National Geographic : 1947 Feb
On the Trail of La Venta Man From Tapachula in the extreme southern part of Chiapas we passed through the impor tant site of Izapa, which we had partially explored in 1941. From here we spent a week exploring the beautiful and rugged shoulders of the 13,333-foot Tacana Volcano in search of archeological sites. Most interesting of these was located on a coffee finca (plantation) called San Ger6nimo, where there was a mound situated on a spot commanding a magnificent view. Two large boulders were covered with unique carvings of animals and anthropomorphic beings. There were also smaller monuments, and we learned that a few years ago still others had been taken to Tapachula and then removed to the museum at Tuxtla (page 143). Rough Roads and Trails During these explorations we traveled over incredibly bad roads and trails, including part of the proposed southern link of the Pan American Highway, and saw some of the most beautiful tropical scenery in Mexico. The primavera, or white mahogany, was in its prime. This magnificent tree, particularly abundant here, at this season was a solid blaze of brilliant yellow bloom. It is known locally by the unromantic name of flor de zope, or turkey buzzard tree. After visiting sites on the coastal plain near the Guatemalan border, we returned to Tuxtla to begin our season's work. The site we had selected was a place called Piedra Parada, about 30 road miles northwest of Tuxtla and 12 miles from the town of Ocozocoautla. After heaping the truck high with wheelbarrows, picks, shovels, kitchen sup plies, cots, and camp equipment, we perched ourselves on top of the load and set out. On reaching Ocozocoautla, the truck driver optimistically opined that maybe he could drive cross country to our camp. After a hectic trip which must have short ened the life of his truck, we finally came to a halt at a steep arroyo two miles from our destination. By this time night had fallen. The truck was unloaded and our valiant driver set out on his return trip, leaving us and our big pile of equipment forlornly abandoned in inky blackness on the arroyo bank. Our guide disappeared in the night in search of further transportation, while Dick, Marion (Mrs. Stirling), and I opened some cans and ate a dinner that was much overdue. Eventually two oxcarts appeared with their drivers and after several trips transferred our equipment to our camp. The last load arrived about midnight. Wearily we unfolded our cots and slept till morning, somewhat discomfited by the fact that we found the cots full of thorns picked up as the truck scraped under an overhanging spiny tree. Housing Problem Solved Cesar Maza, elderly owner of an adobe house, generously offered to share it for the duration of our work. The small, tile-roofed structure had two rooms without windows and a porch that ran the length of the house. At one end of the porch was Cesar's corn crib. At the other end was the kitchen, con sisting of an earthen bench raised about three feet from the floor level, on which bricks were arranged to serve as a stove. Cesar and his son, Umberto, whom we hired as our foreman, moved into one room with their belongings, and we set up housekeeping in the other.* While we were putting things in order, a vivacious young Zoque matron appeared with a basket of eggs for sale. Liking her appear ance, Marion asked her if she would accept a job as our cook. Natividad, or Nati, as she preferred to be called, was delighted, and promptly became a member of the household. Since space was at a premium, the problem was where she should sleep. It was decided that she should share the bachelor quarters of Cesar and Umberto. To observe the pro prieties, the 8-year-old daughter of a neighbor was recruited to act as chaperon and sleep with her nights (Plate III). For three months Cesar's house was our home. Since there were not enough men living in the vicinity for a full work crew of 20 men, ten were recruited from Ocozocoautla to fill our quota. The ten local men lived and had their meals at home. The Ocozo coautla crew, returning home each Saturday night, came back Monday mornings with their bags loaded with enough tortillas, cheese, jerked meat, and coffee to last them the week. They solved the problem of quarters by sleeping on the ground at the end of our house. The mound directly behind the house served as a windbreak, and nights when it rained they slept under our porch. Tamales a la Chiapas Nati, always concerned with their welfare, occasionally boiled them a big pot of coffee or furnished them with fresh fruit. Nati excelled in making tamales. Chiapas prides itself on more varieties of tamales * See "Jungle Housekeeping for a Geographic Expe dition," by Marion Stirling, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, November, 1941.