Category - Agonist Travel Journals

Final Photos of the Summer

You can find the last batch of photos, about two dozen of old town Queretaro, here.

If you are interested in reading about Mexico you can go here. I’ll be writing up at least one more blog post on Mexico and probably another one on the whole archeology field school experience. Those you can find at

Here are the links to all of this summer’s travel photos by adventure:


Belize Field School

Silk Road

Peoples of the Silk Road


Diario de Camino

Queretaro was not a place I’d ever thought I’d visit and yet here I am—and that is a story I will get to in a bit. Yesterday, the 5th of August, was one of those days where everything came together—the magnificent drive from Orizaba (Mexico’s big brewing town) up into the Sierra Madre Oriental, the chain of mountains that runs roughly parallel to the Gulf Coast. I’d boarded the bus the afternoon before at 430 in Chetumal, on the Caribbean Coast of Mexico, at the southern end of the Yucutan.

I’d slept most of the night and woke up just outside Orizaba. At this point, my plan was still get to Mexico City and catch the first bus to Nuevo Laredo, walk across the bridge and catch the first Greyhound home. But for the long drive up Sierra Madre Oriental full of blue skies and lush green mountains I would have. The Gulf Coast is terribly hot and humid but once I began the climb it breaks. After a month of inland Belize heat I had no interest lingering. The mountains here are semi-tropical with deciduous trees dominating until half way up and then the conifers show up. The valleys are impossible—filled with switchback after switchback, large 18-wheelers resembling insects thousands of feet below. I’m pretty sure the towering snow clad behemoth I saw was Malinche, named after the Cortes’ famous interpreter and later wife. As I crest the mountains I’ve arrived on a broad upland plateau that’s almost semi-arid, deceptive-like, but not. To me it resembled the Motagua Valley in Guatemala. But then I saw fields of golden flowers, agaves, century plants and maize everywhere.

I speed past restaurants called “Benedicion” and “Esperanza” and “Dolores Milagro,” the Catholicism runs deep here. And then I speed past towns with names like Huixcolotla, Acatzingo and Tlaxcala and the Nauhua runs deep here too, especially with Tlaxcala, the red city, city of treachery, the great unconquered nemesis of the Aztecs and Cortes’ best allies. Had they not allied with Cortes there would have been no Conquest.

And then my mind wandered, lost in random thought. But the fields persisted: perfect rows of maize bordered by prickly pears or agave, sitting between crystal clear streams running down to the Rio Panuco and cypress lined dirt roads that wooden shacks made of tin roofs and some cinder block lead to. Shepherds punctuate a landscape of lumbering volcanoes obscured by clouds, ready to erupt at any moment.

The high plateau ended as it must. I begin climbing downslope to the Great Valley of Mexico, having taken Cortes’ route. I turned a switchback and then the entire valley came into view. Bernal Diaz’s words, one of Cortes’ soldiers, were never more apt, “And when we saw all those cities and villages built in the water, and the other great towns on dry land, and that straight and level causeway leading to Mexico, we were astounded. . . It was all so wonderful that I do not know how to describe this first glimpse of things never heard of, seen or dreamed of before.”

What a world was lost by the Conquest.

More soon . . . in the meantime, photos can be found here.

Field School Update #3

Monday begins the fourth and final week of the Belize archeology field school. This has been an enormous amount of hard work. On Monday my digging technically ended. I am now in the lab analyzing the enormous hoard of ceramics we excavated. As I know nothing of Mayan ceramics it’s been a crash course in analysis and learning. I can now distinguish between Mt. Maloney Late Classic I and II and Terminal. Add to that some Belize Red Ash Ware, a boatload of Cayo unslipped (huge elegantly curved jars) the occasional Alexander’s Unslipped, Dolphin Head Red, Garbutt Creek and a few other and I’m actually learning.

On the last active day of digging our efforts were interrupted when a troupe of Howler Monkeys came in to inspect what we were doing. There were eight of them, just swinging around in the trees right above our excavated units, tossing poop and peeing where ever they wanted to. One almost pissed on my dig partner. He’s a douche and would have deserved it.

Random thoughts: having spent the better part of three weeks looking inside the innards of a Mayan pyramid I am not terribly impressed with their architectural prowess. It’s very rudimentary and ad hoc. On the medial terrace we were excavating, we were looking for and found what they call ‘construction pins’ which serve as a kind of support pier to keep the downward thrust of the pyramid from imploding. They do what they are supposed to do and have held up well. But as architecture goes they’re ugly and asymmetrical. That’s the weird thing about Mayan pyramids, or any city/group structure in general: they are accretive. Few were built in just one building spree like contemporaneous works, take the Samanid mausoleum for example. Elegant, symmetrical and nothing ad hoc about it.

One thing I am aware of every time I dig here in Belize is that the Mayans had no metal weapons, nor did they have beasts of burden like the horse. This had a lot to do with the construction techniques they employed. There are no large dressed stones like the pyramids in Egypt. Every stone in this pyramid could have been carried by one man. And the labor that went into their construction?

