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Published: October 22nd 2016
A short (ish) story - but not a short blog - on the Kindness of Strangers….part two… Las Guacamayas to Palenque, Mexico
$1US = approximately 13 Mexican Pesos
The alarm on my watch went off at 6:30 but the rooster outside my open window went off at 3, 4, 5, and 6 o’clock, and who only knows when else. This, of course, made for a fitful night’s sleep.
We were waiting at the “bus stand" at the crossroads outside the village of Las Guacamayas, willing to take public transport if something came along, but preferring to hitch a ride with a passing car or truck.
It was nearly 8:30 when a truck finally appeared. A people-mover-stand up-in-the-back kind of truck bound for Pico de Oro pulled up and stopped for all three of us waiting for a ride. The lady and her five kids who had been sitting in the back moved over to make space for us newbies. For the next 30 minutes, we headed rapidly down the pretty crappy stretch of road toward Pico de Oro. The driver asked for 20 Pesos each for the ride but Iliana knew better and
once we got to the town, gave him 10P for the both of us; thankfully, the driver was fine with that. I am glad to be traveling with a native Mexican who won't get twisted in a frenzy when someone tries to extort more money than the "going rate." No one messes with Iliana.
After we waited 10 minutes on the main road, a truck came by, slowed down and stopped in front of us, the driver saying in Spanish, “we’re not going far but if you want a ride, that’s fine.” We jumped in.
It took three pickup truck rides in total to get to Benemerito de las Americas, where the shortcut meets the main road again. One truck was driven by a man with a buddy in the passenger seat, the second one driven by a handsome man in his early 30s with two ladies sitting next to him in the front seat, and the last transport had two older men in the cab and two younger men in the back. On all three rides we sat in the bed of the trucks. I sat backwards and dangled my feet over the
edge in the bed of the first truck. The second truck was full of mud and animal poo, so not very nice for sitting but adequate to stand up in. The last one was a nice, red, large Ford 4x4. The last transport dropped us in the center of Benemerito, where we took a quick breather in the shade before moving on.
Soon we were walking the few blocks to the edge of town where eventually a nice Mexican family picked us up, this time in a silver truck. We hopped into the bed and they took us all the way to the crossroads to Frontera Corozal; we arrived in quick 35 minutes. This is the town where we hoped we could stay the night so we could catch a lancha (small boat) to Yaxchilan the following morning. We stood at the crossroads for 15 minutes debating what to do, while the taxi touts eyed us hungrily. Soon, along came a very full, very local camionetta (big truck where everyone stands in the back) that we hailed down. For 10P each we got a squishy ride all the way to this sleepy little
Our Makeshift Bed on the Floor
We stayed two nights in Frontera Corozal
town where we wanted to stay the night. Although the distance was short, it took 45 minutes to reach the town since the road was in deplorable condition, full of potholes and missing tarmac, ruts and loose gravel.
We got off the truck only three blocks from water’s edge, where the lanchas leave every morning. We started looking for a place to stay but were having no luck. A nice couple at a nearby tienda (small local shop) agreed to watch our bags, freeing us up to look around for a casa de compania, a house where we might be able to stay the night. We had no such luck, although we did come across a couple prospects. We saw a sign for a Posada Maya a block off the “main drag” and as we entered the abandoned grounds, a little girl walked by. She brought us back to a different tienda in town where two older kids inside were more interested in watching the TV than helping us find a room for the night. To say they were disinterested in us would be an understatement. The boy seemed to perk
up when we mentioned lancha
prices and gave us a 2011 price list to peruse. He proceeded to go over everything the rate sheet in front of us said, as if we couldn’t read it for ourselves. It was close to 5pm at this time and we had no place yet to stay but Iliana diligently listened to everything this boy was telling her. I think his prices were inflated for a much-anticipated commission.
We were told the lancha
takes 45 minutes to Yaxchilan and the same for the return. We’ll have two hours at the ruins and then we must return. Two hours, that’s it?
