Thursday, 18 April 2013

Triple Temple Tour

We've seen a few Mayan sites over the course of our travels but I think we are now filled to the brim (but with all this good stuff!).  Yesterday the boys started a writing assignment about all the Mayan ruins they have seen on our trip... 7 sites in total... pretty cool.  I was impressed that they actually remembered which was which and then wrote about their main features.  It was actually Sean's idea to do this for their "writing for the day" (they usually prefer creative writing where they just write their wacky stories for fun).  I was surprised how easily it all worked.  Sean came up with the overall idea, then how to structure it (!) and then they both worked together getting the main ideas down. Maybe this homeschooling thing is working... just keep it simple and trust, in time, it will all come together.

But... the ruins.  We've seen three amazing sites while in here in the town of Palenque.  One being the Palenque ruins which is a really pretty site set amongst jungle and has a Palace complex that is quite  intricate and interesting to walk through.  The site has many carvings, bas reliefs, and many are in excellent condition and make references to the kings' of Palenque's devine right to rule by combining imagery of their gods and references to the Royal lineage.  I guess to make sure the masses knew who was still boss.  Our day exploring the site was hot and humid and we were thankful for some cloud cover... but we still left with sweat trickling down our backs.  The whole site is actually quite large and spreads throughout the valley.  Less than 5% of the site has been excavated and opened to the public. After looking around the central plaza we followed a jungle trail which led us to some of the partly excavated sites and a pretty river system.  Following the trail we were flooded by the sounds of the jungle (insects, birds, waterfalls) and the hot humid feel and smell of the tropics (which felt just awesome!) We finished up the day with the museum which housed some of the original carvings, pottery and incensadors (incense burners).

We took a "recovery day" as Sean calls them, before we ventured to the next two archeological sites... Yaxchilan and Bonampak which we saw on a full day tour that started with a 6am pick up at our hostel.  What luxury (the direct pick up I mean.. not the early start)!  We travelled 3 hours back to the Usumacinta river (the same one we crossed coming from Guatemala) and took a lancha for about 1 hour down the river to the ruins.  Yaxchilan was another major contender as Classic Mayan cities go.  The site was really special inpart because it's so remote (access only by boat) and it's been on Eric and my wish list for years (we couldn't access it very easily when we drove through this area years ago).  It's also set amongst deep jungle, ever there to remind us that the forest has domain now.  It's another pretty site with temples built against the bank of the hills.  It has carved lintels (the part that holds up the door frame... usually made of wood but these were made of huge stone slabs).  It wasn't a huge site so it felt more intimate wandering through.  And the bats hanging from the roofs and swooping around as we went through some of the vaulted chambers and passageways was pretty cool too!

After our time in Yaxchilan (we would have liked more time to let it all soak in but we were on the tour schedule), we took the boat back up the river, had lunch which was organized for us, then moved on to the Bonampak ruins.  Our driver, Freddy, was so sweet with his big smiles (and gold teeth... we see a lot of people with gold dental work), opening the doors and guiding us through the day.  The Bonampak Ruins are within the Lacandon (Maya) area, the indigious people in this part of Chiapas, and they seem to control it fairly tightly so Freddy couldn't take us all the way to the ruins.  We had to leave the comfort of our A/C spacious mini van and take a old beaten up, cramped taxi ride down a dirt road.  I guess because the taxi driver is a Lacandon?  We were not sure but at the town we did the transferred at and at the site we could see Lacandon children (girls and boys) in their traditional dress (plain cotton cloth about shin length with their hair long but with bangs... and no shoes).  But the ruins... the main attraction there is the incredible well preserved wall paintings.  Most of the Mayan sites have stone carvings or bas relief of kings in their finery and Mayan glyphs that you don't really understand but that look really interesting.  But here... there are paintings of people... still probably the nobility but with individualized faces, different dress and all telling a story.  A pretty horrific story really... one room depicts a parade and preparations for a great war, the second room exhibits the war scenes with blood letting and sacrifices and beheadings, and the third room shows the celebration after the success of the war.  But the colours and drawings... it made the ancient Maya people come to life.  All the Mayan ruins that we've been to tend to be characterized as being built during the "classic period" 600-900 AD... so roughly 1000 + years ago.

Well, maybe we aren't done with the Mayan ruins... Sean just asked about our next Mayan site we are going to go to!

Here are the links to the photos if you don't want to view them in the slideshow.

Palenque Ruins          Yachilan Ruins           Bonampak Ruins

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