Category Archives: Archaeology

In which we break the curse of Bonampak

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Yes, it’s been a while since our last post.  We were in Berlin….

We were warned not to take an organised tour from Palenque to Bonampak.  You may recall that part of the purpose of this trip was to break ‘the curse of Bonampak’.  We tried to get there on three occasions.  On the first it was deemed too difficult due to terrorist activities.  On the second the murals were closed and on the third attempt we ran out of cash in Frontera de Corazol.

We ignored the warning and purchased an organised tour.  This was incredibly good value.  We were picked up at our hotel in Palenque, taken for a good Mexican breakfast, driven up to where you get on the launch to Yaxchilan boated up the river to Yaxchilan, taken back for a decent Mexican lunch, on to Bonampak.  Overnight in a really good jungle lodge on the river then picked up and driven to Flores in Guatemala.  We were the only English speakers on the bus, though there was another bus with some Canadians in it.  We met a lot of Canadians on this trip.  Central America is a lot warmer than Canada in January and February.

On the way to Yaxchilan I saw a pair of toucans flying.  They look….. improbable.  How can they fly so elegantly with those great, heavy beaks?

Yaxchilan is one of our very favourite sites in Central America.  The lintels are just amazingly delicate.  Some of them are in the British Museum so if you are ever in London you can see them there.  Some of them, however, remain in situ.  The wildlife is also rich.  When we were there in 2010 a Fer de Lance was spotted less than an inch from Ashley’s foot.  This time the wildlife seen was less poisonous (and mostly monkeys)!

And we finally got to Bonampak!  It’s a lovely little site but….  They are quite rightly highly protective of the famous frescoes.  Only three people are allowed into the frescoes at once and there was a sizeable queue.  This meant that we felt we couldn’t really stay staring at the frescoes for the several hours we would have needed to take in all the detail.  Ashley managed to get some pretty decent shots.  The rest of the site is very restful.  Nicely laid out and presented.  And the crowds, of course, are queuing up to see the frescoes.  What struck me was the contrast between these amazing frescoes and the carvings….  After what we had seen just a few hours earlier at Yaxchilan, the carving seemed…. interesting but blockier… less delicate, less sophisticated.  It made me wonder what the frescoes at Yaxchilan or Calakmul or Tikal must have been like….

So, we broke the curse.

WP_20170123_07_21_33_ProAfter Bonampak we stayed for one night at Ya Toch Barum, a jungle lodge run by local Lacandon people.  Not just a lodge but an entire complex with a recycling centre and a shop which doubles as an internet cafe along with a restaurant.  We were shown to a very pleasant bungalow… in which the light did not work.  We found someone to come and fix it – it turned out not to be fixable so we were upgraded to a bungalow on the river.

After breakfast we were shepherded across the border into Guatemala and on to Flores.  Flores is pretty but very, very touristy.  Our hotel was lovely (great roof terrace overlooking the lake) but the discos and bars along the shore of the lake were a bit too noisy for our liking.  Not crowded – just noisy.

But noise or not, Flores is very beautiful and a great jumping off point for a visit to Tikal.

A weekend in Akyaka

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Taking a break from Central America, and home, we headed off for a weekend in Akyaka.  It is a good place to go late April or early May, it is before it heats up, and before the throngs descend, well, unless you go May bank holiday weekend, in which case it is very busy.   Akyaka is an easy two and a half hours away along good highways so also serves as an excellent opportunity to blow the cobwebs off the bike and check that all is well post winter.

Akyaka-Nova-apptWe stayed in our usual apartment hotel, a simple and comfortable place with facilities to make a breakfast of eggs, cheese, bread, olives, tomatoes, cucumber, honey and strawberries, along with copious quantities of tea.  It would have been possible to cook an evening meal, but why.  Part of the whole point of going to Akyaka is to partake in the local restaurants, many of which are a cut above those in other resorts.   We indulged, a seafood dinner of fried squid and prawns in garlic and tomatoes along with a huge salad and mezes.  Then there was slow kid, an utterly delightful kebab of aubergines and meatballs (not served in the usual way) which we went back for the following night, and slow roast lamb shank in onions and mint.  Then there was ice cream, hand made goat milk ice cream, Hilary discovered the one with roast almond and honey.  So yes, we ate very well. Akyaka-river-and-beer

Between indulging in food and the occasional beer by the river, we had a couple of days out, one walking in the nearby farmland and wetland.  We were hoping to see bee eaters but beyond a possible long distance sighting did not.  We did see a red backed shrike, egrets, storks and a glossy ibis.  The second day we went to Kaunos, it’s an easy day out from Akyaka, in part along a winding road with stunning views of lake Koycegiz, but with a poor surface so we did the return via the small ferry into Dalyan.

