Two nights in this lovely town high up in the mountains. Sadly all the churches are closed due to earthquake damage.
An exciting afternoon spent jumping down the cascades and entering caves behind the waterfalls.
Two nights in this lovely town high up in the mountains. Sadly all the churches are closed due to earthquake damage.
Today was just a touch brutal, metaphorically speaking. We were up at 4.00 to leave at 5.00 to cover the large distance between Oaxaca City and our next destination, Chiapa Do Corzo in Chiapas State.
50 minutes after leaving, we pulled up at our first stop of the day - El Árbol de Tule. This is the largest tree in the world with a trunk measuring some 14m in diameter. It's not as tall as the Sherman sequoia in the US bit it's huge. At least, I think it was as it was hard to see in the pitch black with only a few street lights to illuminate the spectacle! I think the picture gives some idea of its scale but there you go.
Clambering aboard our bus in the cool dawn air, we set off for our next archaeological site, the Zapotec centre of Mitla. Much like Monte Alban, this was built on a hill and was a place of Royal life and ceremony, including human sacrifice and the offering of human hearts to the gods. However, it was much more compact and intact than the previous site. This was due to it being reinhabited by the Mixtecs and their allegiance with the Spanish. Furthermore, this was the first site where they found tombs, which we duly explored although they were small.
The most remarkable thing about Mitla were the wall frieses that are all original and over 2000 years old. The geometric patterns represent various gods and also the Zapotec belief in the circle of life, death and rebirth.
It took about an hour all told to explore the entirety of the site and so at about 10:00, we boarded the bus and there we stayed, barring comfort breaks, until we reached Chiapa Do Corzo at 20:00!! That's right, 15 hours since we left Oaxaca City!
The journey was pretty tortuous. The bus wound its way up and down mountain roads for the vast majority of the journey with only the last 3 or 4 hours on a straight road known as 'La Ventosa' or the windy one. Chiapas State, due to its positioning in the country, is buffeted by winds and, therefore, the Mexicans have taken advantage of this and built wind farms all along this stretch of the terrain. To be honest, I lost track of time on the coach so we could have been on La Ventosa 30 minutes, 4 hours or 5 years for all I knew! To compound the misery of 15 hours on the bus, I chose to sit on the wrong side meaning that the sun beat down on me for most of the journey. I didn't realise this due to the A.C. on the coach but now i know why I was feeling so ill at ease! I got pretty fed up with listening to music too so there was little relief from the monotony because I'm totally incapable of reading on a bus without projectile vomiting everywhere after about 10 minutes!
As you can imagine, I was tired and emotional by the end of the journey. A limp tuna salad and a beer at the hotel did little to alleviate my ennui, so I will retire to bed hoping for better things tomorrow!Read more
Well, we left Chiapa Do Corzo this morning much as we found it i.e. totally untouched and unexplored, It literally was an overnight stop, although we did learn why the state is called Chiapas. It means the 'Place where Chia Grows.' So those of you who have the trendy chia seeds on their breakfasts and in their smoothies, this is the place they come from. Nevertheless, it did serve one purpose in that it is the gateway town to our first stop and adventure of the day - the Sumidero Canyon
Originally a wide canyon with the Rio Grijalva, a raging torrent of a river carving its way through it, since the building of a dam further upriver in 1981 it has calmed down and is perfectly suited to being explored by speedboat. So this is what we did.
A natural haven to local fauna and flora, our expert captain guided us up to the Gate of the Canyon (the three cliffs in the first picure that have now become the emblem of Chiapas State). Once these had been broached, we entered the Canyon properly and the native wildlife introduced themselves to us. Firstly was vulture beach where the small Black Vultures go to rest and dry off. We were told that they are essential to the area as they deal with all the carrion in the Canyon and keep it clean.
We were venturing further downstream when we suddenly veered off as our eagle eyed captain spotted another inhabitant of the river - a crocodile. It was a big one and knew it was being watched a filmed. It hung around for about a minute, long enough for pictures to be taken and then with a flick of its tail, glided off into the depths of the river.
Off we set again so that the captain could introduce us to the Canyon's celebrities, two Spider Monkeys called Panchito and Alondra. Pictured is Panchito, the male, having a relax in a tree and taking it all in his own time. They both know they're famous and turn out time and again to entertain the tourists.
We also spotted grey herons, white herons and even a night heron. We were also hoping to see pelicans but they proved elusive.
