Mayans and the Mayabell

In my last post, I mentioned the jungle lodge my brother visited a few years ago, sending back photos that have lured me ever since. He talked about the refreshing pool in the lush jungle surroundings, and listening to howler monkeys at night. I’ve wanted to visit since I first saw his photos. So when I called for my reservation, I asked for a more remote room. My request was honored, as I got the last “hut” at the end of the path.

Hut #20 at the end of the jungle path.

A thatched roof “hut” (with all the modern conveniences) will set you back $30 USD per night.

I could have stared out these windows for a week straight…

The Lodge also has an RV Park! No overcrowding here!

Mayabell is the closest hotel to the Palenque archeological site. In fact, I walked there from the hotel, just about a 20 minute walk. The lodge is loaded with jungle ambiance. The tropical vegetation, thatched roof huts, open air restaurant. My room had screened windows on two sides, making it possible to wake up to the hummingbirds in the morning, and fall asleep to the roar of the howler monkeys by night.

The food at the open-air restaurant was actually pretty good!

Oh, that Chiapas coffee!

Temezcal, or as we would call it, a “sweat lodge.”

The howler monkey is the loudest land animal, (the loudest in the animal kingdom being the blue whale.) Pretty remarkable for something that only weighs around 15 lbs! Its call sounds more like a growl than it does a howl, and can be heard up to three miles away. It sounds like a lion’s roar! Howler monkeys rarely come down out of the trees, using their 3 ft long tails as a “fifth arm” to hang out and graze on leaves.

I even saw my first agouti (a-GOO-tee) walk by outside my window. I had to ask, trying my best to describe it to the hotel staff….”like a really big guinea pig.” Unfortunately, I was too slow with the camera. Lying in bed was a feast to the eyes and ears. Oh, how I loved this place!

Having had my curiosity piqued for more information about the Mayan culture, I walked back down the road to Palenque to visit the Alberto Ruz Lhuillier On Site Museum. You may recall from my previous post, Lhuillier was the archeologist who discovered Mayan ruler Pakal’s tomb in 1952, the first royal tomb to be discovered intact inside a pyramid. Prior to that discovery, pyramids were believed to be more ceremonial than funerary. Lhuillier’s remains are entombed right across from the Temple of Inscriptions where Pakal’s tomb was discovered.

A diorama of the Palenque Palace. I wish I knew what purpose the “roof comb” served, as it looks like too much effort to just be decorative…

The museum contains quite a few of the stucco bas-relief carvings still in fairly good shape.

These were incense burners. I believe they are original, save for the upper parts which are in a different color stucco.

I found it interesting how the glyphs, which had to be one of the first versions of the character alphabet, were translated. In doing a google search, I came across an interesting documentary about a young man, David Stuart, who first visited Palenque as a 3 year old child with his dad, who was an archeologist. To keep his son occupied, he had him practice drawing the hieroglyphic characters. Young Stuart completed his first research paper at age 12, and went on to be the youngest recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship, unofficially known as the “Genius Grant.”

Stuart focused more on the visual design of the script, discovering that their language was not comprised of letters like ours, or entire words like Japanese. Instead, it was a series of syllables, when combined, told the history of their rulers and ancestors. (There is a very interesting Nat Geo documentary on youtube if you are interested in knowing more.)

Many of the door facings and walls were covered in these “glyphs.” Each symbol within the square has a syllabic meaning, when grouped together form names, dates, etc.

This funerary mask, made from malachite tiles, was found in the sarcophagus of the Red Queen, 7th century AD.

It’s easy to see the Mayan features in the stone masks mirror those of the funerary masks.

Funerary masks were used to cover the faces of the royal dead, just as in the tombs of Luxor, Egypt.

Other funerary offerings were found in the Red Queen’s tomb as well, these made from jade.

Palenque was known for their elaborate “censer stands,” or incense burners.

Many recommend visiting the museum prior to the archeological site so one has a greater understanding of the significance of the buildings. In my case, I think it was best to do it in the opposite order, as having spent time rambling through the site, I developed a greater curiosity for what was found inside the buildings…working from the outside in.

