Wabash Blogs Immersion 2008: Mexico
 

« February 2008 | Main

March 09, 2008

What a Trip it Was!!!

Dr. Rick Warner - We are back on U.S. soil, recovering from various gastrointestinal and other travel maladies. Over the next few days we will be reflecting individually and as a class about what we have learned – about the ancient and modern Maya, about Mexico, and about ourselves. Sometime later in the semester we will report out to the Wabash community over some tacos at lunchtime. By all reports this was a powerful, academically enriching, and emotive experience for students and staff alike. We are thankful to Robert our Blogmeister and Macie our video and computer whiz for their parts in helping us remember and reflect upon the venture. We are especially thankful to the college and our alumni for their generous financial support.

For my own part I would like to say that I am very proud of our students, who cheerfully negotiated difficult travel conditions (bugs, early risings and a broken bus among others). After several trips to Chiapas with Wabash students, there are residents there who actually think of us as another Harvard, since years ago representatives from that institution were active in ethnographic work there. Our students have impressed numerous scholars and experts on the ground there, some of whom you have read about in these blogs. The anthropologists we met in Chiapas were uniformly impressed by the preparation and sturdiness of our students. I know that because they have told me so on numerous occasions. Our students are learning to read Mayan glyphs, and to understand Mayan thought and history in a way that surpasses the other undergraduates they have worked with.

There is so much that has happened on this trip that it would be difficult to point to one travel segment, one archaeological site, or one native ceremony that impressed me more than any other. But there was indeed one experience that impressed me more than the others: our morning service project at the kindergarten site. I was unfortunately sitting with my knee injury on the sidelines of this operation, as I watched Professors Roger and Brown help Sergio Castro keep our guys on task. 

On the plus side, that gave me time to reflect. Wabash men were digging trenches, sinking posts, and painting this newly completed school. They were following in the footsteps of the awesome Sergio Castro, who has built no fewer than 25 schools and continues to serve the Mayan communities of Chiapas as a healer. (Go to YouTube and search “Sergio Castro” for more on this amazing man.) Our students have been much more than tourists on this trip; they have engaged ancient and modern Mayan cultures in a respectful manner. But that morning as I sat on a rock and watched them work, I felt a higher sense of satisfaction. Wabash students were giving back to the world, and they were learning something as they labored. I remembered this feeling from the Panama football trip a couple of summers ago.

I have been thanked by many people for my role in the organization of this immersion trip. While I appreciate the praise, please know that I too have benefited by learning from my students as they “lived humanely” that morning, in the company of a bundle of Mayan 5-year-olds. This sort of community effort has deep roots in Mayan and Mexican history, and is rapidly becoming a Wabash tradition. We left something of ourselves in Chiapas. We will go back.

Above Left; Two Wabash students scale the steps at Bonampak.  Above Right; Wabash students talk with Kindergarten students in San Cristobal, Mexico.  Middle; Wabash's Tyler Dougherty '09 interacts with a student.  Below; from left to right, first row; Trent Bash '10, Yousuf Bahrami '10, Rabin Paudel '10, Michael Washburn '09, Zafer Ahmed '08, Tyler Dougherty '09; Second Row; (2) Local workers, Anthony Benitez '09, Sergio Castro, Josh Lopez '10, Adam Fritsch '09, Robert Campbell '10, Justin Gardiner '08; Third Row; Nathan Rutz '09, Chris Beard '10, Andy Chelton '09, Steve Zajac '10

March 08, 2008

Compromise and Controversey

The views and opinions below offer commentary on very sensitive subject matter.  It is the opinion of the author that, given the sensitive subject matter, it should be known that the opinions expressed below are those of the author only and not representative of the other students or professors on this immersion trip or Wabash College.  Thank you.

 

Robert Campbell '10

Since the time of the Spanish Conquest, Mexico has been, by and large, a Catholic state; however, as we have learned in class, the Mayan culture has very different view on religion than modern religions, such as Catholicism.  Logically, one would assume that during and after the time of the Conquest, these Mayan Indians would have adopted the views of the Catholic Church.  Those who assume this are correct; to a certain extent.  The modern Mayan culture has adopted the terms of Catholicism, but on their own terms.  This was the subject of our final day in San Cristobal and in Mexico; a further look at the Modern Maya and their way of life; this time through the lens of religion.

