Thursday, December 8, 2011

2011 December 5-6 Palenque on my own

Monday was pretty uneventful; Suzanne and I took our time getting ready to leave the hostel because we wanted to share a taxi and my bus didn't leave until 11. Unfortunately, due to some mis-information we had gotten from one of the guys at the hostel, it turned out that 1) her bus ride back to Merida would be longer because the station we ended up going to was a different company than the one we had taken from Merida to Campeche (which, considering she was looking at about 6.5+ hours of commuting already, didn't exactly help matters much!) and 2) I could purchase my ticket to Palenque at the station we had gotten the taxi to but I couldn't get on the bus there! So I had to get a taxi from one bus station to the other, at a rate of 30 pesos! Not that it's much but every little bit knocks away at my savings and considering that my ticket was 284 pesos I was already over budget for the day! 

The bus ride was long- 6 hours, even though I was on a first class bus (apparently there are no second class buses to Palenque? At least that's what the lady at the ticket counter told me...). However, they showed movies pretty much the whole time, and though they were all in spanish it was still a nice way to pass the more boring bits of the journey. The first class buses in Mexico are amazing; I've been on crappier planes in my life! There is a bathroom on board and the seats are actually pretty comfortable; they recline more than those on most airplanes I've been on! Of course they are more money but for long journeys I think I may occasionally decide it is worth it.

The countryside was the prettiest and most variable I've seen so far. The first 1.5 hours or so of the trip the bus drove right along the coast so I was able to at least soak up the view of the ocean, the last I will see for a while. Then the countryside changed to rolling grasslands, very much cattle country. Just before Palenque it became more mountainous and Palenque itself has beautiful mountains rising to the south. I passed many places that made me think about buying property in Mexico (with all my millions!).

I arrived in Palenque and found my hostel (Posada Nacha'n Ka'an, which I had heard about from an Asian girl who checked in to our room in Campeche at the butt-crack of dawn, making Suzanne's mood not so great early on in the morning!) in time to just barely catch the sunset from a little roof on the second floor. The best thing about the hostel was that it had a (very small) book exchange, where I found a copy of Central America on a Shoestring, a book that I hadn't intended to buy (because I didn't want to go to all the places that all the other backpackers were going!) until I talked to Suzanne and she said if I didn't get a copy I wouldn't go anywhere fun because the places in the book are there for a reason!

The hostel Posada Nacha'n Ka'an is definitely one of the most basic places I've been. There are no lockers for securing your valuables, only one large bag storage that the person on duty has the single key for, meaning you have to bother said person every time you need something. Also, the kitchen seems designed for accidents; the light is far inside and you have to step up/over a divider to reach it and I've nearly blown myself up every time I use the gas stove (every hostel I have been to thus far has gas stoves with no pilot lights that you have to light on your own). The sheets on my bed had definitely been slept in previously and there were about 5 or 6 different little insects on the bed spread (thankfully I have my sleeping bag liner!). To top things off the collectivo station is right around the corner and the guys shouting to people passing in the street didn't shut up for more than a few hours.

Feeling quite grouchy and more than a little sleep deprived on Tuesday morning I made my way past the collectivo drivers, scowling at them for good measure, and around the corner to the store to buy some stuff for breakfast. I nearly blew myself up twice more making breakfast but finally succeeded in getting a meal together and checked my internet stuff while I ate, writing an extensive email to Jonathan in case he decided to come to Palenque that day. Then I was off! I had been considering using the bag storage but then I decided to just go ahead and take my stuff with me to the place I was hoping to stay that night, a little community I had read about in my newly acquired CAOAS called El Panchán. I hopped in a collectivo for 10 pesos and was soon at El Panchán. I chose a place called Jungle Palace, which has tons of cute little cabanas on a stream. There are a troop of howler monkeys that seem to live in the trees above the stream, eating some sort of fruit and then dropping the leavings in the stream. The only failings of this place, in my opinion, is that there isn't internet and there isn't really a kitchen area that I have discovered... but for one night it's fine, and worth it for the tranquility here). My cabana is called “Cafe”; it has no bathroom but just one bed (so no roommates!) and it was only 100 pesos a night. It's very simple but oh so cute! There are little geckos and some other type of lizard all over, adding to the charm, in my opinion!  Here are some pictures:

I rearranged some stuff in my packs and was off for Palenque with my little daypack, complete with CAOAS, which had detailed descriptions of the ruins, a couple of very basic cheese/tortilla wraps and an orange for lunch, a bit of this delicious sweet bread I had purchased in Campeche for dessert, some water, my headlamp and my camera. I had intended to lock the rest of my stuff up but I seem to have lost my lock; I think I probably left it back at the hostel so I'll check in the morning but it had the key in it so I'm sure it's gone. :o( Since I had the only lock for my room I figured my stuff would be fine, although there is a note in my cabin that says NOT to leave valuables, and another by the bridge to the stream that says the rain could cause the water level to rise so you should not leave your stuff in your cabin!

Getting to Palenque ruins wasn't a problem at all; I just hopped on another collectivo. Within seconds of coming in the gate some boys accosted me about taking a tour guide. I wasn't intending to take one but eventually decided to when the boys told me about a bunch of ruins that you apparently aren't allowed to see without a guide, and that for $10 the one boy would take me. His name was Burjin and he was probably about 20 years old, MAYBE, and spoke Mayan, Spanish and English. In the long run I guess I am glad that I got a guide, although his “tour” of the ruins was pretty pathetic. He rushed me through places and gave me very little info on the ruins themselves, other than dates that things had been excavated, which I cared nothing about! The walk through the jungle and few bits of un-excavated ruins I saw then was cool though, even if there were many less of them than the boys had led me to believe, and Burjin was actually quite knowledgeable about the different trees and sometimes even knew of medicinal uses for them. He pointed out a howler monkey sleeping in a tree, and we heard the call of the elusive quetzal, Guatemala's country bird, though we didn't actually see it. He also took me to a small waterfall that very few other people care to see.

