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