Tuesday, August 26, 2008

After 5 Thousand Years

I recently received a new National Geographic magazine collector's item publication in the mail.
As I was flipping through the softbound book, I noticed the messages contained on the inside of the front cover.
And then I noticed the inside of the back cover. Delfino Lopez Hidalgo, one of the administrators at the Palenque site from the INAH (the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia) told me that the governor of Chiapas, as well a the National Secretary of Tourism had spent large amounts of money in tourism advertising in order to promote the state of Chiapas. Visit http://www.sectorturismo.gob.mx/wb/sectur/sect_buscador?q=chiapas
to see some of their information. Since visitation is up this year it seems to be working.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Excusado del Palacio

You may recall a discussion in a previous posting about the possible existence of bathrooms in the Palace. This evening, while looking through many of our old books and enformes about Palenque, I came across the above diagram that was drawn under the direction of Mexican archaeologist, Miguel Angel Fernandez. He excavated at Palenque in the 1940's. The diagram illustrates part of the Palace tower court and clearly shows "la posición" that a man would be able take in order to relieve himself in "el hombre's estación". It even shows the physics of how it might operate. I guess we will have to continue to use our imagination regarding how the women's excusado works. I now have a new-found confidence in our Palenque tour guides because the information that they are giving their audiances comes from a pretty good source!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

I have been pondering what might be some of the causes for the increasing use of these large tour buses that are bringing more people into the site. I think that there are at least two reasons -- one of which is the ease of being able to book these tours over the Internet.

The other reason is due the efforts of this man. Back in the 1990's Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari wanted to improve the road system, so he turned to private investors to construct and maintain sections of the highway system. In a nutshell, according to reports, he dramatically improved Mexico's tourism infrastructure. I am not implying that there is a toll road that leads to Palenque, but these buses come from all parts of Mexico, so the toll roads link the buses to the smaller roads in the transportation network that lead to Palenque.

There is a lot of information about Mexican toll roads and their toll charges at the "Mexexperience" website found here: http://www.mexperience.com/guide/essentials/toll_road_charges.htm

Another great resource for information about Mexican roads and their future is the Presidente Felipe Calderón Hinojosa's road infrastructure page. Above is a map that he posted of the existing road network.

And here is a map of the road network that the president would like to see by 2012. Interesting that he uses this date, which is coincidently the end of the Maya bak'tun cycle in the ancient calendar. Citings of this date are becoming a familiar refrain by so many people all over the world.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Autobuses de Turismo

One of the most amazing things that I observed at the site are the number and variety of large tour buses, the majority of which are road worthy, air conditioned and comfortable. They usually seat about 40 to 50 people.
Here is another one that is trying to turn around in the tight parking area that is also used by the vendors, the guides, the tourists as well as other buses.
I love the ones that have the bright colors and that look like they have bug antlers. Those appendages are actually their rear view mirrors. These two buses are trying to squeeze by on the narrow two lane road that leads into the park.
Here I am sitting by the roadway counting each kind of vehicle that comes into the park (bus, car, taxi, etc.). I was a transportation planner in a previous life, so I felt very comfortable taking one hour traffic counts by mode. I did this on various days at various times throughout one week and estimated that there are an average of 4 large tour buses that come into the park every hour - during the SUMMER SEASON. If you multiply that out, it comes to an average of 50 buses each day during vacation season. Un-averaged counts would reflect that, there are more of these buses on Sundays, since Mexican nationals do not pay a park fee on Sundays and there are less buses on some of the weekdays.
There has been a increasing trend in the use of these large coaches over the years that local people have noticed. Their use impacts the local economy, sometimes in a negative way. The tour operator, knowing that he/she has promised the group that they would visit several cities and several sites in X number of days, funnels the people into a local hotel for one day and then the next, takes them up to Lakamha' (Palenque) for a few hours, puts them back into the bus and then they are on their way to the next location, without even seeing or spending their money in the little pueblo of Palenque.I placed the "tourist circuit" on a map to help you see how the people are taken by bus to the park entrance at the top of the hill and then they are lead (or self lead) through the circuit which is a distance of 1.2 miles or 1.9 kilometers downhill. They are given a set amount of time to make it through the site - to be back at the bus that is waiting either at the museum parking lot or the informal lot where it is being washed. Then they put them back into the bus and they are off again to the next destination.
And yes, some make it through the site faster than others and are happy to be able to relax after such a stimulating and very sweaty walk.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Tiendas de Portátiles

I created this map to show locations where the vendors are usually found at the site. I estimate that they use approximately 9,153 sq. meters of space in total.

With the exception of those vendors who are lucky enough to have a real booth with a roof, each person must have enough ground area to spread their goods out for display.

How's this display for an eye catching color burst?

The waterproof blue cloths that you see below the merchandise serves several purposes. They help the vendor lay out his/her territory, they offer protection for the goods as they lay on the ground, they give a nice contrast so that the goods show up well as the tourists pass and most important of all, they are used to bundle up the pretties and carry them back home.

