Mayan Ruins of Palenque: Palenque

Trip Start Aug 09, 2007
Trip End Jul 29, 2008

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Flag of Mexico  ,
Tuesday, August 21, 2007

San Cristobal was amazing!! We really really enjoyed it there...We found ourselves a great posada run by a super sweet family - it was so clean and friendly that it was easy to relax...That is, when cannons/flares weren´t being shot into the sky to keep the birds out of the fields!!  I´m very amazed at what we are now able to sleep through!

We spent our first day walking all through the beautiful city streets.  We checked out 3 or 4 of the Catholic Churches in the area, the markets, and went to a Mayan Medicine museum.  It was set up in the style of a traditional Mayan home with dirt floors etc and had scenes recreated of a woman giving birth (she kneels in front of the father holding onto his arm and thorax and the midwife sits behind the kneeling mom) and some of the traditions associated with childbirth.  They had a herb garden as well and were selling traditional medicines too.  They had a lot of literature for sale as well and we picked up the only English book they offered -  ¨Killer Coca Cola¨- all about how Coke has monopolized the water sources in this area of Mexico specifically while many many Mexicans in this area do not have access to clean water, how many Coke Union workers in Columbia have been murdered over the past decade when they try to demand more rights etc.  Nuts!! Did anyone else know about this stuff?  Contaminated water sources being used in India and Mexico to make Coke, overtaking small stores with threats to remove their product if they also stock competitors products, etc etc.  Anyways, interesting bus reading and an interesting example of how big companies impact poorer countries...

The next day we went to a small Mayan village called San Juan Chamula and then to another rural community (Mayan and Catholic) called San Lorenzo Zinacantan.  Chamula was a big shock for us!! While still very Mayan and indigenous, it was also heavily influenced by Catholicism and Coke/Pepsi.  This place is not federally funded and not recognized by the Vatican - farming potatos and tourism bring in most of their money.  They do not allow foreigners to stay in their city, even professionals, they do not pay for land - it is split among families and passed down, woman do not have a lot of rights - it is still very traditional.  They are run by a male leader who then selects a committe of men to help him, primarily family and friends.  

We were able to go into the church which is originally Catholic, but they use it now for their Mayan ceremonies/prayers.  They have kept many of the Catholic saints in place however and also use carbonated soft drinks (Coke, Sprite, etc) in their offerings as well as live chickens, eggs, candles etc.  It was stunning to walk into their church - it was all a glow with candles, small families kneeling in front of the candles praying, and the sound of their prayers is very very different - more of a chant.  Very very nice - a refreshing change from the tour buses out in the market!! It was a zoo out there!!  

It was refreshing to then travel to the next town which does not depend on tourism in any way and as such, we were just observers and about the only tourists there!!  They were having a fiesta that day so we were greeted with homemade fireworks being shot off (yes, I was a bit scared) and a big band playing music in a gazebo in the main square.  They rely on flowers for their income in that town.  We were invited to visit with a family who showed us how they weave and many of their traditional woven and embroidered items.  We bought a couple of items that they worked on for over a month each.  They then made us black corn tortillas and we sampled their homemade firewater (ie-rum, made from suger cane).  They had hibiscus and cinnamon flavoured firewater as well, delicious!!!  It was a wonderful experience there -  unlike the first village, it does not insist on Mayan culture being practiced (though it is -  it remains visibly indigenous as well) and it is federally funded. 

The next day we did a tour of Cañon del Sumidero.  We traveled down to the next town (Tuxtla Gutierrez) and hopped into a river boat from there.  We tore down this canyon with a hilarious Mexican guide who immediately found us some crocs.  As he is no doubt an old hand at this, he had no issue with the boat being 6 feet from a croc...I may have been on the ladies lap next to me.  But yah, we saw three dandies on the shore and that was super cool!  We then traveled down to see the 1km high cliff walls, the water falls cascading down them, tons of pelicans and other birds, a religious shrine, and then some monkeys!! yah! We were so excited!  It was sweet. 

We checked out a Zapatista made film that night - though very biased, it was also informative and was an interesting look at how things have been handled here since 1994 when the movement began.  Basically three presidents including the indigenous issues in their election platforms with no real action yet...

