Wednesday 1 June 2022

Mayan Empires, Lakes and Cascades

With the new shower all fixed and working perfectly we ventured east and into our third state called Chiapas. 

The climate was definitely changing. 

Some of the roads here are famous for illegal road blocks and robberies. With Pat's expert research we avoided most of the known locations, but some we simply had to run the gauntlet. Luckily so far we haven't experienced such an event.

After a quick overnight stop in the car park of Puerto Chiapas by Isla Cahuare, we took a boat trip on the Rio Grijalva into the Parc Nacional Canon Del Sumidero.

The pretty, and very popular, town of San Cristobel de las Casas is famous for many reasons. Its Culture, Its Cuisine and its Churches to name but a few. Unfortunately, it is most famous for stomach upsets and diarrhea. 

Collectively the town must produce thousands of gallons of the stuff every day. 

I am not sure as to the reasons why this is the case, but I suspect it's probably that the general water supply is in some way contaminated. It's very hard to avoid if you eat out. Armed with this prior knowledge we made the decision that we wouldn't be eating out here. This lasted about a day and we found ourselves eating in several restaurants. On a recommendation, we tried a vegan restaurant. This was the one that caught us out. Don't think I will do Vegan again.

Gravity soon becomes your arch enemy in San Cristobel de las Casas. 

Despite this, we still managed to visit a few of the local places of interest.

The Caves at el Arcotete just outside the town were amazing.

Throughout all of our travels, we have visited many Churches, Temples, and places of worship. However, The Church of San Juan de Chamula is probably in the top three for us.

From the outside, it is quite unremarkable and very similar to the hundreds of other churches in the region. However, once inside you have to just stand there with your mouth open.  This church is where Indigenous beliefs and Christianity fuse. 

Despite there being many Christian effigies, crosses, and paintings etc, the personal praying was very different from your traditional Christian style and was heavily influenced by ancient Mayan cultures including the Tzotzil, Tzeltal, and Mame people. This means that additional deities such as the Sun and the Moon are included in the enthusiastic and ritualistic chanting and praying that can be seen in every part of the Church. 

The floor of the church is covered with straw and pine needles. Thousands of candles are everywhere and the smell of Incense is overpowering. Everywhere people are chanting, mainly in Mayan. Shamans are on hand to bless anything you feel might need a blessing, for a modest fee of course. 

The sacrificing of animals such as Chickens etc is common during ceremonies. I am quite glad we didn't see this. 

Casas Na Bolom ( House of the Jaguar ) is a beautiful home and now museum dedicated to the lives and works of two prominent immigrants who lived and worked in the area from the early 1
Danish born Archeologist Frans Blom and his Swiss wife Gertrude ( Trudi ) Duby Blom dedicated their lives to studying, documenting and photographing the lives of the  Lacandon people who were the only Maya civilization that wasn't conquered or converted to Christianity by the Spanish.
Frans Blom was one of the first foreign archeologists to excavate Palenque which is a Mayan city about 150 km east of San Cristobel de las Casas. 
The couple dedicated their entire lives to the protection of the Lacandon and the preservation of the Chiapas rainforest. 
Their home is now a museum and library and study centre of their works and the lives of the Laccandon 

We try to spend some time camping away from others and camp sites. The ability to do this varies greatly from country to country and even region to region. The Cascades at El Corralito in Chiapas  were a welcome break after the vibrant town of San Cristobel de las Casas. A little slice of heaven.

Historically Mexico has been dominated by two main indigenous cultures. The Aztecs in the north and the Mayans in the South. There has, and still is, many other groups but these are the main ones. Within these groups, there are hundreds of subcultures such as the Zapotecs and the Tzeltales.
Although Spanish is the national language of Mexico there are an additional 62 Indigenous languages that are also spoken.  Fusion of these cultures and languages is common. 

The southern region is littered with amazing remains of the Maya culture and many have been made available to the public. 

The Tzeltal city of Tonina was built in approximately 500 BC and occupied until the 10th century AD, near Ocosingo in the state of Chiapas, is a great example. Its 75 meter high pyramid was the centre of an enormous empire that stretched as far south as what is now known as Guatemala. Although the empire would be described as mainly civilized and educated it did engage in several wars with neighboring empires such as Palenque. The lower level of the ruins has a large sports area where a ball game was often played either for fun or to settle disputes between factions. The only thing was that the balls used were actually the heads of prisoners or slaves. 

Agua Azul is deep in the jungle region of Chiapas and was a great place to relax after experiencing the thousands of steps in Tonina. 

Calakmul is one of the largest Mayan cities. It is situated 6km into the lowland jungle area in the state of Campeche. as the crow flies it is only about 35km from the border with Guatemala. 

The windy road through the forest to it was filled with surprises including seeing this beautiful wild Ocellated Turkey. 

Sadly we made this journey just a few minutes too late as the car in front of us had to stop to let a Jaguar cross the road.

A short walk into the jungle in the evening enabled us to witness the nightly display of approximately 4 million bats leaving a cave.

Strangely this reminded me of the violent stomach upset I had a few days before in San Cristobel.

The 42 km long lake at Bacalar, near the border with Belize, gave us a few days to unwind before our final push into the state of Quintana Roo and the busy city of Cancun 

Hasta Luego