure were the carved heads. Everything else was made of wood and mud and as they were around in 1000BC none of it has survived. They think they were
one of the first central/south American civilisations and were the forerunners of the Aztecs, Inca, Maya etc.
There are plenty of little roadside stalls en-route. They are a bit like buses; there will be none for miles then suddenly there will be 20 banana stalls in a row. Then nothing for miles and mile until you get to a row of 15 honey stalls etc etc - the same pattern is repeated with grapes, furniture, oranges.
Now we're heading away from the coats and into jungle territory, it is well hot a sticky. This is the heart of Olmec country so its another detour to La Venta where the Olmecs hung out between 1200-400BC. At the centre of the site is a 30m high pyramid and they think it was the very first pyramid to be build in central/south America and was supposed to represent a sacred volcano. All the Mayan, Inca and Aztec pyramids have stemmed from this one. Even through its the middle of the day, 38C and very humid I feel compelled to climb it - it is the first pyramid in the Americas afterall. There are more heads here and other statues but the
stone is not form here its from miles away - how did they transport such huge lumps of stone? There were loads of little jar figurines buried under the statues - obviously some sort of ceremonial site. Even with our detour we still make it to the hotel in time to splash around in the pool.
We have now reached Palenque, a big Mayan site so we have a full day of ruins. This was another enormous city and only a tiny portion of it has been reclaimed from the forest. It was inhabited round 300-900AD and most of the stone building still standing are the remains of palaces and temples. Once they were all covered in painted stucco but now only the stones remain with just a glimpse of bright colours here and there. Inside the main temple is Pacal's grave. When I was here last many, many years ago you used to be able to descend to see the tomb but now its considered too dangerous so we have to make do with the reconstruction in the museum which also contains some well impressive and intricate incense burners.. The whole site is surrounded by jungle, indeed most
the main ceremonial pyramid
of the site is still under the jungle. Go for a guided walk through the jungle and there are strange shaped mounds and piles of rock everywhere. Sometimes a roof has collapsed and you can peer inside a as yet un-excavated building.
Now we are on the last leg of our Mexican journey; up through the jungle, via various impressive waterfalls, to the little town of San Cristobel de Las Casas. Another quaint little town with a relaxed atmosphere for chilling out but definitely with more gringos than we have seen in the hwole of the last week. As we get closer and closer we start to see far more people in traditional dress with Mayan features and stature. And at the market in San Cristobal there are all sorts of wonderful costumes. I've added far to many photos but all the costumes are so wonderful - a taste of things to come in Guatemala.
So tomorrow, having covered 2272 miles in Mexico we head for Guatemala and a whole new adventure.
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