OR Guardian Vultures at Comalcalco? A tricky journey to Oaxaca. Eccentric Hotels to die for.

From the Journal:

‘The heavens opened when I left the Olmec Park and I huddled under the awning of an abandoned souvenir stand. What now? My foot was holding up, just, and I needed to call an Uber wherever I was going. My legs were covered in mosquito bites from the jungle park despite the lemongrass repellent bought at the entrance. I’m not sure why worldwide lemongrass is used as it never seems to bloody work. Anyway, I was cranky that this deluge looked to set in for the day but as you can never tell there, I gambled on going up to North of the city towards the coast at Comalcalco. I called and amazingly one turned up straight away and as I was so pleased I wouldn’t be left hanging around in the storm I rushed to the nice dry cab. with a smily lady driver and jumped in. More haste less speed as usual, for I would realise later I had left my little knapsack on the souvenir stand, sad and lonely but luckily with nothing really valuable in it except my charger leads, which actually were rarer than hens teeth in that area. Anyhoo,we went racing up the motorway to the pyramids. Comalcalco, it would seem, is not on many peoples wish list but how wrong they are. This was a very important trading post in its time and has a very large mostly neglected complex, (apart from its smart museum) a lot of which is still buried and appears as small hills, The signs are faded and tattered but this place is magical.

Itzamná was one of the most important gods of Mayan mythology. The ruler of the heavens and of day and night, he was often shown in Mayan art as a pleasant, toothless old man with a large nose. He was also identified as the son of the creator god Hunab Ku (pronounced hoo-NAHB-koo).

My increasingly raucous Uber lady (how do I manage to get them so wild?) would have taken me up to the coast too had the weather permitted but for me this mysterious complex was quite enough for one day.’

Still hidden pyramids all around this site which was beautiful and atmospheric after the storm

Arriving in the rain at this mysterious and very green place, I was confused by the strange white sections covering each exposed pyramid. This is stucco and all original, as this site has bricks rather than limestone blocks, and the covering of painted stucco would have made it a great sight to behold. So looks ancient town is very different. As I staggered around in the rain flooded fields, dragonflies and butterflies flew up from the swampy grassland. The ankle height water cooled my foot and my Uber lady was trotting around having a lovely time, I had been anxious she would stick by me like glue but she too was a wild spirit. I knew I was heading out the next day so it was quite emotional to be at this strange site with just a couple of people wandering round. My mosquito bites were starting to itch on my legs from earlier so splashing my legs with cold water I started climbing to see these pyramids up close and personal. The huge menacing dark skies actually made the walk around more dramatic and definitely unforgettable.

Comalcalcos last remaining stucco sculpture of itzmnaaj mask   (creator god) on pyramid side. These beauties were covered with stucco made of smashed baked oyster shells and clay
The vulture says it all!

Here appeared the vultures, fanning their wings either demonstrating ownership, or maybe they were the spirits of the ancestors. How I loved the atmosphere here, ancient builders graffiti everywhere in the oyster shell cement of these brick temples and buildings. The ancient builders having left their marks all over lasting for around two thousand years. A lot has still to be excavated here, but I liked their funny museum that was jam packed with artefacts. Walking in the rain with maybe a half dozen people there showed you how these places could really be enjoyed without throngs of tourists. The only site that had been emptier on my travels was in Guatemala near Tikal. That place was where I was scared shitless as howler monkeys were going crazy at my audacity of beig there, this place just had butterflies… and vultures.

As it was raining and I was fretting about my knapsack left outside the Olmec Park, I sadly missed the vault there where the cemetery is, which was a shame but when you visit a place off piste that you haven’t researched at all, and it only has a hanful of illegible signs, then you tend to miss out a lot on these large abandoned sites. From what I can gather, it’s more used by the locals to come and relax and walk with their families. This to me sounds a splendid arrangement, it being a place that the indigenous people can go and relate to their ancestors while passing on knowlege and memories to next generations.

Flooding evident in foreground!

Museum Artwork and History.

“It is perhaps the westernmost site in the Mayan Area. It was of great importance during the Classic period, as part of the trade routes in southern Mesoamerica. This interpretation is based on the discovery of foreign elements at the site, such as yokes and axes from Veracruz, lithic materials from Veracruz, Hidalgo and Guatemala and iconography from the central highlands. The core of the site is made up of the East Acropolis, the Great Acropolis, the North Plaza and the West Group. In these there are different types of buildings, squares and patios, which show adequate planning. On the periphery, around 500 low-rise earthen platform mounds have been located, on which houses associated with fields and multiple water channels were erected. The site’s boom took place between 200 BC. C. and 950 d. C., information derived from ceramic materials and epigraphic data. Its architecture highlights the use of three construction systems, the first and oldest of compacted earth with stucco cladding, the second with bodies of compacted earth covered with brick and the last of brick masonry, all of which belong to the Late Classic period. . It is distinguished by having been an important producer of fine pasta vessels and figurines, which were exchanged long distances. It had an emblem glyph of its own. all of which belong to the Late Classic period. It is distinguished by having been an important producer of fine pasta vessels and figurines, which were exchanged long distances. It had an emblem glyph of its own. all of which belong to the Late Classic period. It is distinguished by having been an important producer of fine pasta vessels and figurines, which were exchanged long distances. It had an emblem glyph of its own.”

