Travel Thursday: Can’t find a pun for Palenque

After a month of travel, illness, and other misadventures, the blog is back with very little to no vengeance whatsoever.

The woman walked slowly toward me, silhouetted in the moonlight, mysterious in the fog. The clink of her stilettos on hard concrete sounded ominous in the quiet city night, like something invented by some feverish Foley artist stuck in the sound studio, needing to win an Oscar to avoid being killed. And his buddy in the recording studio next door was in the same boat, clichéing the soundtrack even more with a mournful yet soulful sax.
Walking into the streetlight, her details came into focus. The tight trench coat indicated a slim body underneath, but that had been obvious from the silhouette. Startlingly blonde hair pinned behind the left ear allowed viewing of a beautiful face highlighted by a bright green eye, but on the right side the hair had been curled into one big wave, with the curve coming to a stop exactly over the orb. Shame to not see that second delicious green marble, but. . .
Classic. Bogie would be so jealous.
And panting.
I knew she was dangerous, but not so much in a physical way, so I let her continue closer. Her skin might have been highlighted by the artificial lighting, but I somehow sensed she was untanned. But then, most femme fatales didn’t spend much time outdoors . . . thankfully.
When I wondered how she managed to walk without the ability to see anything right of center, especially in those high thin heels, the vision dissolved.

