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the Chaac mools of Uxmal

Puuc style


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Thursday 12th September 1985

Check out of the Mucuy hotel and hope to find something a bit cheaper later. Used their ancient typewriter to type up a filler piece for the BritishMedical Journal about the Temples of Pagan, Burma. Spend lunch time talking to a young student in the zocalo and therefore late leaving for Uxmal. Rush around ruins at closing time. Grand and elaborate broad friezes, mosaics, serpents and stylised Chaac heads.

Check into Hotel Le Paz, not as nice and not much cheaper 1400P.

The errors of the day were redeemed by a splendid affair in the evening. Plaza St Lucia was the setting for a performance of Las Serenadias Yucatanas. The link group was a 26 piece band of old men dressed in white. The drummer was ancient, and looked unlikely to last many more performances. He was small and hairless, except for the middle of each eyebrow which were preserved. His scalp tissues had shrunk so that his panama hat rested on his ears which had bent with the weight. Once plump jowls now sagged, dragging the cheek and lower eyelid with them. The fat saxophonist couldn't keep awake. I fact they all looked as disinterested as zocalo waiters. Two female singers in elaborate white huipils graced the stage. The soprano was splendid, and of considerable weight. She choose her chair carefully. The trombonists had lost their hats, whereas the clarinetists in front of them both had theirs, which seemed contrary. Fine guitar strumming, Spanish type barber shop singing, black moustaches and black dinner jackets set of by blood red carnation. Some yodelling, a stirring poem, shuffle and stamp dance group to finish. Some visiting medics from central america were guests of honour and introduced. An entertaining batty old lady in the front row elucidated the whole show with expressive waving of hands. Her sign language helped make up for my poor spanish. I followed the medics as far as their hotel and carry on to mine.

Posted by 1985 trip 12:12 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

hammock deals


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Friday 13th September 1985


Bus to Tixkokol where I wander around nonchalantly even though everyone knows you just come here to buy hamacas. But no one asks me to buy as its pouring with rain and all traders are sheltering under the town hall arches. I end up buying three from Senor Rodrugues, 80, 120 and 170 strings 14000P after gentle bargaining. Al 3+ ply. You can get hammocks for 1000P each but more like a string bag for the shopping. The ones I have are like the locals use at home, they use really big ones stretched from wall to wall, tied up in the day as there may only be one room in the house, and they sleep sideways in them. Plan to send the largest "matrimonial' to Tony and Lyndsey and the middle one home and keep the smaller one to travel in, it is still big enougto be comfortable. The smallest is not coloured, plain sizal a local fibre I think (but looks like cotton). Also find some silver for Elaine, a cheap hat and tie for me with a bright indian weave.

Fireworks at midday. Independance day.

Posted by 1985 trip 13:02 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

sling my hammock in small homestay near Chichenitza


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Saturday 14th September 1985

to the Post Office with my purchases. No is possible internationale parcels until Tuesday !?! Wretched independance day celebrations have paralysed the place.

5pm bus to Chichen. I'm overloaded and so is the bus.

Arrive well after dark in the small village of Pista 2km form the ruins. The lady at The Pasakan Maya Restaurant asks me about cuarto economics as I pass. Turns out I can sling my own hammock in their spare room for 1000P! Brilliant. She helps me untangle the hammock strings, there's an art to rolling it up and Senor Rodrigues made it look very easy. Tie up mosquito net over it all and it looks like a ghostly four poster bed. Cosy inside, very comfy, very pleased at the way events have turned out.

Posted by 1985 trip 01:42 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

washing sewing reading

and son et lumière


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Sunday 15th September 1985

What with all the washing sewing reading and a thunderstorm didn't make it to the ruins during the day.

However made it to the Son et Lumiere show in the evening with a few others. Ruins impressive lit up at night. Quadraphonic hifi good too, but the music was repetitive and boring and ponderous and the lighting effects repetitive too. The voice overs spoilt it all. Thre breathless voices raised mirth rather than respect with chaotically mis stressed sentences 'where they here or did they come form...' A yorkshire tool fitter who has been wandering the globe for two years accompanied me to a beer afterwards. He regrets didn't get to Tibet, and looks like lack of money will stop him reaching south america too. He got a standby ticket out of singapore.

