Tag Archives: architecture

Yaxchilan: Remote Mayan Site in Chiapas Jungle–Get There By Boat!


Yaxchilan (Yash-chee-lahn) is situated on the high banks of the Usumacinta River that borders Mexico and Guatemala, three hours southeast of Palenque.  The secluded ruins are in a dense jungle only accessible by river boat, a good 30-minute ride from the launch site.  The boat ride is a wonderful transition from now to then.  In years past, Lacandon Mayas made this passage in open dugout canoes.  Today, the wood-planked boats are covered in palm thatch.


Alligator or crocodile?


Yaxchilan rivaled Palenque (Mexico) and Tikal (Guatemala) as these three “super-powers” vied for control over the surrounding lesser Mayan centers that provided food, tribute and able fighters.

This magnificent archeological site is worthy of several hours of your time.  It is a space that is dark jungle, moss-covered, limestone rocks tumbled and crumbling, and with only the beginnings of a restoration in process.


As you walk into the space you feel as if you were an archeologist discovering it for the first time. It speaks of antiquity.  The howler monkeys calling back and forth across the river are haunting, adding a sense of mystery to the place. I pass through a compact Mayan arch into a vast plaza.


Situated high on a river bank, the site offers a strategic location on the wide and magnificent Usumacinta River, testifying to the power and influence of this once-great city.   Huge bromeliads hang from hundred foot high trees with mahogany colored trunks.  I walk beneath a tall canopy of leaves, vines, roots and flowering succulents, careful not to trip on toppled stones.



Yaxchilan is probably like Palenque was 30 years ago.  The only nearby lodging is at the boat launch site, where there are also a couple of good restaurants.  If you contact Daniel Chank In, the Selva Lacandon guide, he can help you make lodging and boat travel arrangements instead of taking the cookie-cutter day trip.

My journal scrawlings about the Palenque to Yaxchilan passage:

The languages of travel are Czech, German, three varieties of English (Brit, American, Aussie), Spanish, French, Dutch. These are my traveling companions. In Palenque they speak Chol. We stopped for breakfast at a simple comedor with tree trunks for stools and a dirt floor and GREAT coffee, dark and rich, locally grown and organic.  I have not been sick since I arrived in Mexico a month ago.

We are western women taught to cover our breasts, be modest. From the window of the van I see a woman at the water source, one large breast exposed, suspended, full of milk walking toward a toddler waiting for nourishment.  Plank wood and palm thatch cover the humans at night.  Shelter is simple for man, woman, cows, chickens.  Chiapas, siempre verde is the state motto.  It is always damp here.  We are on flat land now, clear-cut for growing corn and lumbering, heading toward the frontier.  Maize scrabble, hard-scrabble, bare feet, dirt, bare chests, men at work with machetes.  We pass a sign: This is Zapatista country.  Land of campesinos.

Grazing land, cattle, horses.  Ceiba trees, overcast skies, animals are thin I see their bones.  We pass through pueblos of resistance, a village sign announces this, the sign is rough wood with white paint. The land is flat, vast, green scrub.  This is the road to the Guatemala border.  We pass military sentries, checkpoints, men heavily armed, some masked.  Put your cameras down and cell phones away, says the driver, as we approach one. They wave us through.  On the way back, away from the border, we are stopped and I show my passport.  Of course they are checking for drugs and I know that the pipeline works its way across the river through the jungle to the vast cities and towns of America where demand keeps this business in business.  Did I feel in danger?  No.



Four Days in Puebla: Part One

Carlos picked us up at 7:15 a.m. this morning to take us the 17 miles from Teotitlan del Valle to the ADO (Ah-Day-Oh) bus station in Oaxaca city for our trip to Puebla, departure time 9 a.m.  We made prepaid credit card reservations six days ago, a necessity for securing a ticket, by phoning the local Oaxaca bus station.  The roundtrip cost is 590 pesos on ADO GL.  I think this is the first class bus, though I’m not certain, since there was advertised the UNO bus for the 12 hour trip to San Cristobal de los Casas that has two toilets — one for hombres, on for mujeres.   Seems like if there are two toilets, then this would definitely mean premiere class travel.  The bus station is a pristine temple to fine travel, complete with ATM, a baggage check area, an espresso bar, and snack shop all under a modern metal and glass arched structure.  As we waited, a cleaning woman mopped under my feet with sweet smelling antiseptic.  The 3 pesos bathroom was tended by a helpful lady who directed me to the toilet paper dispenser next to the sinks.  I sipped latte and nibbled on a breakfast cheese sandwich waiting for the boarding call.  It was much more civilized than current air travel … more like waiting for the train at Penn Station.

As we cued up to board the bus, each of us was stopped for a security check — frisked with the metal detector and bags examined.  Then, much to our amazement, after all boarded, the woman went down the aisle with a video camera to capture each of our faces.  There must be a reason, we said to each other, as we settled into the plushy upholstered seats, reclined, and adjusted the foot rests.  As soon as we pulled out of the station, the James Bond movie started.  Sam warned me it would be some shoot ’em up action film, which is what she has experienced on bus rides all over Mexico.  Indeed, “Casino Royale” dubbed in Spanish was a loud, action-packed adventure that I wanted to sleep through but couldn’t.  We had spent Christmas Eve reveling with the extended Chavez family — four brothers, two sisters, their children and grandchildren, consuming great quantities of beer, wine, Tequila, champagne, roast chicken, tamales, gelatina and chocolate cake until well after midnight.

It wasn’t long after climbing out of the Oaxaca valley that the landscape turned desolate, high desert, scrub oak, brown grass, pine forested mountains in the distance.  Further along the highway, about halfway through the Bond film, the organ pipe cactus burst onto the scene.  After three and a half hours, as we approached Puebla, the land became more generous.  Farms were verdant and prosperous.  Sheep and goats grazed.  Dried corn stalks formed tall pyramids where they were gathered up from cleared fields.   At exactly four hours, we pulled into the huge Puebla bus depot and got a taxi to our hotel on the outskirts of town.  Sam got a deal online at a Best Western for $60 per night, about half the price of a Zocalo historic center location.  We deposited our bags, and hit the streets, first stopping at El Porton on Ave. Juarez for comida.  It’s a favorite chain with good quality food.  Today I discovered, much to my horror, that it is owned by Wal-Mart!  It took about 45 minutes to walk to where the action was, but the meandering was very satisfying as we stopped to take photos of ancient courtyards, Talavera tile covered 17th century buildings, brass studded pine wood doors that had to have been built 300 years ago.

Puebla de los Angeles was created by the Spanish and was NOT built upon a pre-existing indigenous village.  It’s architecture is like ordering a chocolate ice cream sundae with whipped cream, cherries and nuts on top.  The facades of the buildings are sheer delights … fanciful curly cues, brocades, and dripping embellishments.  Shops and houses are tints of peach, plum, cherry, and lime.  There are wide avenues devoted to pedestrian promenades.  The churches are magnificent structures of quarried stone exteriors and gold leaf interiors that would put any Di Medici to shame.  The tile work adds a splash of Baroque splendor that blends Moorish origins.  The interior wood carvings by local Indian artisans are masterful.  Tonight we visited Puebla’s Iglesia de Santo Domingo and spent considerable time in the Chapel of the Virgin of the Rosary — an extraordinary gilded and carved sanctuary lined with paintings and Talavera tile.  Tomorrow is 8 a.m. breakfast and then a shopping quest for Sam and Tom.  I’m along for the ride.