For the Olmec, the Mesoamerican civilization which preceded the Aztecs, the canoe trip was a sacred journey. Dependent on the watercourses of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec for survival, they included miniature canoes among their religious icons; the "Watery Path" was thought to connect the sacred world of the heavens with our earth.

"Sacred Money River" is journalist Christopher Shaw's account of his trip down the Usumacinta River, and the spiritual transformation it works upon him. Like a Huckleberry Finn for the hemisphere, Shaw offers lyrical reflections about life on the Usumacinta along with an analysis of life in southern Mexico, caught between modern and premodern worlds. Perhaps the most unusual aspect of Shaw's book is his discussion of his contacts with the Indian rebels of Guatemala and Chiapas. For Shaw, however, the modernization of Mexican village life, and the social and political conflicts it entails, are as integral a part of the landscape as the "pale jade shot with turquoise" of the beautiful Usumacinta River.

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