The replica of Pakal’s tomb, discovered in 1952 by Mexican Archeologist Lhuillier. The original, once open to the public for 5 decades, is now sealed back in the Temple of Inscriptions.

Meanwhile, here are some of the many tropical flowers I enjoyed at the Mayabell…

From the Mountains to the Jungle: Palenque

I have to admit, as much as I enjoy world history, I have always struggled to embrace ancient Mayan culture. So a couple of years ago when my brother Don sent back photos of Mayabell, the jungle lodge in Palenque, complete with stories of hearing howler monkeys and photos of floating in the refreshing pool, it was the jungle that intrigued me. Two years later, I hadn’t stopped thinking about that jungle lodge. I had to go there. One of the most significant architectural sites in Mayan history, Palenque, was just a sideline. Continue reading

Reason Enough to Return to San Cristobal de las Casas

As much as I dearly love Colonial Mexico; the cobblestone streets of San Miguel de Allende, the brilliantly painted houses on the hillsides of Guanajuato, when it comes to nature, ”it’s a bit dry.” Particularly at the time of year I typically visit, which is the dry season. Getting out into nature means lots of dry scrubby shrubs, cactus, and crunchy brown grass beneath my boots. If one is longing for misty cloud-shrowded mountains, Continue reading

I Stooped to a Group Tour!

I typically steer clear of group tours at all costs when traveling, preferring instead to go at my own pace. The “hurry up and wait” of the group dynamic is tiresome, as is spending time in places where I have no interest (e.g. shopping.) I love learning about the history of a place, but not while standing in a circle in the baking sun with other impatient people whispering, shuffling their feet, etc. And then there’s the dreaded tourist buffet for lunch, which reminds me of dorm food. No, best to go it alone. Continue reading

Walkabout Oaxaca

Like the whole world these days, Mexico is changing rapidly. I notice more and more modern touches year after year. There are improvements in technology and infrastructure. Travel is getting easier, as I can now go online and book my bus ticket, make my seat selection, and pay via PayPal for my electronic ticket to be presented on my iphone. This is a huge new convenience as before, I had to wait to purchase at the bus station. And the first class buses all have charging ports beneath the seats now. Continue reading

Mineral de Pozos

I’ve written many times before about Mexico’s “Pueblos Magicos” program which translates to “Magic Towns.” This program established by Mexico’s Secretariat of Tourism (SECTUR) is a way to recognize certain towns for their historic or cultural ambiance that lends itself to a “magical experience.” I think of it as the urban version of the National Park Service. Just as you can be assured when a park has achieved official “National Park” status, there will be something there worthy of a visit, the same can be said for Mexico’s Magic Towns. There will, in all likelihood, be something Continue reading

Feliz Año Nuevo from the Fun Side of the Wall!

In light of the news lately, one of my dear friends asked me, “What will you do if he follows through on his threat to close the border?” My answer? “Party on…after all, I’m on the fun side of the wall!” 

This past year has felt both toxic and chaotic beyond the point of description. I am happy to see the winds of change blow 2018 on out the door. And as the cacophony of church bells peel outside my window near the Jardin in San Miguel de Allende marking Continue reading

Noche de Paz

Silent Night, Holy Night here in beautiful San Miguel de Allende. I came down south of the border a bit early this year to house sit for a friend and take care of her three cats.   It’s my first Christmas in Mexico, and I must say it now ranks as my favorite holiday here. Past visits have been timed around New Years or Semana Santa (Easter,) so I am enjoying seeing the differences between the celebrations. I find Christmas has a more Continue reading

And Then the Haze Came…

It seems contrary to what we know as typical weather patterns in North America, but May is by far the hottest month in Colonial Mexico.  Locals and expats alike flee the cities of Guanajuato and San Miguel during this month when the heat finally arrives, right before the monsoons come to cool things back down.  It’s a steamy, sticky time when an oppressive brown haze seems to hang in the valley, trapped by the opposing hills. Continue reading

Staired Out in Guanajuato

After living in Guanajuato for almost two months, my brother Don sends me an email asking, “Staired out yet?”   Having lived in Guanajuato himself off and on for the past couple of years, he knows what a mental and physical toll climbing 150 steps, about the equivalent of ten stories every day can take.   It’s not just the climb, but the carry.  Continue reading