Palenque, Mexico (Again!)

It is interesting how different an experience can be with different people. As I mentioned before I returned to Palenque (please forgive me but my time scales have gone out of the window. I’m sure you don’t care for specific dates anyway).

Myself and the four girls got a cabana together at Jungle Palace. We had taken a night bus from San Cristobal to kill off one night’s accommodation expenses. The girls wanted to see the ruins so I returned there with them. The weather had completely changed so the ruins stood against blue skies and majestic hills, rather than the eery experience I relayed to you before.

The surrounding area of Palenque boasts some extremely incredible waterfalls and people usually visit Agua Azul and Misol Ha. I had been told about a third called Roberto Barrio and, naturally, wanted to try there because there would be less people. It became a very special experience! We swam in the large pools the waterfall created. We jumped off the top of the falls into the pools below. The guys who took us in the collectivo to this place all joined us in the water. One of them showed us all the best bits of the falls.

At one point, our local guide told us to come right up close to a small section of the falls. He then asked us to swim through the water and we emerged in a small space behind it. He then pointed out that if we held our breath and swam under the rocks for about 1.5 meters we would emerge in a small cave. Feeling a little panicked at the idea that I could come up in the wrong part of the cave or get stuck under the rocks, I had to muster up the courage to do it. I’m extremely proud of myself for not writing this off. The cave opened up above me as I swam up into it. You could maybe fit about 15 people in there so it was quite cosy. The space was lit with the small bit of daylight that came from the hole we had entered. This probably doesn’t seem like much of an achievement but I remain proud!

The next day we took a tour through the jungle with a guide this time. He took us off the path that Mike and I had wandered down previously and showed us a few ruins that have not been excavated, and probably never will be. Tree roots crept through the stone formations, some no more than mounds of broken rock. Some of the archways remain intact showing just how advanced these structures were to have survived for over a thousand years.

After another fantastic visit to Don Mucho’s, we all paired off and travelled on separate night buses to Tulum where we would be reunited. I will try and add some photos to these next few posts when I collect them from the girls.

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San Cristobal, Mexico

Apologies again for the late update. I have been having the BEST time and the internet connections haven’t been so good! I shall endeavour to update you rather rapidly. Please note that my phone was recently stolen in Mexico so I have zero pictures of these places until I manage to grab some from other people.

To get to San Cristobal we decided to take collectivos to keep it cheap rather than getting the ADO bus. This meant we had to get two: one from Palenque to Ocosingo, the second to San Cristobal. This was a 4-5 hour drive in total through the mountains of Chiapas, and what a drive it was!

The views were absolutely stunning. Mountains rose all around us as we made our bumpy way up winding roads. You think pot holes are a problem in the UK – they have nothing on Mexico. Roads were crumbling and, in places, falling away down the steep drop beside us. The driver had to adopt a less than safe tactic of driving on the wrong side of the road towards blind bends to avoid sending us to an alternate doom! This only added to the experience.

The hills and mountains were littered with small villages and the occasional lonely hut. Children bounced on huge tyres by the side of the road, many of them caked in mud from the small streams that crept towards the roads. Old men walked bare foot up the mountains with sticks that would rival Gandalf’s staff, huge sacks upon their shoulders full of god knows what – probably corn, palm leaves, or merchandise for their shack shop by the side of the road. Chicken buses packed with men, women and children zoomed past us as the collectivo struggled to climb. Balloons hopelessly clinging to the side of the vehicle as it went. There were groups of people running with blazing torches, followed by chicken buses full of people dressed in the same way – most bare foot, white tops with an imagine of the Virgin Mary or some choice words to celebrate her. Upon arrival in San Cristobal we realised this was the start of the week long festival for the Virgin Mary. These large groups of people were making a pilgrimage to San Cristobal. This meant one thing, there would be parades, there would be music, in other words – a week-long fiesta!

I can’t begin to explain how beautiful San Cristobal is. It is a colonial city of around 186,000 people. Its cobbled streets are lined with buildings of every colour. Cathedrals and churches stood tall and dominating in small open squares. Music blared from, well, everywhere. Groups of people danced around the streets in traditional Chiapan dress. Colours, aahh the colours! I cannot do this place justice with the written word so, if you’re ever in Mexico, make sure you go to San Cristobal!

