Apocalypto: Mayan ruins, Howler monkeys & Hummingbirds

Published: February 13th 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

"Your lost friends are not dead, but gone before, advanced a stage or two upon that road which you must travel in the steps they trod" Aristophanes

I like starting each blog with a travel quote (the internet is a wonderful thing innit?!) and this one is chosen very much for a special man, Malcolm Taylor – a dear family friend and neighbour who sadly passed away last week.He has known me since I was a foetus, and always read and commented on my recent adventure. This update is dedicated to him.

I am currently nursing a filthy cold (possible a wee touch of flu as I ache like an over stretched gymnast)and have spent far too much of the past few days feeling sorry for myself and berating my laziness in writing up the past 2 weeks of life in Mexico.

We have covered a fair bit of ground since departing the coast and the state of Quintana Roo….those relaxing days on the beach are a distant memory.We journeyed inland into the state of Yucatan and spent a few days in the colonial town of Merida using it as a base for visiting the Mayan ruins of Uxmal (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uxmal) , built during the “Classic” period and the most famous example of the Puuc style (so it says in the Guidebook).It was a beautifully hot sunny day and quite deserted so these mighty pyramids with their stairways to the gods were ours, almost alone.

Accompanied by the sonic squeals of bats which dozed in the sandstone cracks of the temples, we wandered around the site taking in the masks of Chac the Rain God, the underground water-storage systems and the “House of the Governor”, a 100m long structure considered one of the most outstanding buildings in all of Meso-America.

If I am honest in my response to Uxmal…I appreciated being there but when you liken the intricacy of the carvings at Angkor Wat (comparable time period I believe) or the complexity of the Pyramids of Egypt (a zillion years before), I am still left a little underwhelmed by the Mayan ruin experience to date.Uxmal was definitely a whole load of notches up the archeological wow scale than Tulum but I wonder if perhaps I am suffering a case of ABC syndrome (Another Bloody Cathedral).I am lucky enough to have seen and done so much in my life and one cannot help but make comparisons. That’s what we do as humans isn’t it? When we experience life, we assimilate experiences and we cannot help but compare. We compare everything don’t we? We compare ourselves (erroneously) to others, we compare lovers, restaurant experiences or music albums to name but a few examples and at the moment I find myself comparing my response to Mexico and these Mayan ruins with how I felt when I have been in other countries.Sandy too is less than overwhelmed and we are definitely nostalgic for SE Asia.

Heading further South into the state of Campeche there was one set of Mayan ruins not to be missed and that was Palenque (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palenque) – a series of artificial terraces, temples and pyramids surrounded by jungle. Here we based ourselves in the rain forest in a settlement called El Panchan (Mayan for Heaven on Earth) which was set up by an archaeologist called Don Moises some 20 years ago (http://www.elpanchan.com/index_eng.html).Now it is a bit of a hippy hangout (spot the dreadlocks kind of a place) which grew on me.After the first night in a less than salubrious shack we moved into the Jungle Lodge (http://www.elpanchan.com/PANCHAN_HOSPEDAJE_JUNGLE.html) and a cabana up above the heliconia and banana plants.Hummingbirds and butterflies flitted throughout the trees through the shafts of sunlight and in the mornings we were woken by the sound of howler monkeys.I have never heard such an incredible noise from an animal before.With no windows on the cabana, only mesh to keep errant mosquitoes and other biting things out, the sound of the howler monkeys filled our room.Imagine a giant hairy monster snoring, its epiglottis rattling… imagine it waking up and belching, yawning, grunting and then falling asleep again.That is the sound of a howler monkey.In fact, feel free to listen to this http://www.hark.com/clips/xsxtklklwp-howler-monkey

When a group of howlers really let rip, the din can be heard up to three miles away.Our resident monkeys were quite gentle in their calling but the noise is a way to send a clear message to other monkeys: this territory is already occupied by a troop. With our dawn primate alarm call waking us up, we were in the midst of the Palenque archaeological site early and walked round the Palace, Temple of the Inscriptions and Group of the Cross latching onto English speaking tour groups wherever possible to try and learn more about the site than the guidebook offered.To hire our own guide was prohibitively expensive but we got chatting to the charismatic and knowledgeable Patricio – an anthropologist born to Irish-American and Mexican parents. Later that day after the rains had pelted the waxy leaves of the jungle canopy, we sat eating pizza and drinking Negro Modelo beer (my fave type of Mexican beer so far) chatting with this fascinating man.He was a few cervezas short of a full brewery when he asked to join our table but here was a man, passionate about the rights of the indigenous and a literal walking encyclopaedia of Mayan history.He introduced us to fellow archaeologists at El Panchan and even the revered Don Moses himself – now a very white-haired elderly man sat in a corner of his settlement. We had watched Apocalypto (http://uk.imdb.com/title/tt0472043/) that afternoon on the netbook in our cabana and it was interesting to hear Patricio’s opinion: “Trash.Misleading, factually inaccurate rubbish and Mel Gibson should be shot for making such a gratuitously violent depiction of a Race”.Personally, I thought it was a brilliant film – exceptionally well shot and directed and watching it in the jungle of Mexico added to the dramatic response. But I guess we were coming at it from different perspectives….

We departed the party relatively early leaving Patricio on an alcohol-fuelled didactic high and met up by chance the following day at the waterfall of Misol-Ha – a beautiful 35 m cascade that tumbled over jungle clad cliffs into a deep pool. Unfortunately, seeing this and the cascades of Agua-Azul under leaden grey skies and drizzle did not make for a great day. On a bright day Agua Azul is a long series of glittering cataracts coursing over kilometres of lush valley in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas Mountains. With sparkling turquoise water set against a deep green rainforest background, the falls are cited as one of the most spectacular natural attractions in México but on the day we were there it was bloody miserable and less than enticing.

