Saturday, August 27, 2016

Central America 2016 pt. 5 (Xunantunich and Cahal Pech)

To wrap out our tour of Central America, my mom, dad, tio Efren and I made our way to the Belizean archaeological sites of Xunantunich and Cahal Pech. Both sites are only about 15km away from each other and Xunantunich lay barely a kilometer or two from the Guatemalan border. Xunantunich is a wonderful site though getting to the archaeological zone involves a 2 km hike up a hill which can be fairly rough for some, especially with the sun blazing down on you. The upside is that if you get there early (which I did not on this occasion) it is fairly easy to  spot exotic birds such as toucans and toucanets. One of the defining characteristics of of Xunantunich are the beautiful stucco friezes which still survive on the facade of the structure known as "El Castillo". In the Mayan language Xunantunich means "stone woman" and archaeological evidence suggests the site dates back to the pre-classic period, however most of the monumental construcción which can be observed today date to around the 5th century AD. For its part, the archaeological site of Cahal Pech (or "Place of the Ticks") is built on the top of a hill and likely served as a ceremonial complex and residential area for members of the nobility. The foundation of the site das as far back as 1200 BCE during the early formative period thus making Cahal Pech one of the oldest recognizably Maya sites in Meso-America. Despite the fact that the site does not cover a particularly large geographical area, it is jam packed with extremely impressive structures and unique arquitectural features. I hope you enjoyed the photos. I am thinking about taking a group from Merida to Central America next winter so if you are interested in coming with shoot me an email at (availability is limited).

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Central America 2016 pt. 4 (Ixlú and Motul de San Jose)

One of the best things about living in Yucatan is easy access to tons of archaeological sites. At this point I have visited about 100 different Maya sites. That being said there are still many many sites big and small which I still have not explored. It is of-course completely natural that "big hitters" such as Tikal, Calakmul and Caracol get more attention than small and barely (or not at all) excavated sites which nobody other than the most keen know about. That being said there is much to love and learn about smaller archaeological sites, particularly when trying to piece together a more complete picture of what ancient Maya societies were actually like. The area of the Peten basin is of-course home to some of the most impressive ancient city states not just in meso-america but in the entire world. However, much like back home (the Yucatan) smaller and often unexplored mounds dot the landscape. The archaeological sites of Ixlú and Motul de San Jose or two such archaeological sites located near the shores of Lake Peten Itza which is by the way the place the Itza lords fled to after the crumbling of their city states in northern Yucatan. Both sites are of a good size but have not received much (if anything) in the way of archaeological reconstruction/preservation other than the erection of small shelters to protect some of the stelae from the elements. In any case I hope you enjoy the photos


Monday, August 22, 2016

Central America 2016 pt. 3 (Uaxactun)

After our visit to Tikal we traveled approximately 25 kilometers north to the ancient city of Uaxactun. Though fairly close to Tikal, Uaxactun is much more sparsely visited since to get there in the first place it is necessary to hire a private tour in a 4x3 truck (as the road to the site is not exactly a highway). The trip from 25 km trip from Tikal to Uaxactun takes approximately 60 minutes and cuts through the dense jungle of the Peten basin. The archaeological site itself is extremely repressive and features a gorgeous astronomical observatory decorated with giant stucco masks on each side. The archaeological site also has several large scale elite residential areas, as well as stelae and even a ball court. Hieroglyphic and archaeological evidence points tot he fact that the growth and splendor of the city led their nearby (and much larger) neighbor Tikal to turn Uaxactun in to a sort of vassal state. Furthermore it is likely that during the centuries of conflict between the two super powers of the Peten (Tikal and Calackmul)  Uaxactun served as a useful forward base of operations for Tikal to both launch and repel attacks. The area is also particularly rich with wildlife, which is of course awesome. Anyway hope you enjoy the photos.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Central America 2016 pt. 2 (Island of Flores)

After our day in Tikal we made our way back to our hotel in Santa Elena on the banks of the Peten Itza lake and straight across from the island of Flores. One of the things I was most surprised with during this trip was the marked improvements regarding the roads through Belize and northern Guatemala. Though still not nearly as good or fast as those you find in south eastern Mexico... the roads for the most part where quite decent and a huge improvement over what they had been. The island of Flores was of-course as charming as ever with its narrow streets, beautiful views and boardwalks. Every time I am in the Peten I wish I could slow down a bit more with all the archaeological sites and just enjoy Flores a bit more... but my desire to get out and visit new places always get the better of me. In any case, hope you enjoy the photos.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Central America 2016 pt. 1 (Tikal)

Last week I made my way to Central America with my Mom and Dad and a family friend (Tio Efren). We left from Mérida and spent the first night of the trip in Chetumal where we had a fairly relaxing evening. It was a good thing we did since the next day we bused across the entirety of Belize and crossed in to the Peten region of Guatemala. We spent our first night in Guatemala in a gorgeous hotel overlooking the charming island of Flores (more on that in the next post) and got to bed good as we had to get up at 4:00 AM the next day and get our asses to the archaeological site of Tikal. There is not much which I can say about Tikal which has not been said already. Tikal is absolutely spectacular and I would place it firmly in to my top 5 most impressive Mayan archaeological sites. I did a bit of stop motion video (which can be seen bellow) but I hope to edit something together which is a little bit better sometime in the next week or so. In any case I hope you enjoy the photos!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Archaeology, xcaret, fairness and access to cultural heritage sites.

As I mentioned in my previous post (the one with the bird photos) my sister Maggie and I made our way to Xcaret last weekend. Being an avid fan of Mayan archaeology I of course made my way straight to the different areas of the park which contain pre-hispanic archaeological remains. I had visited the Xcaret about a decade before, but I was pleased to learn there was now a bit more to see.

While for many visitors to Xcaret the "ruins" may seem somewhat underwhelming particularly when compared to larger archaeological tourist mecas such as Chichen Itza, I have a great fondness for these kinds of smaller sites. Furthermore, the architecture in Xcaret is by no means insignificant and is in fact fairly representative of Maya architecture of the northwest Yucatan peninsula coastline; the most well known example of which is of course Tulum.

In the mind of most tourists, the "value" of archaeological sites is clearly tied at least in part to aesthetic considerations and aesthetics in archaeological terms is largely tied to a certain massiveness of scale. While this is certainly understandable and I do not expect holiday makers to share the depth of my interest in Mayan archaeology I find the obsession with only the most of monumental sites problematic. In any case I digress.

What I find most troubling about the archaeological site at Xcaret is the fact that despite its purview under the INAH (Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia) and the fact that the site is clearly "open" to the public, access to the site is hampered by Xcaret Park and the truly unreasonable entrance fee of 100+USD. Now, don´t get me wrong Xcaret has the right to charge what ever they want for entrance to their park and the ticked does indeed include quite a bit to do for the price, the problem is that the archaeological remains which lay in the park and are maintained by the INAH (A publicly funded institution) are not the property of Xcaret but rather of the Mexican people who are for the most part bared entrance to the site by the high cost of admission. While Xcaret is not the only park/attraction in this situation it is certainly (to my knowledge) the largest and most visited.

There are many other archaeological sites which are accesible to the public, but that is not the point. I do not mean to nitpick, but I find something fishy in the fact that an archaeological site maintained by a publicly funded institution is made inaccessible to the vast majority of the Mexican citizenry. I am not in any way against parks such as Xcaret but it seems to me that this a discussion worth having.

Am I over reacting?

In any case, hope you enjoy the photos.