Wednesday, January 26, 2011


It has been so cold here in Montreal this week.the travel agency was advertising tropical vacations in Igloolik, we had to kick a hole in the air just to get outside and para-medics were checking houses on our street for people trapped under the weight of blankets! Today it seems to be thawing a bit (-8) but I'm still expecting Hydro Quebec to sent us a letter of condolence along with our next bill...Wherever you are, stay warm! gws

Friday, January 21, 2011

Gran Caribe Real Cancun, revisited


      Here, on the boulevard Kukulcan of the Riviera Mayan, Cancun, Mexico, where Philippe and Fernanda were married, are some more memories of our week at the Gran Caribe Real...

Chris, Ro, Fer, Phil, Annais, Lara & Cesar

Annais, Fernanda & Cesar
Andres, Armando, Marycarmen, Armando, Paulina, Diego, Adriana & Juan Pablo

Rosalba & Jesus

countdown to midnight, Dec 31, 2010

welcome 2011!

Carmelita & Roberto, Phil & Fer
In the sand dunes

Minerva & Fernando, Phil & Fer
Lara & Annais in front of our rooms
our room, overlooking the Carribean

Happy Marie

the two compadres

Teo & Valeria , Phi & Fer

Lara & Christina

Here comes the bride!

I do!

Mr & Mrs Steward

off to celebrate!
Chad, Lara & Fero

Cesar & Andres

big wave!

Rosalia & Marie

early morning, last day
     All in all this Mediterranean-style resort provided Marie and I a first class vacation experience, combining renowned Mexican hospitality with all our new friends and family! Gracias Cesar and Rosalia! gws

Thursday, January 20, 2011

San Gervasio, revisited

      Known as the Island of Swallows, the island of Cozumel was a Mayan holy ground dedicated to Ixchel, the fertility goddess. Just a few miles outside the main town on the way to the "wild side" is the archaeolgical Mayan site of San Gervasio. Marie and I spent an hour here one late afternoon early this month while staying at my my sister's casa, walking about the ruins and gazing upon five distinct periods of Mayan construction. Before us were ruins from the Pre-Classic of 500BC to 200 AD through the Early-Classic (200AD - 600AD), the Late-Classic (600AD - 1000AD), the Terminal-Classic (1000AD - 1200AD) to the Post-Classic (1200 - 1650AD). It was during the Post Classic time period San Gervasio become one of the main pilgrimage centers of Mesoamerica. San Gervasio was also a place of intense trade, becoming the religious and administrative center for all of the island.

Entrance to San Gervasio, Cozumel, Mexico
Iguana, San Gervasio

The Murcielagos (Bats Structure) was the most important building in San Gervasio during the Late-Classic since it was the principal center of the site. The casa Grande Nohoch Nah or Big House was a temple that used to have an altar in the middle of the structure. The entire building was stucoed and decorated with red, ochre and blue colours.  I found two large iguanas sunning themselves on the warm stone and even when I approached them they did their best to ignore me - perhaps they were the reincarnations of some long lost Mayan warrior...

Murcielagos, bat structure

Casa Grande Nohoch Nah

El Arco

The Arch (El Arco) in preHispanic days was the entrance and exit of the central part of San Gervasio to the coastal site.

Hibiscus, San Gervasio
   Mayan women used to make a pilgrimage from the mainland to visit the temples and many statues of Ix Chel found here. The architectural style appears to be modeled after the capital of the Itzas, with the white stone roads connecting all the temples, similar to the roads found at Chichen Itza, another place we never had time to see on the mainland. While this site is pretty small compared to the giant sites on the mainland, it presents an interesting history of the Mayan presence on the island of Cozumel. There were few people about when we were there and it was peaceful and quiet. At the end of a busy day we found it easy to roll back the centuries and feel the presence of this lost time. gws