Weird little sculptures and modelled tiles all over.

The preferred medium for sculpture was clay here, like the clay bricks used for the pyramids. The figures were for every day life not just funerary so you can see they were quite unique. A famous post for pottery exports and a thriving unique place that seems to be the odd man out with its designs. In Oaxaca I would find many sculptures attributed to this area. Comalcalco had a sophisticated ceramic industry. Kilns, molds, tools, and numerous figurines have been found within the site. Chemical analysis of the clay has been shown to be identical to the fabulous figurines discovered at the island site of Jaina, indicating that Comalcalco was one of the sources for the manufacture of these prized figurines.Between Temples II and IIa a funerary urn was discovered on the south façade belonging to a High Priest, or h-men, whose royal title has been deciphered as “Yajaw K’ahk”/Lord of Fire, and his name as Aj Pakal Tahn. This royal title also appears in inscriptions in Palenque and Chichen Itza. Numerous items relating to priestly functions were found interred with him. Included were snail shell earrings, stingray spines, pyrite fragments, amulets made of jadeite, shell and serpentine, shark teeth, and obsidian blades; all being covered in cinnabar powder.

This museum is a little goldmine of information within its artefacts. The pantheon of gods as well as normal day to day statues and pots are in its collection. The strange toothless head of an old man represents Itzmnaaj their creator god amongst other things, but he is also seen in the guise of the gekko lizards everywhere too. This is the complexity of their gods who were considered more supernatural than godlike. I was amazed to find out that with a little cunning they could be overcome or even destroyed by human beings.

I was sad to leave and could have gone up to the coast too but I was tired and replete from gorging on sculpture and pyramids, The Olmec giant heads that I had come to Villahermosa for and the lovely suprise of Comalcalco. So we headed back zooming down that motorway and luckily retrieving my bag from bighead land. The day had been a fantastic success.

Last night of luxury before getting real again in Oaxaca.

On arriving in the foyer of the hotel I had a quick cocktail.All the staff had apparently died now ready for the Day of the Dead celebrations. They all had brightly painted faces were giggly and happy having set up a shrine too by the front desk. Now bear in mind that days ago in Merida they were all pumped up for this fiesta macabre so it was getting to be a recurring theme everywhere. Indeed the next morning at the airport all the staff at the airport shops were intricately costumed for the part. Happily none of the airline crew were sporting scull faces which I feel would not be a good omen for nervous travellers waiting to fly.

So it was a last night in the Marriot. No more posh hotels for a while although this one I had got a brilliant deal on so I wanted to luxuriate one more time in my new room away from the oh so noisy nightclub. Although I loved this great hotel the previous two nights had been disturbed by an insane nightclub which had some kind of foul Mexican karaoke. The first night it hadn’t mattered as I was exhausted and high as a kite on painkillers, but the next night had been awful. Imagine if you will, some Mexican bandit Godfather, who no one dares to ask, please god, just stop already. He was ‘doin’ it his way, until six in the morning. There would be a lull from time to time whilst he wet his whistle I presume, with a tequila or six, and I would be lulled into a false sense of security, plump my pillows, sigh and think it was safe to try to sleep again, and then boom, a louder and progressively more out of tune nutter would continue his wailing. It may interest you to know that the previous week there had been a shooting at a nearby bar with five fatalities with the same sort of scenario, so I would guess people didn’t want to challenge this locos singing skills.

Anyhoo, in my new more distant room I packed my little case, after chucking out a couple of very dodgy looking t-shirts, and bathed, powdered and primped to mentally prepare for my trip to Oaxaca in the morning. I knew it would be a bitch as I had a tight connection at Mexico City that I was dreading. My sleep was light and restless with anxiety despite not hearing that damned caterwauling.

A graffito looking amazingly like my new old bird logo. Great minds and all that.

A crazy journey on to Oaxaca.

