Monday, June 16, 2008

Cantona and Cuetzalan - see part 7

This past weekend was out last excursion together before we head home. The weekend was simply amazing; packed with stunning views, amazing people and a very unique culture. Our first stop was Cantona, an ancient Mesoamerican city founded around the late classic period - 300 years after the Christian era. It definitely had the most beautiful landscape of all the pyramids we've visited. The city is vast with pyramids spanning everywhere, most of which are still buried but the shapes are easy to make out as we walked through the ruins.

Cantona was known best for two things: Their craftsmanship in obsidian (weapons particularly) and the "ball game." There are twenty six ball courts throughout the city, all of which are of different sizes. Apparently, the smaller the ball court the more professional the game. There was even a micro court where I imagine young kids would have practiced. It should be noted that the ball games that took place were ritualistic in nature and served a religious purpose. The city fell into decline and all its inhabitants disappeared around the eleventh century so the city is ancient indeed, and in fact, the guide claims that at its height it was the biggest city in all of Mesoamerica, covering about twelve square kilometers. They have found obsidian from Cantona all the way south into Costa Rica and Northern South America, indicating the significance of Cantona's trade market.

Our next stop was to eat in a little town in the mountains called Apulco. We all ate in a big hall off the back of the restaurant, a place the cadets thought looked like the great hall from the recent movie Beowulf. We also went to some waterfalls, however, it turned out to be like a trip to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory because it was raining and the water looked like the waterfall scence from the movie.

Our final destination was Cuetzalan; a small indigenous mountain town famous for their culture, the market, artesanias, and their language. Most people here a bilingual, in that they speak Spanish and the old Aztec dialect "Nahuatl." Everywhere we went in Cuetzalan the indigenous people were trying to sell us their crafts, even while we were eating they would pass by the tables with their products. An eight year girl taught me how to say "no I don't want it" in Nahuatl. It is "ga nekniki" yet it didn't seem to deter the the indigenous zeal to sell their things. Notice in the slide show the dress of the natives, it was very uniform and very fascinating to witness.

Sunday morning we took off on a hike to find some waterfalls nearby. We rented a truck to take us most of the way and then we walked for another fifteen minutes until we reached the waterfalls. They were beautiful, clean and very powerful. The cadets enjoyed their stay and even took off their clothes (down to the boxers) and took a dip. Some of the other cadets decided to make their own mark on the world and find their own waterfalls. After wandering through the jungle they indeed, found another set of waterfalls and a cave system that sounds pretty amazing. Of course, by the time I saw them return they looked like they participated in a wilderness survival expedition (led by Cadet Dominic Pitrone). I'm still waiting for the photographs from that experience.

Overall, the weekend was a success. It was a beautiful area of Mexico and we were able to see Mexico as it was many many years ago. I hope you enjoy all 192 photographs of our experience!

Dr. Zane U. Segle

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