20th April, Mexico 24
First call in the morning was to be Chacan Bacan. In the distance I could see a pyramid with a thatch cover over something but I could not find the way in. The only likely looking road was closed with barbed wire, the locals sent me in all sorts of directions so I gave up. They even sent me to a lake. It actually was quite a pretty lake. Similar type road as that to Punta Allen but shorter. I started out to Rio Bec. After about 5 miles the road deteriorated to the level I didn't want explore more so I gave up, again. The road later to Hormiguero was OK I could get up to about 5 mph in some stretches and the first building I saw was amazing.
Next call was a quick visit to Xpuhil.
Apart from Pyramids the building style round here is lower, there are often two towers on a building with a false temple on top and false steps up to them. False steps because they are unbelievable steep with minute footholds, OK maybe for a mountaineer. And yes I know there are three towers here. That's what makes it special.
I found the town plaza and parked in a parking spot next to the police station. Then I noticed there was a sign, police vehicles only. Oops! I asked a nearby policeman in my best Mexican if it was OK to park here for the night, he conferred with a colleague who checked with another, and yes it was OK, no problem. By one of those fortunate quirks of language Mexican "no problem" translates directly to English "no problem". And OK turns out also to be an international term. Another English term by the way that always seems to be understood even by non English speakers is "Would you like a cold beer?"
Next morning I was at Becan on the dot of 8 am.
Becan is unusual because it is surrounded by a defensive moat. Forget the blue, that's artistic licence, it was a dry moat.
In this local style there are internal stairways and passages. The arrow above points to the start of a passageway. Below is the pyramid top right on the plan. Note the two towers bottom left of the plan by the way.
There was a stucco relief found only 2001 still showing it's original red colour.
I spoke with a pleasant German couple from Munich. (If you're reading this, pleasant German couple, send me your email. I might do a European tour next year!)
I called in to another close by ruin, Chicanna. This was mostly residential buildings, probably some of the upper classes from Becan. Kings lived in palaces, priests in temples, nobles in high class homes, craftsmen (such as stonemasons) were the middle class, then there were the, well, I hardly dare use the word, (uugh!) peasants. The peasants lived round the edge of the cities in thatched hovels and did most of the work. I think if I'd lived in those times I'd like to have been a noble.
Many of the cities were abandoned before the Spanish arrived. In fact when the Spanish came the Maya civilisation seemed already to be falling apart. There are lots of theories, that it was due to internal conquests, that they moved to other cities, that they did not understand crop rotation and the land became infertile, and so on. The cities were here for about 1000 years, and were strongest from about 500 to 950 AD. That's when the most active constructions were made although building continued up to 1500 or so, building each building on top of another, getting bigger all the time.
How did they lose this building knowledge? Their amazing astronomical knowledge? How could they once make those wonderful writings, hieroglyphics, then not even be able to read them? Why did all these peasants leave the cities and go back to the jungle? The best theory I have read is that it was drought. The whole area here, almost every city I have visited, has a water problem of one sort or another. In Kabah I noted one building had 300 masks of Chac, the rain god, on the front, he must have been very important to them. Apparently there is a very strong correlation between the amount of rainfall and the building work done. Less rain, everybody is out in the fields growing food, no time for building. The theory I read was that after years of serious drought the hierarchy quarreled amongst themselves about who, which god, was responsible and a combination of angry killing of each other and self sacrifices to appease the gods, maybe combined with over extending areas following conquests, left no one but the peasants and the craftsmen who could chip stones etc but not design buildings or make writings. All the others, the people who knew these things, were dead.........So, back to huts in the jungle.
In Europe the Greeks etc were able to progress without major setback. What would have happened here I wonder if the Maya had continued advancing after the years around 1000 AD instead of regressing?
My own journey continues to Calakmul. They close the road to the site at 6 pm and don't let people in after 4. No problem, I could do with a rest, they offer free camping, actually it's a very pleasant camp site the rangers have made, they've even put a couple of fluorescent 12v lamps to light up the campfire. Of course I don't need a campfire or extra lights and anyway can't get my RV down the forest footpath to the campsite. The rangers did not speak English but again no problem in understanding "would you like a cold beer?"
I asked "do you have mosquitoes here?" No they assured me. Then I noticed something about an inch long was settling in to devour my leg. No mosquitoes I said, just bigger. They laughed. You shouldn't wear shorts they said. I was into my van like a rocket, windows shut, fly screens actioned.
The road to Cakamul is long, 60 kms (40 miles) and only goes to Cakamul. Nowhere else. I set off soon after 7 am and had a minor disaster en route. They've been cutting side branches on the road, one cut heavy branch was left sticking out into the road. Too high to get a car but just the right height to get me. It put a small crack in the top right corner of the windscreen which is spreading. If I need a replacement I've got potential problems. My 6 month Mexican vehicle carnet, my Texas tax plate, and my Texas technical inspection certificate, are all fixed irremovably to the windscreen.
Cakamul has the highest pyramid in the region. 54 metres high. One French girl who hates heights had bravely climbed it and nearly had heart failure when she found that out. I wouldn't have told her if I had realised.
Now you're in for a rare treat. A picture of me on top of said pyramid.
Next stop was Balamku where they have uncovered some original red painted stucco carvings.
Here is a detail of the centre carving.
I was just about to take these pictures when the battery in my camera went dead. So I hiked back to the van to re charge it. Whilst hanging around , for something to do I whacked my tyres with my tyre whacker. Hey it works! I had a flat on one of my twin rear wheels, I've no idea how long for, it's about a week since I last whacked them, I've noticed to real difference in handling on the van due to this flat tyre, maybe it's been rolling slightly more, but it's hard to tell, might be the road surface.
I stopped at a tyre repairer. When he got the tyre off I noticed it was split down the sidewall. Oops I thought. No problem I can fix it says the tyre man (In Spanish, I understood every word). So he grinds it down a bit inside and sticks on a patch. I wouldn't trust it on a single wheel but on a double it's OK, and this pair of tyres is coming up for replacement. 100 pesos. Worth every peso. (100 pesos = $10 = £5)
I spotted a track going into a wood. A bit narrow but I got in. I've cleared some branches so I think I can get out again in the morning.
It's starting to get unbearably hot. My Tee shirt is perpetually damp, in the van this afternoon perspiration was actually dripping off my forearms, I am needing to drink vast amounts of water. I just ran (non drinking) water out of my tap. It is pleasantly warm OK for a shower without extra heat..
Coninue to Mexico 25