It was nearly 6pm when a lovely smiley family took us in. They offered us floor space in the back room in a separate concrete building, off the main house. We were ecstatic. There were two blankets for padding on the floor and a sheet to put over us; there were two open windows and it was plenty large for both of us. The cheapest Posada in town cost 150 Pesos so I was quite happy to have found a place that offered us something for free. The
family all spoke Ch’ol, a local tribal language, some of the kids spoke Spanish and one of the older pre-teen girls was learning English in school.
We asked our hosts if we could buy some fresh beans and cheese from them (we still had flour tortillas and tuna in a can to eat up) and they told us it wouldn’t be a problem, we’d just have to wait maybe 15 minutes for the beans to finish cooking. It turns out they had a pretty large tienda, so we bought a few snack items from them, happy to repay the kindness they had already bestowed on us.
The family called us when the beans were ready, and, in addition to the legumes, threw in two avocados. They said they wouldn’t take payment for the beans, nor the room and absolutely flat out refused when we offered to – at the very least – wash our own dirty plates. When we finished our meal, one of the younger girls collected them, placed them in a bucket and disappeared, insisting she’d take care of the washing up. This was one of the happiest and proudest families I
have met in a long time, one that truly enjoys doing things for others, expecting and wanting nothing in return.
After eating, two of the girls from the household walked us over to the centro, about six blocks away. We walked through the small market where we stopped at a blended fruit drink shop run by a nice young man named Reuben. He speaks the local Ch’ol, Spanish and some English, which he said he learned in school. Reuben was all smiles and full of information and excited to practice his English. He had posters on the wall of Yaxchilán, a mysterious, ominous, spooky and not-oft visited ancient Mayan city tucked deep into the jungle off the fast flowing, mighty Usumacinta River, on the very border with the top northwest part of Guatemala. We would visit the next day and after seeing the poster I couldn‘t wait to go.
After waking at 7am, our host, who also runs the tienda, gave us coffees and two quesadillas halves each. The kids took a genuine interest in us, curious but not intimidating, and the parents were overjoyed and quite proud to have
a foreigner and a “city girl” staying in their home.
On the early morning lancha ride to Yaxchilán, I saw crocodiles, a blue kingfisher and five howler monkeys. We spent over three hours at the ruins with hardly another soul around, clambering about on the slippery stone structures, popping in and out of buildings from another lifetime, standing in awe in front of the imposing edifices. Leaves, grasses, moss and roots grew between the slippery rocks. Many of the crumbling stone ruins looked as if the jungle would swallow them up at any moment, and no doubt many already had been. The howler monkeys were alive in the trees above and the birds’ melodies could be heard all morning long. This is certainly one of the most remote and least commercialized of the ancient Mayan cities that has been discovered deep in the jungles of Mexico.
Yaxchilán was a jewel. Taken over by vines and trees, ferns and flowers, howler monkeys, birds and butterflies, everything living in the jungle seemed to engulf the old, moss-covered ruins. I felt so isolated, so alone, so stepped back in time and I loved every minute
Late in the day, when we finally got back to the house, we grabbed our bags and started to say our goodbyes to the gracious, kind family that had hosted us the night before, when they surprised us with a bag of five avocados from their tree. They then insisted we stay and have a refreshing drink and before we knew it, we were all taking photographs to preserve the memories and the goodbyes became long-winded. We never ended up leaving.
The family insisted we stay another night. I feared we were putting them out and that we might be too much of an inconvenience to them but they assured us this was definitely not the case. I'm sure us coming suddenly into their simple lives hadn't been easy for them, even though we weren't demanding and didn’t ask for anything. They assured us they were glad to have us there.
Iliana and I sat on a bench overlooking the river at sunset, listening and marveling at the howlers in the jungle on the Guatemalan side of the river. These monkeys sure can project their voices.
The kids were excited we were staying another night. I played with the young ones, who instantly warmed up to me, smiling, laughing and catching on quickly while playing children’s games, despite the lack of a common language. It was quite funny playing with the little rascals. Later, I was just settling in to rest a bit when one of the kids asked me, “Quieres café?” Would you like some coffee? Earlier, this same young gal had offered me an apple, and when I had finished, a tiny, shy, sweet voice asked, “Un Otro?” She then procured a second apple for me to eat. I tried to turn her down but she insisted, so I took it and stashed it for another time.
