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Days 154-157 – Friday-Monday September 21-24, 2007 – Palenque Town & Ruins, Mexico
The nearly four hour bus ride from San Cristobal de Las Casas can only be described as vomit inducing. For much of the drive, the bus wrapped through endless switchbacks as it descended out of the mountains and into the hot steamy low lands of eastern Chiapas. When we arrived in Palenque, the weather was hot and humid. After a few hours, we already missed the cool mountain air that we had grown accustomed to for the last month and a half.
Palenque (the town) is pretty standard fare as far as Mexico goes. The town has a large plaza and a main drag lined with internet cafes, restaurants and travel agents that acts as the center of activity. Palenque also draws its fair share of packaged tourists and thus also is home to several luxury hotels. While these hotels were nice to look at, we knew that weren’t going to get to enjoy them. After getting a feel for the town, we explored a bit and went to a travel agent in order to book transportation to the ruins and a couple of waterfalls in the area.
While we were eager to see our first major Mayan ruins, all three of us were a little worn out, so we agreed to take the Saturday off. On Saturday, we hung around the hotel, took in the atmosphere of the town’s plaza and finalized our tour to the ruins, but for the most part we recharged our batteries. The tour we booked for Sunday morning included a visit to the Palenque Ruins followed by several hours at two area waterfalls. The tour was scheduled to leave at 8am and return at 6:30PM, so we knew it was going to be a long day and we got as much rest as possible.
The shuttle bus picked us up at our hotel at 8am on Sunday morning as scheduled. Palenque was first occupied in 100BC and thrived until around 900BC when battles with neighboring cities weakened the civilization. The ruins were discovered in 1773 when a Spanish priest went searching for stone palaces in the jungle that he had heard about from Mayan hunters. To date, 1,453 buildings have been discovered and around 500 of them have been excavated. The size and scope of Palenque makes these ruins quite impressive.
Upon entering, we started by climbing three large temples off to the right. Moving on from there we explored the Mayan ball court and some smaller temples. Perhaps the coolest thing here was going through the royal palace, which is almost entirely intact. Inside the massive stone structure, we saw several different carvings which have been preserved quite well. Following the palace, we visited more ruins that sit high on a hill. It was there that we were able to climb the largest temple at Palenque. The view from the top was stunning as we were able to see some of the ruins below, along with the top of the forest canopy.
In total, Palenque consists of three major groups of ruins with several other smaller groups scattered throughout the jungle. After visiting the main groups, we set out on the 1km walk through the jungle to the museum and visitor’s center. On the walk we passed some interesting ruins that still sit among the trees. These areas are where the lower classes lived, while the larger temples and structures were home to the nobility. Upon exiting the forest, we visited the on site museum that houses some of the artifacts found during the excavation process. Before long, our four hours were up and the bus picked us up to whisk us away to the first of two waterfalls we were going to visit. Shawn Reece really loved experiencing the ruins and the exposure to the ancient Mayan culture has really stimulated his mind.
From the ruins, it was a thirty minute drive to the Misol-Ha waterfall. We only had thirty minutes to stay and take pictures before we were off again. From the parking lot, we walked down a trail of steps that eventually led us down behind the large waterfall. For people with more time and courage, we saw a trail that lead up from behind the waterfall to caves in the cliff side. We stuck to the safer trail and took in the scenery for a couple of minutes, before heading back to the bus.
Our next and final stop of the day was Aqua Azul, which was another hour down the road. As the name implies Aqua Azul (Blue Water) is a beautiful series of waterfalls and pools that make for a beautiful setting. Depending on the time of year, the water can be a turquoise blue and the swimming phenomenal. Unfortunately, the rain of the past few nights had turned the water a bit of a darker color, but the area was still beautiful. The tour company gave us three and a half hours at Agua Azul, so we had plenty of time to get something to eat, relax a little, take plenty of pictures and go for a swim. A large population of Mayans has set up shop there in order to sell things to the tourists, and there constant sales pressure was a bit annoying. In addition, their children were incredibly aggressive as they often cursed us out when we politely declined what they were selling. While three and a half hours was a bit much there, it was a wonderful spot and gave us an afternoon of relaxation after a very hot morning in the jungle.
After departing Aqua Azul we headed back for Palenque Town and arrived as scheduled around 6:30pm. The ten hour day was long, but we experienced three wonderful and unique places. Monday morning, we woke up early, caught a taxi to the bus terminal and caught our bus to the city of Campeche, which sits on the west coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. The day didn’t go quite as planned though, but we will have more on that next time!
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The Coomer Family
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