Here are some pictures from my jungle hike, which were nicely aligned so there were two per "line" but appear to be all jacked up now... however, I can't be bothered with messing with them so I'm just leaving them all over the place.  Grrr...


Ceiba tree, or Yaxche in Mayan- "Tree of Life".  I wish I had checked the
exposure because it's too dark to really tell but there are little spines all over
the superior surfaces of the tree, keeping birds and small mammals from
landing and scampering along the branches.

After saying my goodbyes to Burjin I returned to the ruins to do some exploration on my own, and spent the rest of my afternoon there, eating my lunch under the branches of a “tree of life”.

Palenque is BY FAR my favorite ruins site thus far. I have heard that Tikal is amazing so I may change my mind once again but Palenque kicked some serious ass in the ruins department! There are people there trying to sell stuff just like at Chichén Itzá but they don't even talk to you unless you make eye contact. And, though there ARE other tourists there it doesn't really feel busy at all- whether that's because there really aren't that many or if it's because the site is so large I couldn't tell you. There are apparently some 500 excavated ruins, though I think only about... 30 or so are actually open to the public. You can climb on almost all of the ruins- so many of them in fact that you find yourself trying to convince yourself that there is nothing to see “up there” because you're actually really sick of climbing... Then you climb it anyway. :D There has been a massive restoration effort, not just with the buildings but with the artwork as well; nearly every building had glyphs that had seen at least a little restoration. El Palacio was my favorite structure; it's HUGE! You can explore and climb over 95% of the building and there are many levels and corridors; I spent at least an hour there alone! Sadly, the Templo del Bello Relieve was closed; I had brought my flashlight and headlamp in anticipation of exploring it but my lights still got some use in El Palacio and a couple of the smaller ruins.

From right to left, the Templo de la Calavera (Temple of the Skull), Templo XIII (also known as the Temple of the Red Queen) and Temple de las Inscripciones (Temple of the Inscriptions).
Carving atop the Templo de la Calavera

Close up of the entrance to the Temple of the Red Queen 

The remains of the "Red Queen" (which now
 live in a museum in Mexico City- I found
this picture online!) that were found inside of
 the tomb, surrounded by jade, pearls,
obsidian knives, bone needles and shells.
Tomb of the Red Queen, named so because
the 5' 4"
 skeleton of the 35- to 40-year-old
woman found within was covered with large
amounts of cinnibar, a red mineral used in
Mayan ceremonial rituals to bury their dead.

Slightly out of focus picture Burjin took of me with the aqueducto and El Palacio in the background. 
The "acueducto" which carried water throughout the city.
From the top of the Templo de la Cruz you can see the ruins spread all around you- on the left is the Templo de las Inscripciones, on the right is El Palacio, beautiful views of the jungle all around & for miles in the background!
El Palacio.  Below are a handful of my favorite images from my exploration of El Palacio.
Corridor within El Palacio, with a bed where one of the royals slept.

Vandalism carved by Spaniards in the 18th century.

Mayan toilet (according to the guide I overheard talking about it who subsequently demonstrated the position!).

Templo de la Cruz, as seen from the Templo de la Cruz Foliada (I stole this photo from someone online, as I managed to chop off half of the roof comb in my photo!  Ah well, luckily I have no plans to make a living as a photographer!).

View from the back side of Grupo Norte
Starting up the Templo de la Cruz
Close up of the roof comb on the Templo de la Cruz
Close up of the roof comb on the Templo del Sol- you can see bits of actual copper (according to Burjin...)

I had heard people say they felt like Indiana Jones or Lara Croft exploring the ruins of Coba, but I didn't get that at all at there. However, in Palenque I totally felt like that, especially when using my flashlights and when I got “off the beaten path” a bit into some of the less frequented ruins, where I was the only person. Adding to the ambiance was the calls of the howler monkeys echoing through the forest, which would have been pretty creepy if I hadn't been prepared for them. I ended up spending about 6 hours at Tikal and it didn't even come close to feeling like enough time. I also didn't have time to see the museum, which I had been hoping to do. First failing of my COAOS; it told me you could do it in 3 hours. However, I don't suppose most people are as into ruins as I am so I can't fault it too much!

Grupo B

 Grupo Murciélagos

 Grupo Murciélagos, another view 

Video of a bit of my exploration of Grupo Murciélagos with howler monkeys calling in background!
I returned to El Panchán and my cabana, where I was pleased to find all my stuff exactly as I had left it, and took the first really hot shower I've had in a long time. I spent a bit of time going through photos and journaling and then made the depressing discovery that I have taken 15 GB of photos and videos in my three weeks in Mexico. I know that doesn't sound like a terrible thing but I only brought 64 GB of SD cards with me (which I intend to load up and send home in case my computer is stolen) so if you think of it that way you may be able to understand why it's depressing! Hopefully I will have a very strong internet connection sometime soon and I can just dump them all online somewhere so I don't have to worry about it.

It's now 8:30 and I have done just about everything I can do tonight, without internet, though watching the geckos chase bugs around on the outside of my mosquito net has been quite entertaining! Hopefully the next place I stay has a blazing fast connection because I have a feeling this post will take as long to upload as my previous ruins post! Time to curl up with my CAOAS and see what it has to say about San Cristobal de las Casas, where I am off to in the morning!

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