After a good couple of hours speeding up and down the river, we stopped for a quick and early lunch, and then boarded our trusty bus for the journey to San Juan Chamula. This was a very strange and mysterious place. Firstly, on arrival, there is a huge sign outlining what you can and cannot do in the village, the main one being that you can't take photographs particularly of the inhabitants as they believe it steals their souls. The main reason for visiting, however, was to see the Templo San Juan dedicated to St John the Baptist who the locals revere above old Jesus himself. And this is where it get interesting. They have rejected traditional Catholicism and have come up with their own mix of Christianity, mysticism and indigenous Shamanism. They do allow photos of the outside but the inside is fiercely protected, so the white building is the Templo.
On entering, the first thing to notice is that the floor is tiled and covered with dried pine needles. This means it is as slippery as anything to start with before you get used to it. The walls are festooned with cabinets featuring creepy (in my opinion) models of all the important saints but Jesus was only to be found in a couple on the right hand side of the building. There is no priest and no real main cross laden altar. The worshippers come in, find a space near the saint they want to pray to and clear a space on the floor. They then add to the space a number of thin candles, both tall and short, which they then light and start chanting. The chant is possibly in the local language or possibly speaking in tongues and, apparently it can go on for hours although while we were there it seemed that when the candles go out, the time is up.
As we were leaving, men dressed in white headscarves, wearing a sleeveless jerkin made of white wool, white shirts, 3/4 length white trousers and special ceremonial sandals entered followed by women dressed in black shawls carrying large open cauldrons/censers burning a heavily scented local wood called Copal. Our guide informed us that the men were the local village police force and that it was a special ceremony. They party advanced a bit, stopped, chanted for a bit and then moved on. This was repeated twice more before we left, so we guessed they had a very important prayer as they were edging towards the sort of altar at the back wall.
It was all very strange but hugely atmospheric and absolutely fascinating if a little bonkers.
Our last stop for the day was San Cristóbal De Las Casas, where our hotel was and where we'll be staying for 2 nights. Our orientation walk revealed to us a lovely town, slightly akin to Oaxaca City, but unlike OC it felt both touristy and local at the same time. Unfortunately, we can't see inside any of the notable buildings as there had been a strong earthquake in the region in September 2017, and they are currently being repaired and restored after some extensive damage.
We had a group dinner in a local restaurant where I got a touch of the Pox... Fear not, no illness here, but Pox (pronounced Posh) is a local sugar cane based spirit brewed locally. I can't say it tasted of much but at around 60% alcohol, you certainly had a warm feeling as it headed down. Dinner was another local dish of a mixed meat platter called Parradilla - a generous mix of beef, chicken, pork, chorizo, pineapple and potato, all grilled and served on a hot plate. We shared it amongst 4 of us but only needed to order a two person portion, such was the size of it.
After dinner, the a group of us headed to a local bar where we consumed a couple of buckets full of a bottled oscura (dark) beer and listened to the latest R&B and dance hits in both English and Spanish. We all rolled back to the hotel happy, full and merry,, looking forward to our free day in the town where we can explore and shop to our hearts delight. Happy days!Read more
To be honest, there's very little I can say about today as it involved a 9 hour drive from San Cristóbal De Las Casas to Palenque. A couple of highlights were the shrimp farms dotted along one of the rivers and some of the more interesting topography of Chiapas state.
We stopped for a fairly miserable lunch at a Mexican chain restaurant called VIPS. You know it's miserable when you wished you had the foresight to use the pedestrian bridge and cross the road to visit either the McDonald's or the KFC located on the other side!
After leaving at 8:00, we reached our hotel in Palenque around 17:00 and, I have to say, it proved a pleasant surprise. A 4* hotel with comfortable rooms, all mod cons and a well stocked bar, we forewent a splash in the pool for a quick rest before dinner.
A group meal followed at a well rated local restaurant, where I had a local specialty called Arrecherazo - grilled steak with bacon, onions, peppers and cheese. It was pretty tasty, especially with the contents wrapped up in a corn tortilla with a freshly roasted spicy habanero sauce.
Suitably satiated and reinforced by a Margarita and a beer, I retired to bed happy, full but tired ready for our day's exploration of the Mayan site of Palenque tomorrow. Think I'll sleep well tonight.Read more
Our free day started with a hearty breakfast Mexican-style for me - Chili Relleno (stuffed chilli), Frijoles y Salsicha (Black bean and sausage stew) and Tamales con Pollo en Mole (steamed corn meal parcels stuffed with Chicken in a Mole sauce). Filling and just what I needed for our day's exploring.