Chip Morrison, a native of Boston, Massachusetts, has been living in Mexico on and off since 1972.  This afternoon, we had the opportunity to take advantage of his thirty-plus years of experience with local Mayan tribes.  He took us to two Indian villages, one celebrating a festival of the saints, and one where healing rituals are an almost everyday occurrence.  Both situations are worth of their own twenty page research papers, however, there were some differences which astounded me.  For instance; in and out of both churches, turquoise crosses were on display in the fashion which we would find a plane wooden cross in the United States.  In the case of Chamula, the second village we visited, the tribe has added saints, has regular “healing rituals” at which chickens are often sacrificed, and has incorporated other aspects of the local religion into their own blend of Catholicism. 

I must say before I go farther that I am not a Catholic, but rather a Protestant.  Instead of delighting, however, in the anguish and frustration these tribes surely cause devout Catholics, I find an interesting correlation to the modern Protestant religion.  Chip said something that struck me during the day, and while I do not know the exact quote, it basically stated that these people believe in Christ, they believe in his divinity, and they actually feel as though they are talking to God.  At this point, a light bulb went off somewhere deep within the deep recesses of my memory.

As Christians, there are several different denominations; Baptist, Church of Christ, Nazarene, Lutheran, Evangelical, Pentecostal, the list goes on and on.  Often times, I am asked by friends who may not have the beliefs which I hold so dear to explain these differences.  I often find myself dumbfounded, as either I do not know the differences, or they are so subtle that I have forgotten.  Often, I get frustrated because the differences between these denominations cause petty bickering, or petty bickering will often lead to new denominations.  Either way, when I find myself thinking about these differences, I always ask the question, “don’t we all believe in the same basic principal?” 

Please note that I am not calling for an end to denominational worship, or any large scale change, I am not calling for a world where no one has disagreements, it is my belief that disagreements are healthy for humans.  What I am calling for is some consideration.  The people we observed today are incredibly accepting, why can we not be the same way?  Why is it so impossible for two people in one church have their own personal beliefs and not worship they God that they both believe in?  This is exactly why I declare myself a Non-denominational Christian.  I can have a different belief or interpretation of the Bible than my neighbor who is Baptist, and yet I can put that aside and worship the God whom we both believe in right alongside him.  The same can be said across religious beliefs; and I point to our very own Wabash College as proof.  I study right alongside Catholics, Muslims, Jews, and Atheists, and though our personal views may clash, we all are reaching for the same end, higher knowledge of the world, and people, around us.

 

Above; the arch leading into the courtyard of the Chamula Church.  Below; the front of the Church.

Star Gazing and Yaxchillan

Note; this entry was to be made on March 5th, however, due to human or technical error, it was not properly posted at this time.

Rabin Paudel '10 - Monday was a memorable day for me. We toured Bonampak in the afternoon and went to Frontera Corozal. Frontera Corozal is on the bank of Usumacinta River, which is the border of Mexico and Guatemala.

While we were having dinner, Josh came up with an idea of making fire on the bank of the river. I, Yousuf, Macie, and Trent along with our tour leader Alonso agreed with Josh and started looking for sticks and a lighter. When we reached the bank of the river, the view of the sky was mind-blowing. I had never seen that many clearly visible stars in my life. Alonso took out his awesome star-gazing laser and pointed out bunch of stars, which included the Orion belt, Pleiades (The Seven Sisters), The North Star, Sirius and much more. I guess the Mayans were greatly inspired by the amazing view of the sky from that latitude. Later, I asked Dr. Brown why we could not see so many stars from Crawfordsville, and he told me that the primary reason is the light pollution and it also could be the latitude where we are located. Meanwhile, Alonso saw a frog on the surface of the river and Josh quickly did a remarkable job of catching the frog.

After we were done with observing the sky, we collected a few sticks and wood found around that area. Then, Macie showed her good skill to start a fire without even using gasoline. We were later accompanied by the rest of the group and started talking about the history and the myths of the Maya civilization. Alonso told us some of his interesting anecdotes from his work of exploration.

