Maya ruins and white water

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November 19th 2018
Published: November 20th 2018
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Palenque to Aqua Azul

We have opted for a van tour today. In this humidity, we just don’t want the hassle of arranging things ourselves. We could easily have split these sites over two days and done it ourselves but then we would have been left hanging around for colectivos and having a 2km hike if we wanted to see the Misol-ha waterfall.

We have chosen to start early at 8am to avoid some of the heat. We are the only ones foolish enough to have chosen this option, so a smart private car appears to ferry us to the ruins. We will meet up with the rest of the group on the van later. The only problem with this arrangement is where to leave my rucksack - it is stuffed with swimming gear and I wasn’t planning on lugging it round the ruins! No problem, says our driver, I will give it to the van driver. We are slightly dubious but we give him the benefit of the doubt...but only after I have reminded him three times not to forget. :-)

Our driver shows us where we should meet the van later and then takes us up to the main gate of Palenque ruins. The moment we step out of the car, we are surrounded by vendors trying to sell their wares. Unfortunately for them we have everything we need.

We enter the archaeological site. It’s fairly overcast at the moment, which is a relief.

These Mayan structures were occupied between 100BC and 800AD, and served as a regional capital. The city fell into decline in the 10th century, and disappeared into the jungle thereafter.

We start at the plaza in front of the ‘Temple of the Inscriptions’ and the palace. Most of these buildings have been reconstructed from their ruins, while some have just had the jungle removed, and others are still in the jungle. The southern group comprises the ruined ‘Temple of the Dying Moon’, another temple and the ‘Temple of the Inscriptions’, all on one platform. We are allowed into the second temple - here we find a series of small alcoves connected by arched tunnels.

The ‘Temple of the Inscriptions’ is the tallest and most impressive structure at Palenque, and contains the tomb of the ruler Pakal - only discovered in 1952 - deep inside the pyramid and accessed only by a steep and narrow stairway. Like many other pyramids, you cannot climb to the top.

We decide to explore some of the minor structures in the jungle first - there are several tour groups milling around on the plaza and palace. The ‘Temple of the Jaguar’ is closed off, but we do walk and climb over several other structures in the atmospheric jungle.

We leave the jungle and enter a plaza set between several pyramid structures. The ‘Temple of the Cross’ has a striking roof comb and a long frontal stairway - the view from the top is worth the climb, but not so the interior carvings.

The ‘Temple of the Sun’ is one of the best preserved structures, set in a four level pyramid, and still features some stucco friezes. Next to this is another ruined temple which contains a well-preserved carving of the ruler, Ken Balam II.

The palace complex is set on its own 100m by 80m platform. Comprising a large number of rooms, the structure is the product of many of the rulers. Carvings and friezes still remain on many of the walls, and the central courtyard contains a number of relief carvings of city captives. From the centre of the palace rises a (now rather unstable looking) four tier observation tower.

We pass a ruined ball court and the ‘Temple of the Count’ - a structure named after an eccentric European nobleman who lived on the site for two years in the 1830s.

The last group of structures is the northern group - five temples sited on one platform, the only point of interest being a well-preserved carving of the god Tlaloc.

From here we descend a steep pathway through the jungle, passing a fairly unimpressive waterfall, further ruins and finally crossing a swing bridge to reach the lower exit. Our van is not due to collect us until noon and it’s only 10.30am! We make our way to the covered seating area which is our pick up point.

We could really manage some breakfast now but there is not a single vendor in sight! If only they would realise that they are far more likely to sell their drinks and munchies after a visit, whilst folk are hanging around waiting, than before?

We settle down to wait. We are outside the museum, but it’s closed today. Damn, I forgot that nothing is ever open on Mondays here! Colectivos are passing, honking their horns, but today we don’t need them.

Our van turns up at 12.20pm and it’s all very orderly. My rucksack is sitting on the front seat next to the driver and, apart from the back row (and one seat in the front - which someone is hogging with their daypack), every other seat is occupied. Just our luck. I ask the driver if we can sit in the very front next to him and it appears to be OK. I leave Ian with the good seat and take the jump seat in the middle - slinging our day packs behind us as a very unsubtle hint as to what I think about the rucksack occupying one of the better seats!

Ian is feeling unwell - probably this heat. He takes a migraine tablet and tries to sleep although it’s quite a rocky ride due to the bends in the road.

We arrive at Cascada de Misol-ha. This is a tall waterfall with a small path which takes you behind the falls. We have to take care as it’s extremely slippery - and we also get soaked in the process. Ian is not amused. :-)

It was only a short stop so now we are heading back to the van. Just time for a quick loo break. We nip into a restaurant. I am just about to wash my hands when eeek, the basin is full of huge cockroaches! We won’t be eating here then!

Ian is still not feeling great so I ask our driver if he can let Ian in and switch on the air con. He obliges.

Last stop of the day is Agua Azul - a huge waterfall complex with safe swimming holes - well, so they say! We arrive at 3pm. The falls are definitely impressive but there is no way that they are turquoise. I hear a guide telling one of his customers...yes, we don’t know what happened here...I think they were trying to clean it and it changed the colour of the water. I am more inclined to think that the brochures have undergone some clever photoshopping!

We climb as far as the mirador and then we stop for a freshly squeezed tangerine juice, followed by some yummy deep fried thingies. Very tasty and extremely unhealthy - but it’s 4pm and the first thing we have eaten today! The thingies have different, but somewhat frugal, fillings. No cheese, I say (Ian is still recovering from his mini-migraine). The fillings turn out to be beef, chicken, potato and beans.

It’s 4.30pm - not enough time for a swim although it actually does look OK in the designated area and there are people in the water. There is no sign of a changing room and the van leaves at 5pm so I have to content myself with a walk downstream. It’s slightly annoying as we were promised three hours here, but only given two. This is always the problem with organised tours, and why we normally try to manage without them - sigh, it looks like, for me, swimming holes in Mexico are just not to be!

It’s 5pm and time to go. There is some confusion as half of our number are bound for St Cristobal - they had better not be taking us back there! The driver confirms that we are all going where we think we should be going...we will be doing a van transfer later.

I leave Ian in the front and sit in the back with the lady with rucksack. I ask her nicely if I can share her seat and she is happy to move her daypack to let me in. I must admit, there is a huge pile of luggage in the doorway but I manage to scale over it to access the seat. :-) We have an interesting chat on the way - she has recently arrived here from Guatemala.

Now we have reached the transfer point and half of our number have alighted for their new van. We hang around for half an hour whilst everyone is allocated a place and our driver is happy that no one has been left stranded. It’s refreshing to see that they weren’t just dumped in the middle of nowhere to fend for themselves. And now I am bitterly regretting not taking this van transport from st Cristóbal myself as the ‘dangerous road’ does not appear to be any more dangerous than the one we ended up taking! And as for the dire warnings that we should not travel this road after was pitch black here over an hour ago! Granted, we have not seen the rest of the road, but what we have seen so far has been a sealed road with various potholes and speed nothing new there then. And as to bandit threats...we have seen nothing more sinister than a guy cycling up a hill with his shopping dangling from the handlebars! Ah, the beauty of hindsight.

We arrive back in Palenque around 7pm. The first drop sees four Mexicans off, leaving only us. Our driver circles the streets and it’s clear that he hasn’t a clue where our hotel is. I show him my phone with the map, but then we see the square, so tell him to drop us there so that we can grab dinner.

Now it’s back to the hotel for a shower and bed! We have no intention of doing anything tomorrow other than having a long lie in!

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21st November 2018

That looked and sounded great. You are intrepid!!hope Ian's migraine cleared up after his meal.. Jose

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