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Go to the past | Go to the future

Leaving those perilous waters behind, I went then to the main attraction of Villahermosa, the adjacent Parque-Museo La Venta. La Venta was the main city (though not the earliest) of the Olmec culture, the first culture of Mesoamerica, and indeed the whole of the Americas, dating from about 1400 to 400 BCE. The Olmecs set trends that would last through to Spanish arrival, including much of the pantheon of gods (my precious feathered serpent included) and the ball game. They were also masters of stone sculpture, and reached heights of skill none of the successor cultures did.

In the 20th century, a very bad thing happened just south of the La Venta site: oil was found. In order to save the stone monuments that had been found from people who couldn't see beyond money, archaeologists moved all the sculptures to the newly-founded park in '58. And, as a side note, has anyone ever seen a CNN news piece on oil exploration? The only warming they talk about in the warming of people's hearts from getting jobs and money, and the only pollution they speak of is that which might happen on American soil if a tanker runs afoul. It makes you want to throw things at the television. But anyway, the park.

The La Venta Park is half given over to a zoological garden of animals from Tabasco and surrounds. I haven't been to a zoo in many a year, despite living across the road from Melbourne zoo for a couple of years, and then walking through the car-park everyday for a further couple. And now I remember: I like zoos. And this zoo is focused on awesome animals; jaguars, crocodiles, coyotes, bats, snakes including rattlers and constrictors, turtles which bite off fingers, and few other less awesome ones like birds and monkeys. And may I say, if it hasn't got eight limbs it should not be called a spider monkey. At the mouth of the archaeological trail there is a small museum to give a quick crash course on the Olmecs, and replicas of the later finds not at the park, and then one has to sign in and abandon bags, as some tool a few years back brought in a spray can and went to town on the sculptures. Passing by a huge cieba tree, sacred to the Olmec and Maya (and the same as discussed in Cuba), the fabulously curated sculpture trail, set in jungle complete with termite mounds and free-ranging harmless animals, begins. This is mostly made of altars and the most famous of all Olmec treasures, the colossal heads. These should be familiar to the young'uns: the most famous one was part of Bender's Big Score, and I seem to recall the Simpsons have one in their basement. Also of interest are crypts and fences made of long fingers of basalt, and beautiful mosaics of serpentine stone made into the faces of jaguars, and then buried ten metres underground as offerings to the earth.

Also set in the sculpture trail is the enclosure for the Central American Alligator. There is only one. He is huge. He is so ancient he has gone blind. He is named Papillon, after the Steve McQueen film, because in his youth he used to escape a lot. However, in his antiquity, he doesn't move much; you can see him from the path around the lake, and in the few hours between entering and leaving the park, he didn't move an inch.

As you leave the sculpture trail, there is one last cage, labelled as the biggest predator in the world. It contains a mirror. Ba ba buuuuuum.

As it turns out, for whatever reason the oil types didn't dig up the La Venta site after all (though industrial gases probably wouldn't be so good for the sculptures anyway) and one can visit. So one did, the next day. La Venta was the first city with town planning for monumental architecture in the Americas, and had one of the earliest pyramids. This was built only of clay and sand, without stone facings, though stone rods were built into it to act as internal buttresses to prevent collapse and erosion. Though once stepped, it is now more volcano shaped. Dotted around the site, which used to be an island above the surrounding swamps, replicas of all the monuments have been placed where they were found (if known), to give some context. Maybe what I found most interesting were pyramids of another sort; those awesome tropical ants which clear all from their path and make huge nests were all over the site.

This lunar cycle

April 2015
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