The landscape and the memories change over the years. Michael Donley, with a Ph.D in cartography and one of the usual monthly crew, had last been here in 1969. Then the landscape was mostly forest and some fifty years later, the lands had been cultivated in coffee and now sugar cane.
We’d tried to find the elusive large (11x13 feet) carved basalt boulder earlier but the directions, as always with Mayan history in Guatemala, were vague. Trying to find anything in Guatemala
is limited to one large country map, if you can find one or the more specific topographical maps in the country’s Geological Institute. Detailed maps of individual town and cities are only available
via Google’s map service and those are hardly worth the paper to print one. It all makes exploring that much more difficult.
That said, this time we were prepared and armed with specific information from an older guidebook: “At the northern end of 4th Avenida is a dirt road...about 300 meters up the dirt road...narrow path leading to the left (west) through the sugar cane.” The directions were good and now, in mid-March, was the perfect time to explore. The fields were dry and the light green cane stalks were only one to two feet high, thirsty and waiting for the seasonal rains to start in a month or so. There were a few older trees on the higher elevations, indicative of structures buried below and scattered mounds of rocks, dug up over the years of planting and cultivating the reddish-brown soil.
The Cotzumalguapa Archeological Zone is one of Guatemala’s little known and barely explored areas and occupied at least since 37 A.D per a stone carving. It’s located some 13 miles south of the volcano known as Fuego, one of the most active in the world, and the nearby town of Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa infringes on the remnants to the west. The cities, of at least four known,are thought to have been a major center on the Pacific coast, extending their power from Mexico to El Salvador. Today, only the mounds remain of a civilization thousands of years old, where stone causeways, some forty feet wide and several kilometers long, once connected each other.
This was our lucky day, aided by planning. Within half an hour,following the directions and with the help of two wizened campesinos working in the fields, we found Monument 21. Two blackened patches of earth at the base shown that the local Mayans were still holding ceremonies here. There were other carvings scattered about, per the books. The Germans had exported some 30+ monuments in the late 1800’s to Berlin and another 50 or so had been taken either to Guatemala City or the nearby museum of El Baul. Who knows what lies below the surface or how deep the repeated volcanic explosions of the nearby volcanoes have buried the past?
Credit to finding the carving goes to Hill Billy Tom Martin, our leadfoot driver. The ‘Perfesser’ was too far north and I was too far west. Reid, our latest ‘victim aka backseat onlooker of near-crashes’ was in the middle and it was he who signaled that HBT had found the elusive rock.
We spent the night in nearby Puerto San Jose, a so-called ‘seamen’s port.’ We also had a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ that what happened in PSJ, stayed in Puerto San Jose. So be it. If you find yourself in Puerto San Jose, it’s likely that you’ll be the only gringo. And if you happen to pass a place called ‘El Talisman’, stop in after 9pm.