18 APRIL (Friday)
After breakfast we hit the road again, heading back to Villahermosa, and sadly saying goodbye to the Palenque area. This had been a favorite leg of the trip (though I can't think of any unfavorable legs, either). The green hills and jungles of the Chiapas region were very appealing, and the special charm of the Palenque ruins themselves will always make them a standout in our memories. as much as I enjoyed exploring the twelve Mayan sites that had been to, and even though each one was different in its own way, by this point (two weeks into the trip) I was glad that we were almost done, as by then I had had my fill of "looking at old rocks". I know this will sound elitist and derogatory, but to be honest, I had (for the time being) also had my fill of the Third World. I was looking forward to getting back to the conveniences of civilization and my old way of life. I think that the two week trip was of just the right length, and that in a number of respects the timing worked out perfectly.
Once we had arrived back in Villahermosa we checked back into the same hotel (the Maya Tabasco) that we had stayed at earlier in our trip. From their we used our city maps to drive to the La Parka Venta museum. This is a park-like area (admission required) which has been set aside as a repository for Olmec statues that were rescued from oil-field constructions several decades ago. These statues include the famous Olmec "big stone heads" which are taller than a man and exhibit curiously African facial characteristics. The park is a combination mini-zoo and archeological museum, and the largest section is a series of paths that run through the dense trees and foliage past displays of Olmec statues. It gives you the impression that you are walking on a jungle path and discovering ancient artifacts in their "natural" setting.
One of the giant Olmec heads found in the jungle-like setting at the La Parka Venta museum at Villahermosa.
My favorite part of La Venta was seeing some of the same kinds of animals and birds that we had seen at other places like Tikal, but up close. We saw more than one coati, and especially delighted in one that came right up within a few feet of us to check us out. I got some good video footage of his cute little face before he decided that we weren't going to feed him and he left. We were also saddened to see a fully grown jaguar being kept in a relatively small enclosure. He didn't look like he would be too happy there, and even though it might have been safer there than in his natural habitat (which civilization is continually encroaching on), it seemed like a sad fate for such a magnificent animal.
The jaguar sleeps in his boring (but safe) man-made den.
After La Venta we went to the city's museum of anthropology. It had some interesting statues and artifacts, but seemed to be anti-climatic after everything else that we had observed on our trip. One item that stands out in my mind was a stuffed quetzal bird in a glass display case. The quetzal is the national bird of Guatemala, and has a 2-3 foot long tail. It's plumage is a striking blue-green color, and it was highly prized by the Mayans. Unfortunately it is very rare now, and this is probably the only example, living or dead, that I am likely to see. (Visit my postcard section to see a good photo of a quetzal.)
After the museum we had done everything that we were interested in in Villahermosa. We went to the rent-a-car place, turned in the car, and had them give us a ride to the hotel. We had dinner at the hotel, and packed our bags for the morning.