Thursday, 31 January 2013

Place: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala

This is more or less a picture post, a what-this-archaeologist-did-on-her-holidays type of post. As I blogged about previously, I ran away over Christmas to the hot sunny lands of Central America. It all seems a hundred million lightyears away as I sit in my study surrounded by snow, but I did go! It was real! And I had a fantastic time. The exact right balance between archaeology (for me), beach time (for my long suffering other half) and nature (for both of us). And food... the food was incredible. I won't even start on the amounts of tequila based fluid consumed as daily cocktail intake.

The view from my house last week...

I love to travel. I actually think it's pretty important. There's nothing like a good culture shock to make you remember the old chestnut that the past is a foreign country- and probably more foreign than any foreign country you can just hop to on a plane! Watching other people live completely different lives, and knowing that the way they go about their day will keep going, long after you go back to what's "normal" for you, is pretty amazing. The whole world gets on with its respective business, while I sit and write this in cold Devon. seemed a world away from Flores, Guatemala, where I am here...

Palenque, where the world didn't end.

Skulking around looking at the floor....
It's also bloody lovely to get away archaeologically. We honeymooned in Greece, so I knew a whole load about all the sites we were seeing. The result of this was I got cross with incorrect signs, and stomped around museums gloating over the amounts of bucchero and Etruscan made material while my husband sighed and took pictures. Mayan archaeology is something I know very little about- so I just lapped up the sites, didn't fuss over the signs, and only had one Hermione-Granger moment when the guide started talking about the Pope's crozier as a sign of spiritual dominion (there's a long history to the blimmin' thing, which seems to have started life as an ETRUSCAN lituus or magistrate's staff. Eurgh).

It was particularly special to be visiting in time for the supposed "Mayan apocalypse" of 2012. Needless to say, it didn't happen. What did happen was a lot of hippies showed up at the site of Palenque, where we were staying, tried to stay up chanting and taking ayahuasca all night, got drenched by a vicious thunderstorm which showed what the gods thought of them, and then were looking utterly miserable with bloody noses and soaking wet maxidresses the next day. I sniggered unkindly, but seeing the dedication these people had did make me realise the power of these ancient places for them- who was I to laugh? I felt pretty guilty about laughing the night before at the figures running through the pouring rain falling over in wet robes due to the amount of mind altering substances they'd consumed. It was funny though, honest.

Phil looking sick at Bonampak!

The amazing murals at Bonampak- weirdly reminding me of Etruscan tomb paintings in brighter colours...
My favourite site was (predictably) the quietest and least visited we went to. It's called Yaxchilan, and to get there you have to travel in a little boat an hour down a river. There were spider and howler monkeys, living in almost intact jungle, and the best archaeology was 300m up and well worth the climb. I also loved seeing the murals from Bonampak, although my husband was feeling very ill that day and did not appreciate being dragged up the steps to see them. He does say it was worth it now though.

A very excited me on the boat to Yaxchilan!

The final site of our tour was Tikal, which we visited in the dark in time for sunrise. I can't really describe the experience more than to say (banally) that it was truly magical. As we visited very close to the solstice, the sun rose directly over one of the temples to strike us viewers in the face. We also got some fabulous photos of the wildlife...

Sunrise at Tikal

Spider monkey at Tikal- this incredible photo, like all the pictures from this post in which he doesn't feature, was taken by my husband Phil- thank you :)
So, that was my trip- worth not blogging for a few weeks eh??

In all seriousness- I think going away was one of the best things I could have done. In fact, I'm plotting a humungous getaway for when I finish my PhD. Dependent on when and what happens afterwards, I'd really like to have another fantastic, culture shock escape. Maybe a little more wildlife/seaside than this time though- it's only fair on hubby. I'm thinking Nepal and India? We'll see.

I hope you liked the photos, and I would say to anyone considering going to Central America- do it. Go tomorrow and book the flights.

Where are you travelling to next? Where was the best place you've been? How has travel changed you? As an archaeologist/academic or as a person?

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