In the morning I went to pay the bill and tried to lurk but as usual I went to the airport far too early. There I met with a more conventional crowd than when I travelled last. Apart from watching a waitress with a nasty cold coughing into everones breakfast tortillas, nothing was really eventful for the first leg of my journey. It was the connection where I ran into trouble. The flight of course was delayed and of course farce ensued on arrival. Running limpily through a labyrinth of corridors (Our plane was parked right at the end of the airport) I finally made it to the main hub of the airport where it said clearly on the noticeboard Gate 72a. Now I don’t know about you but when I see a big number with a letter on the end of it I get very suspicious as it normally means it’s a weird annex gate in a distant reccess of a weird terminal, but hey, it said it there in black and white. Running through to where I had come from and then down a long spiral ramp I shouted wildly and sweatily “Oaxaca, Oaxaca?” to more or less anyone who would listen. Time was pressing on and I was going to miss the bloody flight dammit. A business man also alarmed and stranded on some other rampy bit away from me, shouted the flight number to me in the same manner I had been doing to all and sundry and I shouted “yes, yes!” We managed to meet midway in the spaghetti junction that had been devilishly erected there and agreed that they had said that gate number and it was wrong. Finally some staff at a random desk found that obviously secret gate it was flying from. If anything he was more panicky than me explaining as we ran that he did this trip on a regular basis and it had never gone from bloody 72A before so he should have smelled a rat. Now the two of us running back up the damned ramp and far far across the main airport shouting instructions to one another as we, wild eyed, finally found the gate.

Yeah baby we are nearly there!

Of course the flight was running late and there, sitting casually, were the waiting passengers who hadn’t even been called yet. They stared stonily at us as if we were fools and beyond contempt. Shakily we sat down and even had time for a drink (which would prove to be a terrible mistake as I would find out later) before anything happened. It had started to piss down outside the rain lashing the windows, and an electric storm had brewed up nicely with lightening forking down dramatically. My pal called his wife and said they could take me to my hotel when we got there. The coincidence of our meeting was doubled by the fact that we were also seated next to each other. I bet he later wished that we hadn’t been.

Enter a scene of the interior of a tiny jet, lurching around in a storm on a pitch black night. A silently screaming woman clutches a kind man, sat next to her, by the arm at every flash of lightning.The woman speaks in a garbled Spanish, English and Greek having clearly forgotten any language whatsoever, just using any word that came to hand. She explains to the man that she had been in a terrible close shave on a flight in Greece years before so can’t bear any turbulence. The people in the small jet who have been slightly anxious now pick up on her conversation and also start to fear the worse. She now believes she is in the Twilight Zone and starts to look for a gremlin on the wing. Cut to plane landing bumpily and the passengers applauding clearly very relieved when it finally touches down.

You get the picture….

However once at the dinky Oaxaca airport the man insisted on taking me to my hotel and soon his wife and two kids picked us up in their smart car. It was at that point I realised I was desperate for a wee. I hadn’t noticed on the plane as I was more worried about us not crashing and I didn’t want to delay them further. He reckoned it was only a fifteen minute drive so I just thought ‘suck it up you big baby’ Well might be their town but it would seem they didn’t know my seedy part of of the town where my new abode was and couldn’t find the bloody place. We careered around Central Oaxaca, him giving a running commentary of all the places and the restaurants I should see, up and down those one way streets he, like a demented tour guide, enthused and gushed. At every corner I winced with bladder stretching to its limit, with every cry from me of “Do you really know where it is?” he would over- brightly contest “Yes. Yes we’re nearly there”. The wee sweats started, and now all the streets looked mean and dreadful and full of criminals. So many dark alleys, so many groups of shady characters.At that point I weighed up flinging myself from the car door to relieve myself in the gutter. On and on we went husband and wife now snapping at each other annoyed at somehow losing face. My kindly captors kept driving up and down a very congested one way system while I stared out barely bothering with pleasantries anymore. I can’t explain to you how desperate I was in those last minutes, but I was grimacing and ready to cry.

One more “Yes. Yes we’re nearly there” and we finally we actually were there. I wasted no time flinging myself out of the car and straight into the reception shouting out “El bano, el bano?” to the startled girl at the front desk, there were no protracted goodbyes to my kind new friends, and no pleasantries to the alarmed girl just a snatching of the proffered key and my flying up the stairs despite my now super swollen foot. I made it to my very strange room just in time and nearly cried with the relief at the super long emptying of a very stressed bladder…. and then pain from my foot shone through, bright and sharp.

Straight out to walkway more like a motel of some kind

Coming down as sedately as a lame princess could do, I said my hello’s to the reception, apologised for my dramatic entrance, said a ‘Yes thank you I feel much better now’ and checked in. This whole affair made for my being their pet mad woman for the duration of the stay which I of course took for admiration. My kind chap had obviously left with his family, clearly understanding the term “No good deed goes unpunished” by now. And I understood the term “You’re a dumb bitch Rebecca”

Airport foot as seen on arrival in Hotel National
My top floor at the Hotel National Oaxaca. Sun terrace at the end where I would nurse my broken foot with a frozen bottle of water they prepared for me every day at the end of my shenanigans.

Diamond place. It looked so dodgy from outside but was a brilliant quirky hotel and my base for the foreseeable in lovely old Oaxaca.