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  • Day11

    Mayan majesty and a wonderful waterfall

    March 5, 2018 in Mexico ⋅ ☀️ 24 °C

    A relatively late start of 8.00 by current standards saw us set off for our first meeting with the Maya, the last of the historical cultures that we were due to meet during this trip. This is because, from this point forwards, all of the archaeological sites we will visit will be Mayan. Actually, the Mayans are still very much in evidence in the modern world and live throughout Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras.

    A short drive from Palenque, the town, had us to the gate of Palenque, the ancient city state. I should perhaps explain. Each archaeological site we have visited was a state in its own right, with its own rulers, elite, workers and slaves. Although there were alliances with other states, they were more often in conflict with each other; particularly the differing Mayan cities.

    Palenque is one of the biggest of the Mayan sites and was ruled over in its prime by Pakal II, who we've met a couple of times already. The site is imposing and magnificent in its scale. The first three buildings you come across on entering are three pyramid-like building - The Temple of the Skulls, The Temple of The Red Queen and the Temple of The Inscriptions, although they're not technically pyramids. The Temple of the Skulls is named so due to the very detailed carvings of Skulls at the base of the columns supporting the roof. Unfortunately, this is closed off to the public so a zoom in on a camera is the only way to see them.

    The Red Queen's temple housed the tomb and sarcophagus of one of Pakal's wives. It is called this as the inside of the sarcophagus and the Queen's bones were painted red. It appears that Royalty were buried with their finery and then, at a much later date, they were removed, their bones painted red and reburied with everything replaced as it was originally found. The Queen's tomb was open for exploration and was suitably grand and eerie at the same time considering I was standing in the burial place of someone who lived almost 1500 years ago.

    This theory was further proved they found the intact tomb of Pakal deep within the Temple of The Inscriptions, as it was undisturbed since antiquity. The biggest of all the pyramidal structures in Palenque, it was given that name by the first western explorers to the site in the mid to late 1800s who saw the intricate Mayan glyphs inscribed at the top. It wasn't until 1952 that a Mexican archaeologist named Alberto Ruz discovered the hidden entrance and painstakingly excavated the site step by step until he reached the tomb secreted beneath the base of the structure itself. There he found the undisturbed tomb with all of the artefacts inside and Pakal' s red painted skeleton.

    It's interesting that if you've ever heard of rumours of Aztecs or Mayans being aliens or meeting aliens, it comes from the lid of Pakal's sarcophagus. Intricately carved, it depicts the ruler with the gods of the underworld beneath him. According to Mayan funeral rites, he would have had to pass the through the 9 levels of the underworld, each with its attendant god, before being able to be reborn. Then, from his abdomen grows the tree of life that signifies his rebirth. Viewed straight on, it is very clear that this is the depiction. However, viewed side on, you could interpret it that Pakal is piloting a strange shaped rocket sitting atop a motorbike!

    Unfortunately, again, we were not able to see the inscriptions or the tomb due to the fact that the structure is built of soft limestone that is subject to wear. A more disturbing reason is the carelessness of tourists who have touched and sometimes graffitied the place over the years. I don't really understand the actions of a mindless few who have no real regard for history and the preservation of treasures. I suppose It is the same mentality in selfie culture where people are more interested in having a picture of themselves in front of something rather than having any regard for the place itself, what it represents and what treasures, literally and metaphorically, lie inside. Nevertheless, it was still a wonderful site to behold as the numerous pictures I took from different angles and viewpoints will attest.

    The next complex we saw offered plenty of opportunity for clambering and exploration: The Royal Palace and Observatory - which is the tower in the picture. The palace contains detailed stelae and carvings, particularly one showing Pakal being 'crowned' and advised by his mother. He doesn't look too happy in it but they assume it meant to represent the seriousness and fortitude shown by the young man in becoming ruler. Another amazing set of carvings showed the capture of rival Mayans as slaves. Being an hierarchical society, high born captives would be prize possessions and would be kept as slaves as demonstrations of power and principle. It appears from all current research that once captured and held in another's state, the rival leader would submit without struggle to the will of the victor. This may have been a political move to save the lives of his retinue as the Mayans practiced human sacrifice but a lot of it is still guess work as they are still attempting to decipher and translate the glyphs.

    We climbed, entered and explored every monument in the site that we could, including another ball game court that again proved the importance of this sport/ritual across North and Central America during a period of almost 1000 years.

    An appetite and thirst duly worked up, we stopped off for lunch and a drink before heading off to our chance to swim in a waterfall. However, our lunch was disturbed by an awfully loud squawking from outside. On further investigation, 3 beautifully coloured red Parrots were having a right old time in the trees outside the restaurant. I would have posted a picture of them but my phone camera doesn't do them any justice so I'm hoping that Nigel's spiffy DLSR has captured their beauty.

    Clambering back aboard our trusty bus, we took the short drive to the Misol Ha waterfall. Having got all hot and sweaty from the morning's explorations, I was itching to get into the clear water. However, I couldn't believe that only Nigel wanted to join me in the pool. This is because Anna, our guide, had convinced everyone else that it was cold. Nothing was further from the truth! It was cooling on this hot sunny day but I'm guessing it was warmer than your average swimming pool back home. Truth be told, on seeing Nigel and I enjoying ourselves in the water, another of our party Sue, a game old lady of around 70, decided to join us for a swim. She actually thanked us later as she was so glad that she hadn't missed out on the experience because she wouldn't have gone in without us! I actually had envisaged swimming under the drop of the waterfall but as I swam near, I could feel the force of the water and its undertow so I skirted its full force but caught the periphery of its spray.

    Suitably refreshed, we headed back to our hotel where the pull of more time in the water, this time in the hotel pool, proved irresistible as did the nice cold beer. Another trip to last night's restaurant beckoned as it was a 2 minute walk from the hotel. I feasted on Pork in Adobo Sauce, more beer & tequila and a version of Crepes Suzette that was prepared theatrically at the table side by a skilled water and which was pimped up by the addition of nutella and home made ice cream. I am hoping that this proves to be the sustenance needed for another early start tomorrow morning as we head off to the last place we'll visit in Mexico and a stay in a riverside lodge. Night all. Hic!
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