Palenque & Beetles AgainSunday, July 29, 2007
With little girls like Rebecca culture (or in this case the culture of ruins) has to be eased in. Uxmal and Chichén Itzá were enough even though we were very close to Kabah and Tikul. One place we will perhaps never see with Rebecca is Palenque in the state of Chiapas. When I was there all those years ago (27 or 28 years) I found it to be a magical, almost mystical experience. When I first spotted Palenque it was shrouded with a wet mist and it rained. The only way to keep the bugs at bay was to chain smoke my Veracruzan Flor de la Costa cigars. The place was almost deserted and I felt like Stephens and Catherwood discovering a place no white man had seen yet.
This morning while reading Stephens's account of his first entrance into Palenque I read this which caught my eye and brought me some memories I had all but forgotten.
The rain continued, with heavy thunder and lightning all the afternoon. At night we could not light a candle, but the darkness of the palace (Palacio de los Gobernadores, see first photo here) was lighted up by fireflies of extraordinary size and brilliancy, shooting throught he corridors and stationary on the walls, forming beautiful and striking spectacles. Known by name shining beetles, they are more than half an inch long, and have a sharp movable horn on the head; when laid on the back they cannot turn over except by pressing this horn against a membrane upon the front. Behind the eyes are two round transparent substances full of luminous matter, about as large as the head of a pin., and underneath is a larger membrane containing the same luminous substance. Four of them together threw a brilliant light for several yards around, and by the light of a single one we read distinctly the finely printed pages of an American newspaper. It was one of a packet, full of debates in Congress, which I had as yet barely glanced over, and it seemed stranger than any incident in my journey to be reading by the light of beetles, in the ruined palace of Palenque, the sayings and doings of great men at home.
Incidents of Travel In Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan
John Lloyd Stephens
It was in the province of Corrientes, Argentina, sometime around 1950 that my cousin Jorge Wenceslao found a couple of these shining beetles and with the cruelty that a child is certainly capable of we would put them on their backs and we would bet which one of our beetles would right itself first.