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Guided tour at the La Paz Museum

Wendy Devlin

During our Mexican travels, it was often said to us by veteran travelers to Mexico that one travels to the Baja for the "beaches" and that one goes to mainland Mexico for the "culture". That may be just a matter of opinion. It seems to me that there is Mexican culture on the Baja peninsula as well. It just exists in a subtler, less obvious manner. As museums, archeological sites and colonial cities etc. are less common in the Baja, we were pleased to discover that La Paz, the capital city of Baja Sur, had a large, informative museum. In the heat of one, hot, sunny winter afternoon, our family paid a visit there. There are 3 floors which are open to the public. Each floor caters to a different epoch in Mexican history. The exhibits are attractive and informative with both Spanish and English explanations.

As we wandered the floors, an older, Mexican man approached us. He introduced himself as Juan and asked if we would like his assistance to tour the exhibits. We jumped at the chance to be guided through the museum. Our three young children were asking, as usual, an impossible amount of questions to answer. Juan was extremely courteous and helpful and a gold-mine of information. After touring with us inside, he mentioned that the museum also had an out-doors exhibit in the adjoining garden. This exhibit consisted of several cast concrete reproductions of famous sculptures from Aztec, Mayan and other pre-colonial cultures from the mainland. Juan was extremely enthusiastic about this display and offered to show it to us.

Aztec Sun-stone - Link Perhaps it was our many questions that inspired him to recount the Aztec myth of time as displayed by the Sun-stone. As our fingers traced the sculptured figures: a eagle, deer, rabbit, lizard or reed, he told us about the 12' wide, 24 metric ton original stone which was unearthed in Mexico City. The figures relate to when the Aztec world began, how it would continue and when it would reach its inevitable end. The Aztecs believed that they were living in the fifth and last creation of the world. They called each creation a sun, because movement of the sun maintained human life. On the stone, reliefs in square panels around the center represented the dates that the four previous suns perished--destroyed successively by jaguars, wind, and water. The fifth sun was created on the ritual date 13-Reed, or A.D. 1011. Every 52 years, priests celebrated the most important milestone in their world--a new century in their calendar cycle. All fires in the realm were extinguished: idols and pots were broken. Sacrifices were performed to forestall catastrophe.

Juan continued his stories as he led us on a circular tour of the garden. As every sculpture was approached, he readily began a discussion of its mythological significance. As we gazed at the fearsome Mayan gods that towered over us, he explained the rituals of sacrifice. He told a myth that related to the importance of corn to the Mayans. The oldest Maya gods convened before the first sunrise and laid plans for the universe. They first gave life to the plants. They then agreed to create a living form that would glorify them. " Let us try to make a giver of praise, giver of respect, provider, nurturer," they said. The gods took white corn and yellow corn from within a mountain, and a female deity ground the kernels nine times. From the corn they moulded the flesh of the first humans: they used water to create the first human blood. Corn, a gift of the gods remains a staple grain to this day. And the most important role in Maya society was played by the commoner--the farmer, the provider, the nurturer. ……….

Juan wove a web of magic story-telling around each sculpture and before we knew it, several more hours had passed. We sat down in the shade of the trees and invited Juan to take lunch with us. While we were talking, I asked him about himself, his life, his family and his own cultural roots. He explained that his maternal grandmother had raised him in Los Planes, Baja, Sur, a small agricultural village, 50 miles east of La Paz. She was indigenous herself and had told him much about the way of her people. I asked him how long he had worked as a guide at the La Paz Museum. A puzzled expression darted across his face; " Guide ? I'm no guide, Señora, I'm only the part-time gardener! I like to help tourists to help improve my English." After we stopped laughing together, I told him that his English was very good and that he had been a most gracious and helpful guide.

So if we ever return to the La Paz Museum, I shall inquire about our 'friend', Juan. If he is not there, perhaps we will drive to Los Planes and inquire for him. But whether we ever meet again, is not important. It has been my experience that Mexico is full of warm and friendly people like Juan. I find it inspiring that despite tremendous economic difficulties, people like him will still go out of their way to be generous with complete strangers.

Best of all, I believe that there will be another hot, sunny afternoon in the shade of a tree somewhere in Mexico. Someone will notice that I am looking at a sculpture, a monument or a mural. We will begin to talk together and soon I will be sitting and listening again to some of the legends of the wonder and magic of Mexico.

Related articles and Links:
Mexica/Aztec Calendar Systems - Dale Hoyte Palfrey (detailed explanation of the symbols)
Mysteries of the Fifth Sun - Dale Hoyte Palfrey
Published or Updated on: February 1, 1998 by Wendy Devlin © 1998
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