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Faro Celarain, revisited

   When Marie and I spent four days on the Mexican island of Cozumel this past month we made a point of visiting Faro Celarain and the Punta Sur area on the southern tip. Mike and Carolyn had insisted we go there and it was well worth the short drive. There is an Ecological Reserve there which encloses a variety of natural wonders, covering an area of 1000 hectares - coastal dunes, mangroves, reefs, lagoon systems and beautiful beaches. The park is huge so our little rental car from Isis came in handy to drive from spot to spot within the park. We paid an entrance fee of $10US per person and got wristbands for the day. We saw the old lighthouse, small Mayan ruins (the Tumba del Caracol) a site dedicated to Ixchel, the jaguar goddess of midwifery and medicine, and a crocodile lagoon with a few sleepy inhabitants (we climbed the tall observation tower where it was easy to spot both crocodiles and their prey. As well as the crocs we saw herons, egrets, and off in the distance many pink flamingoes). We also passed a quiet beach sanctuary for sea turtles who arrive annually to lay their eggs. In the reproduction season beach surveillance is conducted by the Mexican army as well as people of Cozumel who care about the turtles. We snorkeled at the public beach, the water clear and warm, but until one went out to the reef very little life could be seen. Hurricane Wilma in October 2005 did a lot of damage to the region when it passed over Cozumel with winds peaking at 230 km/hr (145 mph), and alot of the coral was destroyed. We walked a short distance down the beach and, as you can see from the photo, had it all to ourselves! Just outside the park we stopped for cold coconut milk and bought some Mexican jewellery at one of the many vendors you'll find alongside the roadways. Thanks again Mike and Carolyn for the great suggestion! gws



Decision, decisions...

  Marie and I are flying down to Florida on the 6th of February to visit with family and bring back our 30 year old camper van Christina and I drove down last fall. In the meantime, knowing full well the old girl is getting long in the tooth ( the van, not Marie ), we have been looking at new and used trucks and truck campers to replace it when the time comes to put it down. I found this one that would remind me of the old van whenever we camped and the price is good....

....but I think Marie might be more comfortable with something like this. What do you think?

Decisions, decisions....gws

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Museo Nacional de Antropología, revisited

                            Courage and confidence before the future
                          find the peoples in the splendor of their past.
                      Mexican, behold yourself in the mirror of that greatness.
                       Verify here, stranger, the unity of the human destiny.
                   Civilizations go by, but in the mind of men will remain forever
                        the glory that others have striven to create...
                                                                                        Jaime Torres Bodet

   One of the highlights of Marie and I's recent trip to Mexico was the opportunity to visit the National Museum of Archaeology (Museo Nacional de Antropología) in Chapultepec Park, Mexico City with Cesar, Phil and Fernanda. It was here I saw for the first time the Aztec Calendar, or Sun Stone, which was the centrepiece for the museum's fabulous collection of Mayan, Aztec and Olmec artifacts. Historically, the Aztec name for the huge basaltic monolith is Cuauhxicalli Eagle Bowl, but it is universally known as the Aztec Calendar or Sun Stone. This is a colour representation, which may or may not have looked like this -


   It was during the reign of the 6th Aztec monarch in 1479 that this stone was carved and dedicated to the principal Aztec deity, the sun. The stone has both mythological and astronomical significance, weighs almost 25 tons, has a diameter of just under 12 feet, and a thickness of 3 feet. It was carved from basalt - a solidified lava, this being an area where volcanos were common. Cesar and I stood under it and I didn't want to think what would happen if it suddenly decided to fall over...
Cesar and I, Museum of Archaeology, Mexico City

   On December 17th, 1790 the stone was discovered, buried in the "Zocalo" (the main square) of Mexico City. Afterwards it was embedded in the wall of the Western tower of the metropolitan Cathedral, where it remained until 1885. At that time it was transferred to the National Museum of Archaeology and History by order of the then President of the Republic, General Porfirio Diaz.

