I also visited lots of museums to look at Maya art and artifacts - like these magnificent stone lintels at the British Museum.
|What's the seated lady doing, you ask? Only pulling a rope of thorns through her tongue for a blood sacrifice!|
I soon decided upon the ruined city of Calakmul in the southern part of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico.
|The emblem of Calakmul, the Snake Kingdom: Ryan calls it 'smug snake with stones on its head'.|
Two things made me pick Calakmul. The first was some intriguing mentions of a mystery about the identity of a burial inside the temple pyramid. It seemed to be King Jaguar Paw, and yet, other evidence suggested that Jaguar Paw had been killed and sacrificed following a battle with a rival king. A mystery man! Just the thing I needed to start my story!
The second was this photograph.
Calakmul is in the middle of the jungle. I imagined sitting at the top of that enormous flat-topped temple pyramid, looking out over a sea of trees. Then I imagined Cleo and Ryan sitting at the top and looking out over a sea of trees . . . that's when I knew that this was the place.
Several months later I was there! My husband and I flew to Cancun, a popular tourist holiday resort on the North coast of the pennisula. After a couple of days lounging by the pool (well, it would be rude not to!) we hired a car and set off for Calakmul. It took a whole day to drive to the nearest town, Xpujil, where we stayed the night.
The next day we had a long drive along a single track road through the jungle to reach the site. We were the only ones there - apart from wild turkeys and monkeys.
|trees growing through the stone|
|Guess what Ryan runs into as he climbs the pyramid in the middle of the night!|
At last we climbed to the top of the pyramid . . .
|those steps are very steep!|
and looked out over the trees.
I couldn't resist including it all in The Serpent King.
After our visit to Calakmul we drove north again to spend some time at Chichen Itza. This is the most famous Maya site in Mexico. It's easy to get to, and the trees have all been cleared away. It's always busy with crowds of tourists, there are stalls selling souvenirs - and nobody is allowed to climb the pyramid.
|El Castillo pyramid at Chichen Itza|
Lots more information about Mexico coming soon, but for now, here are some FAQS.
Q: Ryan and Cleo always seem to run into some dangerous animals. Are there any in The Serpent King?
A: Oh yes! Ryan has a very close encounter with a snake (or course!) and then there's the jaguar. Oh, and bats, of course. There are always bats.
|Jaguars are very important in Maya mythology|
A: The Maya believed the Underworld could be reached through deep underground sinkholes or pools called cenotes. The called it the Place of Fear and it was inhabited by the Lords of Death, Of course Cleo and Ryan end up stuck down there!
|The Lords of Death dance in the flickering light on the cenote wall|
|Light beams down through a hole in the roof of a cenote|
Q: Does Cleo fall down any holes this time?
Yes, two very big ones (although, as Cleo would point, neither is technically a hole)
Q: Did you spend a lot of time researching the local food in Mexico?
A; Oh yes, I watched the old ladies making tortillas on a pan over an open fire (just like Rosita in the book). Best of all, I discovered Mexican biscuits. The British are famous for our biscuits but I think Mexico beats us! Anyone for a Sponch?
|Ryan takes a liking to Mexican Sponch biscuits - and one even makes it to The Underworld!|
A: Let me introduce Shadow, the baby anteater. He looks like this.
|Shadow uses his long claws to open the fridge and steal cheese and beer!|
A: Yes. But I'm not telling you who it is!
Q: Do Cleo and Ryan kiss? Really? Ever?
A: I'm not telling you that either! You'll have to read The Serpent King to find out!
All the black and white drawings on this page (and, in fact, all this website) are illustrations from Secrets of the Tombs books by the brilliant Leo Hartas,