5. Palenque

Days: 13
Birthdays: 1
Mayan temples climbed: 7

After two awful nights sleep in Bacalar I was hopeful our delayed overnight bus to Palenque would provide an ideal slumber land, as comfortable as the buses were – we were even given water as we stepped on – I just couldn’t find the right position to allow me to sleep for what felt like the whole night. Arriving at 7am, we had a 4* hotel booked for £20 a night and we couldn’t wait until check-in at 3pm so when the receptionist told us our room was ready immediately, tears of happiness and relief streamed down my exhausted face. I hadn’t showered without feeling dirtier afterwards or with fresh towels or enough shampoo for about four days so I threw my rucksack on a side table, removed everything and had the best shower of the trip followed by an instant two hour nap.

IMAG1483Resembling a human woman again, we explored the town of Palenque with ambitions of seeing the waterfalls in the afternoon and the ruins the next day – Seb’s birthday – leaving for San Cristobal in the evening. Then, Seb’s researching skills came to fruition as he discovered a tour which takes us from the waterfalls to San Cristobal for an extra MX100 (£4) rather than coming back on ourselves, with further relief but more determination and energy to hold back tears of joy, we settled on having a ‘pool day’, ruins as planned on Seb’s birthday then a trip to the waterfalls on Tuesday with the end stop in San Cristobal. We booked a wonderful boutique hotel for Seb’s birthday night nearer to the ruins and leapt downstairs to be horizontal on a sun lounger and order afternoon cocktails. Bliss!

 

One Piná Colada and Tequila Sunrise later we were playing cards, eating guacamole (now a daily ritual) and enjoying the amenities of being in a hotel. Soon my winning streak was interrupted by an American gentleman in his sixties who introduced himself, shortly followed by his inquisitive wife. It wasn’t long before we received an abridged life story; missionaries from Utah who have been coming to Mexico for over 20 years holding trips for kids and adults and currently live in Villahermosa. IMAG1510A brief exchange of our story was told, although oddly when we mentioned #Brexit they were out of the loop completely. We gave a rapid overview evading the ‘details’ of Johnson and Farage, then the inevitable question arrived. “So what is the feeling of our new President back in London?” quizzed the man with a Utah drawl. Seb and I glanced at each other then back to the American, “um,” I started, “I think London is predominantly a Remain city which therefore doesn’t align with many of Trumps views…” Seb agreed adding to this notion before I concluded, “so I think it’s quite negative from what we’ve seen and heard…” Politely nodding, the American appreciated our diplomatic but honest approach and explained how Trump is a new breed of President, how he is offering America an escape route out of a winding spiral of destruction and how where he comes from, everyone is thankful he’s President. The American emphasised the importance of the coal industry and how Trump has offered to re-visit this and how he was particularly riled by Obamacare which had quadrupled medical bills for hard-working people like himself and those in his town. It became an interesting trade of different but respected opinions, perhaps a taster ahead of our month in America.

Back to Palenque and what we really came here for, the renowned Mayan ruins. On Seb’s 28th birthday, we enjoyed a large Mexican breakfast and discussed his mixed emotions of excitement for his birthday but slow acceptance of being firmly in the late twenties category, much to my amusement. We hopped into a taxi to deliver our bags to our new hotel, which was beautiful – a huge step up from any accommodation we had stayed in so far and still as much as a Travelodge in Rugby. Avoiding the inviting pull of the cascading infinity pool in amongst a setting of dense jungle trees and plants, we got a collectivo to the ruins and began our day of exploration.

As with most attractions in Mexico we waded through an ocean of hard-selling tactics and money-making ploys to reach the entrance of the ruins. We were instantly blown away by the temples in front of us. IMAG1487We climbed the Templo de las Inscripciones and peered inside it’s cold, damp interior; low, narrow corridors lead us to a tomb and small rooms which were netted off. The smell was prominent and cemented the notion that what we were standing in is thousands of years old. After a more cautious clamber down the fragmented steps we climbed six or seven more temples each a different structure with unique inscriptions of serpents, jaguars and Mayan life. The temples are set within the jungle which made for a more mystical exploration around the grounds, so many brightly coloured birds, vibrant flora and fauna and echos of howler monkey’s calls. After several hours of scrambling stairs in the scorching sunshine, we retreated back to our new sanctuary and cooled off at the poolside with a birthday cocktail to quench our thirst.

IMAG1515Tuesday morning awoke us gently after a restful sleep, we bargained with the hotel manager to reduce the waterfall tour price by MX200 each and set off in a mini bus to the first waterfall, Misol-ha. The 12 seater ploughed through corner after corner, ascent after descent; holding a tight grip on the handle in front of me we arrived after an hour with a strong appreciation for being flat and still. We explored the powerful waterfall for an hour including a torch-lit trip into a cave, ducking for bats. The waterfall was impressive but the tourist packed, narrow path distracted us from pure enjoyment. Reluctantly we returned to our seats in the mini van, took a deep breath and continued our journey to the second waterfall; Agua Azul.

En route, we maintained a fast speed, rapid ascent and continuous sharp cornering through the region of Chiapas. It became apparent Chiapas is a poor area in Mexico to the extent that as we neared to Agua Azul we were barricaded by a village who were peacefully protesting. They had not had teachers for three months and desperate for their children to return to school, they asked for money to be let through for this cause but also had signs and letters raising awareness to the Secretary of Education about their situation. After a 20-30 minute delay they removed the blockade and allowed us through. Many houses were unfinished and of poor structural quality, we were warned not to eat meat whilst there as hygiene is low and many children as young as 4/5 years old were constantly pleading with us to buy whatever they were selling.

IMAG1525Although difficult to put this aside, when we arrived at Agua Azul the waterfall offered such natural beauty we were helpless but to focus solely on the view. Almost completely unpolluted, the water was a vivid turquoise with white cascading water crashing down from several low falls. We stripped off and plunged in to the surprisingly cold (fresh!) water and used ropes to pull us through. The water is known to have strong currents so we cautiously swam around the corner and witnessed the vibrancy from a captivating perspective. We had three hours to explore the much bigger Agua Azul however we wished we could have stayed longer.

At around 5.30pm we once again set off in the mini van, this time to San Cristobal de las Casas, a large town apparently 2-3 hours away. To describe this part of the journey briefly I would say I have a new respect for being alive. Seated on the back row with the overflowing luggage tipping over us, not one passenger spoke for the entire (5 hour) journey, I believe this is due to everyone concentrating so much on not reacting to the vertical drop several inches away from the speeding van wheel as it took repeated corners. Not only was the darkening drop outside growing in intimidation but the road surfaces were so poor and bumpy there was not even an opportunity to try and be unconscious until we, remarkably, arrived. However, we did arrive, at 10.30pm and in one piece. We hailed a taxi and discovered our hostel, thankful for a hot shower in a now cold town, we washed the fear away and dived into a welcoming bed.

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