Palanque, Chiapis & Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico
10 Feb 2006
|It was a cloudy day when I left San Cristobal de las Casas with several of my new friends from the Backpackers Hostle (great courtyard with a fire ring). We caught a combi, which is basically a van with as many people as can fit, and took off into the mountains of Chaipis. The mountains were covered with pine trees and waterfalls and tiny villages.
When we came down from the mountains into the jungle it wasn't long before we arrived in Palanque. The Mayan ruins are several kilometers outside of the town and quite distinct, what with the hippies and travelers that frequent the ruins. Many come here to eat mushrooms and gaze at the ruins in a psychedelic haze. I found the ruins to be quite exhilirating without the drugs (Thanks Oliver ! )
Though it is not the largest, Palenque is perhaps the most studied and written about of Maya sites. Palenque was the capital of the important classic-age Mayan city-state of B'aakal (Bone). An ancient name for the city was Lakam Ha, which translates as "Big Water" or "Wide Water", for the numerous springs and wide cascades that are found within the site. The heyday of B'aakal was the 5th century AD to the 9th century during which the Mayans had created a society that was very advanced in mathematics, the sciences, art and architecture.
B'aakal produced what is arguably the best-known Maya Ajaw (king or lord), Pacal the Great, who ruled from 615 AD to 683, and left one of the most magnificent tomb-works of ancient Mesoamerica, beneath the Temple of Inscriptions. This is a grand temple atop a step pyramid dedicated in 692 and now closed to the public; inside is an elaborate, long hieroglyphic text carved in stone detailing the city's ruling dynasty and the exploits of Pacal the Great. A stone slab in the floor could be lifted up, revealing a passageway (filled in shortly before the city's abandonment and reopened by archeologists) to a long interior stairway leading back down to ground level and the shrine/tomb of the semi-divine Pacal. Over his crypt is an elaborate stone showing him falling into the underworld, and taking the guise of one of the Maya Hero Twins in the Popul Vuh who defeated the lords of the underworld to achieve immortality.
The Maya civilization alone developed a writing system that provided a complete expression of their language, thus they are the only indigenous people of the Americas with a written history. They also created a calendar system with a 365 day solar calendar. They had a comprehensive knowledge of naked-eye astronomy and charted the movements of the moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and the constellations through the night sky, and marked the position of the sun along the horizon. Their cities rivaled those of Europe at the time, based on their level of sophistication and advancement.
The religious beliefs of the Mayans, like many other Mesoamerican cultures, included human/animal sacrifice. While seen as barbaric to the Spanish conquistadors and people of today, sacrifices were a normal part of daily life. One could take one's own life to appease the gods, to free oneself from mourning the loss of another, or for a cause that was simply trivial.
In another example, it is known that the Mayans played a game involving a ball and sticks in which the captain of the WINNING team would be sacrificed !!! The person who would do the sacrificing was the captain of the LOSING team. Try and wrap your mind around that concept !!??!! (I'm thinking own goal.)
Blood offerings were also a part of the Mayan rites. A woman in the Mayan culture would have to cut a hole in her own tongue after her first child was born and take a barbed rope and pull it through the hole. The blood would then be collected in a bowl under her and burnt along with spices as an offering to the gods. Men would also have to do this, although the hole was cut in a different region, the penis, at which point the barbed rope would be pulled through it.
Note #1: MY CAMERA GOT BROKEN ON THE BUS BETWEEN PALANQUE AND TULUM !!!!!!! Oh Nooooooo !!! (Canon PowerShot SD-300; LCD spontaneously cracked -- Beware of this camera series !!!!! ) Please forgive the out of focus and blurry quality of the Tulum pics.
*Note #2: From here until Miami I was forced to use disposable cameras -- Uughh!