“Café” turned out to be an almost 2 ½ hour affair in the main house (we were staying on the floor of a second building on the property, most likely where the boys normally sleep) where much of the household – and quite possibly some extended family as well – had gathered. It was nice at least to say thank you again and get some time to spend
with the family one last time. We were each served bread, coffee, a chips bag and a chair on which to sit. I found out grandma had had 11 kids, mostly daughters.
9/15/12, Happy Independence Day, Mexico!
Surprisingly I slept pretty well, despite laying on the hard floor again. I woke early and by 7:01 we were leaving the house; the father, the mother, one of the young sons and the cute little baby smiled and waved goodbye to us through the open window. After a 15-minute walk to the main road out of town, we got a ride to the crossroads in a large truck, standing in the back and struggling for a good foothold as we rattled down the uneven surface. While the early morning fog lifted above the jungle trees surrounding us, the truck, for a good 15 KM, navigated over and through the large potholed stretch of road. As the morning breeze cooled my face, the bugs gathering in my teeth, I smiled through and through. We are off to another grand start.
No sooner had we said our goodbyes and hopped off the tuck, set our
bags on the ground, another truck appeared offering us a lift towards Bonampak. It was a quick trip. This time we sat on the floor of the truck’s bed cause the driver was apparently in some sort of mad-dash rush to get to Palenque and sped crazily down the good stretch of road, but it was just too fast for us to be standing up. Besides, there were lots of low dangling tree branches over the road and we might have gotten whacked in the face a good few times – not so pleasant at 110KM/hour! We were dropped at the crossroads a few minutes after 8:00. Bonampak, the ancient Mayan archeological site, was now only about 12KM away. We were in Crucero San Javier (so small of a hamlet if a family left for the day to work the nearby fields this would greatly reduce the size of the population), and could almost admire the colorful murals these ruins were known for. We dropped our bags on the far side of the road, where we were able to see easily in both directions, should any vehicle decide to pass our way heading towards the park. We waited and waited
I May Look Rather Dumb, but...
...at least the wind in the back of this pickup didn't muss up my hair on the two hour journey to Palenque
and waited and finally at 10 AM Iliana went to ask a boy at a nearby shop about buying some hot water from his mom (so we could finally eat our breakfast). When he came back with an okay from his mother, we picked up our bags and headed to his house a few buildings away. A few minutes later, we were in the backyard of the boy’s mother’s house eating at a wooden table our morning oatmeal and using up more coffee sachets with the freshly boiled water. One hour later we left our “brekkie spot” after paying the lady 5 Pesos for the water.
Within the first half hour we had a couple of offers of 100-Peso rides to Bonampak, which was only 12 km away from where we are desperately waiting. Iliana managed to get one taxi driver down to 80 pesos each; the problem not being the money so much as the principle. The taxi drivers were asking 100 pesos per person, not per ride, which didn’t make any sense at all.
A few collectivos stopped and offered us rides to Palenque (a good two or
My Bed in our 100-Peso Room
(and curtain for the bathroom on the far left)
two and half hours further up the road) for 60 pesos each.
This was by far the longest we had waited for a ride. It was shortly after 1PM, desperate and at the end of our wits in terms of patience and optimism, we accepted a ride in the back of a truck heading to Palenque, giving up on the idea to see Bonampak and the colorful murals. The extended sides on the back of the truck weren’t high so we couldn’t stand, the tailgate was missing, but thankfully we were able to sit. There were three guys in the front cab and three in the back bed. The guys in the back moved to accommodate us, making room so I could sit on a toolbox and Iliana on a gas tank. They were going all the way to Palenque and told us we could have a ride to our final destination. We shared our popcorn with the guys in the back and in turn they shared their Coca-Cola (I don’t drink soft drinks so didn’t have any). This was one fast driver so we got to our destination before we knew it.
with its bustling Centro (center of town), English-speaking tourists and tour offices sprang to life before my very eyes, a bit of a shock after having seen nothing but nature and small villages for the past week in the southern Mexican jungle. We found Posada Bonampak, and settled in for a couple nights at the bargained-down rate of 100 pesos for the en suite room, complete with two single beds.