Yesterday, we took an hour long boat trip to Yaxchilan, which has some of the ruins of the ancient Maya civilization. The Maya King Bird Jaguar the fourth ruled Yaxchilan in sixth century. He built some temples where the Maya astronomers could observe summer solstices, winter solstices and eclipses. I also learned that the Mayans were famous for building temples on the top of the hills or making pyramid-shaped temples, which look like hills. We toured yet another temple located on the top of a huge and steep hill at Yaxchillan. Probably, due to a really hot and humid climate and “different” foods for last couple of days, some of the guys could not make to the top of the temple and stayed at the bottom. But those who reached the top of the temple didn’t forget to sing “Old Wabash” to show our spirit of Wabash.

On the way back, we stopped at the Guatemalan side of the shore and bought some refreshments to quench our thirst. 

I am writing this blog-entry on the way to San Christobal which is about 6 hours bus ride from Palenque. The first leg of our trip with the Maya Exploration Center is over. We just received a Certification of Completion from the center. The second leg of the tour will be hosted by David Orr ’57 and Nancy Orr and we will be visiting some of the modern Maya archeological sites and doing some volunteer work.

Above; the boat ride to Yaxchillan.  Below; a view from the bottom of a temple at Yaxchillan.

March 07, 2008

For the Kids!!!

Yousuf Bahrami '10 - Today was our first full day here at San Cristobal in Mexico.  Early this morning, we had breakfast at our hotel, and then we were off to do some community service work with Sergio.  Sergio had set up for us an opportunity to help at a local kindergarten school.  When we arrived, each of us was given a special job to do.  One of our first tasks was to cut wood by using an old hand saw.  While this group was cutting posts for the fence, others wee digging holes for the posts using a pick, shovel, and some pole hole diggers.  With the old equipment, we were able to place many posts for the fence. 

 

After this was done, we began to build a trench surrounding the school because recent rain had caused problems concerning the structure of the school.  The trench was built using man power and the old tools, and once it was dug, we filled the entire trench with gravel made of limestone.  As the last parts of the trench were being built, some students began painting the outer parts of the building.  The entire project was done in approximately two hours, and while the work was being done, we were able to interact with the actual kindergarteners who seemed to enjoy our presence and were gracious for our contributions and time spent making their school a better place to learn and have fun. 

 

After the service project, we traveled back to the hotel to shower and change before going out to lunch.  At this time, everyone went out to eat and to explore the market of San Cristobal before our visit tonight with the famous Sergio.  The day was well spent helping kids of need, and we felt helpful because our time was spent helping children that were trying to get an education to further themselves and Mexico in general.  Overall, we felt great because of our service to this wonderful Mexican community.

 

Due to technical difficulties, photographs will be loaded later.

What a long stange (and amazing) trip...

Adam Fritsch '09 - After our last night at El Panchen in Palenque, we started out on a five hour drive to San Cristobal, where we will spend the remaining days of our trip.  Over the course of the week, sickness had finally caught up with some of us, including myself.  Before starting the long ride, a few of us took some Dramamine and Imodium to help calm ourselves, but the winding roads through the state of Chiapas were able to overcome modern medicine. 

After about two hours on the road, we stopped for lunch.  Thankful for the break, a few of us walked around to get some fresh air, seeing some beautiful waterfalls that were, in places, about 15 feet high.  There were also small shops to buy shirts, souvenirs, and food.  Those healthy enough to swim were taken by our fantastic tour guide Alonso on an hour long wade through the river.  Though some people bumped into large rocks a time or two, everyone had a great time.  After a satisfying lunch, we returned to the curvy roads for another three hours.  As luck would have it, many of us started to feel better, but others now had their turn to battle strange foods. 

After many days of riding on buses, we had all had our fill of traveling.  Little excitement was expected as we approached San Cristobal, but our bus had other plans.  After stalling a few times, the driver finally gave up and told us that the bus’s transmission had gone out.  Even better, we were in a supposedly rough town called Oxchuc.  We had no idea how long we would be stranded.  We were very fortunate to see another tour bus stop by.  It was also headed to San Cristobal, but had limited seating.  Thankfully, it had twenty open seats, just enough for all of us.  After squeezing on, we arrived in San Cristobal about 45 minutes later.  