If only my camera could have captured it, I mused, wondering if my memory–the biological kind in my brain, not the silicon-type chip thing–would be able to remember the image and recreate it in the studio later.
I took the photo anyway, because even in dirty work clothes, the blonde was still beautiful. Wondering how she got so dusty when she wasn’t involved in the digging, I noticed the workers showing her every little rock they came up with, then realized they were doing it because every time she bent over, her cleavage was in view.
Grinning, I telephoto’ed in to get that shot, then brought the camera down. Perhaps the sun glanced off the black metal, or she saw the movement on her periphery–her hair being tied back in a ponytail instead of dreamy-wavy. Either way, she turned to glance in my direction, saw me resting in the shade of one of the smaller pyramids, and grinned, blowing me a kiss.
Life was good. . .
Or would have been, if it weren’t for the insects. In addition to the fantasy of the beautiful woman, my reverie had also involved a cooler and less humid clime, not conducive to most types of bloodsuckers.
Still staring at her, I realized she was walking in my direction, though not directly. Curiosity perked, I turned my gaze to the left and saw a coterie of suits heading in our direction. Sighing, groaning my way to standing, I tried to not lean against the pyramid, for I still had a vivid memory of doing such a thing at Chichen-Itza and ending up covered with huge jungle ants. The local workers had laughed and picked them off me one by one, then put them in their mouths, crunching hard, which just added to the nightmare and made me shudder as she approached me.
“You okay, stud?”
The vision of her trenchcoated beauty soothed me, and again I wondered at her accent. Sometimes it sounded British, but there was too much Boston in it too be sure. Though as usual when I’d first heard it I’d wondered what she sounded like in the throes of passion. . .
Too hot and humid to think of that right now, I smiled and did my most insincere “Better, now that you’re here” possible. She rolled her eyes, then poked me in the stomach, which only served as an excuse for me to poke her back. Though I woulda spanked her had the guys in the suits not been so close to us by now. Especially now that I could see the head suit was the guy in charge of the regional archaeology office, which made him a government flunky no matter how good he was with a trowel.
Nah, he looked like a fat cat who only gave orders, which meant the poor archaeologists had to play nice. One of my best friends from college now held the similar posting in Yucatan, speaking of Chichen-Itza, and no doubt they talked amongst each other. . .
Actually, only Alison had to play nice; that was the good thing about not being in charge. But I did tell myself not to make a joke about the guy wearing a suit in this kind of weather as the government posse finally made it over the slight rise.
“How do you manage to stay so slim, my dear?” he sighed, gawking at her as he mopped the sweat from his brow with a monogrammed hankie.
Before she could demurely reply, I said, “By not eating, what else?”
“Yes, of course.” The man tried to glare at me, but I merely smiled brightly, which made Alison cover a chuckle with a pretend cough. She knew damn well that had been as good as me putting my arm around her, without the macho crap, and she only hoped the fat cat got the message.
She didn’t need to be told that she was considered–actually presented with a joke certificate testifying to it–the most beautiful woman in archaeology, despite all the votes for Lara Croft, so she’d had to put up with plenty of such stuff. She’d managed to get a non-professor job when she’d finally achieved her doctorate, so she no longer had to deal with egotistical jocks, history nerds attempting to be charming, predatory department heads, and the rest of the hormonal crap you find in college. Of course that had earned her an ice queen reputation, but she was so happy with being left alone that from then on she actually cultivated it.
Realizing she hadn’t yet paid the man a formal visit, which was probably the reason he was here–besides hitting on her, of course–she quickly thanked him for allowing her to dig at the hallowed site of Palenque, adding, “I’m surprised that you’re so welcoming. I had written to you several times, and you seemed unenthusiastic about my coming here.”
e chuckled. “We wanted to make sure we had all our relics accounted for first.”
Luckily I was facing away now, so no one could see my reaction to that one. . . facially, anyway, though I thought I’d stifled my throat in time, too. I didn’t know if I was more amused or cringing as I waited for her reaction, but I supposed time would tell. . .
“WHAT? Those rumors are groundless, I assure you!”
Groundless? I chuckled inwardly, looking at the dig. I’d have to ask her later if she’d punned that on purpose. Not likely, though.
“The only relics I’ve ever taken are from sites I’ve uncovered myself, to prove they’re worth excavating, and–”
“Simply a joke, my dear.” Suit Man held up his hands in a placating gesture, or possibly to ward off any upcoming blows. “You certainly have a sore spot about it.”
“It’s not a joke to the archaeological community,” she muttered, glancing over at me while I was busy taking photos and pretending not to be listening. Coward!
“I apologize for bringing it up. I merely came to welcome you and invite you to dinner, a Welcome to Palenque dinner, as it were.” Suit Man beamed as he hoped she was impressed by his command of English colloquialisms.
Suppressing an involuntary sigh, she instead smiled and pointed down to her clothes, and exposed skin. “I would need at least a week’s notice to make myself presentable in the company of such an important man as yourself. Perhaps some time next week. . .?”
Stifling his own instinctive reaction, Suit Man smiled and bent to kiss her hand, then thought twice about it when he saw the dirty nails. “I will call you to let you know the best day.”
Unable to help myself now, I tried, “I’m looking forward to it. I hear your wife makes a mean steak.”
Alison’s face went through a series of contortions the envy of any gymnast in her attempt to keep a straight face. Inviting myself and letting everyone know that we knew the guy was married; what a stroke of genius!
She’d reward me for that. . .
For his part, Suit Man obviously had a lot of experience freezing his face, being a bureaucrat. “I’ll pass along the message, I’m sure my wife will be delighted.” He added a word in Spanish, under his breath and hardly audible, that seemed to start with C; I doubted it was compadre. No doubt he meant the old word for goat, not chiva–or even chupacabra–but rather the horned variety that was supposed to mean your wife was cheating on you, but nowadays was basically analogous to mutha-fucka.
Proving my Spanish slang was up to the task, I told Suit Guy how sorry everyone was that he was going away so soon in his butterfly suit. Alison, while knowing what a mariposa was in zoological terms, had no idea why there was fury in Suit Guy’s eyes, as well as muffled guffaws from the flunkies, but she wasn’t about to ask, merely reiterated how glad she was to be working here and then turning to lead me off before we got in deeper.
“That was fun,” I said brightly as we walked, forcing her to shove me in the back. “By the way, he never went to Penn or Vandy.” Chuckling, I showed her the long version of the permit Suit Guy had given her. “Look how he spelled ‘equipment.’”
She did as told, read “ekwiptment,” and let the laughter out this time, enjoying the slight shade she found herself in, though it didn’t cut the humidity. “Maybe he went to Harvard.”
I grinned, mostly because I agreed with the sentiment. “Considering you went to Harvard–”
“Just undergrad. I got out of there as soon as I could!”
“Not far enough. If you hadn’t just gone across town to Boston U., you might not have that accent.”
She’d been wondering if I was hip to her little game, but wouldn’t give in just yet. “You West Coasters are all alike.”
“Hmm, if you’re gonna get nasty and regionally territorial about it. . .”
“You do offended/shocked very good, darling.”
Before I could reply in an even more offended, or territorial, manner, a group of workers passed by, one of them swinging his shovel like a baseball bat.
“Strikes out on the curve ball!” I laughed, recognizing the guy.
“I could hit your fastball!” the guy sneered back, but because he was grinning, I didn’t take any more offense than he did.
“Of course you could. That’s why I played first base.”
“With a glove the size of a pyramid, maybe.”
“Hey, I was a great first baseman! The best never seen in the bigs. Hell, the best never to have played in the minors!”
“Ha ha. So why didn’t you play?”
“Because I was a better goalie.”
Alison had been following the conversation just fine until the last word, portero, but by the hoots that came back she figured I’d made my point and we could walk away now. Still a bit anxious about the encounter, and hopeful that the guy couldn’t cancel her dig permit for no reason, she automatically reached into her bag for her “mood enhancers.”
“I’ve never seen a cigarette-smoking vegetarian before,” he cooed.
Suddenly remembering my dislike for kissing “walking ashtrays,” as well as the smell of smoke on her body, she quickly put the pack of cigarettes away, then got all cheerleader cheery and asked, “Wanna get some early dinner?”
“I am hungriness personified!”
“I’ll take that as a yes,” she drawled, this time in an almost Suthin’ accent. If she broke out an Aussie twang next time, I’d know she was teasing me.

