Thursday, July 4, 2013

Palenque....For the Third Time

Cascadas de la Reina, taken from the suspension bridge

Patty and I got stuck twice between Ocosingo and Palenque. We were supposed to be on the road with a day-tour for 5 hours. We should have spent an hour in Ocosingo for breakfast, and then another hour each in Agua Azul and Misol Ha. Just past Ocosingo there was a blockade, truck drivers were protesting....about what, I'm not sure. That delay was an hour, but it was close to the place the tour driver planned to stop for breakfast so we just walked past the giant trucks turned sideways in the road, to the restaurant. By the time we finished, our bus had gotten through and we went on our way. An hour later, right at the entrance to Agua Azul, there was another blockade. This time the protesters were indigenous people. Fernando, the driver, said it was the Zapatistas, though no one else used that word. I’ve learned it’s best not to say it at all, especially in English. People who overhear don’t know what else you might be saying, and the Z word is a trigger for all kinds of reactions.

The paper we were given by the protestors was written in English on one side, Spanish on the other. It claimed the federal government had taken their land and wouldn't give it back, that two of their leaders were in prison and another was dead, assassinated by the government. It just happens that the land in question is the land on which Agua Azul sits, one of the most popular attractions in Chiapas, and probably a big money maker, money that is currently collected by the government.

It was too hot to wait in the bus so we hiked down the road, took photos of the signs and the people who were protesting. A bus ahead of us was full of young Aussies who cranked up the radio and danced. One girl got on top of the bus with a beer and had way too much fun.

Our bus driver had given the passengers a vote about which attractions they wanted to see, or which they’d be OK missing. He said that, if necessary, they could see Agua Azul and Misol Ha on the way back, and that we needed to get to Palenque because the park closed at 5:00 sharp. No one knew how long it would take before the Zs let us go through. 

As it turned out, we sat around for less than an hour, then had an hour at Agua Azul and one at Misol Ha as planned. The time at Palenque was cut short by 45 minutes, still long enough for the passengers to see the main sections of the ruins. Anything the other people voted for was going to be fine with us, we were staying over and would explore Palenque in detail the next day.

Agua Azul was not azul at all, it was full of murky brown water that cascaded in white waves and sprayed clouds of fog. The weather was hot but not excruciatingly so. Misol Ha was much cooler because the sky was densely clouded and about to rain. We saw massive waterfalls with three times as much water thundering down than I’d ever seen before. We hiked behind them to the cave, out of which flows another river, and then returned to the bus just as the downpour came. The restaurant was open and I had plenty of time to eat a shrimp cocktail before we had to leave. I love Mexican shrimp cocktails. I ordered a medium size and it came in a tall glass, the kind that old fashioned ice cream floats used to come in. It was solidly packed with shrimp in a spicy tomato sauce with chunks of avocado, and packages of saltines. Oh my. And for only about $5.00 US.

Ruins in the 'residential' section 
Palenque was also cool after its heavy afternoon rain. The place was dripping wet, smelled like mildew, and was slippery when climbing around on the ruins. By 4pm it wasn't crowded and we could poke around through the royal palace at our leisure. With guides on the previous two visits, I had not looked in all the nooks and crannies. We never made it over to the Pyramid of the Sun area, but that was fine, it was just an introduction. Patty was amazed at what good shape the ruins were in and how many temples had been recovered and reconstructed. The whole park was lusciously green, with flowers in abundance.

I had booked a room at the Chablis Hotel again. For the money, it seems to be the best deal in Palenque. The pool water was a nice temperature. It isn't heated, but was much warmer than it was last February.  We swam a bit, drank a margarita, and then we had dinner next door at the Mayan restaurant that I had enjoyed so much on other trips.

The next day we slept in, had a late breakfast across the street, where a friendly little kitty came and sat on my lap. The more I petted him, the further out his tongue came! So cute! Patty was a bit upset with me letting him sit on my lap, she was sure he had fleas!

Around 11:00 we caught a collectivo out to the ruins and spent the day hiking about, climbing a few pyramids, and enjoying a light rain which ended just as we entered the dark jungle trail down past the now waterfull waterfalls. Until mid July, Palenque experiences light tourism. We were the only people on the trail most of the way down. At the entrance we were bombarded by guides wanting us to hire them, and kids, dressed in Lacondón tunics selling bows and arrows. The swinging suspension bridge was still-quiet since there were no people walking over it. I got my first in-focus photos of Las Cascadas de la Reina! Most of the signage in both the park and the museum is now in both English and Spanish, so we didn't really need a guide. I knew most of the back stories from having been to Palenque with guides twice before.

The museum also had a film that I missed last time, about Pakal's tomb. In the museum there was a replica of his tomb with a copy of the famous sarcophagus lid. The tomb replica at the Jade museum in San Cristobal is better as it is in full color, maybe too gaudy, but probably more of an authentic replica since his tomb was quite colorful in its day. The real tomb, deep inside the Temple of Inscriptions has been closed to the public for years. Too many feet and too many germs were destroying it. However, the museum's fake tomb, open to the air, was perhaps more authentic in smell than the one in the Jade Museum. It smelled like my great aunt's basement in Ohio, replete with the thick moldy smells of the jungle itself.

Cascadas de Agua Azul, full force water

Agua Azul

Misol Há

Watery walkway behind the falls at Misol Há

A different kind of staircase on one of the
pyramids at Palenque, it was one of the
first to be built in the complex.

Jungle mushrooms