   A little bit of information you need to know to really appreciate this calendar - It was the calendar of the Aztec people of Pre-Columbian Mexico and shares the basic structure of calendars from throughout ancient Mesoamerica. The calendar consisted of a 365 day calendar cycle and a 260 day ritual cycle. These two cycles together formed a 52 year "century", sometimes called the "Calendar Round". The calendric year began with the first appearance of the Pleiades star cluster in the east immediately before the dawn light. Every month had its name, and the days of the month were numbered from one to twenty. The days of the last month, Nemontemi, were numbered from one to five.The box at the top of the stone contains the stone's year of creation, in this case 1479 CE. The first calendar of the Aztec people was called the xiuhpohualli, the counting of years. This was a 365 day year, helpful for planning farming and predicting the weather. There were 18 months, each 20 days long, or 4 (5 day) weeks.  Then to bring the year up to 365 days there were 5 "unlucky" days added (Nemontemi).  Each year would also be divided into 4 seasons. I found very interesting some of the ritualistic activities associated with each month. Children and slaves were particularily vunerable! Some examples ( I won't name the month, just it´s number ) - month 1: children were sacrificed to water gods, month 2: dances were held by priests wearing the flayed skin of victims, month 3: the flayed skins were buried along with more child sacrifices, month 4: the new corn was blessed with the sacrifice of maidens, month 5: any impersonators of major gods were sacrificed, month 6: impersonators of water dieties were sacrified by drowning, followed by ritual bathing and dances, month 7: more impersonators sacrificed ( not a good career choice! ), month 8: saw the feast for the godess of young corn, month 9: all the gods were festooned with garlands and feasts on corn-meal cakes and turkey commenced, month 10: ceremonial pole climbing competitions and sacrifices to fire gods by roasting victims alive began ( I assume they ran out of turkeys ), month 11: saw the sweeping of house and roads and mock combat, month 12: ceremonies welcoming gods returning to earth took place with much ceremonial drunkeness and sacrifices by fire, month 13: ceremonies for mountain rain gods with much human sacrifice and ceremonial cannibalism, month 14: featured a ritualistic hunt following a fast, then sacrifices of game and ceremonial feasting, month 15: began the decoration of homes and fruit trees with paper banners, a race-procession, and for those who just can't get enough - massive sacrifices, month 16: was for the festival honoring water gods, when children and slaves were sacrificed, month 17: magic was used to bring rain and women were beaten with straw-filled bags to make them cry ( beats being flayed alive! ) and month 18: images of god were made from amaranth dough followed by feasting on tamales stuffed with greens. The Nemontemi or empty days that were added were five unlucky days where there was no rituals performed and people generally fasted.
    Calender 2 was called the tonalpohualli. Though both calendars inter-relate in religion and ceremony, it's the tonalpohualli that is considered the sacred calendar. The rituals were all divided up among the gods. There were 20 signs, and 13 numbers. Like a gear within a gear, each of the 20 signs would be assigned each of the 13 numbers.  13x20=260, the total number of days in the "sacred year".  The 13 day period is a kind of Aztec week.  Not only was every day ruled by a god, each of the weeks were also ruled by a god - the one associated with the first day. Every 52 years, the two calendars would align. This could bring disaster on the world, so a special ritual took place called the New Fire Festival.

   No one really knows how the stone itself was used, but it may have been simply a monument or possibly a sacrificial altar. In the centre is the sun god, Tonatuih (some believe this may be the earth god). Each of his hands holds a human heart, and his tongue is a ritual blade for sacrifice. The four squares that come next show the four previous creations that perished (by jaguars, wind, rain and water). Next come the 20 signs mentioned above, the days of the Aztec month. The 5 dots are the 5 unlucky days, days of sacrifice. The next area has square sections with dots, possibly representing weeks of 5 days each. The eight angles are rays of the sun. Finally, on the Aztec calendar stone there are the snakes that come head to head together. The symbols may represent the 52 years in a cycle. Between the tails is a symbol probably showing the date the stone was carved. At the edge are 8 equally spaced holes. Sticks may have been placed in these, in order to use the calendar as a sundial.

   Other major highlights in the museum include a replica of the Aztec ruler Moctezuma's feathered headdress (the original is in Vienna); a stela from Tula, near Mexico City; massive Olmec heads from Veracruz; and vivid reproductions of Maya murals in a reconstructed temple. We didn't have enough time that day to see everything and I intend to return when I have the opportunity to explore more of these treasures. Here are a few more photos I took of our visit to this very impressive museum! gws

Marie, entrance to Museum

National Museum of Anthropology. Mexico City. Mexico (1566-385043 / V03-642496 © age fotostock)