Rubbings of Mayan Stone Stelae

Rubbings of Aquateca
Click on images for larger version.

Stela 1

Stela 1 - AD 741
Stela 2

Stela 2 - AD 736
Stela 3

Stela 3 - AD

First Trip to Aquateca

   30 years ago on November 19, 1969 we arrived in Guatemala City and were ready to embrace our first exploration of an unrestored Mayan site within the interior of the Peten. I had acquired a 2 year assignment in Central America to work as a U.S.A.I.D. contract employee and consultant in the R.O.C.A.P. Office located in Guatemala City. This opportunity also fulfilled one of my scholarly interests and architectural goals of exploring the Mayan Pyramids and civilization in my off periods of time available after work.


Jacques, Jea, and Joan preparing a rubbing of Aquateca Stela No.2

   Jea and I had met Joan Patton, a statuesque beauty, who was a former Olympic diver and swimmer from California. Joan had an interest in making rubbings of Mayan stone "Stelae" which is a Greek word for monuments. Prior to my arrival into Guatemala, I had no knowledge of stone stelae. So Joan was responsible for introducing us to this form of Mayan sculpture.

   Joan had already obtained preliminary information on various sites, and we soon became a team in traveling, photographing, exploring and making rubbings.

   Joan's husband was also a U.S.A.I.D. marketing consultant to R.O.C.A.P. and an avid golfer on the weekends so this enabled Jea, Joan and myself to travel and explore Mayan sites.


Jea, Joan and Alberto departing Sayache on the Rio Pasion, 1970.

   Joan had also told us about a lady by the name of Merle Greene Robertson who also had made rubbings on grass paper with ink about 7 years prior to our arrival. I, therefore, envisioned making rubbings on large cotton fabric utilizing black paste shoe polish as my medium to produce a black and white graphic representation of the hieroglyphics and other personages and obscure messages carved in stone by Maya priest sculptors.

   We departed Guatemala City on a long holiday weekend for a four day journey. We rented a 4 wheel drive vehicle in Guatemala City in case we encountered adverse weather or road conditions. It was our first over night trip together. Our driving destination of our first day is an 8 to 10 hour drive depending on breaks and other activities from Guatemala City to the Village of Sayache on the Rio Pasion.

   Due to the nature of travel into a remote area where we had no prior experience, I brought my 20 gauge Beretta with me for protection and for any possible quail hunting on the Savannah's between Flores and Sayache. We departed in the morning at approximately 8:00 a.m. and traveled on a paved road until we crossed the Rio Dulce above Lake Izabal. At Modesto Mendez the road changes to caliche to Flores and becomes a dirt road from Flores on Lake Petenitza to Sayache on the Rio Pasion where we crossed the river by a hand drawn ferry crossing. We arrived at Sayache at approximately 4:30 p.m. and checked into the Hotel Sayache on the Rio Pasion. This area between Flores and Sayache is also the area where the Cuban Bay of Pigs Freedom Fighters had been trained so we did not know what we might encounter; as Guatemalan Guerrillas would also flee to the small villages and remote areas at different times of confrontations in Guatemala City and other areas. The American Ambassador to Guatemala had been assassinated in 1968 and the German Ambassador to Guatemala had been kidnaped, ransomed, and assassinated in 1971 not long after this particular trip.

   Joan had made prior arrangements for an American hunter, and guide by the name of Jacques, to meet us the next morning at the Hotel Sayache for a river boat Cayuga trip of approximately five hours upstream on the Rio Pasion to the island that Jacques was attempting to homestead with his family. Jacques was also purported to be one of Merle Green Robertson's guide to Aqua Teca and Dos Pilos.

   After a local meal with the natives, I retired to my sleeping cubicle to rest for the next day journey up river and that day's drive. However Joan and Jea, whom had a great rapport with one another and the Guatemalans, remained up for several hours entertaining their audience with jokes, laughter and conversation developing a local acceptance. Here I am the responsible man of this party, to protect the two most alluring women of the American Embassy community in truly the middle of the jungle without any prior knowledge of the area and people other than the confidence we were safe and others knew of our whereabouts and our rendezvous with Jacques. Since I had grown up as a child with visits to my grandparents farms in rural areas of Texas and as a hunter, I relied on instinct and my own experiences as a hunter. In reality, the women may have been protecting me with their charm. My retirement to my wooden slatted cubicle was really not to sleep but to rest while Joan and Jea maintained their conversation and I could be aware of their safety. There was not much privacy in these slatted cubicles audibly or visually, just enough to maintain a semi camouflaged privacy of horizontal boards with cracks between the boards from shrinking as the green boards shrank upon drying.


