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Better run through the jungle

Returning to the hotel, we chanced upon a man named Guadencio that the guide book suggests can be hired to show one parts of Papantla and surrounds hard to otherwise access. We got to chatting, and in the most polite and subtle way possible he extracted himself from taking anyone anywhere, but did give us sufficient information for us to make out way to an obscure archaeological site called Cuyuxquihui, which we learnt is from the post-classic era (contemporary to the Aztecs), built by the Totonacs. At the thought of ruins not in the books, we were suitably intrigued.

Conversing over coffee, I found this fellow, himself a Totonac native who wears the white shirt, trousers, and sandles traditional to his folk, to be rather involved in his background and the Papantla area. As well as dealing with random backpacking drifters, he speaks with university types from the States on local topics. In fact, one could figuratively say he was born right into his perfect place. More literally, he was born in a perfect place: in the middle of the market square of the Tajín ruins, as at the time (I judge him to be maybe forty to fifty years of age) ten families still lived in the remains of the city. He is also the first person to assume Naomi and I are married, and not knowing customary expectations and thus being gentle on the topic, I went along, despite it being odd to refer to 'my wife'.

The next day, after waiting at the terminus for over 2 hours, with naught but a hand drawn map, some oral instructions, and a difference in levels of faith in the plan, Naomi and I took a crowded minibus out from Papantla. Amongst the mob also aboard were a young couple who had needed to travel by this bus for over two hours to get their baby medical attention in Papantla, a clutch of traders with boxes of goods, and a stream of farm hands that got on and off holding chainsaws, crop spray, and other tools. Riding for over an hour through lush countryside, over a wide river, and through a couple of small settlements, we came to Paso del Correo, a small town lining either side of the main road, wedged in on one side by the river and with a mountain range looming over it on the other, and we were pointed down a long, straight road opposite the general store that headed for the mountains. Walking for 2 kilometres that we suspect was actually 5 kilometres under the beating sun, through orange orchards, and then winding up the foot hills and up the mountain, asking the few who passed in vehicles if this was the right direction (not all have the faith in hand-drawn maps and half-arsed plans that I do), we came to the Cuyuxquihui turn-off at a point that looked out over the vista of palm trees, and the orchards, and the river, and the valley beyond. We followed this road along until we found a homestead, the occupants of which paid us no heed and the chickens of which roamed the nearer portion of the adjacent Totonac ruins, which we had to ourselves in complete solitude. Immediately visible was the well maintained (I assume the homestead was of the groundskeepers) open area of retaining walls in the pyramid style, which we assume to have been the residential quarter. This was surrounded, as one went further up, by increasingly dense jungle, such as to give one the feeling of being in a first-person shooter computer game, where you can go where you want up to a sudden and impassable, natural border that defines the area. As this was in close proximity to the foot of the cliffs at the top of the mountain.

Not visible from the entrance, we found narrow steps leading up under a forest canopy to a higher, and also completely deserted clearing. Entering it, one is struck by one face of a pyramid protruding into the open, the rest still claimed by the jungle, it's stairs leading up to naught but foliage. Rounding a tree that from the entrance obscures half of the clearing, a fully reclaimed and restored pyramid facing the other stands proudly in the open. On the far side of the clearing, running from near the corner of one pyramid to near the corner of the other, is a stepped wall with a faded fresco and a standing stone at the top.

Where Tajín was marvelous in its scale and density, Cuyuxquihui was more special due to its remoteness, its setting and the fact we had it all to ourselves and could climb all over it. While Naomi wandered around the front of the exposed pyramid, I wandered around the back, to the side facing the valley, looking for the perfect photo from under the banana trees. I noticed the jungle had a corridor cut out and the hints of more ruins protruding from the earth. I was edging towards this shadowy intrigue until I heard “Paaaaul.... what are you doiiiing?” in a slightly mildly paternalistic tone, and withdrew from the brush. Then as Naomi looked at the edge of the clearing and I at the still-unrecovered pyramid, I noticed a small natural drainage stream had carved out a small, man size path into the otherwise impenetrable jungle along one side of the structure. Quick as a flash, I was in! Sadly, it didn't go very far, but there was a fragment of a carved stone within, and I could see a little more of the pyramid through the overgrowth. After being rebuked as a rascal, and aware that the sounds of life around me had gone silent when I entered, I withdrew, my first jungle adventure over.

The day growing old, and a long bus trip ahead, we headed left. Waiting for the Papantla-bound bus at the T-intersection in Pasa del Correo, a man passing on a bicycle came to a screeching halt, for nothing more than to have a chat and share a smoke. For, unlike the D.F., the people of Veracruz state like Americans, and always want to speak to them and are mildly disappointed to find out that is not what we are, until they decide they can practice English with us just as well. It seems most of the men have spent a year or five working in the States. These struck us as very good, happy people, interested and excited to speak to foreigners and always asking when you will be back.

This lunar cycle

April 2015
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