The Odyssey
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Latin America Jamila Dispatch

On Top of the World in Palenque
 
Palenque
Caption
As I walked up the winding road leading to the ancient ruins of Palenque, I could feel a mystical sensation surrounding me. The lush, tropical vegetation and the sounds of nature eased my body and soul. I knew I had reached paradise! The end of the road was my beginning to an experience of ancient Mayan culture.

Outside of the main entrance to the ruins, Mayan women and children were out bright and early selling agua en botella y refrescos to visitors of their sacred ruins. As I entered, there was a sign for visitors stating that they should not purchase any items from people selling souvenirs on the grounds. Less than 10 feet from the sign several beautiful Mayan children swarmed around me wanting me to purchase a necklace that represented the months of the Mayan calendar. I had a hard time resisting Carmenıs precious face so I bought one representing my birth month, December. It is called Yaxkin (pronounced Yash-kin). For 20 pesos, I was able to get a glimpse of ancient Mayan life from 692 BC. It made me wonder about the sign at the entrance. Here is Carmen, a descendent of the great Mayan civilization, and she is helping to support her family by selling relics of her ancestors. Why should she be forbidden to do so?

Palenque Temple
Caption

As I continued walking further, I looked up and froze with astonishment - it was the Temple of Inscriptions. This is the largest standing structure on the site. Behind it, the beauty of the jungle provided a breathtaking backdrop to the scene. It was hard for me to believe that these massive structures were built without the use of metal tools, wheels or pack animals. How did they do it? The temple gets its name from 620 intricately etched hieroglyphs that are chiseled along its walls. These hieroglyphs tell the history of the magnificent ruins of Palenque. In the depths of this temple is the tomb of the great Mayan ruler, Pakal. Since the recent discovery of his tomb in 1952, we have learned that Mayan pyramids, as in Egypt, were also used as funerary monuments for their rulers (the leaders were buried inside!).

My challenge for the day was to climb to the top of the Temple (without falling of course!). "Iım athletic, itıs only 66 feet high, I can do it," I told myself. But it was not as easy a task as I thought it would be. There were no handrails, and the steps were extremely narrow. My size 10 feet were having a tough time fitting on the steps. Do you think you could have done it? Well, I was doing great. I got all the way to the top and then all of a sudden--big time rainstorm. Great! Perfect timing. Just when I wanted to climb back down. I thought that I was going to be stuck at the top for several hours. With a prayer to the Mayan rain god, Chac, the downpour slowed down. By this point the stone steps were way too slippery to climb down, so I cheated and went down the back (there are less steps). After I made it down, of course the rain stopped.

Monica and I spent the rest of the day in the rain exploring the few dozen temples that stand free from the rapture of the jungle. It is said that there are over 500 buildings in Palenque left to be excavated. The majority of them are still engulfed in the thick layers of the jungle. It has also been said that Palenque was once the most beautiful of all the classic Mayan cities. From what I saw today, I donıt doubt this to be true.

The ancient Maya were extremely intelligent people. Archeologists have found childrenıs toys built with wheels, so Iım sure that the concept of the wheel was not foreign. Perhaps the wheel was not incorporated into the work process as a way to prove to their gods that the Mayan people had great human strength. It could have been more impressive to carry the rocks without technological assistance. Who knows? There are many mysteries that still remain about the ancient Mayan civilization. When I left Palenque I had many unanswered questions. How did the Maya build these massive structures? Why did this civilization decline?

Jamila


Klaus - Dealing in Facts
Jamila - Can I Stay for Carnival?
Team - When and Where the Maya Thrived
Jamila - Chichén Itzá: The Jewel of the Yucatán
Two Vegetarians in a Meat Market
Monica - Posing and Shopping in Guatemala


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