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Dave and Jan's travels, day 251:

25th January
Villahermosa. What a place. To give you some idea: whilst we had been in Palenque, we had mentioned our intention of going there to the rather droll man who'd organised our tour of Bonampak and Yaxchilan. He'd explained that the "City of Villahermosa" is three lies: it isn't a city, it isn't a village ("villa") and it isn't beautiful ("hermosa").

It certainly is not beautiful. This is a town made rich by nearby oil deposits, and rather than let the revenue go to waste, the town elders have spent a lot of money redeveloping various parts of the town centre, using their favourite material, concrete. Villahermosa boasts easily Mexico's ugliest Plaza, and is also well-served with choice emporiums such as McDonalds and other examples of the flowering of western civilisation.

Still, we didn't care, for two reasons.

First, we had the Olmec civilisation to worry about. Most of the multitude of civilisations that once flowered in Mesoamerica can trace links back to the Olmecs, who lived around 2,000BC around the Gulf coast of Mexico. Archaeologists know little about them (in this case "little" is archaeologist-speak for "sod all") but they did give the other cultures a good calendar (the basis for the Mayan's fiendish version), a system of writing, and left their own distinctive mark in the form of the "Olmec heads". These are fairly straightforward carvings of heads only about ten feet high. They have rather fierce expressions. There are those who reckon they have African features, and construct various unlikely theories on this basis, but I reckon the resemblance is glancing at best.

In any case, we toured both the main town museum and the sculpture park. The park was less successful, in spite of having the best heads and putting them in a forest setting, largely because of a dearth of material ("OK, so it's a big head, and we've photographed each other standing next to it, now what?") but also because the non-giant-head pieces really didn't hold the attention at all. The museum, by contrast, was like a miniature version of the magnificent Anthropological Museum that's in Mexico City, with a clear history of each major civilisation intelligently described and with the relics woven into the overall story.

The second reason we didn't care about Villahermosa's aesthetic shortcomings was that we were staying at the dead posh Hyatt hotel. Thanks to some very considerate ex-colleagues of Jan's, we've been carrying a voucher for one night of Hyatt-style luxury around for some considerable time, and this seemed the ideal moment. Cable TV, fluffy towels, sheets that you can tuck in and hot water all the time are rare luxuries to those that are living without them. We celebrated with a posh meal in the posh hotel restaurant which was quite splendid, involving fresh pasta - another novelty - and strong coffee.

One last memory from Mexico. As we headed south, we stopped off at a place called Agua azul, which contains a beautiful series of waterfalls and swimming holes. Allegedly dangerous currents, although plenty of swimmers thought otherwise.


   (click thumbnails for a larger picture)

Agua Azul

Olmec Heads

Flowerpot man