With no set agenda, we walked through the town. We visited the Jade Museum, where the history of Jade use in Mexican culture and ceremony was explained. We were also told of how it is obtained, the different colours and how it is used in antiquity and in modern jewellery. Within were an impressive set of replicas of important artefacts, particularly the death mask of the Mayan ruler, Pakal II, lord of the large city state at Palenque, which we will be visiting in a couple of days. Purchasing opportunities were offered but politely declined.
After a bit of souvenir/present shopping, we stopped off at a really lovely cafe where they blend and roast their own coffee. Such was its quality, we had to buy some from their shop to bring home.
We then headed to the local craft market to have a gander. There was an array of native clothing, jewellery in amber and jade, wooden souvenirs and other tchotchkes to be purchased. We didn't, as I really couldn't find anything I really felt like bringing home.
This brought on more thirst, both for drink and knowledge, so we headed to Kakaw, the Chocolate Museum. Once again, we learnt of the history of chocolate, its use throughout Mexican prehistory up to the current day, how it is grown, produced and made into the food we recognise. This time we did decide to sample the product and I had traditional Xocolatl - hot chocolate made with water, 70% cocoa chocolate and a touch of sugar. It took a while to get used to the thin consistency and lack of fat and binders that are usually in hot chocolate but it was a delicious, thirst quenching and deeply satisfying drink.
After consulting our guidebook and with a nod given to our tour guide who suggested visiting the local food market used by the inhabitants of San Cristòbal, we traversed the town once again and found the Mercado Municupal. An Aladdin's cave of culinary treasures, homewares, clothes and bikes to name just a few, I managed to secure my 3rd purchase of dried chillies, Chile Ancho, to add to the Chipotles and Guajillos that I bought in Oaxaca Market. The array of fresh produce, both familiar and unfamiliar, was astounding and the pride in which they were displayed was almost humbling.
During our explorations of this labyrinthine place, we stumbled across the covered part of the market where they sold the meat, poultry and fish. What was remarkable about the place was the lack of smell. Nothing was malodorous, rotten or putrid. Everything was spankingly fresh. The fish were still stiff, the meat & sausages were clean and appetizing, and the poultry, I suspect, was freshly prepared. I understand that this may be some people's idea of the 7th circle of hell but to a devout foodie like me, I couldn't help but be mightily impressed and wish that there were affordable, high quality markets with Class A produce like this in the UK. Maybe we'd understand more about food, its value and provenance if we had to shop like this.
Weary and walked out, we headed back to the hotel. After a short rest, we met up with some of our group to go to a restaurant serving traditional Mexican cuisine called, La Lupe. It has been my aim during this holiday so far to try and eat only proper Mexican food and keep it as local and tradition as possible. This restaurant didn't disappoint with fresh flavours, classic dishes, properly spicy sauces and a fantastic Margherita cocktail.
We had planned to go to the Revolution bar for a couple of drinks and to listen to some live Latin music but the food, alcohol, walking and travelling finally took their toll and we retired early, ready for another long drive to Palenque tomorrow.Read more
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!Read more
This Mayan site is hidden in the jungle.
Palenque is one of Mexico's most celebrated archiological sites, located amidst the jungles of Chiapas. 1400 temples and other stone ruins lie beneath the forest floor, with only a handful completely excevated and another 20 or so visible to visitors.
We started with a jungle tour, where a local guide showed us some of the hidden temples beneath giant trees (pictures 4 and 5 are in temples below the forest), today home of thousands of bats (pic 4 has 4 in it) and snakes (luckily, no pictures here ;) ). We also swam in a small waterfall and swang from vines, you know, the things expected of foreigners in the jungle ;)
Our little jungle trip was followed by a historic tour of the fully excevate temples and a royal Mayan palace. We learnt that the Mayans had flowing water systems, lots and lots of kings, who liked to be buried in fancy tombs with jewelry, jade stones and masks and to sacrifice people to the gods. But never rabbits, they were sacred and not to be killed.
The most fascinating thing to me is the fact that the jungle has claimed back this place, overgrowing the old city with tens of meters of plants, dirt and giant trees. Makes me feel quite small and humbled, in a perfectly good way.Read more
You might also know this place by the following names:
Estado de Chiapas, Chiapas, CHP, تشياباس, Chiapase osariik, チアパス州, 치아파스 주, Чьяпас, Чяпас, 恰帕斯州