Dinner with the man of the house. he is as round as his wife, but drunk hence long conversation, although our respective language skills are not up to much actual communication. Spoke proudly of the virtues of the Yucatan and the Maya I think, the locals all look very indigenous and not spanish. We shared endless home made tortillas which were very tasty with pollo pibil. Yum. Muy bueno gusto. He had a very large piece section of chicken which was brutally rendered into tiny pieces by a heavy handed assault with knife and fork. ±Plenty of saliva and sharp intake of breath and smacking lips as he bit into a red chilli or a lime laden with salt. All washed down with three beers and a coke. I think my cash has prompted a feast. The chillies n this household are the very devils balls, but they make a marvellous colonic antiseptic so I managed a small one, poco piquant.

In the village square a large number of people were milling around, with a few vendors, as if something was going to happen. I hang around till 11pm and nothing much happened. Toddlers ran about bumping into everybody, children played marbles, youths smoked cheap cigarettes, older and fatter wiser gossiped on benches and grew fatter still.

Posted by 1985 trip 01:53 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

busy day at the ruins


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Monday 16th September 1985

Busy day at the ruins - enormous ball court: 6 friezes show 12 teams, the winners head is held by the losers captain, the winners kneeling body spurts seven serpents of blood from his neck, one for each member of the team. The central stone disc (the goal) has a skull speaking, with blood dripping as maize leaves to the ground. Peculiar acoustics.

A hot humid claustrophobic climb up inside the main pyramid to an ugly red jaguar seat set with a few pieces of jade. Shafts lead up to the temple on the top so the high priest could be heard from his den. Up the outside there are 91 stairs, then 4 on the top and then the altar = 365. The large steps of the pyramid cast a moving serpentine shadow apon the side walls of the stairs at the equinox sunset.

Steam baths, many carvings, Toltec Mayan mix, observatory, palaces, more ball courts, sacrificail cenote 70 feet across and 100 deep. Lots of pillars, fine corbelled vaults, better than in Palenque, and sinister chaac mols.

There was quite a crowd at the nearby Templo Evangelico Eben- Ezer. Several people standing, loudly calling god into their lives. Lets hope Chaac does not answer them.

Posted by 1985 trip 02:12 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

imminent emesis

on bus back to Merida


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Tuesday 17th september 1985

Up with the misty dawn. A buzzard came on low over the backyard chickens. My room is in the backyard.

Two hours standing room only on bus back to Merida. Sardines in a tin have nothing on this and waves of nausea don't help.

Successful trip to post office and comply with all their trivia and forms and manage to post a couple of parcels and some letters. Bank, lunch and las Uno bus to Chetumal. Arrive at dusk and check into Hotel Brasilea 1000 con bano opposite the bus station. Lively international high street in this border town. Locate nearest bank and Guatemala embassy. Good hassle free business like day.

Posted by 1985 trip 02:24 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Batty bus to Belize


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Wednesday 18th September 1985

To the embassy, grumpy official, Guatemala visa 10$, receipt in Quetzals though. No tourist card. No explanation forthcoming.

1pm bus to Belize City from Batty Bus tout in bus station precinct. 7B$ or 1100 P.

Instant change of atmosphere over the border. Mennonite german in straw hat and dungarees tries to sell me ze best peanuts in ze world. Big boobed black mama, her breasts rolling like proverbial melons in a sack and her hair still in curlers tells me the boss wants me. Change 5500P to 30B$ with man waiting on steps of custom house.