David Orr ’57 was there to greet us kindly, and he took us to our hotel, Na Bolom, which is a beautiful complex near the edge of the city.  Like most students here, I have a roommate for the trip.  Mine is Zafer Ahmed ‘08.  Oxchuc decided to curse the two of us even more once we arrived at Na Bolom.  Our room, which was named Oxchuc, contained just one bed.  A quick switch with a single room, however, erased the final bad memories of Oxchuc.  Needless to say, we were all glad to have finally arrived in San Cristobal.  It is fitting the only after a trying situation involving modern transportation could we make the transition from studying the ancient sites of Palenque, Bonampak, and Yaxchilan to meeting the current Mayan people near San Cristobal.

 

Above; the falls of Agua Azul, the falls the group visited on the way to San Cristobal.  Below; the main courtyard of the hotel Na Balom, located in San Cristobal, Mexico.

March 05, 2008

What a Wonderful Experience!!!

Anthony Benitez '09 - After waking up and eating breakfast we departed to Bonampak. I knew today trip was not going to be as intense as the previous days, since Bonampak is a smaller location. The location of Bonampak was an amazing site; however, there were numerous of unexcavated ruins. Although Bonampak was smaller than Palenque, Alonso informed us that the Bonampak location was remarkable location.

Alonso, our tour guide, described the peculiarity Bonampak. He informed us that the location was the most known for its pictures with color. I was really excited to see the uniqueness in the pictures with color. The battle pictures were my favorite especially the one with king Chan-Muan dancing after winning a battle. I still can not believe that the color on the ruins has been preserved for over a thousands years.

The next part of our tour was swimming at Golondrinas Waterfalls. On the way to the waterfall I had the opportunity to speak to Lucas K’in Kin, our Mayan tour guide, which translates to Lucas Sun Sun. He was a member of the Lacandon tribe in Bonampak and was dressed in his traditional garb which is a simple white robe with sandals. We mainly spoke about how his life has changed over time. He told me that his life has dramatically changed after 1994. Before 1994 his people had no money to buy tools, food, seeds, medicine, and clothing. Since 1994 tourism has increased; thus, the people of Lacandon live better and have longer expectancy rates.  Lucas informed me that before nearly half of the mothers that were pregnant died because there was no money for a vehicle to travel to the hospital that was 2 hours away; however, now the Lacandon community has money to not just buy a vehicle to travel, but has a doctor in the community. Lucas thanked me for visiting his village, and invited me to his house for dinner any time I was in Mexico. Before leaving Bonampak, I decided to buy a necklace from Lucas’ shop. The necklace was priced at 100 pesos but Lucas told me he was going to sell it to me for 65 pesos because I was his “amigo.” The necklace I bought was made out of a Colmillo Javalin Becari.  I have no idea how that translates in English!

Although a couple of us got scratches while swimming at the waterfall, we managed to have tons of fun. Swimming was much needed after hiking for numerous hours. The water relaxed and cooled the group off. We played, swam, and climbed for an hour in the waterfall.

After swimming, we walked to the bus to transport to Frontera Corozal. The two hour bus ride was an opportunity for everyone to take a nap in the bus. Everyone napped in the bus even Dr. Warner.

I have learned so much in a couple of days. I have not only seen the Mayan ruins but I have spoken to modern Mayans about their lives, society, and culture. I would like to thank all of the people that have made this trip happened.

 

 

 

Above; Anthony Benitez '09 and Lucas K'in Kin.  Below, the waterfall the group visited.

March 02, 2008

Hermosa Palenque!!!

Rabin Paudel '10 - Today was an important day of our trip. We started the day early heading towards Palenque National Park. I knew that today’s trip would be intense, as Alonso told us to carry at least a liter of water.

With everyone completely sprayed with insect repellent, we started the trip hiking around the unexcavated part of the Maya ruins. The path we were walking was formerly a waterfall and, of course, really steep. This unexcavated part was in the middle of a jungle, and mainly consisted of the residential ruins of the Mayas. I was really excited to see these ruins, especially after Alonso showed us the pictures comparing unexcavated and excavated archeological sites last night, during the lecture. The archeologists are still excavating this part of the Maya ruins using the latest laser-imaging technology.

