Sunday, October 23, 2016

Highlights from Southern Mexico

This will be the last of my 3 missives on southern Mexico.  I learned a lesson on this trip, if at all possible interview your guide before you put yourself in his or her hands.  In my case the guide was not a guide but rather an academic who only knew her own fields of archeology and sociology.  Thank goodness the Spanish Colonial Museum’s curator was with us since she could speak about the churches that we saw.

Having said that, I would have liked to learn more about the current archeology in that part of the world.  I spent about 5 years on the President’s Cultural Property Committee in Washington D.C.  and during the years I was there, the second half of the 1990’s, most of the claims of looting came from Central America.  I don’t remember how much if any discussion about Mexico.   A good part of our trip, however, was on the border of Guatemala, another artificial border so they must be related archeologically.  One of the archeologists on the Cultural Property Committee had spoken about the subsistence diggers, those who dig for archeological materials and sell them on the black market just to survive.  I have never seen such poverty as we passed along the road between the Yucat√°n and Chiapas. There were heavy border guards on the Guatemala border.  I am sure they were there for drugs but probably also for smuggled artifacts.  What a fascinating subject.

We did see some unbelievable archeological sights.  My wife took me to Pompeii years ago and you could walk around a town but most of it appeared more like rubble to a neophyte like me.  In Mexico many Mayan cities were well established by the 3rd century AD.  When the people left because they could no longer farm, the cities were reclaimed by the jungle until they were re-discovered by archeologists. 

There are obviously many spectacular ruins in Mexico and some even more elaborate than what we saw but Edzna in Campeche and Palenque in Chiapas were on the road we traveled.  We also stuck with the most easily accessible parts of the monuments They had the great advantage of not being overrun by tourists so we got to see them up close and personal.  At Edzna we saw just a handful of people, our group doubling the size of this village for the moment!  We could well imagine the leaders bringing their people together to address them from atop the stone pyramids.  Here are a few images.

In Palenque there are, according to the web over 1,400 temples, many still locked within the jungle.  Of course, many have reliefs and hieroglyphics on them as this was certainly a center for trade at its peak between 600 - 800 AD as it is a center for tourists today.  Here you have a couple of images of the monuments on the site plus an interior of the tomb of the Red Queen where my wife dared to climb!

An image I could not resist sharing was as we drove through Chiapas this beautiful view of the mountains through the abundant vegetation.

The site that I found the most incredible of all; was the church of San Juan Chamula.   It is actually the interior that is so exciting and not because of the art.  The church is full of individual worshippers praying in various Mayan languages in front of small altars with various numbers of candles on the floor in front of them, usually without stands just melted to the floor.  It seems that the number of candles depends on the seriousness of “the ask” from god.  One couple in the middle of the church was kneeling, there are no seats, and in front of them were maybe 25 or 30 candles. Their little daughter was lighting the last ones.  The man was holding his wife’s hand up in the air to the large altar in front.  I can only imagine that there was something seriously wrong with it.

One is not allowed to take photographs and one would feel guilty doing so because it is the people praying not the church you would be photographing.  I looked on line and could not find a single photo but in the market opposite the church I did find a postcard.  What a sight to remember!

Here too is an image in front of a church in the nearby village of Zinacantan where a priest is saying an open-air mass to a congregation mostly wearing traditional embroidered costumes.

Mexico is so well known for its music and what might be called their national instrument is the Marimba derived from both African an Central American traditions.  In Chiapas de Corzo we received a complete lesson on the various components of the instrument and how they affect the sound.  We had a one hour private concert at the home of a master Marimba maker, but here is less than a minute of the wonderful music.

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