08.26.2008 - 09.02.2008
Enough with Merida’s heat…I’m off to Palenque to get some more Mayan ruins and jungle in my life. The 8 hour overnight bus ride with a couple of friends I had met a few nights before was a piece of cake and we arrived in Palenque at 6:30 am. Palenque town is not high on the must-see list, as it’s a sweaty place with little character, but it’s got anything you might need.
We caught a colectivo (public transport van) and got dropped off at El Panchan, a 10 minute drive towards the ruins and a backpacker favorite for its perfect jungle setting and its proximity to the ruins. For 50 pesos per person (a bout $5), we each got a cabaña, surrounded by tall, leafy trees filled with all sorts of birds, each making their own unique calls and making the setting that much more authentic. There are even families of monkeys jumping from branch to branch!
I met a few more travelers once here, and decided to take a tour of the nearby waterfalls, Misol-Ha and Agua Azul. After the 20 kilometer drive south, we arrived at the cascades of Misol-Ha. The place, although small, is in a very pretty setting, the fall of water is over 35 meters high and dives into a wide “pool” that is surrounded by impossibly green foliage and huge stones, carved by the water through the years. I wished I had my hammock to put up and take a nap to the crashing sounds of the falls, but I left the cabaña a little unprepared.
Off to Agua Azul, another 40 kilometer run and we arrived at its not-so-blue waters due to rain in the surrounding hills. I befriended a couple of girls from Israel and we went exploring the gorgeous space together. We were again surrounded by lush, green jungle, but this time the falls are long, strong and very beautiful. We hiked about 2 kilometers to the mouth of the falls and found a tiny “beach” where we dove into its cold waters. It was so refreshing with the intense jungle heat. After finding some local kids swinging off branches into a deep area, we quickly joined them and played for a while until we worked up and appetite and headed down to find some food. After a mango with lime and chili, some jicama and empanadas, we were happily full and ready to head back. I passed out cold on the 1.5 hour ride back to Palenque.
When I got back, Pepe had arrived from San Cristobal and we caught up on our week of travels apart. Headed to get Ilyana, Vic and Roy and had a great dinner from one of the two local restaurants while chatting, watching a fire show and having some chelas (beer). The group meshed immediately and we brought the silly out of each other – dinner was full of laughs. After we headed to the “late night” spot (it was around 12 by this point), La Palapa, where we danced for hours to salsa, meringue, cumbia and who knows what else. I knew the night was a success when Ilyana and I did a choreographed orangutan dance to the music.
The next morning we met the group and had breakfast while recapping our hilarious night out. Our two friends from Merida (Roy and Erik from Holland) arrived that morning and joined us. As the rest left to head to San Cristobal, the four of us decided to go explore the ruins.
The Palenque ruins are strategically situated on top of tall hills and in the middle of some of the densest forest I have seen yet. The ruins are impeccably kept, some of the prettiest and most impressive so far on this trip. We got a great guide, Mateo, who explained details of the Mayan culture and beliefs, some of which are still hard practiced. After climbing el Templo del Sol, you get a breathtaking view of the excavated ruins, but also the uncovered hills all around that are the buried sites yet to be truly discovered. The Mayan architecture is impressive and purposeful and we only got to see 2% of what was once Palenque at the peak of its power!
After the ruins we went to get some tacos and re-fueled for our tour into the jungle. Mateo, a native Palenqueño and of Mayan decent was extremely familiar with the jungle around the ruins and showed us several medicinal plants, still used to this day, natural dyes (used 1500 years ago to paint the stucco on the ruins), gave us a snack of termites (which actually tasted like parsley) and fresh picked snails cracked and eaten straight from a little stream. We washed the snails down with the streams cool and refreshing water. He took us to a great little hidden waterfall, which we quickly started climbing until we could climb no more. Later, when I got bit by some bug on the arm, Mateo quickly found a plant which he rubbed on the sting and it immediately made it go away. I always find it amazing that we are surrounded by these natural remedies and we live in such an extreme pill society…
I’m loving El Panchan, Palenque and the tranquility of the cabin, the jungle and all its crazy sounds; even the howler monkey which sounds like a small lion (a bit scary in the middle of the night). We will stay about 5 days then we’re off to the Lacandon jungle to explore for a few days. After, it’s Guatemala time!!
Stay tuned for more!
Love and muchos besos from Mi Querido Mexico!