****Off to Palenque then...see below...Promise we´ll try to be more regular to avoid blog-overload!!****

We´ve been in Palenque for a few days now.  Palenque is about 200km north of San Cristobal (and 6 hours on a bus!!)...the main reason it takes SOOO long despite the short distance is speed bumps!! I am now certain that the Mexican´s were in fact the inventors of said bumps.  Lots of super windy corners too, often accompanied by large cliffs and drop offs, also accompanied by me clinging on to Nik with my face buried in his chest.  That being said, we´re here!!  And now we´re leaving as a result of the impending Hurricane Dean...more on that later.

So this town is sketch, and I mean *super* sketch.  I´m pretty sure that the steal-of-a-deal hostel we snagged also happens to be a favourite for prostitutes and their friends, so we basically make sure we´re in our hostel by the time the sun heads down and we just stay there!!  We´re pretty sure everyone thinks we are American´s as well and therefore feel entitled to give us unpleasant looks and say inappropriate things mostly to me (though I did get offered a trip to Puerto Vallarta in one of these comments...hmmmm).  We also indirectly shrunk/ruined some of our (expensive) travel clothes through either miscommunication (quite likely) or an untimely shift change...most of our stuff is still ok though.

That being said, we have seen a wonderful Mexican live band playing in the square, eaten plenty of delicious Guacamole, and saw the amaaaaazing ruins of Bonampak, Yaxchilan and Palenque!!  These places are incredible!! Wow!!  These are all Mayan ruins from the so-called Classic period meaning that they were developed around 200AD and continued to grow and finally peak in prosperity around 700AD.  After 700AD, all Mayan cities formed experienced a relatively simultaneous collapse...The last known time these cities were active is around 900AD (as far as I know).  The reason for the ´collapse´or abandonment, as I understand, is unknown...

First we did a day trip to Bonampak and Yaxchilan.  Bonampak (the visible part) is relatively small but still impressive with bright murals still visible inside the rooms.  Apparantly these two cities were buds with Yax being the more major city.  After Bonampak, we were shuttled to this lake where we hopped in a screaming-loud river boat and were shipped 1/2 hour or so downstream until we got to Yaxchilan - only accesible by boat!! This place was right in the middle of the jungle and super cool!! We were able to walk through the ´labrynth´ they had built -  a series of staircases, hallways and passageways through this stone building - mostly housing bats today..Our group was pretty much the only ones there as well - bonus.  

We took off to the ruins of Palenque the next day via a Colectivo we caught in town (like a city bus, usually a VW van fitting about 15 ppl).  The colectivo´s and taxi´s here are always making themselves known, especially for white tourists, it works really well for us!  Anyways, Palenque was just massive in relation to what we had seen already.  It served as a city-state in the Mayan world and had about 8000 people at it´s peak.  We were able to see where this red skeleton was found (her body was covered in a chemical that turned her bones and tomb red), some heiroglyphs still very visible today, where the average people lived (many many levels below where the rulers lived and reigned), etc.  We climbed all the structures and the views are absolutely incredible!!  Like the forum in Rome, it is amazing to think of how these structures would look and how the city would function back in the day...

Back to the city where we finally thought we´d check our email at about 3pm.  This is the first time that we find out about Hurricane Dean!!  Lesson learned to stay more up to date, though we have not seen any papers or TVs either for some time..Anyways, we were supposed to be heading to Tikal (Flores, Guatemala) the next day which would be west towards Dean - generally too the tour vehicles all come standard with bald tires so we didn´t know how they would fare in the impending rain etc.  So, along with several other gringos, we headed to the bus station to figure out how to get south...we bought a couple of tickets back to San Cristobal (where we´re at now) and packed our bags.

To avoid the shady-ness that is Palenque, we left for the station at 8pm (bus left at 11pm).  On the way, we saw two dudes get into a huge brawl that landed them both on the street in front of a car - the car nearly smushed these guys but luckily didn´t - but they kept fighting anyways and when their shirts came off, I turned around (Nik followed a bit later).  So off to the more main street which *must* be safer.  So, we´re now within eye shot of the station when this shirtless skinny man comes flying by us at full tilt followed by his apparent victom (older man) and 2 coppers with whistles.  This dude is flying in and out of traffic but they finally stop him and arrest him, all in front of the bus station.  Friggen Palenque!! That place is nuts!!

Anyways, we are here now, we are safe and we are off to Guatemala finally tomorrow.  Likely head to Huehuetenengo (way-way) first.  Glad you were able to make it through this long entry and hope you are all well!

Take care, Us. xoxo
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DaveH on

Wow - those ruins sound really nice. The tour down the river and past the cliffs / waterfalls sounds wonderful.

Do you guys pack lunches with you on the big adventure days like that?

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