Saturday, May 19, 2007

day thirteen: la venta, boat ride, molé

Another early morning for a long day of traveling. The hotel laid out a really good breakfast buffet, and I had some eggs (most eggs here are served scrambled with ham, "huevos con jamon", or with tomatos and green peppers, "huevos mexicanos") and some melon, with some green tea I brought from home.
Unlike the day before, though, we had a few stops to break up the hours of driving. The first stop was just outside of Villahermosa, at the La Venta park, which showcases 4000 year old Olmec artifacts from the La Venta site located in an inconvenient swamp some 60 km away. I would really like to return someday with more time and fewer people; I´m not sure whether it was my stomach or my mood or what, but I was really annoyed at the group there. We hurried through the park, stopping for goofy pictures but no explanation or time to appreciate the artifacts. Some people actually put hats on the statues we weren´t supposed to touch or take flash photographs of. Maybe I´m just a square, but I really wish people appreciated the culture a bit more.(the giant head disapproves of gringos)

The other thing that upset me a bit about La Venta is that there is a zoo element to the park, and it isn´t very well maintained. They have an aging, fat jaguar on display who is forced to be out in the sunlight during the day - they are nocturnal - so gringas like me can take pictures of him. Granted, he didn´t look especially unhappy; his cage was largish and he´s probably lived there all his life, but there´s something deeply wrong about it anyway. Last year I lived in the jungle for a month without seeing a single jaguar, but they were there, and you got the sense of the mystique about them that led the Maya to use them as icons of power and strength. This poor fellow in the zoo didn´t serve much purpose that way. They had displays of crocodiles and turtles, as well, which weren´t too bad, and it seems as though most of their monkey get out of the enclosures whenever they want and roam about the park, but the big cats were upsetting.
All that having been said, I would like to go back to see the statues in more detail, especially the giant heads.
Our second stop was much less upsetting. We stopped about two hours before San Cristobal at a little tourism complex next to a river, to go on a boat ride on a stretch of the river that used to be white water until a hydro dam was built upstream in the 60´s. The landscape is incredible - the cliffs on either side of the river reach up as high as a full kilometer in some areas, with ten foot cactus growing on the sheer walls, and beautiful little caves. One cave, accessible from the water, has a shrine to the Virgin of Guadelupe, the patron saint of Mexico. Also, the wildlife was impressive - there were wild monkeys in the trees by the water, lots of waterbirds and storks, and even crocodiles (I promise, little ones, Mom). We all managed to fit in one large fibreglass speedboat for the ride, though it was fairly tight.
After another few hours on the bus we arrived in San Cristobal de las Casas, which is a large town in the hills of Chiapas. We stayed in a comfortable hotel, the Hotel Moctezuma, with a number of little garden atria,and lots of public places to sit and talk, with nicer beds than the other places we´d stayed. The area is much colder than Merida and we all needed sweaters before heading our seperate ways for the evening.
Anne and I went to a little internet cafe around the corner, cheaper and faster than the Internet Pirate´s place in Merida, and made some phone calls on Anne´s Skype account; I called Mom, and also Sean, who miraculously answered his phone, and managed to get them both onto MSN for a while.
We left when the cafe closed and wandered around looking for somewhere to eat. We ended up at a little place on a square with a large church; Anne had fried chicken, and I had enchiladas de pollo, which came drowned in molé sauce. Molé is a cocoa based sauce which isn´t sweet like chocolate but has the same sort of comforting feeling to it; it was oddly good. Also, everything came with queso fresco crumbled over it and melting - a soft cheese like a very mild feta, unpasteurized and fresh. Very, very tasty.
After supper we went back to the hotel and chatted with Amanda and Carlos for a while in the front garden; they were having a Baja white wine called Blanc du Blanc, which is rather nice (Amanda gave me some).


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