She said she was going to close things down for the day, but stuck around long enough to see what I was pulling out of my backpack, to check on something I’d remembered earlier. It was a modern edition of Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, by John Lloyd Stephens, who’s one of my heroes. She sniffed at the slick new version, and didn’t believe me when I told her I have a genuine 1830s first edition back home, and would never see it if she kept up that attitude; no doubt she didn’t think me rich enough to have such an antiquity. So anyway, I’d go over the Palenque chapter as I’d promised to do that morning, but as usual got sidetracked. . . at first staring at her, ahem, walk as she left, but mostly because, also as usual, loose pages fell out of the book and I had to check them out.
Immediately I again marveled at the Mayan calendar and how precise it had been, even better than the modern one in use all over the world, some said–and not the same guys who said the Mayans were really Martians. I still found it amazing, for example, that it was so easy to decipher the exact date Pakal became ruler: July 29th, 615A.D. Hmmm, perhaps to pass the time I’d translate my birthdate in Mayan, so that the next time someone asked I could give them the exact bars and circles, or even better, the actual Mayan words.
The next page held notes on another of my heroes who’d been through the area, Juan Galindo, supposedly around the same time as Stephens, working for the then county of the “United Provinces of Central America,” and even though Stephens quoted him in the book, I was researching whether they actually knew each other. Galindo was the first guy to say the figures on the ancient art carved into the Palenque pyramids, as well as others, looked just like the locals, where back then the popular sneering Caucasian theory was that the Ancient Egyptians, Polynesians, or even the Lost Tribes of Israel had been the builders of American pyramids; what, no Martians? I smirked. It was this same kind of patronizing superior-race bullshit that led to the rumor that Mr. Galindo was actually John Gallagher from Ireland, which was laughable now but musta pissed off poor proud Juanito no end back then.

I took a few more photos as she gathered her stuff back at the dig site, including one of her bent over and showing cleavage again, and the follow-up, with her middle finger pointed in my direction; she was much quicker to anger than her ice queen image would dictate.
Thinking back to my vision, I realized she was indeed tanned, and not just the face and other exposed parts. Come to think of it, I made a note to check her out all over next time I had a chance, and if she was indeed bronzed from head to toe, pay a visit to her rented house when she wasn’t expecting me.
It always surprised me to see her green eyes, for pale blue would have been a better color for her mock ice-princess routine. The fact that was her favorite color motif, as evidenced by the stripes on her white blouse, made most people think she did it to match her eyes, but then when a woman looked as good as she, most people didn’t bother checking eye color. And it really didn’t make much a difference, especially photographically; she’d still be all kinds of beautiful if her eyes were black.

Heading out through the main path, we came to the most famous part of the site. “So you claim to be afraid of heights, yet you still climbed the Temple, huh?”
That’s what I get for admitting my weaknesses. “It doesn’t look so high going up, and of course there’s no way to notice just how steep it is until you look down and realize there’s no other way to get off.”
Having climbed enough pyramids, she had to agree with that. “So you’ve only climbed it once?”
“I’ll climb it again if they let me go down to Pakal’s tomb.”
Despite Palenque having been scouted by a lot of travelers who wrote about it since the 1830s, it wasn’t till 1952 that a local archaeologist found the trap door–I always imagine the scene with the guy wearing an Indiana Jones hat–that led to the tomb. Before that no one had figured out why the Temple of the Inscriptions had been so much bigger than all the other pyramids at the site, but once they found the king’s sarcophagus and all the goodies surrounding it, the pieces fell into place.
Though of course that was never good enough for some people. The sarcophagus had a now-famous carving of Pakal ascending to the Mayan heavens while curled up in a fetal position, so of course some wise guy mentioned it was exactly the same pose astronauts took when being shot into space, and claimed this was evidence that extraterrestrials had visited the site. Some went as far as to say the Mayas disappeared as a race because they’d left this planet for something better, and there were other theories just as silly that made Alison’s teeth hurt, and did no good for her temper.
Unlike the archies, I didn’t sneer at the claims, but I did laugh. I love the far-out stuff without the burden of believing them.