Arrive in Belize City at dusk. First two hotels are closed down. Third is full. Fourth too expensive. Fifth cheap but full. Sixth 10B$ with loo. But over dingey bar whose reggae music keeps me awake all night. The streets after dark have a certain atmosphere. Soft greetings from shadowy corners and a flash of white teeth 'what u lookin for?' and 'take it easy white boy'. Caribbean lady has strong local accent but irish idioms at all at all. Tumble down old place with weather beaten weather boarded houses, the whole city no more than 6 inches above sea level. Long list of names already chosen in anticipation of this years hurricanes. Remarkable any buildings are standing at all, to look a t them you would think the first sea breeze would knock them flat.

Posted by 1985 trip 02:31 Archived in Belize Comments (0)

break for the border


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Thursday 19th September 1985

Ate two breakfasts then caught the 10.30 Batty Bus towards the Guatemalan border at San Ignacio. Then get in a taxi with a big bald middle aged yank who agreed a fare of 10$ !! The cabbie is even more enterprising and changes my travellers cheques at a reasonable rate of 3.3 Quetzales per dollar. No hassle at border. Pass through lovely rolling lush countryside, lots of horses and cows, palm thatched buildings.

At 3 pm a bus comes up from Flores(San Benito) for 4Q. I planned to get off at the El Cruce junction, but change my mind when advised there is nowhere to stay and it is getting late in the day to risk hitch hiking up to Tikal. Appalling bone shaking road and rattly bus with no leg room, but fellow passengers friendly. Bamboo hut villages and free roaming pigs in the villages. Arrive after dark, american friend leaps with relief into the nearest taxi. I walk across the causeway in the warm night serenaded by the frogs. El Itza pension 4.4Q con bank. I have a raging cold and spend the night with hot and cold sweats my nose running all over the pillow.

Posted by 1985 trip 04:46 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

last hold out of the Maya


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Friday 20th September 1985

Day of rest, feeling poorly. Meet Gary a dreamy australian always staring out of the window, he speaks good spanish and plays 8 musical instruments.

Flores, the capital of the Peten, a small island town on lake Peten Itza. It was here athat the last of the Mayan royal held out against the spanish, lasting until 1697. Cobbled streets, marimba music, cheeky boys asking for 5 cents to perform a spectacular feat with their spinning tops. Meet magnus from Germany with a reconstructed face. We three seem to be the only gringoes in town. Very quiet and restful.

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the glories of Tikal


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Saturday 21st September 1985
I sling my hammock in Tikal.

I sling my hammock in Tikal.


Bus to Tikal 2Q. The bus driver spends an hour driving around town trying to recruit more passengers. Gary wanders on in another direction. Two Londoners, Mutley and Katie, and Magnus in the company of an older Japanese guy called Michi who has arrived overland through Darien gap. He reports that the Nicaraguan border guards were ignorant and he had to retrace his steps to get a visa.

Numerous soldiers along the road.

Arrive at the site to find an empty camping ground witha few shelters without walls and palm thatch roofs. Sling our hammocks and mosquito nets. Occellated turkeys scratch in the grass. Chris D a marine with a degree in classical literature turns up later. One of my padlocks disappears. a giant rhinoceros beetle marches through camp.

Light a campfire and have hotdogs, tortillas and baked beans. Michi steals a beer and bottle of chilli sauce from one of the cheap comedors just outside the site entrance. A huge hairy tarantula jumps onto Chris' foot, its body is covered in bright red hairs. In the morning we find its burrow.

Camping is free but daily park ticket is 1Q.

Posted by 1985 trip 00:46 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Tikal, triumph of the Mayas


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Sunday 22nd September 1985

Glorious rainforest, flocks of toucans in dipping flight, spider monkeys thrash about in the canopy 150 feet up in the jungle canopy, magnificent ceiba trees sacred to the Maya.

The main plaza has temples I & II in the east and west, a complicated mess of temples to the north and an acropolis in the south. Stelae carved with kings and beautiful glyphs. Recognise 9 Batun, which is the 400 year period during which most of the currently visible ruins were constructed. Underneath the present ruins are about 4 buried structures. The Maya of Tikal traded with Teotihucan. It has taken 30 years to reclaim the currently visible ruins from the jungle. Tikal may extend over 25 sq miles. Their cities were not densely populated but well spread out and semi rural.

