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SUNDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2000. After a leisurely breakfast, we got into our boat and headed further upriver, leaving the broad lake, and entering the narrow channels that wound through the mangroves toward the high white escarpment and Aguateca.

In November, I had received an e-mail from Clemency Coggins, my tour leader in January, telling about massive destruction at the site of Aguateca. I and my January travel companions were crushed. We had seen so much damage to the badly-looted site in January, it was hard to imagine that looters could do it even more harm. Bea had passed my forwarded e-mail on to Marco Antonio, who had responded that he was not aware of new damage; surely this must refer to the previous devastation. When I e-mailed Clemency back, she admitted that this was from an old article and she wasn’t sure of the date. In any case, I was anxious that more damage might have been done.

The steps up to Aguateca were not as difficult as I remembered them. Aguateca was closely related to the near-by site of Dos Pilas, serving apparently as a twin-capital during the late 700’s, and then later as a refuge for the Dos Pilas royalty. The same names appear on the Aguateca stelae as appear at Dos Pilas. From Martin and Grube, the “origins (of the Dos Pilas polity) lie in the intrigues of Tikal’s ‘dark age’, its 130-year Hiatus period, and an exodus from the great city that brought a lord called B’alaj Chan K’awiil to the Petexbatun to found a rival Tikal state. While his relationship to the incumbent Tikal ruler Nuun Ujol Chaak is unclear, he makes his genealogical claim to the Mutul title plain on Dos Pilas Panel 6, where a Tikal king (probably the missing 23rd or 24th ruler) is named as his father.” Dos Pilas later aligned itself with Tikal’s rival, Calakmul.

The position of Aguateca seems more readily defensible, with its steep cliffs and deep ravines. The palace area has openings looking out over the vast laguna – a million-dollar view, in my opinion! The central plaza area has dozens of stelae, many badly mauled by looters’ chain saws. Though the devastation was still a shock, there was no new damage that I could see.

It made such a difference approaching the stelae with good drawings of them in hand. So often they are badly eroded or moss-covered and quite difficult to make out. The drawings helped make things comprehensible that would not have been otherwise. And what fun it was to be with people who could read the glyphs! No longer was I the straggler, puzzling over an inscription while the rest of the group went on to the next acropolis and photo-opportunity.

On the trip back to the Lodge, we passed by the site of Punta de Chimino, a site that showed signs of heavy fortification, including moats. I had visited it in January, but there was not much to see other than some obvious earthworks and mounds. I was told that property had been on the market for $500,000, including the archaeological site.

Back at the Lodge, we had a good lunch. Kathryn arranged for us to have huge pots of water heated so that we could bathe properly. The logistics of all this became quite an ordeal, but well worth the effort. Bea and I quickly overcame our modesty as we realized the water was getting cool. We ended up bathing together, happily splashing warm water on each other like children. It was quite hilarious! When it was their turn, though, Al and Greg could not be persuaded to follow our example. So, we turned our bath over to Greg for his private ritual. They didn’t have nearly the fun that WE did!

Spiffy-clean, a bit later, we were invited to contribute to Christmas stockings, if we were so inclined. We were and did, then sat around and drank wine until everyone had completed their pilgrimages. Then we went into Nick and Kathryn’s room and had a little Christmas celebration, complete with carols and stockings and good cheer. At some point we realized that some of our best carolers – the ones who knew all the words – were Jewish. Not a problem! Since I had known the names of all Santa’s reindeer, I won the prize of a silly set of antlers that I got to wear all evening. Bea ended up with a glittering tiara – for what prize, I don’t remember. All in all, it was quite festive. Dinner that night was a special occasion with a fine piece of beef. The cooks and the owner of the lodge had all been awarded Jaguar Tour t-shirts and were all sporting them, as we were. Yes, it was a fine Christmas eve – not a snowflake in sight!