The great archaeological sites of Mesoamerica--Palenque, Tikal, Copan, to name but a few--are now within a few hours by plane from the US, and offer basic tourist amenities. But not too long ago, a visit to these places meant days of travel by mule or on foot through mountains, swamps and steamy, mosquito-infested jungles. That is, each visit was a real--and often risky--adventure. This book collects the travel accounts of the first discoverers of the ruined cities. In those days before extreme specialization and dry technical style in journal articles, these writings were actually intended to be read by the educated public. Hence, they are always fresh and personal, and even indulge occasionally in philosophical reflection. Whether they describe the author being lost in the jungle or a jaguar menacing an Indian community's children, the stories never lose their interest and vigor. Wauchope focuses on Maya archaology, but there are a few tales from Nicaraguan and Peruvian ruins. One of the most memorable contributions is by Wauchope himself, who relates his first trip as a young professional archaeologist through the bush to reach Uaxactun, near the famous site of Tikal. (It was hair-raising enough in 1989 when I visited with a 4-wheel drive.) I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in travel literature. True, the book is out of print, but I've often seen copies in the used bookstores of Chicago.
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