The majority of these people do not live in the Modern City of Palenque. Most of them (and the guides also) come from a small indigenous community called El Naranjo, two miles away. I created this map to show you where this pueblo is located (sorry for the poor resolution, but my digital elevation model is the problem). There is no road to drive to the site from El Naranjo, so each day these hard working people carry their bundled good on their backs for two miles to get to their designated spot.

Here are a few of the men taking a much needed break in the shade.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Selling the Maya Mystique

Chances are good that many of the local people who used to work at the site wielding machates and cutting grass are now site vendors. On Friday, July 25th, I counted 79 vendors spread out on the ground at various locations within the site and this was not an unusual day.

This year, I would estimate that one third of the items being sold are painted cowhide leather works. This vendor has found an opportunity to use an ancient altar next to the palace to lay out his leather ware reproduction of Pakal the Great's sarcophagus lid and explain it in detail. Perhaps if the ancient Maya had cows back in those days, they might have gone through this same routine.
I will not speculate about the source or production of some of these modern leather "paintings" -- whether they are hand or machine made, but I know that all the works from this vendor were carved by him. I watched him expertly work several pieces from limestone.

One of the things that I find interesting is the variety of reactions by the tourists to the vendor's sales pitches. Here is a German couple heavily engaged in a transaction with a proactive and persistent Mexican vendor.
Other approaches at bargaining are more amenable. This man, being very sensitive and observant, kindly questions the indigenous Maya woman about her products and the sale goes down quite easily.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

God Bless the Grass

This picture is one from Tikal. One year ago, when I visited Palenque, I witnessed a crew of men with machetes like these, descend upon the terraces of the ballcourt and make quick work of "manicuring" the lawn (thanks again to Flickr for this photo).
However, this time I saw men with lawnmowers!!!
Although, not power driven...
As well as a man with a weedeater. Although more efficient, I wonder how many people lost their jobs due to these "upgrades".
From this map, you can see the generalized areas of garden and lawn maintenance for the park. I used the GIS to figure out the area measurements. There are approximately 2,450 sq. meters (8,038 sq.feet) of gardens to maintain and 85,878 sq. meters (281,751 sq. feet) of lawn and terraces to mow.
Not only do they mow the grass, but they rack and sweep the leaves off the tourist walkways. The leaf blower has not yet made its way this far south.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

My Don Juan Mountain ESRI Presentation

To see a larger version of this presentation go to: http://tinyurl.com/6j4qno

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Scottish Lassie Roommates

Here are the two young ladies that share my room at the hostel.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Sharpening the GIS Saw

This year, for the first time, I am attending the International GIS conference in San Diego put on by ESRI (Environmental Science Resources Institute). I haven't seen so many geography geeks under one roof in my life! There are so many of us that we take up the entire San Diego Conference Center.I am here to hone my GIS skills, to present information about my Don Juan project (the mountain right behind Palenque), to learn from other people doing archaeology GIS, and to learn the new GIS tools that ESRI has been developing for their products this year.

In addition, I decided to be daring and stay at an International Youth Hostel to save money. Here is a picture of the establishment.

Here is a shot of the front desk.
But when I asked them about the bathrooms and showers, they told me that "yes, they are unisex". So I am thinking -- how does that work? Do I keep my privacy behind the walls of the shower? I know that the lady behind the desk was very amused at my question. I am, afterall, the oldest person in the joint.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

No Resolving the Dissolving

As I have written before, the majority of the ancient building material at Lakamha’ is limestone, since that was the material available to the people. Here is a Map of Don Juan Mountain that I created from a digital elevation model sent to me by Karen Bassie-Sweet. Palenque sits at the base of Don Juan Mountain whose makeup is limestone, as are the mountains of the Chiapas highlands, south of Don Juan.

This picture displays the hieroglyphic stairs of Court E of the palace. They are slowly dissolving, especially those facing upward. There are also glyphs on these stairs that you can see only from the front view. All rainwater is slightly acidic. When it falls on limestone as carbonic acid (solution mixture of the air and water) it slowly dissolves the rock. This process eventually forms cracks in the limestone rocks that become underground caves and water systems.
Cenotes are part of this system. Thanks to Flickr for this picture of a cenote at Ik Kil. Within the caves (defined as places that are large enough for humans to pass), stalactites and stalagmites are formed from this solution mixture. These formations are dripstone, a type of travertine. For more about types of limestone see: http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/Hbase/geophys/limestone.html

So this means that when it rains on the buildings, they also begin to dissolve - like what is happening outside and inside the Palace. Here is a picture of a dripstone or a stalagmite that has formed inside one of the "T" windows. Perhaps these limestone buildings are even more vulnerable when they are reconstructed by archaeologists from unrecognizable dirt mounds into buildings.

In addition, the structures are also affected by rain runoff that flows around the buildings such as what happens in the Murcielagos group, but the ancient people who managed this group of buildings came up with an interesting way to deal with that water. They created a series of drains and pools to slow it down, perhaps.

We have plenty of buildings in the US made of limestone. For instance, most of the original courthouses of Texas are made of limestone. So why haven’t they also dissolved? It’s because these are only a couple of hundred years old. After 1,300 years, they too will experience dissolution, just like those at Palenque.

Presently, a method to protect the buildings has not been developed yet. The best that can be done is to build structures on top in order to shield from rain.