OR, CALAKMUL, BALAMKU AND KOHUNLICH. FINALLY, I CATCH A BREAK ON MY ROAD TRIP OF ARCHAEOLOGY.
A week-long road trip was hell and heaven. Mostly hell, but the bits that were heaven were sublime. It all would be heaven if they hadn’t imposed such restrictions where they weren’t needed. Seems there is no middle ground here but I love it just the same.
Alert: I’m working under duress with internet on and off more times than a tarts knickers! (excuse me if this old saying is offensive!) I will go on to publish and correct it all later! IN THE HOWLING WIND AND RAIN DROPS THAT THREATEN MY GEAR EVEN BELOW THE THATCHED ROOF I WILL SAY TATA FOR THE MOMENT! That’s all folks!
This is another example of closed sections at famous pyramids. Another scam in times of ‘plague
Long heralded a superior site in the Mayan world I was again disappointed. The Grand Acropolis was closed. I only found out from a young guide after going around the pyramid square which also houses many stelae but in poor condition. When I asked the young guide kinda chap he started to walk with me. I must admit my hackles raised a bit for I could see hardcore money push happening. Anyhow long story short he told me it was bloody closed which again they had failed to mention at the ticket desk. I don’t care to climb fucking dangerous pyramids thank you very much which is all the younger generations want to do, which is fine it’s just not for me. I have terrible vertigo and once climbed a very high temple in Cambodia with high very thin steps. On reaching the top I decided I could never go down again. I nearly puked looking at the climb down. I would just live on top until they could send a helicopter for me. I would lie on the floor and refuse to move. I would scream if anyone touched me to cajole me down that slippery awful stairway. My freak out was allayed when I was told that there was a rope bannister on the other side by a kindly person who saw me whimpering and ashen-faced. I managed my way down the other side eternally grateful and swore that I would never be so stupid again. I have been of course. The only time I climbed a very tall pyramid was at Tikal where they have very sensible wooden staircases zigzagging their way up to the top and once there the view indeed is magnificent. Above the forest canopy, you can understand their ethos at being connected to the sky and their gods. However, once you’ve done it once and perfectly at Tikal you really don’t have anything more to see so it’s all a bit silly for someone like me.
Anyhoo, when this chap asked me if I wanted to sneak in and see the Acropolis I just didn’t feel for it. I had my car waiting and I didn’t even want to ask how much this secret tour would cost. In retrospect, I should have done and indeed someone said later that he always had chats with the lesser on-site guides and apparently some secret code is to keep saying how you would love to see it while putting your hand to your heart then you make a deal but like I said I felt grumpy and done with this fucking place that was reminding me of Palenque and indeed Uxmal. I don’t care for being herded and denied access to all the best bits of these famous sites. So I left just taking pics of the mock-up of a temple front some photos of the promised painted murals and reconstructed stelae all conveniently by the ladies’ bogs. I sulkily went back to my car, the driver expected me to be euphoric, I explained what had happened and how none of the good gear was to be seen. So off we went to Balamku after a quick squabble about prices and time and persuasion on my part that I would use him the following day, he took me to this lesser site which was such a treat.
I knew I would love this place but sorry about the photos as I didn’t manage to download them before Google wiped them all out.
The vibe when I arrived was so much better and trust me this is a gem of a site. Its main attraction is the large stucco sculpture across a wall inside the pyramid. On the amble around I was alone for the most part except for a guy doing some restoration at the top of the pyramid. It had a nice selection of styles and different buildings in a kind of bite-size Mayan site. I anxiously went round the pyramid and down a narrow corridor that you could easily miss was a set of wooden stairs to the interior. It’s really good to finally get inside one for the first time. The dark room was dimly lit but what a lovely whole wall of stucco sculpture. A tiny square window at the top of the angled pyramid wall occasionally flashed in light when the sun came from behind the clouds giving it an eerily authentic atmosphere. All the sins of the other places were washed away as I gazed enthralled at this sculpture.