Travelling on through the state of Chiapas, we arrived cold, damp, bedraggled and in the dark to the town of San Cristobal de la Casas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Crist%C3%B3bal_de_las_Casas. The hostale which Patrico had recommended was full but we found a lovely alternative (La Gite de Sol) and made contact with the lovely Kitti and Mauricio – the guys we had met in Cancun on our arrival in the country.They had invited us to stay with them but being frightfully British and terribly German about it all, we didn’t want to impose so opted for the hostale for the first night instead.

Having been in the jungle for the past few days, it was there I got the news of Malcolm passing away and so Sandy and I walked into the town, found a wood-fired pizzeria (we are a little sick of tacos, tostados and quesadillas!), a bottle of fantastic Chilean Cabernet Sauvigon and toasted him and his life (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0852817/ ) – Malcolm Taylor - a talented actor, writer and director.At times a frustrating but wonderful man and a great neighbour, and friend.

The following day the miserable cold and grey had vanished and the sun burned down from the cloudless sky.We explored the artisan, fruit and veg markets of San Cristobal, wandered its cobblestonecolonialstreets and met up with Mauricio and Kitty in the evening for drinks. They drank micheladas – a revolting concoction of beer, lemon, chilli plus Worcester sauce or maggi served in a salt rimmed glass. We tried this Mexican taste sensation but my palate could not fathom pleasure from this liquid monstrosity, unlike atole, a traditional corn based hot drink which is thick and slipey.Flavoured with sugar and fruit this molten nectar warmed up the chilly evenings in a town which is over 7000feet above sea level.

We spent the night at Mauricio and Kitti’s but sleeping on the floor on self-inflating mattresses wasn’t conducive to a good night’s sleep in the chilly temperatures.I snored like a runaway train and Sandy’s back suffered so with grateful thanks we decided to return to a hostale to ensure a decent night’s kip in a bed (gawd –I am getting old!!!).The Posada del Abuelito (http://www.posadabuelito.es.tl ) became our home for the next few nights.A beautiful colonial house in one of the oldest barrios of the city, our room with ensuite for 200 pesos a night (c£10) opens onto a gorgeous courtyard and the most relaxed and gentle atmosphere.

San Cristobal is a fabulous town – a wonderful blend of the colonial and indigenous and a seriously chilled-out vibe…. It’s a very bohemian, eclectic place reminiscent of Brighton in some ways.Lots of facial hair, baggy pants, beads, dreds and piercings on many of the inhabitants.The town oozes music and an ‘alternative’ ambiance. I’m sure I would start to smell of patchouli if I spent too much time here, man!However, I am gutted that I have not been on form and spent much of the time in bed watching back to back episodes of Sherlock.In fact, I seem to have developed an unhealthy attraction to the man himself.Does anyone else fancy him?Or am I just strange?

I must have been a little out of my mind to agree to go rock climbing with Kitti & Mauricio… we caught a collectivo down to the capital of Chiapas, Tuxtla Gutierrez and hiked into the forest.There, the climbing enthusiasts rigged up and shot up vertical escarpments defying gravity, with an agility and nimbleness that left me dumbfounded.I kind of knew I probably wouldn’t a) be very good at it and b) enjoy it very much BUT I couldn’t say for certain without giving it a go.So I donned a harness, Mauricio roped me in and up I went.Dear god, it was hard work…I got so far and decided I had had enough plus I was kinda scared when I looked down.There was hardly anything to grab onto to and I am not exactly wafer light in my constitution so you can imagine how difficult it was to try and clamber up a perpendicular cliff face.Apart from the physical effort and challenge, I couldn’t really see the point…. I much preferred rappelling down! Hahahaha.

Subsequently Sandy and I got attacked by huge Mexican wasps which stung us (she suffered 2 stings, I got 6 ) and jesus f@@k they hurt….Perhaps that is why I have been feeling so pants. However, my puncture wounds have died down whilst hers are giant red welts on her body.Having learnt from the Norwegian Nurses in Bonito, Brazil (when I got stung/bitten by something really nasty and I couldn’t walk), I have drawn in pen around Sandy’s red swollen stings.We shall monitor the spread of the venom as currently she has two huge irritated pink circles of pain on her body.

So folks, that’s where we are now….. all we need now is a dose of Montezuma’s Revenge.I’ll leave you to look that one up!

I think we will be here in San Cristobal for another few days and then it’s time to head east towards the border with Guatemala.We are craving beach-time and sunshine again believe it or not.

Happy Valentines Day (bah!) to y’all (mercifully absent here) and hoping all is well.

H x


13th February 2012

Hello my lovely...as always wonderfully entertaining!!! I was touched by your comments about Malcolm...even though I haven't seen him for years I still have fond memories of him... was gonna write something about life and death but have changed my mind...therefore... enjoy yourself as much as you can! Baci, Miranda xxxx
27th February 2012

Fantastic blog...
I just ran across your blog from the random list of bloggers. I check this occasionally to see if I am missing any good talent out there. Your blog would be even better if readers didn't have to look elsewhere for you pictures. Is there anyway you can post at least some of your better pictures (say 20 per entry) when you find the time, recognizing you are on the road right now. I am Recommending you in the hopes that you will. When you do I will nominate you for Blogger of the Week.
6th March 2012

Hiya - thank you so much for your lovely message. Very pleased you have enjoyed. I love writing! I generally prefer to keep my pics private so just have them on my FB for my 'friends' thats why I haven't put any on here. Sorry about that!

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