National Geographic : 1935 Nov
PRESERVING ANCIENT AMERICA'S FINEST SCULPTURES among which the beautiful white egret seemed predominant. At nightfall undu lating lines of slowly flapping pelicans passed overhead. The region is an orni thologist's paradise. At Chable is one of the typical old fincas of this region, a patriarchal unit, with its little village, school, store, tradesmen, and church. Not far above Chable is the village of Emiliano Zapata, formerly named Monte cristo, for many of the towns in Mexico, and especially in Tabasco, have been re christened and given the names of heroes of the recent revolutionary movements. Emiliano Zapata is the point of depar ture for the famous ruins of Palenque, a hard day's ride across the pastures, unless both automobile and road are in condition, an unusual combination of circumstances. Tenosique, our base of supplies and mail address, is a small town near the head of navigation of the Usumacinta, though boats may pass a few leagues above it. From the village is visible the line of hills beyond which lies Piedras Negras. Here we pur chased more supplies, engaged riding and pack mules and muleteers, and in a few days were off for the hills and forests. Nowadays one may travel by dugout canoe with outboard motor to the head of small-boat navigation, and go on from there over a road we built through the forest, making the trip to the ruins in one day; but the first year we had to cover the distance from Tenosique to Piedras Negras entirely by land on muleback. The rainy season was not yet over, and for most of the first day the mules waded through mud. All the tenderfeet were tired, sore, and muddy when the halfway camp was reached. These winding trails through the dense forest are used mainly by chicleros, natives who gather chicle sap for American gum chewers, and by mule trains taking sup plies to lumber camps. RUINS DISCOVERED BY HUMBLE CHICLE HUNTERS The humble, illiterate chiclero has done more for Maya archeology than the erudite scientist, for most of the many ruins now known have been discovered by him while ranging the vast forest for the chicozapote tree, which yields the chicle sap. Tiny ticks infest the underbrush and swarm by thousands on men and mules alike, making life generally miserable. Wayside camps composed of huts are leagues apart. The forest trails are narrow lines of hoofs and footprints. In a little valley there may be only one trail, but over a broad, flat stretch of forest there may be dozens of them, branching and uniting again farther on. The newcomer is fearful of being lost, but all paths lead to the same place. Each member of a party and each pack mule may be on a different path, not far separated, yet invisible in the dense forest, and one rides along, much of the time, seeing nothing, but hearing in front, behind, and to the sides the crash of mules strug gling through the bush, and the cries and lusty curses of the muleteers as they urge the animals on or strain at the ropes of one that has loosened its pack. These are the only noises one hears, for, as is remarked by every traveler, the pop ular concept of this tropical forest as full of weird cries of birds and colors of exotic plants is wrong. The jungle is silent and monotonous. Almost the only sounds are those of travelers. As to color, one finds a monochrome of shades of green, the only flowers occasional orchids high in the trees. The trails are extremely winding, for the muleteer never cuts away a tree fallen on the trail; he crashes through the woods around it to make a new path. The mules seem to take a fiendish delight in scraping the rider's legs against all the trees on the trail, especially a species of palm covered with long, sharp spines. WHERE MAYA SPLENDOR FLOURISHED Where once the cultivated fields of the Maya dotted the land, now is the deep forest, bare of all population. At intervals of about a day's journey, tiny settlements exist on the banks of the river, but inland all is uninhabited. In the forests farther upstream, however, live the wild Lacandon Indians, primitive, though speaking a language closely related to Maya. Whether they were always thus or have become degraded, possibly even from the stage of the builders of Piedras Negras, is not known (see page 547). Another day on such a trail, winding through the forest to the tune of the muleteers' shouts, and we were at Piedras Negras, having already crossed the un marked boundary from Mexico into Guate mala.