Of course you need a good guidebook. Go for Lonely Planet; they are tough and compact survival guides, contain essential collections of cultural information: money, climate, food, customs–and hold up to arduous travel. For Zapatistas, new books & communiqués keep appearing. City Lights' First World, Ha Ha Ha! edited by Elaine Katzenberger has a range of good essays. For historical account of colonization, background to today's issues, the description of Spanish atrocities by 16th century priest Bartolomé de Las Casas is harrowing, controversial and riveting–The Devastation of the Indies, trans. Herma Briffault. To get a sense of early re-discovery of Maya ruins, no one beats John L. Stevens, American adventurer, contemporary of Melville, who located Palenque, Uxmal, Chichén Itzá and others–and first dug them out–Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and the Yucatan.

Studies of the classic Maya and their language is field of high scholarly adventure right now–linguists & archaeologists seem near to understanding all the glyphs. Michael Coe's Breaking the Maya Code is layman's account of investigations by serious heroic scholars, brilliant amateurs, crusty obstructors, colorful scoundrels, and international politicos. An overview of the old literatures you can get from León-Portilla's Pre-Colombian Literatures of Mexico. Also Dennis Tedlock's fine translation of Popol Vuh. Graham Greene's Lawless Roads for sharp-eyed account of San Cristóbal and other Chiapas towns in the thirties. And there's a tough little pamphlet, Introduction to the Flora of Chiapas by Dennis E. Breedlove, published by the California Academy of Sciences, for study of eco-zones and plantlife now desperately endangered along with indigenous peoples, jaguars, rare birds, uncatalogued insects, & other species.

North American readers should know Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Alan S. Trueblood's A Sor Juana Reader, or Samuel Beckett's translations in Mexican Poetry, edited by Octavio Paz. Paz's Sor Juana, or The Traps of Faith provides informative & considered backdrop to the troubled life of North America's first major poet of European extraction.

Andrew Schelling | The Road to Ocosingo
Contents | Mudlark No. 9