The archaeologist in me couldn't resist. . .

The archaeologist in me couldn’t resist. . .




Passing the big pyramid that caused all the ruckus, I stopped and turned, having evolved this into an everyday ritual: a last look at my favorite building, the palace, and trying to imagine how it looked with thousands of Mayas swarming it fifteen hundred years ago. And also to relive the award-winning shot taken from the top of the pyramid {right here above} but I’d never admit that to anyone.
“Leave the tourist babes alone,” she grumbled, even though she knew what I was doing.
Not that many tourists made it out here, certainly not in the swarms that inundated the oft-mentioned Chichen-Itza and others in the Yucatan, especially those not far from Cancun. Palenque was a more beautiful site, despite it being much smaller than those archaeological Disneylands, like Tikal and Copan. Its crown jewel, not counting the aforementioned pyramid, was the Palace, which was actually a complex of several connected and adjacent buildings and courtyards, capped by the distinctive four-story tower that haunted me; my only archaeological reason for being here was to find out exactly why and how it had been designed a millennia and a half ago, though I was careful not to tell Alison that, lest she think it wasn’t all about her.
What was truly amazing was how little of the site had been excavated, though of course all the above-ground stuff had been cleaned up and made ready for tourist viewing, and tourist spending. But, to quote Alison, much of the history of the site awaited her trowel.
Diego de Landa’s travels lay forgotten in the Franciscan archives in Merida until 1864, by which time the ancient Maya had vanished into oblivion, their great ceremonial centers and temples covered by dense forests. Only the occasional priest or government official stumbled across “Curious stone houses” near remote colonial settlements. It was not until 1773 that an artillery officer, Captain Antonio del Rio traveled deep into the rain forest from what is now Guatemala City. He hacked his way through dense brush and trees to the Mayan city of Palenque, where the undergrowth was so thick people were invisible two meters away. Rio rounded up some local Maya and set them to work clearing brush from the ruins. Two weeks later, he stood in the midst of a complicated maze or rooms and courtyards. Nearby was what he called a palace, its walls covered with “uncouth” stucco decoration. He returned to base with a handful of artifacts and some drawings, and wrote a report that was forwarded to the royal archives in Spain. The document languished, until by chance a copy traveled to England and was published in 1822. . . to a deafening critical silence.

It didn’t take long to get to her car in its privileged parking space. Since she was an early riser and I wasn’t, I usually came in on the minibus whose route passed by the site, although occasionally I felt lazy and took a cab. Since I usually left the site earlier than her as well, I pretty much knew the minibus schedule by heart, so it was gonna feel bit strange to arrive back in town so quickly.
The town, as one might expect, was also called Palenque, though it had a typical “Santo Domingo del” in front of it. Of course my unstoppable curiosity wanted to know if the chicken town or the egg site had come first, but since it had taken me all of five minutes to find the town had sprung up after the site was developed, it was kind of a letdown.

She made a sound of disgust as she realized how dusty she was, and realizing it after she got into the car.
“You should have taken a dip in the Queen’s Bath.”
Her hoot preceded, “Not with your camera around, you swine! Though I should remember to bring my bikini next time. Will you play bodyguard?”
My frown was barely visible to her, but she certainly heard, “You mean I wouldn’t be in the pool with you?”
Still laughing, she watched as I closed my eyes and imagined us there–out loud–waist deep in the warm liquid, the waterfall doing more tinkling than churning behind them. The people excavating the ball court would probably see us, but knowing her, she wouldn’t care. No, that wasn’t right; she would care, because she’d get excited by the thought of being watched. . .
I sighed happily as she turned the ignition, a little harder than she’d wanted. . .

Possibly to be continued. . .



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