Mayan temple looming up through the Peten jungle.

Mayan temple looming up through the Peten jungle.

The finest views of all are from the top of temple IV. You can climb the steep stairs to the base of the roof comb, across the tree tops three other temples can be seen poking up through the jungle canopy which extends like a green sea as far as you can see all around. At sunset they are picked out in orange light. Magic. Find Gary up here and watch night descend in silence from the top of the temple. We walk back by moonlight. It was a treacherous climb down in the dark from root to root down the tree clad pyramid. It is 212 feet to the top of the roof comb. The highest surviving structure from prehispanic times in the New World.

Get stopped by armed guards in the main plaza. I don't have a permit to be here after dark. Gary keeps them entertained with his paperwork which eventually satisfies them. Experiencing the ruins by moonlight is mystical. You can climb temple I, the icon of Tikal, at about 5.30pm after the day guards have gone and before the two armed night guards arrive. Climbing the temples is forbidden by the guards since a tourist slipped in a tragic reproduction of its original purpose and died of his injuries. From the temple on the top of the pyramid you can converse in normal tones with people far below in the plaza. Meet Harry again (Oxaca), left Charles somewhere, they were the literature scholars form Kent.

The lady at the smallest smokiest comedor cooking us a vegetable soup for .75c, a novel experience for her to cook vege and she is eager for the results to be satisfactory. Usually it is pollo pollo or pollo. Except at breakfast when it is eggs.

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catch a thief


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Monday 23rd September 1985

Up at misty dawn again to get lost in the ruins once more. Very few people around and we feel we have the place to ourselves. Yet this is one of the top Mayan sites. Sleep in the afternoon in the comb lintel on the temple of inscriptions. The small museum contains some of the fine examples jade and coloured pottery from the tombs. the finest stuff looks a bit greek, with figures marching round the vessel telling a story. Finely carved bone.

Michi is caught stealing a cassette from the little shop. I go back to camp and search his bags, I find two of my rolls of films, but not my missing padlock or toothbrush. He has the most bizzare stuff, lots of old plastic bags, 50 unused postcards of the same view. A kleptomaniac.
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Magnus spends the night on temple IV.

Michi is in disgrace. Pity, because his Japanese songs around the fire were a delight. Fascinating discussion between Chris and Harry all evening, on classical literature. Much talk about the drinking water which smells of bad eggs. Magnus' potassium permanganate seems to clear it.

Posted by 1985 trip 01:48 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Tikal dreaming


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Tuesday 24th September 1985

Another day enjoying the Tikal atmosphere. Exploring the ruins, deciphering the glyphs, swinging in my hammock. I have spent a long time here, a beautiful spot and a good crowd. Missed out on this travellers vibe in Mexico. Everybody says hello etc.

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Tikal had played a central part in Mayan life for a thousand years, I spent a few days there trying to capture the faintest whispers of their lost spirit.

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talk of amoebic dysentery


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Wednesday 25th September 1985

Took the lunchtime bus back to Flores. Gary was on the bus too. I can't decide whether to fly on to the capital, or go to Poptun for the cave of inscriptions, or to Copan for the Quetzal reserve? After sharing Gary's peanuts I decide to try and see the quetzal bird whose feathers were more valuable than gold. The journey will involve at least three buses and probably some hitching which might be interesting.

At Flores bus station and there is only an overnight bus to Sebol which I can't face so check into 1.5oQ hotel and spend the afternoon eating and drinking with Gary. he has a great love of India. He spent a year and a half there n one trip, had shigella a couple of times and amoebic dysentery once, dropping down to 49 kg. He was headmaster at an English language school, married a Kiwi, and has been travelling off and on for 7 years. Not sure what happened to the Kiwi. Sensitive and full of dreams. Trying to learn Spainish now.

Posted by 1985 trip 01:39 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

rest day

before overnight bus


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Thursday 26th September 1985

R & R
Rest and Recuperation before overnight bus to Sebol on dirt roads...

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