Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Agua Azul and Misol Ha

Splashdown at Misol Ha


On the way back from Palenque, John, in his usual chatty fashion, asked the men in the colectivo about round trip van trips to Misol Ha and Agua Azul, two fabulous places that had oft been recommended to us and were only a half hour and one hour away. The guys running the colectivo of course had friends who would pick us up at our hotel the next day. What is your room number? You can pay now.

Misol Ha
John would have none of it, being the seasoned traveler that he is. He told them to have the van pick us up at 8:45 the next morning at the hotel and we’d pay them then. Never once gave them our room number. The next morning, the van arrived on time, only five minutes late in the American scheme of things. We were the first group to be picked up. The driver had some other guy with us and he drove down a suspiciously narrow road, stopped at a door. A little door within the door opened up and a beautiful young woman, possibly naked because she certainly had nothing on her shoulders and was covered from  mid chest by the door itself, spoke softly with him. He said something about returning later and then drove madly around the block. Somewhere between picking up other people and finally getting on down the highway, we lost the other guy in the front seat. Our companions were a German couple, in their twenties on a 6 month post-college trip with backpacks, and a young Mexican from Merida, his Czech girlfriend and her parents. The father was at least 6’8” tall, a giant anywhere, but especially in the indigenous areas of Mexico where John and I are quite tall in comparison to most people. The trip took a half hour to get to Misol Ha, though it’s not that far as the crow flies. The road is curvy, climbs in altitude, and in places in actually missing. Our driver, while awake and good, still drove faster than most of us would have preferred.

Lunch, whole fish, beer, bananas.
Misol Ha is a sacred Mayan spot where a river pours off a cliff and into a deep pool. In addition, there is a cave from which another river emerges and other holes in the walls of the cliff spout springs. It is an area that is under contention. The locals want control over the tourist income (as I understand the problem) and the federal government is not willing to let go of that. There have been skirmishes at Agua Azul so there was quite a military presence, lots of army guys with guns and multiple checkpoints. We spent about an hour there, hiking up and down the paths. Safety was an issue as the walk can get slimy and slippery. Posts were installed every few feet but no rope stretched between them. At the beginning of the trail, there was a long length of rubber tubing, like garden hose, intended to serve that purpose, but it was only partially installed. A work in progress….

Agua Azul cascades

Misol Ha is isolated, tranquil and just beautiful. Brigitte had recommended the cabins there, said its lovely when the tourists retreat and you are left alone with just a few other people and the howler monkeys.  Sometimes I think having a car might be a good idea, until I get back on the road with the fast and furious drivers, then I’m very happy to let someone vastly more experienced do the driving.

We zoomed on to Agua Azul. The road descends steeply into a canyon from the highway, and it was crowded with military vehicles and army personnel. We had heard two locals had been killed a couple of weeks prior so that probably accounts for the added forces.

Shot from the island.

Kids playing in the water
Agua Azul is a bigger tourist trap than Misol Ha. Restaurants abound, vendor stalls are everywhere, you can rent kayaks and buy a swimming suit, though I noticed most of the little kids just went into the water in their underwear. It is a big Mexican tourist destination, not many Europeans or other anglos were present.  (I should stop using the word Anglo in Mexico, many consider it an insult, though it’s common usage in New Mexico.)

It took a little while to actually find the river, we had to traverse the vendors first, but glimpses of it could be seen through the trees. I have seen many photos, but didn’t quite believe they hadn’t been photo-shopped. In truth, the water is turquoise, brilliant, clean, and rich. I didn’t mess with the color on the pictures I took, I only tweaked the clarity since so much vapor in the air made everything seem out of focus.

A truly beautiful spot on the earth.
The cascades are more numerous than they seem when inside the tourist trap. There are trails leading way up the hillside for larger and better views. Less steep and dramatic cascades can be found by walking downstream. It looked like a lot of fun to go play in the water but it was quite cold. I was surprised because it’s in a jungle and the air temperature was in the 90’s. The swimming area was roped off, and for good reason, the currents could easily sweep a person over the edge. But it didn’t stop some people from going out beyond the limits of the ropes. Fortunately, no one disappeared while we were there. I chose to torture myself by inching into the river. The bottom of the swimming area was rocky and it was tense going across it to the little island on the other side, especially with a camera I didn’t dare get wet. I got some great shots of the cascades from there, and was surprised to find it so desolate on the other side of the island.
Detail of the inside of a thatched roof.

A big helicopter flew overhead. Our waiter told us it was a Flight For Life copter but it circled around, came back later and landed several times. It was clearly a tourist gig and could probably be used in an emergency should something happen, though I feel certain they’d want to be paid up front somehow. I guess I should stop being amazed when people tell you what they think you want to hear, especially when they know the facts and could just as easily tell the truth. Not knowing and lying to keep from being embarrassed I can understand…..but to tell someone something entirely fabricated is just amazing to me. I catch people doing that all the time. I guess my Spanish is getting better. John, when needing directions, will often ask three or four people. If they all say the same thing, then he goes that way, but most people will give directions with a great deal of assurance even if they are clueless.

Impossibly turquoise water

I would imagine the view from above, in a helicopter is amazing, the dark green jungle bisected by turquoise water flowing over brown rocks. When we drove back, I could sometimes catch glimpses of the river from the road and it was still bright turquoise even miles downstream, like a little girl’s hair ribbon trailing down the back of her dress.