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Central Temple of a Row of Seven Temples, East (Rear) Side.

"Place where spirit
voices are heard."

May - June, 1895
August - November, 1904.

The Mayas believe that at midnight (especially during the great festivals), their ancestors return to earth and, adorned as in the days of their glory, wander about in the forsaken temples and palaces, where their spirit-voices are heard in the air.

Therefore all important ruins in this land are regarded as enchanted, encantadas, and timid people do not like to sleep alone in their desolate chambers.

When I undertook the first expedition to Tikal in the middle of 1895, it was not with the expectation of working up this enormous city of ruins during a first visit, for such an undertaking could not be accomplished without considerable preparation; I only intended to reconnoitre the ground as thoroughly as possible, to make drawings and plans of the most important subjects, and to take photographs which did not require too much preliminary work.

May 21, 1895. I left the island city of Itza and crossed the great lake in a northerly direction in a swaying cayuco. I landed at the little Maya village of San Jose, where I presented to the alcalde, Jose Maria Chata, the order received from the prefect, Isaias Armas, according to which the alcalde was to render me all possible assistance in my difficult undertaking, at the customary rates of payment, and to appoint the requiste number of men to accompany me.

After the business had been discussed in all its details, the alcalde appointed five men to carry my very light baggage and the most indispensable provisions, and to make themselves generally useful at the ruins. While the men were making their preparations for the journey, I was able to utilize my enforced leisure by visiting the neighboring ruined city of Motul.

On the 25th of May we embarked in a large cayuco obtained from the alcalde and rowed to the village of El Remate at the eastern end of the lake. As there was no wind our voyage was quickly and safely make along the beautiful wooded north shore for the most part. Owing to the calm weather we were able to avoid entering the great bays formed by the promontories, and could cross from cape to cape, thus saving much time and labor. In a storm it is absolutely necessary to hug the shore.

Every now and then at the approach of our dugout, great flocks of cormorants, called malaches, rose up. We saw no ducks, but occasionally, high in air, a flight of beautiful pelicans, alcatraz. These ugly malaches, or cuervos de agua, live on fish which they catch by diving and remaining several minutes under water. They have a very bad reputation, for it is said that they merely peck out the eyes of fish which are too large for them to eat. The fish thus rendered helpless soon die miserably. Several times during our passage we did, in fact, see dead fish floating on the water with their eyes pecked out, in seeming corroboration of the statements made by the Indians.

The repulsive malaches perpetrate on the water the very same iniquity which the smallest owl of Yucatan perpetrates on land. This little bird by way of a tidbit picks out the eyes of the beautiful ocellated turkeys (Meleagris ocellata) while they are innocently roosting at night on the branches of lofty trees. Indians, who accompanied me on my wanderings in the wildernesses of Yucatan, assured me that when out hunting they have occasionally found cuts straying helplessly about in the forest with their eyes pecked out, and dying of starvation.

On this expedition I already noticed that the waters of Lake Peten-Itza were in the process of rising, for at flat portions of the north shore I frequently observed dead trees standing far out in the water.

Quite late at night we arrived at the cabins of El Remate, at that time inhabited by half-breed negroes, and here we spent the night. The distance between San Jose and El Ramate is estimated at fully ten leagues. From the cabins of El Remate the path runs N.N.E through the wilderness to Tikal, which is distant about thirteen leagues (55km.). Long stretches of the path were so overgrown by vegetation that my men had constantly to use their machetes to make progress possible. At the end of the first day's march , after having crossed a mountain by a difficult pass, we arrived at the Ixtinta aguada, where we spent the night. We estimated the distance travelled that day at about four leagues. At noon of the second day, having covered but two leagues, we came to another aguada called Ixpita, where we rested for about an hour.

This aguada is about half-way between El Ramate and Tikal; it is surrounded by small heaps of debris and I also found a chultun or rain-well near by. However we continued on our way turning off far to the right, along the tops of a range of hills, at the end of which we spent the night, this time managing to get along with the water we had brought in the calabazos filled at the Ixpita aguada. Descending the range of hills we came to small heaps of ruins, and further on to much larger ones. Late in the afternoon of May 28, 1895, after a three days' march, we came out at Tikal, near the great Palace of the Grooved Walls, in the vicinity of which the Indians pitched their camp. Remaining with the baggage myself, I at once sent the men to the aguada with every available vessel, in order to lose no time in settling the question of water supply.

As we were already approaching the end of the dry season, the surface of the aguada proved to be quite dry, but a hole (un pozo) already dug by former travellers, was speedily deepened, until by good fortune the men struck water, which was still contained in the black soil; otherwise, parched with thirst we would have been obliged to retrace our steps the next day to the Ixpita aguada. On the following day I began the inspection of the ruins, intending to have the trees and shrubs cut away from those structures which I wished to photograph, when a great and unexpected difficulty arose. The men from San Jose whom I had brought with me were capable and willing enough on the water as oarsmen, and on land as carriers of burdens, but they were entirely unwilling to fell trees, and especially to excavate buried sculptures.

A certain vicious fellow named Pedro Ek proved especially mutinous. He apparently had a bad influence upon the other men, whom he incited to refuse to work in order to hasten their return to San Jose. Not in the least inclined to have my work interfered with and my time wasted by this rapscallion, I withdrew from their camp and had my baggage, my provisions and a supply of water carried to the Two-storied Palace which stands opposite Great Temple V toward the north. The central north chamber of the first story with its niches and great stone benches affords the traveller many conveniences.

By changing my quarters to this palace, from which the principal square with its various structures was easily accessible, I saved a great amount of time, while the dissatisfied Indians remained in their camp on the other side of the more remotely situated Palace of the Grooved Walls. Even though they joined me late during the forenoons to help a little or to do nothing at all, and left me early in the afternoon under the pretext of preparing a meal, I still found time between while for a great deal of work on plans and drawings.

Therefore, during the eight days of my stay at Tikal, from May 25 to June 5, 1895, I drew the ground-plans of the five chief temples, also that of my Two-storied Palace and the Palace of Five Stories. I made careful tracings of all the most important of the best preserved incised drawings found on the smoothly stuccoed walls of the chambers in the different structures, for I had fortunately brought an ample supply of tracing paper with me.

Photographs were taken of a few of the best preserved edifices. The sculptured stones were not photographed at this time, since the preparation would have taken too much time. Taking it all in all, a fair share of work was thus accoplished, and my collection of incised mural drawings is altogether unequalled. To tell the truth, I somewhat overworked and felt a good deal exhausted each night.

Sometimes in my lonely chamber during the night I found myself so surrounded by roaring panthers with whom other creatures, perhaps more harmless, mingled their cries, that I was forced to maintain a great fire at the entrance of my chamber, even occasionally to barricade it with timber. Of course I always slept with a carefully loaded rifle by my side, but otherwise in perfect tranquillity of mind.

When I am sleeping in solitude in a ruin or under a tree in the primeval forest, or in a little cave, I am not at all disturbed by the serenades tendered me at the midnight hour by the Felis onca, the Felis pardalis, the Felis concolor, or any of their kin. It always seems to me to be part of the situation, so I listen with cheerful attention. The darkness of the night makes no difference in my feelings, because I am convinced that the same amount of good and evil always exists whether our planet bears us in sunlight or shadow.

* Excerpted from Explorations in the Department of Peten, Guatemala: Tikal. Memoirs 5(1). Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. (Maler 1911:3-6)

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