Day 4

Day 4 of our Caravan tour took us to the capital city and financial center of Tabasco, Villahermosa, which was founded in 1596.   It is a bustling city of 750,000 and is home to Parque Museo La Venta, the Olmec Archaeological Park.

The Olmec were the ancient ancestors to the Maya and this is the place where the 12 foot tall Olmec head statues were found.  There are 28 Olmec carvings at this outdoor museum, along with an interesting zoo, lake and indoor museum.   The carvings are a stunning example of the sophisticated artistry employed by the ancient Olmec.

Olmec Head

There is evidence that the Olmec were on the North American continent more than 10,000 years ago.  The first documentation of shamanistic practices occurred during the period of the Olmec, when the shaman was purported to be transformed into the shape of the jaguar.  Many believe that the Olmec were the cradle civilization for the gene pool of Mesoamerica and were referred to as the “mother culture of Mesoamerica”.

Shaman Transformation ~ The Magnificent Jaguar

Beyond the zoo and at the entrance to the outdoor museum is the stately ceiba tree, which is the holy tree of the Maya, a very important source that allowed them access between their nine worlds.

Many fascinating carvings are found throughout the park, the first of which was La Abuela, the Grandmother.  She is kneeling and holding a plate as an offering.  She corresponds to the period from 700 – 400 BC.

La Abuela

The Quadrangular Altar is probably one of the first stylistic expressions of an Olmec altar in which a character emerging from a cave is seen.  The idea of life emerging from a cave and its function as a connection between the exterior world and the interior of the earth is central to the believe of the Olmec culture.

Quadrangular Altar

The Altar of the Children was an interesting structure that shows a central figure in headdress, once again emerging from a cave or the entrance to the underworld, carrying a child, possibly dead, in his arms.  On the sides of the monument are carvings of four men in unusual headdresses, each carrying a child with a deformed head.

Altar of the Children

Probably one of the more unusual monuments was entitled Monkey Looking at the Sky, but is actually thought to be a depiction of a woman giving birth.

Monkey Looking at the Sky

One of the most preserved altars and having the most illustrative meaning is that of the Triumphal Altar.  In the central part of the cornice of this monument is a figure with a human face and jaguar paws, a symbol of power.  From the niche, a full-body figure emerges from a cave, richly clothed, with a headdress representing the head of an eagle. He is seated cross-legged, leaning slightly forward and holding onto a rope, which is also being held by another figure depicted on the right side of the altar.

Triumphal Altar

The next monument, entitled Young Goddess, depicts a woman wearing a short skirt and helmet, with medallion and earflaps.  She has passed on to the next world and is probably displayed in her coffin.

Young Goddess

An inquisitive little mammal, seen throughout the park, was the white-nosed coatimundi. He seemed to be very accustomed to visitors.

From here, we traveled on to magical Palenque.


Day 3 (continued)

On the road from Puebla to Veracruz, in the distance we caught a glimpse of the second tallest volcano in the Americas, behind Mount McKinley.  Volcan Orizaba sits at 18,490 feet, but on this day, refused to show her impressive size, hiding behind cloud cover instead.

Veracruz is a major port city on the Gulf of Mexico and is the largest city in the state of Veracruz.  It is Mexico’s largest and oldest port and was founded in 1519.  The port is an important economic engine, for imports and exports and especially the automobile industry.

Veracruz is a very large producer of fruits for all of Mexico, as was evident as we passed fields of orange, lime, lemon, papaya, banana and mango.  The highlands also produce some of the best coffee in Mexico.  Spanish, Caribbean, and African influences are seen in the food and music in this vibrant city.

We spent the night at the Gran Hotel Diligencias, overlooking a plaza gearing up for yet another evening of Carnaval festivities!

View from our Hotel Room Gearing up for Carnaval Festivities
Striking View of our Hotel Lobby

Our tour director Manuel took us on a short walk to the wharf, giving us the lay of the land as we fought the Carnaval crowds.

Rick and Tara, a newlywed couple from Chicago, were on our tour and preparing for the Carnaval fiesta to take place later than evening.  There was music, food, laughter, and crowds everywhere in the city so Terry and I decided to chill for a while and grab a refreshment.

Guadalupe Martinez Carrazco, 94 years young, was so diligent in assisting us to find seats that we just had to buy him a cerveza.  I believe he was hoping for that all along.  Perhaps it is the Corona that is keeping him going as he was outwardly flirting with all the women, who seemed to be enjoying it!

That evening, directly across from our hotel, a stage was being set for the night’s performances.  The music was superb and everyone in the crowd around us started to dance, young and old.  Does no one in this country not know how to dance, and dance well?!

The next morning, as we waited to load onto our bus, Terry snapped a rare street scene without the throngs of people streaming by.  Notice another lovely church steeple in the background.

From here we headed to Villahermosa, then on to magical Palenque, who some say is the most outstanding archeological site in all of Mexico.  It certainly was one of the most important, as this was where royalty lived, Pakal the Great.

I have much more to share of our Caravan tour, however, 10 days into our 6-week adventure we received a phone call that our dear friend Barbara was admitted to the hospital and is in intensive care.  We elected to cut our trip short and return home, which we did last night.  Today I will board a plane to Arizona so my remaining posts will be a bit delayed.  Please pray for Barbara and Pete during this very difficult time.

Vaya con Dios!