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Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas & Yucatan, Vol 2 The ground was entirely new there were no guide books or guides the whole was a virgin soil At one time we stopped to cut away branches and vines which concealed the face of a monument, and then to dig around and bring to light a fragment, a sculptured corner of which protruded from the earth I leaned over with breathless anxiety while the Indians worked, and an eye, an ear, a foot, or a hand was disentombed Few explorers have had the experience of uncovering a civilization almost entirely unknown to the world But Stephen s two expeditions to Mexico and Central America inandyielded the first solid information on the culture of the Maya Indians In this work, and in his other masterpiece Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, he tells the story of his travels to someruined Mayan citiesIn this book, he describes the excitement of exploring the magnificent ruined cities of Copan and Palenque, and his briefer excursions to Quirigua, Patinamit, Utatlan, Gueguetenango, Ocosingo, and Uxmal For all these cities, his details are so accurate that recent explorers used the book as a Baedeker to locate ruins forgotten by even the IndiansIn addition to being a great book on archaeological discovery, Stephen s work is also a great travel book Telling of journeying by mule back on narrow paths over unimaginable deep ravines, through sloughs of mud and jungles of heavy vegetation, describing dangers of robbery, revolution, fever, mosquitoes and exotic insects, Stephen s narrative remains penetrating and alive His account of his attempt to buy Copan foris told with the adroitness of a Mark Twain, and his descriptions of Indian life primitive villages a few miles from the ruins, burials, treatment of the sick, customs, amusements, etc never lose their interestFrederick Catherwood s illustrations virtually double the appeal of the book Highly exact, remarkably realistic drawings show overall views, ground plans of the cities, elevations of palaces and temples, free standing sculpture, carved hieroglyphics, stucco bas reliefs, small clay figures, and interior details John Lloyd Stephens s continues the excellent start made in the first volume The book takes off where Volume I stopped, leaving Stephens in Nicaragua, trying to make his way back to Guatemala through El Salvador in the middle of a civil war.Covered in this volumes are Frederick Catherwood s solo visit to the ruins of Quirigua, and Stephens s and Catherwood s joint visits to the ruins at Santa Cruz del Quich in Guatemala and Palenque and Uxmal in Mexico.Toward the end, Stephens makes some high John Lloyd Stephens s continues the excellent start made in the first volume The book takes off where Volume I stopped, leaving Stephens in Nicaragua, trying to make his way back to Guatemala through El Salvador in the middle of a civil war.Covered in this volumes are Frederick Catherwood s solo visit to the ruins of Quirigua, and Stephens s and Catherwood s joint visits to the ruins at Santa Cruz del Quich in Guatemala and Palenque and Uxmal in Mexico.Toward the end, Stephens makes some highly educated guesses regarding who built the abandoned cities of the Mayans Even though as recently as the 1980s, I heard some ignoramuses claim that the Egyptians were responsible, Stephens gives us a point by point comparison of the hieroglyphics and the architectural style to prove that the Egyptians had no part to play Eveninterestingly, he gives us extensive passim quotes from Bernal Diaz del Castillo describing Inca and Mayan ruins from an eyewitness who saw them while they were still inhabited and in use.As I indicated in my review of Volume I, Stephens s Incidents of Travel is a classic that is of the same caliber as other great American historians such as William H Prescott, Francis Parkman, and John Lothrop Motley Source of the line that is the soul of archaeology, as he stood looking upon ruins that had not known human eyes since six hundred years before Columbus birth Here were the remains of a cultivated, polished, and peculiar people, who had passed through all the stages incident to the rise and fall of nations reached their golden age, and perished, entirely unknown The links which connected them with the human family were severed and lost, and these were the only memorials of their footsteps u Source of the line that is the soul of archaeology, as he stood looking upon ruins that had not known human eyes since six hundred years before Columbus birth Here were the remains of a cultivated, polished, and peculiar people, who had passed through all the stages incident to the rise and fall of nations reached their golden age, and perished, entirely unknown The links which connected them with the human family were severed and lost, and these were the only memorials of their footsteps upon earth We lived in the ruined palace of their kings we went up to their desolate temples and fallen altars and wherever we moved we saw the evidences of their taste, their skill in arts, their wealth and power In the midst of desolation and ruin we looked back to the past, cleared away the gloomy forest, and fancied every building perfect, with its terraces and pyramids, its sculptured and painted ornaments, grand, lofty, and imposing, and overlooking an immense inhabited plain we called back into life the strange people who gazed at us in sadness from the walls pictured them, in fanciful costumes and adorned with plumes of feathers, ascending the terraces of the palace and the steps leading to the temples and often we imagined a scene of unique and gorgeous beauty and magnificence, realizing the creations of Oriental poets, the very spot which fancy would have selected for the Happy Valley of Rasselas In the romance of the world s history nothing ever impressed meforcibly than the spectacle of this once great and lovely city, overturned, desolate, and lost discovered by accident, overgrown with trees for miles around, and without even a name to distinguish it Review title Journals of a disinterested diplomat Stephens was appointed in 1839 