The name of the site derives from the Mayan words Balam (jaguar) and Kú (temple), meaning “Temple of the Jaguar”. This name alludes to one of the jaguars embodied in the patterned and polychrome stucco frieze. Its most important buildings date from AD 300–600. It has one of the largest surviving stucco friezes in the Maya world. Balamku was first occupied around 300 BC.
In Balamkú there is a unique painted and modelled stucco frieze in the Mayan area, which was made between 550 and 600 AD. In the frieze, there are 4 ascension scenes alternated with three jaguars. Each one comprises an animal with its head turned back, seated in the front slit of a figurehead of the Earth Monster; his mouth gives way to a king on his throne. In addition to illustrating in detail the opposite and complementary aspects of the underworld, the set shows that the dynastic cycle is equated with the solar cycle. In this conception, the accession to the throne is illustrated by the king emerging from the jaws of the earth monster, as the Sun rises from the mouth of the Earth; the king’s death is seen as a sunset when it falls into the mouth of the Earth Monster.
Next Day To KohUnlich and the Pyramid of the Masks.
I chose to keep the cab for the next day and go to Kohonlich then on to ? to finally get the bus back to Tulum. It seemed logical. I had been away for a week and had had a few disappointments and was paying for the flat too so economically it was home time so my last set of ruins thankfully turned out to be beautiful. With my bag packed I said a sad farewell to my cracking little hotel and hit the road again
There is no doubt that the less popular places are the best bet for a rewarding experience. The whole site was open to me and no people at all when I arrived. It’s a Large site and has each section far from each, so when you go to the 27 steps and see what is basically an elite villa section it’s a stroll from all other bits. These people of old must have enjoyed the breeze and views from their lofty dwellings. There are loads of nooks and crannies and cooking areas at one end and bed platforms at the others. The Petan architecture includes many corbeled windows and entrances and rounded edges, the actual name derives from the beautiful conundrum palm trees that create long avenues between the different areas of the site. This place is so generously spread out that it’s the most chilled site I’ve been to. The howler monkeys occasionally have a session which reminded me of my panic at a very remote site in Guatemala. There I got lost and ran to a clearing slipping on a great slick of mud that was moss-covered. Another of my artless accidents but that time involved getting covered in mud and feeling a right Charlie. Luckily this time a warden was close by and he showed me to a hidden ladies’ loo to wash up.
Anyhoo a short gently sloped avenue leads you to the crowning glory. The Temple of the Masks. The front of the pyramids is where four of the remaining massive eight-foot masks reside. Two have been lost in ancient times but the four that flank the steps in the centre are marvellous As usual the strange wisps coming out of the mouth aren’t moustaches but the sacred breath of life. Adorned with other headdress paraphernalia and symbols of kinds. I have researched this but if anyone knows more about any history or art of this site (or indeed any other) do tell!
There’s a ball court grand acropolis, a king’s palace, pyramids and a rich array of what we don’t really know what the functions were but the Spanish casually always gave a name to what they thought they were. It’s very misleading for most of the buildings across the Mayan sites. They have however found objects which identify as things being produced in workshops.
Paint is still clearly visible and what noble, and strict but fair faces of these sun god human representations are made of plaster that has survived getting on for two thousand years. Thanks to the descendant’s guardians protecting them from sun and rain with a thatch-roofed covering. They gaze passive over this central part of Kohunlich, well actually they don’t know as they are covered, but what they would have done and what sight it would have been in the day. People would have admired them and worshipped them from afar on that hill that overlooks all.
At this site are over two hundred mounds as yet unexplored one wonders what other ancient art lies in this number of humps in the landscape still holds more secrets of this massive site. Maybe hidden in one is the real name of this wonderful place.
I can safely say that throughout my six months travelling around Mexico last year that it’s always better to go to the less famous and inaccessible sites because it’s more likely you will have full access (or if you don’t they don’t care) and you’ll have a more spiritual and exciting time.
Travelling all around the world I have found this and realistically, this is the only way to travel solo.