Saturday, March 15, 2008


In my (inexpert) opinion, there are two types of archeological sites. The first one is rigid, monumental, imposing, interesting, reconstructed. It’s become a contemporary statement of a past civilization, largely zapped of its whispers. Chichen Itza, gorgeous, grand, trampled, is a good illustration of this, my first category.

The second is crumbling piles of rocks under dense vegetation. Due to a perpetual lack of government funds, reconstruction is minimal, so that it still stands, but barely, a defiant example of time’s utter lack of mercy.

Tall trees grow on the pyramids, the tangle of centenary roots proof that the elements that destroy a structure are often also what hold it together.

During a visit, as you scramble up hundreds of steps, you silently refute the guide’s explanations because you have your own secret hypothesis of what that room was once used for.

In this second category, you feel a gust of fresh breeze on a hot, humid day and hear, beneath the rustling of leaves, the faint echo of footsteps, the unintelligible whispers of former inhabitants.

Campeche is, inexplicably, the least visited of the Yucatan states. Among other things (fantastic food, lovely people and a town so beautiful it’s considered a World Heritage Site), it holds perhaps hundreds of Maya ruins that belong squarely in my second category, which Luca and I explored in utter, complete, absolute solitude.

Calakmul, the largest of the sites (a 72 square km expanse that has been minimally restored due to ecological regulations), is found a few miles into Mexico’s largest biosphere reserve, in the middle of the low jungle.

Maybe you can go visit one day, and hear for yourself the whispers I speak of. With any luck, you'll make out the words and come back and tell me what they are saying.

Photo by Luca


David said...

That sounds fabulous! You've reminded me my trip to Palenque...just me, ruins, jungle and howler monkeys! Calakmul sounds very similar.

Dushka said...

We thought of you guys so, so much during our trip. Palenque is wonderful, but I'd say it belongs in my first category. Calakmul is absolutely magical - beyond compare. I think you both would adore the trip we made. We'll tell you more when we see you next.

Anonymous said...

Your opinion is in fact, quite expert, and thoroughly conveys my own: the difference between an archaeological "site", which you so ably describe, and an archaeological "park" (restored, all the magic removed, the whispers silenced). The State of
Campeche, is indeed, "Maya" at its best, with the most remarkable sites, the most interesting architecture, and work done so long ago that the forest has returned and reclaimed the crumbled stones. As for Campeche city, it's not only delicious, enchanting and friendly, but best characterizes the Peninsula of Yucat√°n, of which it occupies one third.
And there's more. I hope you plan someday to go back.