as the diplomatic representative of the US government to Central America When he arrived to find his post to be in the midst of civil wars and dissolution into multiple national and regional factions, he spent the next two years searching for a central government he was supposed to be serving, and redeeming his time and energy in travel and exploration He compiled these volumes from his travel journals after his Review title Journals of a disinterested diplomat Stephens was appointed in 1839 as the diplomatic representative of the US government to Central America When he arrived to find his post to be in the midst of civil wars and dissolution into multiple national and regional factions, he spent the next two years searching for a central government he was supposed to be serving, and redeeming his time and energy in travel and exploration He compiled these volumes from his travel journals after his return to the US in 1841 This is a joint review of volumes I and II of this journal of diplomatic, political, economic, geographical, and archeological interest Truth be told, once Stephens realized the political and diplomatic mess that existed on the ground, he was seldom bothered with his diplomatic charge a relationship between the US and its southern neighbors that still exists in much the same condition and devoted his real interests and most of his time to the geographical and archeological opportunities he saw He did in fact keep up the search to the extent of learning about the various factions and wars and trying to meet and understand the objectives of the leaders, but in such a volatile situation he had to be wise about when to represent the US government which then as now was not always viewed favorably and when to use his diplomatic credentials to get the heck out of Dodge, as it were That he was able to pay attention to the other aspects of his journey to the extent that he was able to write the account that he did is testament to his skill in staying on the right side of each faction even as those sides shifted day to day and town to town during his travels It is also testament to his arrogance and tone deaf to modern ears presumptions about race and civilization He is keenly aware of his perceptions of the differences between his presumed groups, gradations of perceptions that really shine through in his mentions of Indians , mestizos , Spaniards , blacks , mulattos , and whites I put all of these terms in quotes because his uses of them haveto do with his perceptions than with any racial or cultural reality Central America is a melting pot of many ethnic origins, both then and now, so using such terms is both imprecise, often wrong, and usually indicative of offensive stereotypes Paradoxically I think his inability to understand and sympathize in most cases helped him survive in situations where the various factions he may have offended would sooner just be rid of him or humor him as a representative of the US government than try to disabuse him of his wrong headed notions In any case, as a modern reader, be warned that you will encounter offensive stereotypes along the way that clearly were socially acceptable enough not to trouble Stevens as he I clues them in his journals At the same time, he and his traveling companion Frederick Catherwood, his diplomatic secretary primarily hired and brought along to sketch the archeological sites Stevens hoped to explore, were often sympathetic to their hosts Catherwood was an amateur doctor and traveled with a pharmaceutical kit bag of current remedies, and they often had to set up impromptu clinics in villages and remote houses where there was no access to even the rudimentary western medicine of the day They paid for accommodation and food at least most of the time, and were not above complaining if an impoverished home owner in a remote hacienda refused to give up their limited food and shelter even for money They paid for mules and guides along the way, even as they expected these poor men and animals to carry heavy loads under circumstances which they themselves would not have been able to survive And Stevens and Catherwood were actually quite able and surprisingly forward thinking archeologists Stevens had researched the little archival material available on the Central American ruins we now know as Mayan Catherwood captured detailed sketches, over 100 of which are published here to Stevens s acclamation of their originality and quality They removed very few artifacts, focusing on finding, clearing vegetation, and measuring the sites they found And when a technique or tool notably primitive, to Stevens s chagrin failed in its purpose or started to damage a find, they stopped using it, with Stevens at multiple points noting that they left these finds in hope that future archeologists with improved tools and techniques would be able to do further exploration And Stevens reached modern and measured conclusions about the age and source of the sites As yet we perhaps stand alone in these views, but I repeat my opinion that we are not warranted in going back to any ancient nation of the Old World for the builders of these cities that they are not the work of people who have passed away and whose history is lost, but that there are strong reasons to believe them the creations of the same races who inhabited the country at the time of the Spanish conquest, or of some not very distant progenitors v II, p 455 In sum, I have rated these journals three stars as Stevens is an amiable travel companion, by turns attentive to detail, extemporizing on the big picture, describing dramatic travel incidents, or inserting humorous incidents and making comical asides with a little wink to the reader Not all of his travel stories are as dramatic or interesting as he thinks, and the contemporary stereotypes we already discussed have to be filtered, but the archeology is fascinating and the journals have enough interest to keep the reader engaged to the end as both a readable travel journal and a historical artifact of one of the very first eyewitness accounts of Central American ruins ever published

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