The next part of the tour was the visit to the popular Mayan sites which included El Templo De La Cruz, El Templo De La Sol, and El Templo De La Inscripcion. These temples described the creation mythology of the Mayas which was closely associated with astronomical events, as well as events of the lives of their rulers. The size and architecture of these temples are simply unimaginable.  We all had a hard time walking up and down the temples.

After the tour, we spent some time buying souvenirs. The local venders were selling amazing replicas of the tablets and calendars. With some help in bargaining from Adam, I bought samples of Mayan and Aztec calendars for 190 pesos, which is close to 19 American dollars.

We visited a Mayan museum after lunch. The museum consisted of some more ancient tablets. But the coolest thing in the museum was the real-size replica of the tomb of Pakal. Pakal is considered to be the one of the most important rulers of the Maya. His tomb was sacredly placed inside the Temple of Inscription. It was sad that we couldn’t see the actual tomb, as it is closed to the public, but the replica itself was AMAZING!!! It also consisted of a lid which has a carving on the top of the tomb describing important events, and is estimated to weigh 10 tons. The tomb was discovered in mid 1952. It was probably the first time that this tomb was opened since the last Mayan priest left the temple.

After we got some rest, Alonso gave a lecture on the Mayan calendar and number system. Unlike the base-ten number system, which we use today, Mayans used a base-twenty number system. The important concept about Mayan number system was the concept of zero, which they believed to be a completion rather than “void” unlike our current number system. And their calendar followed the pattern of lunar and solar cycles. Their calendar consisted of the short count 260 days T’zolkin calendar and the long count 365 days Haab calendar. The combination of these two calendars produced a 52 year calendar. Also, unlike the Western world and modern science, which believes time as being linear, the Maya believed that time, was cyclic. As a Hindu, I don’t find this uncommon. The current cycle began on August 13, 3114 BC and it will end on December 23, 2012. The predicted end of time is attracting the attention of many people all over the world, and not just those who are dedicated to the study of the Maya.

After a really tiring day today, we are now ready to go to Bonampak in the morning to explore more Mayan archeo-astronomy. Before I end this blog, I would like to share a funny incident that Alonso told us. A Discovery Channel director’s young daughter asked her dad, ‘Why do I need to do my homework? The world is ending in 2012.”

I guess if we survived Y2K in 2000, we will certainly survive the end of Mayan cyclic time in 2012.

CIAO!!!!

Above Left; one of the many waterfalls the students saw as they entered the Palenque site.  Right; The Temple of the Inscriptions.  Lower Left; Wabash sophomore Rabin Paudel '10 looks on as our guide, Alonso, explains a stella piece.

Simply Amazing!!!

Zafer Ahmed '08 - Today we visited the sites in Palenque.  Words simply cannot describe how amazing and breathtaking it was.  Palenque is naturally filled with aquifers and aqueducts.  Water just seems to come straight from the ground flowing down hills into a river basin.  The ability for the Maya to redirect and control this untamed water was no simple feat.

As we trekked through the forest, buildings and structures seem to arise straight from the jungle floor. The jungles have reclaimed the very forest from the Maya.  Interestingly enough, roughly 10% of the Palenque site has been recovered and excavated.  The rest belongs to the jungle now. 

As we studied in class, the relationship between architecture and archeology is prominent in Mayan civilization.  Many of the buildings are built according to celestial events and bodies.  For instance, the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of Inscriptions line up along the Zenith Passage. Palenque was ruled by the family of Palak and the sites excavated revolve around his family. 

The most interesting thing I learned during the hike was Mayan ritual including the passage of royal power from father king to son prince.  During the coronation, the father, Palak, was seen as the sunset and the son, Kan Balaq, was seen as the sunrise.  In fact, the Temple of Sun shows a passage of light at sunset with a beam reflecting toward the opposite wall (the direction of a sunrise); thus symbolizing the passage of power.  Most of the excavated ruins deal directly with the relationship between father and son as they represent the climax of Mayan power in Palenque. 