Kaunos is a great site, one we have been to a few times.  It is really well maintained and in a wonderful setting, so there is great wildlife in what feels like an archaeological park.  We saw the expected rock nuthatches around the theatre, but the best wildlife is around the old harbour.  Egrets, loads of tortoise, lizards – star agama mostly, and a snake, well we thought it was a snake but it turned out to be a glass snake which is actually a limbless lizard.

 

Palenque

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The next morning one of the staff from the hotel escorted us to the bus stop to make certain we would get onto the bus.  We got to the bus stop about twenty minutes early and waited.  And waited.  Until it became obvious that no bus was going to come.  At which point someone was flagged down and gave us a lift to Escarcega.  He was dropping bundles of newspapers off at various stores along the way.  We got dropped off at the wrong bus garage (we didn’t know which one we needed) but soon made our way to the right (ADO) one.  We had time to grab a quick lunch before getting on the bus to Palenque.

This must have been a first class bus because it had movies.  Bad ones.  In Spanish.  However, as we went along the scenery changed as we drew closer and closer to the rainforest.

We’ve been to Palenque before.  Each time we have visited it has become more and more developed.  There is now a luxury hotel where we first stayed (along with iguanas and howler monkeys) and, though you can sometimes hear them, we didn’t see any howler monkeys in town.  We stayed at the same hotel we stayed at in 2003 and there was still noisy building work going on.  Some of the restaurants are very touristy in terms of price and menu but there is a good choice of places to eat, drink and sleep.

In the morning we took ourselves to the Maya site – it’s easy enough on the collectivo.  It remains one of the best presented of all the sites in Central America.  The monumental structures rise up out of the forest as they must always have done.  There are one or two big trees left in the plazas (which would not have been the case in Mayan times) and these house a large colony of very noisy parrots (of the small, green varieties).  These days there are a large number of stalls selling tourist tat (some of it quite nice, some of it those nasty noise makers).  There are also a large number of tourists and, as it was a Saturday, quite a few children.  It’s no longer possible to get away from the crowds in the main parts of Palenque though, if you walk through the forest towards the museum, it’s fairly quiet.

It’s a big site and we were quite tired by the time we got to the museum.  Which was, however, extremely worth the time and energy taken to visit.  They have reconstructed Pakal’s tomb extremely well and it is exhibited with plenty of explanatory text.  Sadly photos taken (without the forbidden flash) in the museum did not come out very well.

 

Xpujil, Becán and Chicanná

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The next day Diane from the lodge drove us into the little town of Xpujil.  There are ruins of some mostly domestic Maya buildings opposite the school and we started out there.  We then walked up to the main site at Xpujil which we had almost to ourselves.  We spent some time exploring the ruins and watching the wildlife.  The area is a bit low on wildlife as, however, we did see the very impressive bat falcon at the main site at Xpujil which was probably why the plaza was devoid of other birds, and we had frequent sightings of small green parrots flitting in and out of the bushes beside the road.

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We then walked back to the town and caught a taxi to Becan.  That saved us about 10 km walk.  Becan is a wonderful site with many structures and a moat.  It was certainly Hilary’s favourite site to date (and one of the best overall).  Again, we had it almost to ourselves – there were two other people there and they were not obtrusive.

We walked along to Chicanná which is on the way back to the lodge.  Another wonderful site including some monstrous doorways where you step into the maw of the house of the serpent mouth.  Regrettably we didn’t get a really good picture showing the teeth!

That was a very full day with lots of walking between and within the sites.  We got back to Rio Bec Dreams very ready for a shower, a sit by the bamboo to watch the jays and a few cold beers.

Next day we made our way to Palenque – a big favourite of ours…

Flying into Mexico

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I think it’s about time I began to write this as we have now been home well over a month….

On 12th January this year we flew from Izmir to Stansted.  There was snow on the ground on the way to Adnan Menderes.  Our flight was direct and trouble-free and we had booked our National Express bus from Stansted to Luton where we planned to stay with family.  We arrived in Luton in a blizzard that, although short-lived, coincided with our getting off the coach and into a taxi for the short ride to Ashley’s mother’s house.  Next day we went to London to spend time with my family and, Saturday 14th we flew from Gatwick to Cancun.

A ten hour flight is never the best way to spend a day but we had excellent service on our flight with Virgin Atlantic.  The flight was not full and we had a row of 4 seats to ourselves.  The seat back entertainment system was excellent and varied (we watched the first episode of Westworld, amongst other things), the food was fine, there was free alcohol in moderation and the staff were helpful and friendly.  We landed in Cancun and got through immigration feeling reasonably relaxed, then a taxi to our hotel near the bus station.

