After the morning spent at Bonampak we went about twenty miles further down the highway that runs along the frontier with Guatemala (and through several military checkpoints) to the turnoff for Frontera Corozal on the Rio Usumacinta, the border between the two countries and the access to the Mayan ruins at Yaxchilan.  The town itself is about eleven miles down what is a pothole purgatory and was the roughest road we have encountered so far in all of Mexico.  It is a real frontier town full of dirt streets, rusty iron roofs, and lots of dogs roaming everywhere.  We camped right down on the river above where the long, narrow boats that take you to the ruins 40 minutes downriver tie up for the night.

Dan and the campsite beside the Rio Usumacinta

Dan and the campsite beside the Rio Usumacinta

The setting was pleasant enough with lots of shade, lots of bug infested grass, and lots of howler monkeys frolicking in the trees, sometimes right over our heads.  We camped with two Canadian couples in vans and a Mexican couple in a tent.  It was our closest encounter with the howler monkeys, often from a distance of perhaps ten feet, and whole families seemed to take real delight in flinging themselves between the trees on each side of our van.

We made arrangements with one of the launches before bedding down for the night, and were onboard and headed downriver by 8:15 the following morning.  It was wonderful to be early on the broad green river and fascinating to have a look into Guatemala from this perspective as well.  While propulsion in this case was by big outboard motor, the boat hulls themselves were very similar to what we were in while in Southeast Asia, particularly for the two days we traveled down the Mekong River in Laos.

One of the riverboats. Note the nose gracefully out of the water.

One of the riverboats. Note the nose gracefully out of the water.

 

Riverboat being loaded in shallow water with cargo.

Riverboat being loaded in shallow water with cargo.

We were the first to arrive at the ruins and all was still but for the howler monkeys and the birds.  Used to rather well restored ruins as we were, it was a surprise to find the buildings here still only partially excavated and often with only a wall or two exposed, the rest of the structure still engulfed in jungle.  Rather than the park like environment of Palenque and Bonampak, this resembled more a primitive settlement hacked from the rainforest and likely to be engulfed again without the constant attention of swinging machetes.

Jungle tree dangling above ruins and ready to gobble it back.

Jungle tree dangling above ruins and ready to gobble it back.

The site is divided into several areas.  The one below was more typical of what we had seen elsewhere in that it was a broad rather long clearing with low walls around its perimeter and buildings in general along the outer walls but sometimes situated in the middle of the clearing as well.  Certainly the most interesting of the buildings below is called The Labyrinth, and with good cause, as it is exactly that.  At ground level and in a basement it is filled with tunnel-like corridors which led us around and across and up and down and in the end from the single entrance to an exit at basement level that had a ramp cut into the hillside to bring us to ground level again. No single corridor was longer than perhaps fifteen feet, but in total we probably wandered through at least a hundred feet of tunnel with headlamps as the only illumination and accompanied only by bats hanging from the ceilings and a number of giant spiders clinging to the walls.

Front of the Labyrinth with its ground level entrance.

Front of the Labyrinth with its ground level entrance.

There are also a number of large steles scattered around the lower plaza, some of them with wonderful detail and telling of heroic moments in the history of this once powerful city-state.  Most interesting is this one, even in modern times:

Stele with an interesting history, even in modern times.

Stele with an interesting history, even in modern times.

With the opening of the fabulous National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City in 1964 an attempt was made to take it there but it was unsuccessful.  It also apparently suffered several ‘misadventures’ on the Usumacina River (should I assume it was lost overboard and had to be salvaged?) and was finally returned to the site where it is again today.  It shows the transfer of power from one ruler, Shield Jaguar I, to his successor, Bird Jaguar IV in approximately 742 AD.

Above the lower plaza is another area called the Acropolis, and the climb up the rather unrestored staircase is steep and long and difficult, over more tree roots than stairs themselves.

The staircase up to the Acropolis, more roots than stairs

The staircase up to the Acropolis, more roots than stairs

Most prominent at the top is Edificio 33, certainly the best preserved of the buildings at Yaxchilan as almost half of its roofcomb is still intact.  Almost all the Mayan structures had roofcombs atop them, but few are as well preserved as this one.

Edificio 33 with its roofcomb.

Edificio 33 with its roofcomb.

A rather round about but gentler descent took us by some other structures.  We finally returned to the path back to the boats and set off upriver for the hour trip back to Frontera Corozal.  Along the way we had a good look at rural life along the river on the Guatemala side including this settlement with its own dock into the river,

A typical settlement on the Guatemalan side of the river.

A typical settlement on the Guatemalan side of the river.

and this rather large and clearly well fed crocodile bathing in the midday sun.

A well fed croc with his chin in the cool water.

A well fed croc with his chin in the cool water.

From town we drove part of the afternoon to a wonderful ecolodge at Las Guacamayas, a preserve for the Scarlett Macaw, now rare but still so strikingly beautiful.  We spent the night in a cabana, the first time in weeks we hadn’t slept in Dan and it was, yes, a really nice reprieve!

Scarlett Macaws

Scarlett Macaws