Monday 6th November

Pelanque is the name given to one of the biggest and most impressive Mayan archeological sites. It is not the original Mayan name, but the one the Spanish could create.    It has UNESCO status. It is the location where the great Mayan leader Pakal’s tomb was found with the famous jade death mask. The site was the day’s focus. It was splendid.  

We arrived at the site at about 8.30. It was already hot and humid. Unlike other places we have visited, Palenque is still surrounded by rain forest. It is believed the whole of this royal location covered an area of 6 to 8 Km’s, much of which is still to be discovered (it is thought that no more than 25% has been revealed so far) and archeological work continues. It is believed that 20,000 people lived there, but interestingly no kitchen or bathhouse has been found. Nor has any evidence been found, thus far, of any human sacrifice. The city fell into decline in circa 900 ad.  

Pakal is the most notable royal of Palenque and as 12 when he became ruler.   He reigned for 60 years. The city was founded by his mother and his son reigned after him, but lost the city in a battle with a rival Mayan tribe. Pakal died when he was 80, but had already overseen the building of his tomb housed in what is now known as the House of the Inscriptions. 

 It was while working on the hieroglyphics in the upper part of this building that an archeologist came across the opening to the staircase that led down to the tomb at its base. It took years of digging before the final discovery of the sarcophagus was made.  We saw a model of the tomb in the jade museum in St Cristobel where the jade mask is on display. 

In another building,  the tomb of Pakal’s mother was found, referred to as the ‘red woman’. This is because some time after the initial burial, bodies were exhumed when all the flesh had gone, and the bones were painted red. The body was then reburied.  

We clambered up all the buildings we were allowed (a number have been closed to public access after some serious accidents) to be rewarded with amazing carvings and evidence of the royal Mayan way of life, including stella’s showing  their slaves.  

The palace, situated on the long side of the plaza, included an observatory (the towel poking up) and a ball court and some of the very best examples of Mayan architecture, some of which still had evidence of the original paint colour.  The inner rooms had an interesting pointed A shaped roof line – a corbel arch(!?)

The twiddly bits on the top are known as ‘roof combs’……  

Monica clearly visible here modelling her pink sun hat – Ana our guide on the left. 

It is thought the whole city would have been predominantly coloured red (how man cochineal bugs would that take?!) . In the carvings you could clearly see the head deformation they practised (they squashed children’s heads to make them flat), and that they saw cross eyes as an attractive feature.  They often removed teeth either side of the two central molars, to give a ‘goofy’ appearance! No accounting for taste!

The ball court………

Physically for us short people it was quite a work out! The steps were steep (Mayan royalty is known to be tall!) and the humidity saw us dripping with perspiration, but it was worth it. It was the best site we have seen so far. 

It was interesting to note that the Mayans also had a tree of life, the Ceiba tree. So many religions seem to have one!  It also gave us the opportunity to have a welcome sit down while we learnt about the life on earth as shown by the branches above the ground and the underworld represented by it’s roots. 

Vultures circled over head.  

After nearly three hours of scrambling up and down and wonderful explanations from Ana who has a Masters degree in archeology (aren’t we lucky!) it was time to take off to a waterfall and a swim for those thus inclined.  

It took about an hour to get there and when we got out of the coach, somehow it was much less humid. We strolled down to the waterfall area and walked behind the water

It was cool. 

Then it was time to return to the bus and an afternoon of preparation for the day ahead when food purchasing opportunities would be limited. 

 It was something of a culture shock to find the supermarket bedecked with Christmas apparatus!  Somehow Santa’s stockings edged with snow and piped Christmas music doesn’t feel quite right in the heat!

We joined the majority of the group for supper and had an early night. We set off at 6.00 tomorrow.  

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