The hotel was OK and the staff were sweet.  We had a problem with the aircon which was fixed almost instantly.  It felt very late at night though, in Cancun, it was early, so we didn’t do a lot.  We took a stroll to the local square.  This was not the touristy part of Cancun, so it was full of locals enjoying Saturday night.  There were folk dancers and stalls selling street food, balloons and that kind of thing.  I particularly remember the bats.  There were lots of them, large ones (probably fruit bats of some sort) hanging from one of the trees in the zocolo like black handkerchiefs.

We had a few beers in the bar attached to the hotel.  I got bitten.  Lots.  One of the worst mosquito attacks I experienced in the whole 5 weeks we were in the tropics.

Valladolid1Next morning we wandered around, back to a square where we listened to birds and watched those brave enough to show themselves in a crowded area.  Basically we were waiting for a bus to take us to Valladolid.  An easy ride (first class bus, it had movies, including one about Turkey).

I really like Valladolid.  It’s not too touristy, though it does have some pleasant pensions and a couple of decent restaurants.  It has a cenote where we watched loud tourists and a family of black vultures.  It has a lovely, green square full of ground doves and… grackles.  I really do like grackles.  And, of course, it’s convenient for Cichen Itza.

There had been some debate around whether to go to Chichen Itza.  Ashley has been several times, I had only been once.  It was the first Mayan site I visited and I wanted to refresh my memory.  We went on a collective (the Mexican equivalent of a Dolumuş).  We saw a mot mot sitting on a wire on the way, though the vehicle was pretty full and it was hard to see much from the window.  The first thing we saw upon arrival was the queue.  Although we had arrived quite early, the crowds are such that there is a 20 minute queue just to pay to get into the site.

Sadly, from my point of view, they allow people to set up souvenier stalls inside the site itself.  I suppose that is better than having them wander around accosting tourists, but it does little for the atmosphere.  Also they sell these vile noisemakers which are supposed to imitate jaguars (I think they sound more like howler monkeys) and, unsurprisingly, these are very popular with children.

Nothing can really spoil Chichen Itza.  The site is large and most tourists go to a very limited part of it (I think that a lot of the tour buses don’t allow you time to get around the whole site, particularly not if you like to take your sites slowly).  There are two cenotes, both of them very beautiful (though I do have my favourite).  There are some wonderful reliefs.  And we spent quite a long time standing on one of the slightly out of the way paths watching a mot mot hunt butterflies.  Well, mostly it was sitting pretty still so Ashely got some good shots.

 

Back to Valladolid for dinner (yes we did get the cochinita pibil) and a bit of sleep before catching the 5 a.m. bus to Chetumal……

Next Stop – Methoni

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Our next stop was Methoni.  We visited there, briefly, in 2013.  This time we went the pretty way, over Mount Taygetos which must be one of the best bike rides in the world.  Scenery is spectacular but we were a bit concerned by the darkening skies.  Which opened.  Fortunately whilst we were fairly near to a village where we took a rain break for a Freddo Espresso.  We managed to get to Methoni without getting seriously wet and checked into the hotel on the beach.  This meant we could use the sun loungers and umbrellas without incurring extra costs but, sadly, it wasn’t really beach weather whilst we were there.  The storm broke as we reached our room.

sparrrow-on-nutsMethoni is a quiet, seaside village – which gains much (but not all) its income from tourism.  It also has a spectacular Venetian castle which, this time, we managed to visit.  In fact we spent an entire morning in there.  Apart from the castle we spent our time making friends with the local wildlife in a pleasant bar and eating some excellent  meals.

 

On to Mystra

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Our next stop was Mystra.  We rode there the pretty way, via Leonido, stopping off in Cosmas for lunch Lunch in Cosmaswith a spectacular view…    Some Italian bikers had the same idea so there was quite a crowd enjoying mountain sausage, chips and village bread.

Mystra did not disappoint.  It’s an almost intact Byzantine city with many churches containing frescoes, a palace, a working monastery and plenty of interesting wildlife.  The village itself is small and friendly, containing a number of small hotels and a sprinkling of restaurants.  I think a lot of people just visit for the day from larger tourist centres.

After we arrived we walked up to the entrance to the site (there are two entrances because, if you only use the lower entrance, there is quite a lot of walking involved) where we saw some lattice brown butterflies on a tree stump.lattice-brown-1

Next day we explored the site itself.  It took all day.  Like many sites in Greece, the information boards scattered around give you a very good idea of what life must have been like when Byzantine Mystra was a living city.  We were lucky to avoid the rainstorm that happened in the evening as the surfaces inside the Byzantine city are very, very slippery when wet!

Apart from the lattice browns, I think I shall save the wildlife for a separate post as Mystra is very, very photogenic.