The grand scheme of the site was no much larger than me and my understanding.  We have only started our journey and I have already learned so much.  I would like to thank all those that have given me the opportunity to come to Chiapas to learn.

 

 

 

Upper; an unearthed ruin at the Palenque site.  Lower; a view of the Temple of Inscriptions and the Royal Palace.

Olmecs; The Mother Civilization

Nathan Rutz '09 - Today we toured La Venta park in Villermosa.  The park is essentially an outdoor museum dedicated to the Olmec culture.  The original La Venta site is apparently about 45 minutes away - sometime in the 50’s, the original pieces were moved from where they were discovered to the park in Villermosa.  Just this move must have taken a massive effort even with the equipment available then, making it even more impressive that the Olmecs were able to carve and move these rocks some four thousand years ago.

The first thing we saw was a two dimensional depiction of a ruler.  The volcanic basalt block is at least ten feet tall and has to weigh something like 10 tons.  We saw that the back side of the stone is smooth.  Our guide told us that it’s not known if the stone was smoothed to make dragging it easier, or if dragging it wore it down.  Kings emerging from inset caves amidst feathered serpents.  These monuments seem to commemorate the reign of various kings whose names are often derived from combinations of jungle animals, most often the jaguar.

I was very impressed by the information contained in the carvings, some of which has still not been successfully interpreted by experts.  The carvings of kings often had early hieroglyphs or pictures showing captives or animals.  We also got to see the famous Olmec heads.  Most of them are fairly defaced.  I expect that had happened by age or vandals, but apparently they were ritually defaced by Olmecs, perhaps to release the spirits contained in the heads.  Even the most well preserved had the characteristic scratch marks of being ritually defaced.

We were the only college age group going through the park, most of the others were young school age kids.  Apparently all the kids know English greetings and are more than happy to yell them to people obviously from the USA.  I said “Hello” to a passing group of kids and they blew up with happiness and screamed “hello” back to us.

 

Above Left; Wabash students and professors visiting La Venta Park.  Below Right; one of the many stone figures found in the park.

Saludos de Mexico!!!

Robert Campbell '10 - Greetings from Villahermosa!  The Wabash College Mayan Archeo-Astronomy group has safely made it to the country directly to the south of the United States, and I must say that the temperature and humidity greeted us very kindly.  My name is Robert Campbell, class of 2010.  For the next eight days, my classmates and I will travel along the southern border of Mexico, from our current location of Tabasco, down to the cities of Palenque and San Cristobal, among others, in the state of Chiapas. 

 

We venture on this journey in search of knowledge; a synthesis of our in class discussions this semester on the once great civilizations of the Maya.  For the last two months, we have read about, discussed, and tried to understand this ancient civilization.  Now, we have the opportunity to see what remains of their temples, homes, and pyramids today.  To assist us in our travels while here in Mexico, we have the Mayan Exploration Center (hyperlink). 

 

The trip down to Villahermosa was quite amazing.  We flew out of  Indianapolis, down to Houston, and then hopped a nearly two and a half hour flight to our final destination.  The first sign “we weren’t in Kansas anymore” came when we stepped out of the airplane and walked about fifty feet to the customs checkpoint.  Oh, there was a simultaneous first sign, it was warm!!!  In all actuality, it is more humid than anything, but a change in the weather is definitely welcome.  As we drove through the city to our hotel, it was very obvious that this was a very vibrant city; we passed a Toyota dealership, incredible billboards of all colors, and the trees.  The trees are painted white about the first four feet up from the roots for an aesthetic look.  This is obviously something I for one do not understand, but walking around the city, there is such an explosion of color, such that I have never seen.

 

This morning, the group woke up to a wonderful breakfast along with a better view of the scenery around us.  In the following days, students (including myself) and professors will share their experiences, via this blog, for all to read and follow back home.  Hopefully this will be updated about every day (provided there is an internet connection), and there will definitely be much, much more to report on in the coming days.

 

 

Above Right; the view from one of the hotel rooms in Villahermosa the morning after arrival.  Above Left; the lake behind the hotel the students stayed the night.