Yaxchilan

To get to Yaxchilan, was another hour by road, and then a really nice fifty minutes by river boat. Again, I could see this site as a town rather than a religious centre. It had a plaza, a ball court, and several sweat lodges.
>yaxchilan(Why on earth they wanted sweat lodges when the humidity is so high is beyond me!). Built as it is,I had my reservations about this site, because it is such a major tourist hotspot, but it was nice to be proven wrong, and I would strongly recommend a visit. The buildings are impressive, and there didn’t seem too many people there (maybe the time of year). Doing it without a tour was definitely better, as it gave me lots more time to wander around at my own pace, and to be able to sit chilling out at the top of temples… Oh no, hippy alert!! Again, you can tell this site developed from a town into something much more, rather than at Teotihuacan, which was firstly a religious centre. with the wealth of the river, one can see how this town developed over the ages, and became a controlling power within the area.

Palenque

I had my reservations about this site, because it is such a major tourist hotspot, but it was nice to be proven wrong, and I would strongly recommend a visit. The buildings are impressive, and there didn’t seem too many people there (maybe the time of year). Doing it without a tour was definitely better, as it gave me lots more time to wander around at my own pace, and to be able to sit chilling out at the top of temples… Oh no, hippy alert!! Again, you can tell this site developed from a town into something much more, rather than at Teotihuacan, which was firstly a religious centre.

Palenque

Backpacking Mexico – On to Villahermosa

The bus journey to Villahermosa went without a hitch, and they were showing King Arthur on the video screen in English with Spanish subtitles which was convenient for me but not for the forty other Spanish speaking Mexicans! The reason for going to Villahermosa was solely to visit La Parque Venta, which is now the home of the famous Olmec Heads.

Carved out of basalt rock over two thousand years ago, they are puzzling because the figures appear to have African features. Since I can remember I’ve always been into books about unexplained mysteries, and these figures were something I’ve always wanted to see in real life. That’s another line to put a tick next to on my list of  ‘Things I really want to do and see'!
Olmec Head

Campeche

The day after, it was onto Campeche. It was one hell of a long bus ride, during which I got to see King Arthur again (!), and a film called Raising Helen which seemed quite good, but kept going quiet during the important bits. Arrived at Campeche at four, and took a taxi to the Zocola, where I booked into a hostal for two nights. It was Sunday, and the Zocola had been cordoned off so that the women of the town could set their  table and chairs up and play bingo. Wasn’t too sure about the band playing in the bandstand though.
The next day, I was due to go on a tour of Edzna, but had a slight case of the runs so didn’t think it wise. I travelled through India and Asia without having any sort of stomach upset, but this was pretty bad. Three days later, I was down from seventeen violent dispatches a day to just the four… The relief was incredible!

Merida

Uneventful bus journey to Merida, where I ate cakes and Immodium, and the film was some obscure Portuguese one with Spanish subtitles which my tiny brain found to be wholly confusing. On arrival, wandered over the road and booked into the shabbiest looking hotel for four nights for the sheer hell of it. The woman was a bit surprised that I wanted to rent it for the whole night and not just by the hour, but we managed to come to an agreement in the end. I’ve seen ALL sorts of bizarre goings on there, I can tell you!! Much better than TV.

Next day, I bought a bus ticket for the Ruta Puuc, which is a bus which visit’s a handful of minor sites. Who knows, you might be out here one day, so here’s where it goes..

 

5min drop off at Uxmal
30mins at Labnah
30 mins at Xlapak
30 mins at Syil
30 mins at Kabah
2 hours at Uxmal

 

It was worth it, but quite tiring (not too much running to the toilet though!!), and if I could have spent another hour at Uxmal it would have been perfect.

