Palenque and Mexican sombreros

The road from San Cristobal to Palenque is long and curvy. It feels as if there is no stretch of straight road for 6 hours which is tough on the stomach, especially when sitting in the back row of a 14 person minivan. We were picked up in front of our house at 6 am by the van driver while we were still half asleep. Once outside of San Cristobal area the scenery was impressive. The van was rolling down a meandering road that followed gently all the curves of the mountains covered by dense pine forests (remember, 2100 m). On one side we had the the forest and on the other side opened a deep valley with stunning views of rolling hills and rounded mountain peaks hiding in thick fog.

At 9 am we stopped in Ocosingo to eat breakfast. We were so sick from the curvy road that the last thing on our mind was food –  we would have to figure out how to keep breakfast in the stomach and not splash it around the van. Yeeew! We were all invited off the van and into a long line for a breakfast buffet. We omitted to ask if breakfast was included in the whopping $30 price of the trip – big mistake. We arrived to the clean plates piled up at the beginning of the buffet and were handed an orange piece of paper on which it was written 70 pesos…What??? My last night’s 3 course dinner was 40 pesos! What a rip-off. Too dumb from sleep and motion sickness we proceeded to the breakfast buffet bitching at the price. It was expensive but good.

Aguas Azules waterfalls

Two hours later we hit Aguas Azules waterfalls, which I have been admiring long before the trip on Google images. The bridal veil style cascades were in the middle of the tropical forest and looked picture perfect.

However Ana noted correctly that the waters of the Aguas Azules were brown and felt cheated. They were supposed to be sky-blue which gave them the name. Unfortunately we arrived after heavy rains which turned the famed blue waters into pretty ordinary brown. Still, the waterfalls were a pretty sight. I was bothered by the long row of souvenir kiosks along the river. Consumerism sneaking inside the nature reserve, along the sacred river of the Mayas. I looked one way and I saw pristine nature, waterfalls on a background of lush tropical forest, but when I turned my head in the opposite direction I saw this endless row of souvenir sellers. I made sure they did not show in the pictures.

Mislo-Ha waterfall

At the next stop we were allocated 30 minutes to see the Misol-Ha waterfall, a river jumping off an impressively high cliff into a green lake in the middle of the forest. People were bathing, and relaxing on that hot noon, but  we just had time to run, see, snap a photo, down a beer and go.

We finally reached the Palenque archaeological site around noon. We descended from San  Cristobal’s altitude in the beginning of the Yucatan planes. The driver unleashed us stiff passengers into the archaeological park and told us to meet him in 2 hours somewhere up there he pointed with his hand, just ask someone in the park and they will tell you.

The three of us ran through the park entrance and followed the stairs into the forest, intentionally leaving all other tourists behind. We emerged from the forest into a big open green space where imposing pyramid structures were shining almost white under the strong sun. It was beautiful.

Palenque

Despite the heat and humidity I was able to run up and down the pyramids marveling at their strength and trying to imagine how the city looked like when it was inhabited almost 2000 years  ago. Turns out not only the Romans and Greeks built great places and birthed a great civilization. The Mayas did too, here on the other side of the Ocean. Some of the carvings on the walls still bore the original colors, I could distinguish feather crowns and corn cobs. Supposedly Palenque took its toll from tourists – a few died slipping off pyramids or down royal tombs because of a moment of carelessness, driven by an urge to see more or snap a cool photo.  I climbed the main building where king Pakal and his government lived, up the temple of the Sun and temple of the Cross – named by Spaniards because of the cross-carvings on top of the temple. The crosses the conquistadores saw were actually the Maya representation of the tree of life.  I think I even saw the bas-relief in which Pakal is given the power by his mom when he reached adulthood (or  I like to believe it was that one, a custodian explained where to find it on the temple and how it looked like).  Bitching again about the short time we had allocated to explore this marvelous site, we proceeded towards  the food and souvenir kiosks  to grab a bite before we hopped on the van for 6 non stop hours of driving (our driver menaced us we would not stop at all). Ana and Agnieszka were able to down 4 tacos each, and I bought (and ate) half of a vendor’s oranges, as I was in the verge of a heatstroke and really dehydrated.

Six hours on the curvy roads again made us sick and sleepy. Two fellow passengers stayed in Palenque so we had more space to sleep (in various advanced yoga positions). Thanks to Agnieszka who could not hold her tacos anymore, we made a stop and we could all breathe a bit of fresh air.

By night we were in San Cristobal again.  Refreshed by the breezy temperature and re-energized, we headed for dinner – chiles rellenos (stuffed peppers with cheese), stuffed zucchini, soup, all with rice and beans and avocado and a big carafe of hibiscus juice.  We strolled up and down the 4 main pedestrian stretches around the Zocalo and ended up in a bar. A tourist bar, with pink walls, live band and Lakers game on a flat screen TV. We needed a wine so we went for a bottle from Baja California to stay somewhat local. Wine makes people relax and laugh. We started taking drinking pics with the huge Mexican flag covering half of a wall. The waiter – who I guess classified us as silly tipsy tourist chicks – appeared with 3 sombreros and politely put them on our heads and offered to snap a souvenir photo. Camera batteries died right at that moment, so we had to send a staff member to get new ones. In the meantime, sombreros on the head, wine in hand, we sang along the band – Lion Sleeps Tonight. We became the main attraction and laughing stock of the other (foreign) customers who started snapping photos of us. Who knows on whose blogs we are now…

At the end of the day, we had a blast and we returned to our blue-and-pink room happy and tired.

Viva Mexico!

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