"It's the Marcos Highway,” he said. “The government built this road after Marcos led the
Chiapas uprising. And the highway opened up tourism to Bonampak, which was only ac-
cessible by light plane before. There are still no paved roads to Yaxchilán. We have to take
a river launch, fourteen miles up the Usumacinta River (River of Monkeys)."
We stopped for breakfast. It was now light, the sky a brilliant blue, the jungle a rich emer-
ald green. It was humid but not hot. We got back into our van for a short drive to Mexico's
most voluminous river and looked across the river at Guatemala. Slender launches, more
like bullets than boats, maybe four feet wide and twenty feet long with outboard motors,
were tied up to an improvised wharf. We were given life vests; we sat on benches facing
each other. A palm-arched canopy protected us from the sun.
Our pilot started the engine, and we raced full throttle west, gliding over the smooth
flowing river. We passed a Guatemalan military camp. The river snaked, but our pilot
straightened his course by cutting across the river's centerline, our straight line crossing
an imaginary zigzagged Mexico-Guatemala frontier.
I didn't know what to expect of Yaxchilán. It was new to me. I asked our guide, "What
does Yaxchilán mean?"
"Place of the green stones, jadeite," he said. "Precious stones."
The pilot slowed and turned. He pointed out a crocodile and then revved the engine again.
He cut the engine, and we could see our landing site. He let the nose of the launch glide
into the soft sandy riverbank, and we entered a Lost World. Mayan complexes,
temples, ball courts appeared nearly new, having been renovated by archeologists, but as I
walked the trail to the Yaxchilán complex I felt like a member of the scouting party in the
original King Kong movie entering a prehistoric world.
Everywhere, I stepped on stones held tight by roots. I looked at the jungle flora, large-
leafed plants, vines, everything green and shaded. There was a chattering racket of unseen
howler monkeys in the distance, but near the temples and stone monuments with irregular
stone steps, five spider monkeys fretted overhead and dropped leaves on our group.
We were explorers. There was not a tourist bus or road in sight. I climbed the highest pyr-
amid. The steps were uneven, irregular and slick. A hill rose beyond the top of the temple.
I suspected archeologists have more work ahead. From the top I looked down over the
ball court, ruins, and a stele, the tallest in Mexico. Except for the immediate area, all was