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza
Yesterday, (19.05.05) I took a trip to Chichen Itza, which is about 2 hours journey from Merida. This is the main Mayan site of the Yukatan peninsular, with a spectacular pyramid and the biggest ball court of the ancient American world. Despite the fact the place was infested with tourists, crawling over everything and swarming from place to place (and hey, I was one of them!!), it was really interesting.
I climbed up the inside of the pyramid, to an altar where there is a reclining Chac Mool (God of rain or water allegedly) and a jaguar throne. In the Mayan world, Chac is usually shown as just a face, goggle eyed and with a trunk, whereas the Zapotecs and Aztecs show him as a more human figure, reclining and holding a bowl on his stomach. This is one of the things which makes the site archaeologically important, because it displays such a mix of cultures, although the current theory is that it has always been Mayan, but influenced through trading partners.
I’ve got a slightly different theory , which is that the goggle eyed trunk nosed Chac was a God worshipped in times of peace and plenty, whereas the reclining Chac-Mool was worshipped during drought years, and the plate on his stomach was used to offer sacrifices to the Gods to bring rain. As none of us were alive then, we’ll never know really!!

Tulum

I got to Tulum without any problems, and booked into a hotel near the bus station for a couple of nights. Tulum is divided into two parts, the town, which basically stretches out along the main road, and the beach resorts. Tulum ruins are down by the beach, and although everybody and the guide books says that it is only 2km from the village, they are definitely lying, as it’s a good 45 minute walk there and another 45 back.

The ruins themselves are interesting as it is practically the only Mayan trading port, and takes the form of a semi-fortress, with three walls and the sea its fourth. As a spectacle it was a little disappointing as there were no temples or monuments to speak of, but at least the exercise did me good!! A good couple of restaurants in the town as well, which was a bonus.

 

Coba

 

The next day I caught the local bus to the town of Coba. The village itself wasn’t much to write home about (but I am though!!… strange!!), and the only purpose for its existence is the ruins close by. Once in the grounds of the site, I hired a mountain bike, and cycled from place to place, which was a wise move as some of the buildings were some distance apart. The most impressive was the ’Big Pyramid’, which is apparently the tallest in the Yucatan. It was a good climb up and not for the faint hearted or those suffering from vertigo!!
The views from the top were incredible, and you could see jungle for miles all around. As a priest or King, you would certainly have felt powerful from up there…. Or maybe they just went there to get out from the crowds!!! After finishing cycling around the site, which bought back fond memories of my cycle trip around New Zealand, I walked back up to the village and had a meal. I would have had a couple of hours to wait for the bus, and a couple of Italian ladies were in the same boat, so we decided to club together and get a taxi back instead. Bought a bus ticket for Chetomal.

The border with Belize

 

Chetomal is the border town with Belize. My hotel was expensive, but the room was one of the nicest I’d stayed in for a while. Border towns are funny places, and this was no exception. People from both sides of the border crossing over to buy certain goods cheaper, and smuggle stuff through, and shifty money changers wearing lots of gold. I didn’t really have much to do for the day, as I crossed on the next.

 

Crossing over borders by land is always an experience. You’re never quite sure of the routine, or what will happen. There was a bit of a wait for the bus to fill up before it left, but at about 2 pounds for the 100 mile trip, I wasn’t complaining. Once the bus had filled up with people carrying their bargains for resale back in Belize (sweets, toilet roll and cuddly toys), we were on our way.
There was only one other  Westerner type on the bus. I say type, because I couldn’t work out if he was American, Mexican or European and he was just acting very strangely.  He sat at the back of the bus for the start of the journey, and then as we approached the border he came and sat next to me.  We had to get off the bus first at the Mexican side, and I sailed through with no problems, whilst this guy had to fill out some form or another. Back on the bus, they drove us to the Belize side, where we go off once more. This time, the guy  kept hanging around at the back of the bus so that he was the last one off. I and everybody else breezed through customs with only the briefest formalities and got back on the bus again, but this guy was nowhere to be seen. The bus driver went to look for him, but seems he was detained because five minutes later we left without him.

 

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