Thursday, February 9, 2012

Traveling the Road Not Taken

Misol-Ha, Chiapas


      In 1963  I traveled and worked in Chiapas, Mexico.  There were  rumors of waterfalls,  blue-green rivers,  a Mayan city on the banks of a river that could only be reached by motor launch,  and a newly discovered temple with painted frescoes, days away from San Cristóbal.  

       All of these places were unreachable. The forest was dense and roadless, and two young women traveling alone with machete-wielding chicleros was not a good idea.  The road from San Cristóbal into the mountains, which occasionally turned into a track, ended at Tenosique. Or was it Ocosingo? To get from San Cristóbal to the Mayan site of Palenque, we went back to Tuxtla, the capitol of Chiapas, and flew with a bush pilot, who barely rose above the mountains and deposited us in a ditch.   
Temple of the Sun, Palenque   (all photos are mine)
       In Mexico, I became who I am - or who I can be.  Adventurous, curious about everything to do with culture, with textiles, reading everything, fairly fearless - and, at that time, with a never-before-free spirit. 
     Though I longed for adventure and discovery, I did not become a field anthropologist, living in a tropical village and learning a native language. I did not work on digs hoping to find something as exciting as the burial chamber in Palenque, with its jade-masked skeleton of a deified ruler.  I became a community college instructor, and remained in the same town, and worked at the same college, and that was my calling, and I called myself fortunate.
         Over the years, I would read over the names on my aging map of Mexico, watch documentaries on the people of Chiapas, and read everything I could find on the cracking of the Mayan code, and the Zapatistas, the revolutionaries among “my” people.   

     Several years ago I bought a new map of Mexico. Red lines for major roads went to Palenque and all the way south to the Usamacinta river! I retired, and we began to travel…..

     And then, this January,  we were there! Careening vans opened the landscape of Chiapas to us. Here was the rumored and murmuring waterfall, and here was the how-can-it-be-aquamarine river,
Agua Azul

and there were the great trees that hid the ruins of Yaxchilan on the high cliff above the wide brown rush of water.
    When we came to the turn-off for Bonampak, we switched vans, and a long-haired Lacandon in traditional white toga drove us through miles of  one of the last remaining Preserves of uncut rain forest. We walked up to the temple, and there, finally, were the frescoes!

     It was as though all the locked places in myself flew open.  My dear husband opened to these magical places as well, and of course I wrote constantly. Here are some of my notes, on the way to becoming poems:

    Oh the trees    the magnificent    magnanimous trees   the odd and slightly sinister  the bearded tree and the one whose branches  are braided    and the flowers that flourish in the shade  
El Chanpan
           Each path is a seduction 

     Palenque: Traveled the world for 7 years and this is where I most wanted to be   elegant temples in the rainforest   
a watertumble of creeks that sometimes river     

     How happy I am in the lush greening patterns of light and shade and water running   running over rock    then rock becomes hillock   becomes cliff
Is there no end to higher?  

     At Bonampak I am  so moved as the Maya white stone grey stone world   turns colorfresco and lives   oh, oh  like a Mayan Sistine chapel  

           Mountains covered in forest and the desire to penetrate    
  to go inside  
Always wanting to go









  1. So often when roads are not taken, we don't get a second chance. What a wonderful experience, find that the world you wanted to see long ago was still waiting, still holding its sacred mysteries, still waiting to speak to you.


  2. Sun Singer - thank you for your understanding and beautiful words.

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