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Cities of Stone
Page 7

  The ruins of Palenque lie in the Usumacinta River basin of Mexico, at the base of the Chiapas mountains. The tropical rain-forest in which they are situated receives the highest annual rainfall in the entire Maya region, and the year 1840 proved no exception in this regard. After nineteen days at Palenque, besieged by mosquitoes and biting flies, the torrential onset of the region's rainy season drove Stephens and Catherwood from the ruins. "Everything susceptible of injury from damp was rusty or moldy and in a ruinous condition; we ourselves were not much better," lamented Stephens. Two weeks later they were in Merida, the principal city of Yucatan.

  In New York, Stephens had made the acquaintance of Simon Peon, of Merida, a direct descendant of the Montejos, the "conquerers" of Yucatan. The Peon family were one of the largest landowners in Yucatan, and among their extensive holdings was the Hacienda Uxmal, on whose lands lay the ruined city of that name. Stephens had heard of these ruins from Don Simon, and his interest had been further excited by the illustrations in Waldeck's Voyage Pittoresque. Simon Peon was not at his residence in Merida, but was then at Uxmal, some 55 miles to the south, where Stephens and Catherwood set out to meet him.

  The swarms of mosquitoes which had tormented the explorers since their arrival in Central America were the agents for a far more serious and debilitating problem which had plagued the expedition since Copan-- malaria. Both Stephens and Catherwood had been infected by this parasite, and were suffering (as they were to suffer for the rest of their lives) from the periodic bouts of fever which characterize the disease. On their second day at Uxmal Catherwood became so ill that Stephens "considered it indispensible for him to leave... the country altogether." They would return to Uxmal another time. The Englishman's condition was grave, and he was unable to ride. "As I followed Mr. Catherwood through the woods, borne on the shoulders of Indians," Stephens wrote, athe stillness broken only by the shuffle of their feet, and under my great apprehension for his health, it seemed as if I were following his bier."

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