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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Tzotzil Villages

San Juan Chamula and San Lorenzo Zinacantán, México
November 2016

The funereal and the festive. Welcome to the Tzotzil Maya villages of Chiapas.

Cover photo: Ruined church, village cemetery, San Juan Chamula

A Village Church

San Juan Chamula, México
November 2016

Picture, if you will, a village church. From the outside, a white edifice with an arched doorway adorned by colorful tiles depicting flowers. As 12 o’clock strikes, three men in the bell tower ring the bells by hand. The count has little to do with the hour — they go well past 12 rings, punctuated by the sound of firecrackers going off nearby commemorating a local festival. After a few minutes, though, the bells and explosions fall silent.

All this extraversion belies what awaits inside. Crossing the threshold, the interior is dark and crowded. Only candles illuminate the room. There is pine straw strewn across the white tile floor that gives off the scent of a forest.

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Sábado Espíritu and the Jaguar House

San Cristóbal de las Casas, México
November 2016

The old churchyard is just a front for the daily textile market. You hardly can see the buildings for all the merchants’ stalls set up on the hill between the Templo Santo Domingo and the more ancient Templo de la Caridad. It is easy to get lost in row after row of stalls selling local crafts, woven goods, shoes, jewelry, figurines, and food.

The former convent attached to the Santo Domingo church houses a good museum depicting the conversion of the Maya, with a separate room of Mayan and other Mesoamerican artifacts. Even better is the excellent Mayan textile museum, which tells the stories of the local village crafts, some of which are sold outside in the market, and of the people and their traditions. If people are what they wear, then the highland Maya are adorned in white accented by simple reds, blues, and yellows.

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