Our hostel – Rossco Backpackers – was a treat. They had a fire pit that brought people together every night. The dorms were clean and the beds were amazing. At first I questioned the need for a sheet, a blanket AND a duvet, but the first night there confirmed that it actually got pretty chilly and it was great to sink beneath the cozy layers each night. I say this, but I actually only spent one full nights sleep in that bed – too much partying. We met some fabulous people and took advantage of the buzzing party atmosphere at night. Most nights I did not get to sleep until 5am. But you don’t want to hear all the details – everyone knows I like a good party! One thing I will say, is that my Spanish is significantly improved with alcohol and I managed to hold a few conversations with locals in the bars. Yes! I am now fluent in Spanish…

The hostel offered some rather cheap tours so we took advantage of them. We took a tour to the Canyon del Sumidero. This was overwhelmingly beautiful. This involved about an hours drive to a town called Chiapa de Corzal, and then we hopped on a boat that would take two hours to drive up and down the canyon. We saw iguanas, crocodiles, vultures, and spider monkeys. The shitty camera strikes again and I could not get photos that were good enough to share. Unfortunately, amongst all this beauty one thing stood out to me. In certain parts of the canyon, the river battled with a trail of litter, and this strangled the banks of the river in places. One croc that we got quite close to was surrounded by plastic bottles and other rubbish. Humans are poison.

The second tour we took was to the Cascada El Chiflon and the Lagunas de Montebello. It was around a 3 hour drive which took us right to the Guatemalan border. We went to the waterfall first. Hungover and, therefore, extremely dehydrated, we started the long and steady climb to the top of the waterfall. Again, my words cannot describe this properly. Small pools of bright blue water lay at the bottom of the falls. The water crystal clear. The main waterfall roared and spat at us. There was a main view point here, but then we found that we could climb higher, a path that not everyone took, as you can imagine. So we climbed again. Sweat and alcohol dripping off us. The view from the top was worth it, a view of the valley and the small blue pools meandering through it. I’m gutted to have lost the photos of this place. The climb meant that we did not really have time to swim in any of the pools as we had to make our way to the lakes.

By the time we got to the lakes the clouds had descended and visibility was poor. They were still impressive but we will just have to google images to see their full glory! One of the lakes lay across the Mexican-Guatemalan border. On water, this was marked by a rope and some buoys. On land, it could be distinguished by tall, white, stone columns every 100 metres or so. We spent about 15 minutes in Guatemala and then headed home. Customary border photos were taken! Obviously! Alas these, too, have been lost.

Our remaining days in San Cristobal were filled with partying and wandering around the fantastic markets. One market for artisans and the other for fruit, veg and Christmas decorations! The fruit and veg market was incredibly claustrophobic. As we squeezed through the tiny aisles, walls of exotic fruits around us, our noses were filled with the most amazing smells. True to my tummy, as always, we followed the smells through dark alleys that opened up into small eateries and grill bars. Being late at night we were unable to get food as they were closing up. We didn’t return because there was always some other new discovery that satisfied our rumbly tumblies.

During our last few days in San Cristobal, I met a fabulous group of people that need an especial mention: Liv, Chris, Emily, Sera and Karen. Mostly Aussies apart from Liv who is from Bristol. We gelled instantly. These people are some of the most open, honest and friendly people I have met. I cannot put my feelings for this group into words – again! A mixture of silliness and fantastically deep conversations ensued.

We spent a few crazy nights together and then it was time for Mike and I to leave for Guatemala. But there was something stopping me. I could not leave these amazing people with whom I was having so much fun! They told me they didn’t want me to go and asked me to go with them to Palenque and Tulum. I thought I would grab the opportunity with both hands. I felt like I was betraying Mike a little but thankfully he was very understanding. He left for Guatemala and I stayed behind.

The next day we had to say goodbye to Chris who, sadly, could not come with us. So the five of us left for Palenque on the night bus the following evening. I hear you questioning this decision: Frankie, you’ve been there, done that! But we had a completely different experience. So I shall be writing a brief post about Palenque once more.

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Palenque, Mexico

Big, big dreams!
Big, big dreams!

So it’s been a while! I’m sorry about that. We were in Merida for a grand total of 12 days whilst waiting for mail! Mine decided not to arrive so we made the executive decision to stop waiting around and move on! We didn’t do much other than laze by the pool, wander round the stunning Sunday markets, and we met some lovely people and went to a few bars. We saw some fabulous live music in a bar called La Negrita – highly recommended. The trumpet player in the band was one of the best I’ve seen! The music in Mexico has been insane. It always sounds so happy! I will try and get some decent videos to upload for you.

° ° °

We took a night bus on Saturday 5th December and arrived in Palenque around 7am on Sunday – a little sleepy but, thankfully, “unrobbed” (is that a word? It should be!) – In case you’re wondering, Palenque is in a state called Chiapas so we have moved on from the Yucatán. Chiapas is a south Mexican state that borders Guatemala (so we’re getting close). – We knew we wanted to stay in a place called El Panchan, a jungle cabin village, but we hadn’t managed to book. It is just outside the town of Palenque so we got a taxi down there to see if they had any room at the inn.

Jungle Palace!
Jungle Palace!

