November 13, 2004

This morning we took our coffee and walked across the street to the lake. It was that easy. We then strolled past all the lonchas (launches) waiting to take visitors to various spots along the lake. Laguna Catemaco is a very popular vacation spot for Mexicans as it is in the mountains and allows people to get out of the humid lowlands. We also visited the zocalo, the church and the local mercado (market). We were hoping to find someone selling herbs that witch doctors might use. This area is a supposed hotbed of witch doctors and a yearly convention is held here, but we were unable to find any indication of it. Darn.

After leaving the laguna, but before starting out for Villahermosa we backtracked a little ways to see a waterfall we had wanted to see yesterday, but it was raining. Driving through a couple of small villages off the highway and to the end of the road, we came to the 200 plus steps that would lead us to El Salto de Eyipantla. This 40-meter waterfall is quite impressive and we think the rain from yesterday just made it all the fuller.

Driving down out of the mountains, the temperature began to grow warmer and warmer. The sun was going in and out of the clouds but there was no mistaking it, we were heading into the steamy jungles of southern Mexico. On to Villahermosa in Tabasco state.

 

November 14, 2004

With no established campground in Villahermosa, we spent the night in the parking lot of the fairgrounds. It actually was not a bad spot. It was level, there was a guard at night, there wasn’t much traffic noise and nobody bothered us. We’ve stayed in worse!

In the morning we visited the La Venta Museum and Zoo. The museum was established to save the Olmec art found at the archeological site of La Venta, an Olmec community 129 km east of Villahermosa. This unique museum is outdoors and the monuments are placed along a walkway that winds its way through natural vegetation. 

olmec_don.JPG (101455 bytes) The Olmec are famous for their huge basalt carvings of human heads and the park has five of them. More than 2 meters high, they weigh more than 15 tons each. No one has yet figured out how the Olmecs (without the wheel) managed to move these giant basalt heads since the raw materials for them came from an area 100 km away. In addition to these magnificent carved heads, there are many other carvings preserved here, including carvings of animals, children and unusual bearded men.

We also visited the zoo that is part of the park. We generally don’t visit zoos in developing countries, as we don’t like to see the appalling conditions that the animals are kept in, but this zoo was better and it is nice to be able to see the animals up close. We enjoyed the playful otters, the aviary with its toucans, scarlet macaws and peacocks, the crocodiles and turtles and especially the jaguars and other felines. We even saw a baby "tiger cat" that came to the fence when we called to it and climbed up the fencing, all the while practicing it’s fledgling roar.

Our afternoon was spent driving to Palenque where we will see more fabulous ruins.

 

November 15, 2004

After spending the night at a camp within walking distance of the ruins, we got up early and hiked up to the entrance to discover…tourists. Hundreds and hundreds of tourists. Usually when we get somewhere at opening time, we have the place to ourselves. Not here. Everyone obviously had the same idea. This time they had all arrived via large tour buses.

Palenque is one of the more spectacular Mayan ruins. It was built around 500AD and had its heyday from 615-701. It was during this time that Lord Pacal and his son were the rulers. Carvings of them abound and Palenque is renowned for its stucco bas-relief sculpture. Some of them are as tall as three meters.

Deciding against fighting the crowds, we headed off to the more remote sections first. We hiked off into the jungle and visited some less-well preserved ruins along a river and waited until the crowds started thinning out at the more well-preserved and well-known buildings.

Palenque’s best-known building is the Temple of the Inscriptions. This 24-meter high building held the burial site of Lord Pacal hidden for more than a thousand years before it was discovered in 1952. The tomb held a number of artifacts, but the centerpiece is the 5-ton slab that covered the sarcophagus. This slab is carved with the image of Lord Pacal himself surrounded by monsters and serpents, sun and shell signs and many hieroglyphics. Because of the way the Lord is placed in the carving, some people have suggested he looks like an astronaut.

Palenque pan.jpg (120599 bytes)

Fifteen years ago when we visited, we were fortunate enough to see this tomb. Today the Temple of the Inscriptions is closed to visitors. It was very disappointing not to be able to see the tomb again, but we understand that the volume of visitors is stressing the building and the humidity from their breath is causing mildew and fungi to grow.

We also visited the Palace, a large building constructed of many rooms and passageways. It is in this building that you find the most impressive carvings. The building also has an unusual design feature – it has a multi-story square tower said by researchers to have been used as an observatory.

We then followed the pathways down the mountainside and past several additional sets of ruins, and found ourselves overlooking a small cascade of clear water running over pools lined with limestone deposits. It was a beautiful location and a nice way to end our day at the ruins.

Later we headed into town to drop off our laundry, check email and start looking for plane tickets for our flight back to Arizona in December. We took advantage of the quiet afternoon to work on our website updates and for a dip in a nearby swimming pool, ahh.

 

November 16, 2004

Our destination today is fairly close, but located in the jungle along the Mexico/Guatemala border. We’re on our way to visit the Maya sites of Bonampack and Yaxchilan located in the Laconda Jungle.

But before we headed out, we made a foray back into Palanque town to pick up our laundry and fill up our propane bottle. When we arrived on the propane gas dealer, we were told that they could not fill up the bottle due to the type of valve we had. Now we were aware that there might be problems in Central America, but we have used similar valves on other tanks before in Mexico. They offered to change out our OPD valve with a local valve for only 50 pesos, less than $5.00, so it wasn’t really worth arguing about. So we had them change out the valve and now we should be ok throughout CA and SA.

The road out to Bonampak was actually one of the nicer roads that we’ve been on in Mexico. The pavement was good, no potholes and very little traffic. Although Don did get a little bit complacent and drove over a "tope" (speed bump) that was hidden in the shade. After the vehicle landed back on the road, we did a quick search for damage and found that we had only broken one plastic glass – and no damage to the vehicle.

After passing through several Lanconda villages proudly displaying signs showing their support for the Zapatista Rebels, and several military checkpoints designed to control the Zapatistas, we arrived at Bonampak. We decided to make camp for the night and explore the ruins in the morning.


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