Jacques and James landing at Aquateca, 1970.

   Our motel has no running water, or electricity for lighting; only candles, a mattress, and mosquitos.

   The next morning we drove to Seibal a distance of 12 miles in 45 minutes which is only passable by boat, foot, horseback or a 4 wheel drive vehicle to make a preliminary inspection of Seibal, a magnificent restored site by Harvard University. The carved stelae and setting was fascinating as many alien features were noted on the stelae. We knew this would be another future trip. There were also three huts constructed by the archaeologist that we could use for shelter on a future trip which occurred, as I knew I would return. This setting in the jungle is alluring, mysterious, and romantic all at the same time.

   We were to meet Jacque's assistant at the hotel about 10:30 in the morning, so we could not remain long at Seibal.

   We return to Sayache and embarked on the dugout canoes waiting for us. There were two boats, one with supplies and luggage with Jacques; the other boat with our guide, Jea, Joan and myself.

   As I recall, I made three trips to Seibal and two trips to Aquateca. For a multitude of reasons the two sites possessed some of the most compelling interest and intrigue for me. Also, Jea was a perfect companion of adventure, romance, and to share new experiences and Joan was also a very compatible companion for Jea and myself.

   It was fascinating to view the shoreline of the river which was a six hour trip. We arrived at Jacques' homestead, met his wife and two children around 4:00 p.m.; just before a beautiful kaleidoscope sunset. We were also happy to disembark the boat for food and refreshments.

   After dinner on the moonlight evening Jea invited me to bath and swim with her in the evening near the shoreline which we proceeded to do, to refresh ourselves which we did. Jea and I had met in Aspen while I was working on the snow-mass ski village for Fritz Benedict and other projects on my own for two years and then I was hired by Brad Tazewell while he was skiing in Aspen from Norfolk, Virginia to work on the Norfolk Cultural and Convention Center and the Norfolk Yacht and Country Club. After all, this was part of my odyssey to travel, work and enjoy the Colorado Rockies. The history of Virginia, Williamsburg and Washington D.C., and now to encounter an ancient civilization of the Maya making rubbings of mysterious stone carvings in Central America; what a wonderful combination of diverse areas to share with each other.

   How lucky could I be to have a beautiful mate, charming, adventurous, personable and passionate to share our encounters together in Colorado, Virginia, Mexico, and Central America.

   The next morning we embarked into the dugout canoes to continue upstream which ended in a small pool of water. We had arrived to Aquateca, an unrestored Mayan site. Jacques indicated we could only spend about four hours at the site in order to return to his island encampment.

   In order to avoid possible grave robbers and looters, I was only able to complete Stela No. 1 and Stela No. 3 and would have to save the warrior of Stela No. 2 for another trip which I did.

   My last rubbing in Guatemala was Stela No. 2 which turned out to be my finalé on my second trip to Aquateca in 1971, again Jacques escorted me to and from Aquateca.


Jea and Joan in the Cayuga arriving at the island on Lake Petexbatun at Jacques Point, 1970.

   Our dreams became a reality with the fulfillment of my projection of exploring Mayan sites from the results of a prior projection as an architectural summer school student in session at the Instituto De Monterrey y Technologico in Monterrey, Mexico in 1956.

   All of this stemed from a summer school session inspired by Dr. de Soliere of I.M.T. Our group returned to Sayache and Guatemala City elated from our travel to Selbal and Aquateca to prepare for a new adventure of making rubbings from this mysterious civilization.

   Ironically while living in Indonesia in December of 1975 while reading an article of National Geographic on Guatemala, there appeared a photograph of the Warrior Stela Aquateca Stela No. 2, cut into parts by thieves intending to smuggle the stone out of the country; how fortunate I had been to make the rubbing prior to this unfortunate incident.--James A. McBride II August 17, 2000