We’d heard the best places to stay in El Panchan were either Margarita & Ed’s or Jungle Palace so, naturally, we tried there first: one double room at Margarita & Ed’s for the price of 270 pesos and no space at the latter!! Neither receptionist was particularly friendly either, though this may have had something to do with it being 7.30am! It started to rain so we, reluctantly, walked down the paths that lead to the other accommodation only to be told that it would cost us 300 pesos a night! I was completely unwilling to accept this since I had heard that Jungle Palace is around 150 pesos a night for two.

A little perturbed, we had breakfast at Don Mucho’s, an Italian-Mexican Restaurant and the favourite in El Panchan, and had a big long think.

Think, think, think, think…

Eventually, I made the observation that several people had left with backpacks and that it was time to go back to see if a room had become available.

Cana the Cabana
Cana the Cabana

One had! It was a double room. Eurghh. So I had to share a bed with Mike – he snores. BUT! This did only cost us 75 pesos each a night. Big win! We did later have a problem with a few ants in our bed but they seemed to like Mike’s side more – another win! Take a look at our lovely, albeit wet, cabaña.

We dumped our backpacks and headed straight out to the ruins of Palenque. You can catch a collectivo from the entrance to El Panchan but we decided to walk and save the pennies – it’s only 3km. We had to pay an entrance fee into the Parque Nacional as it is a protected area and home to the howler monkey! Then you have to pay an additional fee for your entry into the ruins.

Palenque, looking down at the Palace from the Temple of the Cross
Palenque, looking down at the Palace from the Temple of the Cross

Ahh, the ruins! Palenque feels bigger than that of Chichén Itzá and, again, not half as many people! Yayyyy! I don’t think it is actually bigger though, there’s just more ruins and they are spread out over the hills! Thankfully it wasn’t raining whilst we spent maybe three hours walking around the site. The recent rainfall created a fantastic atmosphere as mist rose up from the trees in the mountains behind the ruins. I’m not sure I’ve manage to capture this fully in my photos and most of them are blurry. (I’m still working on the camera problem).

This is a 7th century mayan city that has been enveloped in a jungle of mahogany, cedar and sapodilla trees. As per my previous post, this made it feel more like a ruin but it maintains it’s grandeur! The site consists of a

The Temple of Inscriptions
The Temple of Inscriptions

palace and several temples; the Temple of Inscriptions, the Temple of the Skull, the Temple of the Count, and the Temple of the Jaguar, amongst others. The most famous ruler of Palenque was K’inich Janaab Pakal, or Pacal the Great, and his tomb has been found and excavated in the Temple of Inscriptions. There were also a few female rulers – yay for women! I don’t want this to become a history lecture again so, go Google! Whilst looking at my photos though, try and imagine the grey stone structures painted blood-red with fantastic blue and yellow pattern as they would have been at the peak of Palenque’s power. This is something my imagination struggles with. I’m quite fond of grey!

It started raining again so we headed back to Don Mucho’s for a fabulous burger (shameless, I know) and then played some cards and watched some Breaking Bad! There is entertainment every night of the week at Don Mucho’s so we went again for dinner. A couple we met in Merida had recommended the pasta with shrimp, garlic and chilli. This sounded awesome and, guess what!? – It was! I should have taken a picture but, firstly, I’m not the type, and secondly, it disappeared too quickly!

Blurry waterfall in Palenque
Blurry waterfall in Palenque

I woke up on Monday to the horrifying sound of howler monkeys at about 5am. I say horrifying because their screams and howls are unlike anything you can imagine. It’s a bit freaky. But also insanely cool! They can be heard in a 3 mile radius so I have no idea how close they were. They weren’t directly above us by any means. It’s hard to imagine that a noise that terrifying can come out of something so cute and fluffy – google for images because I don’t have my own godammit! By the time we were up and ready to do something the rain started again. With not much to do in the actual town of Palenque, we decided to wait it out and go for a hike in the jungle.

I loved the jungle! Whilst stepping quietly over roots of trees, and manoeuvring our way under big leaves, and through small rivers, we tried desperately to spot monkeys, toucans, agouti, kinkajou, and squiggles (that’s squirrels to you normal folk, I guess). We did not encounter any of the aforementioned, and instead had to settle for trees the size of castle turrets, leaves the size of trees, ants the size of spiders, mosquitoes the size of butterflies, and butterflies the size of an adult’s hand.

So many trees like this in the jungle
So many trees like this in the jungle

FUN FACT: apparently, the Mayans of Palenque believed that butterflies were the souls of warriors lost in battle.

This trek was amazing, and I wish it had lasted longer. It was a set route that we were not to divert from and we only encountered one person during our little amble. Again, the rain came rather heavily and the jungle appeared to shake in fear with the heavy drops. It was fabulous. I could have walked for hours consumed within my own thoughts!

With not much else to do, we returned to our camp for more card games and Breaking Bad. Dinner again at Don Mucho’s. The entertainment for the night was less than impressive compared to Sunday’s band so we retired early ready for the off the next day!

 

 

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