We checked in, tried unsuccessfully to open the stubborn door lock and finally had to call up the lazy guy from the front desk in the lobby to see if he could open it. He with the purple painted fingernails and body too large for his britches eventually came up and also struggled, although he eventually got the door open. There were two beds, a fan, a desk, chair, and a dirty bathroom – perfect! We also got a working overhead light and a large window looking out over the rooftops of our neighbors. We rested ever so briefly, from the drippy faucet splashed cold water onto our red, hot faces, and then took off to find food. We found a rotisserie chicken place and
got a half plate of chicken with a small amount of bad rice and hot runny and yummy refried beans for 28 pesos in total. We ate with gusto on a nearby sidewalk bench, glad to be back in the land of the living once again, with food options and food stalls galore.
After our meager but tasty meal, we walked around, making a large loop around the Mayan Head statue on the main thoroughfare through town and back along the main drag.
The next day we took off for the nearby cascadas called Misol-Ha. We caught a collectivo bound for Ocosingo and got off at the crossroads with the waterfall, fewer than 20 minutes away from Palenque.
We walked from the crossroads to the entrance of Misol-Ha, having first to pass a ramshackle wooden shack where three guys were standing inside “manning it.” One man collected 10P from every passing person, in a car or walking (like us – we were the only ones walking), one man distributed the tickets and one pulled a rope across the road to stop the vehicles (as well as us, the foot traffic). Does
it really take three to do this job? Perhaps. I guess this must be the famous “Zapatista toll” I have heard much about in the blogs I have read on this area. The cost was low but everyone must pay to pass. We soon got to the official entrance where we had to pay an additional 15P entrance fee to hang out at the waterfall area, and an inviting swimming lagoon below the falls.
It was a hot afternoon, a lovely, peaceful walk in to the park and the cascades quite beautiful, although admittedly not the most spectacular waterfall I have seen. After walking up to a cave entrance and cooling off by soaking my feet in the refreshing waters, I went back down and slithered ungracefully into the water off one of the massive boulders lining the shore.
We walked the 1.5 kilometers from the cascades back to the crossroads and moments later a car came from the park, heading towards Palenque. The couple in the compact car were in their late 20’s, from Campeche and planning on driving all the way back home that night. They dropped us just past the Maya
Head statue and we walked along a tree-lined, flower-filled cobbled street so different from the others in this town. We then walked back to our dumpy but cheap posada, changed, and then headed into town for food.
I was up at 6:30 the next morning and out the door a few minutes before 7. I caught a collectivo with ease and for 10P the driver took me all the way up to the park entrance, zipping past the closed park entrance gate, saving me the 25P park fee before having to pay the 57P site fee. The park officially opens at 7:30 and we must have driven by about 7:10.
I was surprised to find I was the first person there, other than vendors setting up and employees milling about. I sat for 20 minutes in front of the closed ticket counter before anyone else showed up, and even then, they turned out to be employees ready for their morning check-in. The window opened at 8:03 and I was the number one person to buy a ticket and enter the park that day. I pretty much had the park to myself for a good
I explored a “real” ruin behind the Templo-Cruzes, one that hadn’t been altered in any way, and one that was still in the thick of the overgrown jungle. There were mossy, slippery rocks with jungle growing all around the ruins and not a soul or voice around save for a few howler monkeys chatting up the morning.
I continued on through to the Grupo Norte, climbing up and down the structures and then sat in the back of one of the buildings affording a nice view of the flat lands to the north. I sat in the shade, in peace, and for the most part, with no one else around.
I left my comfortable spot and rejoined the small groups of people now more in evidence on the temple grounds. I headed towards the exit the back way, intending to check out some of the ruins not as popular as the main ones.
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