Panama Canal Cruise - Day 7

On the 7th day of our cruise through the Panama Canal, we visited Puerta Chiapas, Mexico. It's a tiny little port town created specifically for the cruise ships. We weren't so impressed with the port town -- too commercial -- but we went on a tour with a dozen other people and a guide of Mayan descent named Arturo to Chocolate City. Ahhh, there we were delighted to find an authentic little Mexican town, with a long history and friendly people.

We visited an open-air market, where I bargained in Spanish for a Christmas ornament. An interesting thing happened in that market. Arturo had been telling us on the bus ride about the traditions of the older Mayan population. One of their staple foods was iguana. Yep, iguana. But they ate so much iguana that they almost decimated the population, and the government stepped in and made killing an iguana illegal. As we wandered through that market, Arturo bought a tamale from one of the vendors, and told us, "I want you to taste this. I bought it for you." I took the first bite. It was delicious. Inside the tamale was a succulent meat that I assumed was pork. But no! After I swallowed, Arturo said, "That is iguana tamale." I exclaimed, "I thought that was illegal!" and he replied, "Yes, but these people don't care." I felt almost cursed, like I'd eaten talking stag in Harfang. (Narnia fans will know what I mean by that!)

One of the most interesting demonstrations we saw on this cruise was in this town - chocolate making. This isn't factory chocolate, though. We saw chocolate go from the cacao bean all the way to the finished product, all done by hand. In fact, I got to grind some chocolate of my own, and it was delicious. That's real chocolate!

After we left Chocolate City we traveled out into the heart of the jungle and visited an archeological Mayan site. This area dates back to 1500 BC, and has been identified as the very first Mayan settlement, the origin. An ancient carving has been unearthed, called the Tree of Life. It's a carving on a huge flat boulder, depicting creation. Amazing. Many carvings surround a gigantic Kapok tree, which is sacred to the Mayas. They believed that this huge tree was sacred, a spiritual connection, a source of life. They visited the tree to commune with it, to hug it and whisper their needs. I was reminded starkly of the movie Avatar, and wondered if the story has roots in Mayan culture.

We boarded the ship at the end of the day, having enjoyed one of the most interesting excursions we've ever taken. And just look at the sunset that night!