The heat is abominable. I am going to sleep in a refrigerator when I return home. The humidity is terrible too.

It’s been an interesting experience, alas, what little curiosity I had in the Maya has been fully satisfied. I’m a desert guy. Jungles are too hot, have too many bugs and are way too loud. There is never any silence in the jungle. Not like that you find in the desert for sure.

You can find the photos and videos of the Howler Monkey invasion here.


The Road Beckons

Xunantunich's western friezeTomorrow morning I catch the southbound bus to Laredo at 900.

I’ll arrive in Laredo about 1145, walk across the border at International Bridge #1, take the city bus to the new primera classe bus station and catch the first available to Mexico City.

After that, who knows? I have to be in Belize on July 5th, which makes zipping across the Yucatan a tight schedule.

I’ll then be in Belize working on an archaeological dig for 25 days. I will leave August 1 for the Pacific Coast of Mexico.

And then, who knows?

I suspect you’ll be getting a boatload of posts on the ancient Mayans.

This is the best place to keep up with me while I am away.

Half The Population Cannot Remain Silent Forever

I need some help from the ladies.

How does one extrapolate, infer, or deduct and induct the role of women in a society 1,000 years old with pretty much nothing but textile fragments, kitchen and cooking utensils and a very, very thin literary record to go on?

I know I am missing something.

And I know it is right in front of my eyes because half the population of a city cannot remain invisible.

Suggestions welcome.

And please, keep the anti-patriarchal political grandstanding out of this. I am very aware of the problem and I’m looking into the solution.

So save it for another thread.

A Delicate Dance Along The Way To Tikal

Rolling into Flores as late as we did I stressed finding a decent hotel. Not to worry: La Casona de la Isla, a little boutique hotel (a term I use very loosely for Guatemala) came complete with hot showers, an air conditioner, two beds, a pool, wifi (for father’s epic iPhone addiction) and a lovely breakfast balcony view of Lago Peten Itza. SPK FTW!

Day-glow canoesOver breakfast, as day-glow dugout canoes with outboard motors slid across the lake and docked just below us, father and I decide to make for Tikal today instead of tomorrow, which in hindsight was an excellent call. Had we gone Saturday we’d have been fucked trying to return our rental car, not to mention that Saturday proved to be a gray, gloomy and overcast day, one not at all conducive to jungle photography, especially at Tikal. Instead, it was a “necessary day” (a day when father and I do our own thing, alone) on which I relaxed and walked around the island and did a little bit of Christmas shopping, but more about that later. Maybe.

The rest of the story plus new photos can be found here.

Mayan Roads, Mayan Fog, Mayan Whispers

Quirigia StelaeUp at 530. Cold shower. Teeth a-chattering. Clothed. Grab bags. On way to airport. Arrived. Ticketed. Take shoes off. Security. On the jetway.

Then we wait inside the plane—almost a full hour—for clearance to take off from the brand new tarmac of El Salvador’s national airport.

“I’m not impressed with the airline,” said my Dad.

I think silently to myself, “you’re not impressed? What did you expect? Swissair? Singapore Airlines? This is Central America for fuck’s sake, old man.”

For the rest of the story click here.

Surfing, Theoretical Mathematics And Jesus

Me and the Queen MaryFirst morning in El Salvador. Got the drop on three waves, didn’t ride them long. Out of shape and out of practice. Surfing is decidedly not like riding a bike. You lose skills when you don’t use them. But it was fun. As a buddy I met at Popoyo in 2009 says, “El Tunco’s a nice easy right off the point.” And that’s exactly what it was: as it breaks off the point it’s then a long slow roller even novices like me can ride. They call it Sunzal or El Tunco (the name seems to be interchangeable by both the surfers and the locals). El Tunco refers a large lump of rocks on the beach that used to look like a pig before a hurricane came in and rearranged them. Sunzal seems to be a local word of indeterminate origin, but most likely Spanish and English that refers to the sunset. And this beach has some of the best I’ve ever seen.

If it’s an easy right off the point at low tide at high tide it’s a different animal. Then the swells get bigger and on occasion a nice tube forms, “but don’t count on it,” Alejandro, a Brazilian Spanish teacher from Los Angeles would tell me later. I paid my respects to the wave and paddled ashore.

So, what do surfing, mathematical theory and Jesus have to do with each other? Read this and find out.

From 56 to 58: Vaqueros, Volcanoes and the Voice of the Road

Nicaraguan LifeDecember 17, 2013: Pelicans glide inches above the cresting waves. The rising sun glistens pinkish and oblique across the Pacific Ocean and carries me back to yesterday, where we left Granada about 930am—Hernán was with us—and the driver was a big, giant of a man whose hands never left the ten and two o’clock position on the steering wheel the entire trip, through Nicaragua, Honduras and to the bridge at El Salvador.

We passed Masaya, the town, and then passed the volcano of the same name, a low and not terribly active lava-maker that looks more like a shield volcano than stratovolcano, what with part of its side seemingly blown off.

Hernán inspects the pottery I bought the day before approvingly.

You can read the rest of the story here.