Thursday, April 12, 2012

Chiapas: Held up on the way to Tonina

On Tuesday, Derek and I went to Tonina. Since I've been there twice before and taken a jillion photos, I won't do more here than post a few of the nicer new ones. Check these previous posts for more about the archeological site:  Tonina-The Return Trip and Tonina-Mayan City State

It promised to be an excellent day, and it was, except that we were delayed by a hold-up and extortion, which apparently is not uncommon in Mexico.

We caught a combi at one of the many little bus companies along the carretera that runs from Tuxtla to Comitan. They leave when they fill up. The little Toyota van was packed with people, we were the last two to board. That high mountain road to Ocosingo is scary to me, but Derek didn't seem to mind the aggressiveness of the driver, he drives like that too. It was the usual: zoom ahead, slow down fast, bump up over a tope (speed bump), zoom on to the next one. This driver knew the road so well that the speed at which he approached each tope was just slow enough to get over it quickly without destroying the shocks. Since they vary in size and shape each one demands a different tactic.

About half the people disembarked at a little town so we were able to spread out, stretch our legs a little, and be more comfortable. That was a good thing, we were destined to be in the combi for a long time.

 After descending to an almost tropical town and then heading back up into the mountains, suddenly we were stopped behind a long line of cars that curved around up ahead. We waited. And waited. The line moved one then maybe two car lengths every few minutes, as if there were an accident and the police were only letting a car or two go by at once. Occasionally other cars came from the opposite direction. A guy in a yellow pickup decided he'd had enough, pulled out of line and went zooming past us. Next thing we knew he was backing up as fast as he could, being chased backwards by a giant truck. The line of cars had filled in of course and there was no place for the yellow pickup to pull over.

Our pleasant captivity on a beautiful day
After an interminable wait, our driver hopped out, went down the line and apparently chatted with other combi drivers behind us. Derek figured they must have formulated a plan because shortly after that some combis zoomed past us and pulled into the line up ahead. Then we did the same since those combis left a space for us to move into. This leap frogging continued for a while and we made a bit of progress.  An hour or so into this we came around a corner and could see the hold-up. Literally, the little town was holding up traffic in both directions. They used long 2x4 pieces of wood with nails protruding up to puncture the tires of any car that tried to cross. One fellow 'manned' the wood, sliding it away from and into the paths of cars forcing them to stop or allowing them to move on, while three others talked to each driver. They wanted $30p and in return handed the driver a sheet of paper. Our driver laughed and joked with them, paid the thirty pesos and we zoomed on. I asked to see the paper and he handed it back. Apparently this was the 93rd anniversary of the assasination of Emiliano Zapata. All that he'd fought for is now being lost and this little town was pissed about it. On the other hand, it was also an occasion for some levity and celebration. The whole town had turned out for the extortion project. Dozens of men watched the proceedings while lounging on the grass, sitting on fences posts, or listening to music in their parked cars. No women or children were in evidence. We wondered what they planned to use the money for. By the end of the day they would have many thousands of pesos.

The Stairway to Heaven

Derek on top of the highest pyramid
















It was a little after noon when we got to Tonina, so we still had plenty of time to explore the ruins, and maybe see a bit of the museum. The weather couldn't have been better. Clouds came and went, but mostly we were in their shade. The place wasn't exactly deserted but there certainly were no crowds and it felt like we had it all to ourselves. The climb to the top was fun, and a bit exciting. That last stairway is steep and narrow, rising about 40 feet at a sharp angle. Going up wasn't difficult, using hands and feet, but coming back down was almost terrifying, it was difficult to see where your feet might rest. But the bottom, way way down there, was all too visible!

Through a roofed in section
View from the very top

One of the finer examples of
a Mayan roof comb
Landscape, playing in the sunlight




At the end of the day, a worker took a shine to us and offered to open up a locked building to let us see murals and sculptures. Inside was a cross and it's base, lying on its side, and down a dark passageway were remnants of murals, with many colors still intact, complete with carved date figures. It was impressive!

With little time left, we headed for the museum and saw most of the front part before they closed. Afterwards we ate a snack at the open air palapa restaurant, with roaming chickens and a very friendly (and relatively clean) dog who satisfied Derek's need to pet one. We met a combi coming in just as we were ready to leave and slowly made our way back to Ocosingo where we waited for the bus to fill up sufficiently. The little 'extraction' town had shut down its roadblock, but then we waited another half hour or so for a wreck to be cleared in the darkness. It was surely a day of hurry up and wait, but fortunately, we didn't have to wait for a pizza in San Cristobal when we arrived hungry and tired.

The unusual cross on a base


"Goal posts" in the ball court

A section of the mural inside
the locked building
Final goal post, a man in the sacrificial position,
about to lose his head.

Face of the sacrificial victim.