Why the Maya?

Three decades, three trips along the Ruta Maya. México’s Yucatán; Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize; Chiapas and back to Yucatán. I suppose I should explain.

I owe my interest to my teacher, William Evans. Dr. Evans was a poet, a novelist, and a farmer. In the summer of my junior year of college, he was my creative writing professor. He didn’t hold class per se. Students visited his office once a week to drop off short stories and hear what he thought of what they had written the previous week.

Dr. Evans was critical and encouraging, generous with his time. He always told me to write something every day, to write for at least one hour. Every day I don’t write something I feel I’ve let him down.

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Highlights: Chiapas and Yucatán, México

November 2016

Mérida’s little airport could use some signs. How I could end up with three other people in the wrong part of the A gates is beyond me. In my defense, it was five in the morning.

Terminal 2 in México City is a much better organized departure point than the chaos of Terminal 1 in which I had arrived eleven days before. I had only one hour to make my connection today. I made it with fifty-five minutes to spare.

It’s been twenty years since I last was in México. Much has changed. The airport is more modern, in places. The country is more modern, too. There seems to be a more stable middle class, although there’s still much poverty. Services are better than I recall.

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Day of the Iguanas

Uxmal, México
November 2016

The spirits of Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr, and Richard Burton are strong today at Uxmal. I’ve seen dozens of dragon lizards, if not quite iguanas, bathing in the sun or crawling out from the rubble. They are the last remaining residents of Uxmal.

I have returned to Uxmal to correct a mistake I’ve regretted for twenty years. And as soon as I crest the hill leading from the entrance and see the grand House of the Magician, I realize I will never accomplish it.

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Black Friday

Campeche, México
November 2016

For a while it looked as if I’d be stranded at the Edzná ruins. I waited more than an hour at the dusty crossroads before the combi finally arrived heading back to Campeche. That’s the problem with combis — they come when they come.

Combis leave when they leave, as well. I waited nearly an hour for the outbound combi to depart this morning.

The Edzná ruins are a fine display of Mayan architecture. Atop a long staircase, the Edificio de los Cinco Pisos (Five-story building) towers over a spacious acropolis. In the grassy field below, the grand plaza has another tall pyramid, a ball court, and a long stepped building that looks like stadium bleachers but was once a government building for the Maya. It’s nice, too, that the ruins are not as well-traveled as Chichen Itzá, Palenque, and Uxmal. But then, that explains the transportation problem.

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Thanksgiving

Campeche, México
November 2016

The last time I was away from my family at Thanksgiving, Karimé Alvarado and I pulled into Buenos Aires after a marathon overnight bus ride and headed straight to La Estancia restaurant in the microcentro. We feasted on lots of everything: empanadas, chorizo, steak, and mass quantities of wine. Two hours later, we were back on the streets of Congresso looking for pizza.

This time I’m on my own. I’ve been away on the holiday before, but it never hit me like this in Cambodia, Egypt, Italy, and Peru. In those places, the day passed without me noticing.

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Yaxchilán and Bonampak

México
November 2016

The three-hour van ride down a rutted, two-lane highway through the remote Lacandon region of Chiapas leads to the riverside. We board a long boat and head down a river of muddy, red water for another hour. Disembarking at a horseshoe bend, a brief hike through the jungle, to the sounds of monkey cries, ends in a sudden clearing: the Late Classic Mayan ruins at Yaxchilán.

Situated along the river bank on two sides of a long, open plaza, Yaxchilán is known for the fine stelae and lintels that adorned its buildings. In the main plaza, the buildings are mostly crumbled single-story structures, along with a ball court and displays of stelae. But climb up the steep hills on the edge of the jungle, and more impressive buildings with well-preserved roof combs await.

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Palenque

Palenque, México
November 2016

I took more than 400 pictures today. I burned through two batteries. The combination of a Mayan ruin, a digital camera, and me is inevitably going to result in photographic overkill.

Palenque is impressive — even if they won’t let me climb the Temple of the Inscriptions. A grand palace capped by a tower. Stelae and carvings set deep in the jungle. A temple once occupied by a Spanish count. A steep climb to an imposing view.

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