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Published: March 3rd 2018
When we left Cholula it was a bit of a mystery tour for us. Our destination choice was either Oaxaca (Colonial city and maybe buy a rug,) Veracruz, seaside stop, which sounded attractive for Christmas, or Palenque, jungle ruins and waterfalls. We couldn’t decide. We drove past the turning to Oaxaca, we would visit on the return trip, considered the seaside then realised our overnight stop was (literally) about a hundred yards past the last exit to it, that made the decision for us. It was to be Christmas in the jungle area of Palenque.
When we were at Arturo’s we met Yann, a French(ish) guy who lived and worked in Switzerland for twenty years then thought, enough of the corporate world and decided to change his life. He is taking about four years to travel all of the Americas before choosing where he might settle. This was his second career change, he already had a previous life as a cocktail barman. (V useful) Yann had stayed a few days at Arturo’s whilst getting his tope damaged van mended before heading off to the coast. Graeme had messaged Yann and discovered he was also heading to Palenque and
was literally only a few miles ahead of us, staying overnight in another Pemex.
The information for the campground where we wanted to stay said it would be unsuitable for larger vehicles over 25 feet. Yann said he would check out the situation and message us. Result, it was pretty empty, and we would fit. The next day several weeks after we had waved him off from San Juan, not expecting our paths to cross again Yann was standing in the road to wave us in to the Maya Bell Campground.
It was a lovely place, set in lush jungle just five minutes’ walk from the ruins, had a small pool, and a restaurant which did cocktails.... sometimes (but if not, we had Yann). As we had been here before we knew it was home to the Howler Monkeys, so we were looking forward to seeing / hearing them. That didn’t take long, that first night when lying in bed we listened to them “howling” outside. Actually though, they sound like a roar or really bad cough.....a bit like Darth Vader.
We had been to Palenque twice before & had always
wanted to return. It is not just the ruins we loved, although they are wonderful, but the jungle environment they are situated in. Also many years ago I had read an article in a National Geographic magazine about Bonampak, a small remote ruin famous for the coloured frescos inside one temple. Until recently you could only get there by light aircraft or take a long trek through dense, hot, buggy, muddy, jungle. Now there was a road, which we planned to use. Researching the trips on offer we realised that now you could also visit the ruins of Yaxchilan. These are situated right on the Guatemalan border and can only be reached by boat, so we factored that one in as well.
We were chatting with Yann and asked him if he was going to Bonampak, he hadn’t heard of it so decided to do a bit of research to see if he fancied it, It turned out he did and the next day we set off in his van, a robust 4x4 camper and a somewhat smaller vehicle than ours.
It said the drive should take about two hours. The scenery was beautiful
but the pot holes and topes evil and we stopped for breakfast, so as always it took much longer.
Yaxchilan was our first stop. These ruins are set in the jungle overlooking a horseshoe loop in the Rio Usumacinta, which enabled the city to control all the river trade in the area.
Under the leadership of the “Jaguar” dynasty it peaked in power between 681 & 800 AD, then declined rapidly and was abandoned in about 810AD. Left behind were many ornamental facades and carved stone lintels displaying ceremonial scenes and inscriptions. Many years later these provided Archaeologists with more information about the Jaguar dynasty than almost any other ruling Mayan group.
We floated up the Rio Usumacinta to reach the ruins. The river is the border between Mexico and Guatemala, there is no wall here, and in fact other than the river there was no barrier at all. We asked our Guide if there was a problem with that, No he replied we are not at war we don’t need guards. We pondered on that remark as we floated along.
The first indication we had arrived was
the sight of a building high above the riverbank. They certainly did have a commanding view. Pulling up on the shore, we disembarked, climbed the steps, walked along a jungle lined path and, a mere 1200 years later than its first inhabitants, entered the site of the ruins.
To some degree, unless you are an avid student of Mayan history and archaeology you can only retain so much information about all these ruins. After a while all the different dynasties and tribes’ names become a bit of a Scrabble blur. But for me, well I never get fed up visiting them. The achievement of building these structures in such adverse conditions, the detailed carvings and the mathematical and astronomical guided precision mind boggling (well, I do have quite a small mind!) and, considering how war-mongering they were, you get a powerful sense of awe, stillness and peace at the sites, particularly those set in the jungle and particularly when you are the only people there.
Having wandered around really enjoying this site it was time to retrace our track through the jungle paths, board the boat and float back along the river. We moved
on to overnight at Lacanja Chansayab, the village at the gateway to Bonampak, so we could get an early start.
Bonampak is deep in the Lacandon Jungle. This jungle covers just 0.25% of Mexico but contains 4300 (17%) of its plant species, 450 (42%) of butterflies, at least 340 (32%) of bird, & 136 (30%) of the mammals in all of Mexico. It is a hugely important ecological area but sadly is being diminished by ranchers, loggers, oil prospectors and farmers. A large part of this land has been deeded by the Mexican government to a small number of Lacandon families to protect and preserve, including the part where Bonampak is situated.
For years Bonampak was only known to the local people. Then in 1946 a local showed the ruins to two Americans one being a John Bourne, heir to Singer sewing machines, and later to a photographer named Giles Healy who took the first pictures of the now famous murals. In fact the name Bonampak means “Painted walls” in Mayan.
Typically, having existed undisturbed for so many years, it was not long before tourists managed to destroy the very thing
Yann, van and man.
Thanks for the trip Yann
they had gone to see. Someone had the smart idea to throw kerosene over the murals to make them brighter. Not altogether surprisingly this action was not successful, in fact it sort of melted them and the damage was done. So these frescos that had survived years of jungle humidity and mould now had to be restored.
When you have wanted to see something for so long it often can only disappoint. I was prepared. The truck drive to the site was quite exciting though and we were the first visitors to arrive, which made it special enough. We wandered around climbing over the ruins ( don’t you just love Mexico, where else could you do that) peering at the structures, admiring the carved stelae, taking in the atmosphere but eventually I couldn’t wait any longer and went off to look at the Temple of Murals.
These coloured murals rather destroy the myth that the Mayans were generally peaceful people, as they show many scenes of violent killing, torture and conflict. In total there are 281 human figures depicted and a considerable amount of them have unattached heads. Was I disappointed? ....... Well no,
they are amazing but they actually do look just like the pictures in National Geographic. So if you don’t fancy the journey just take a look at them in that.
It was a wonderful trip & we had been so lucky to enjoy both of the ruins in almost total solitude and peace. I did manage to lose my (cheap) sunglasses there, so perhaps in a few thousand years people may find them and wonder how a society so advanced in mathematics and structure was so primitive in eyewear design
As we headed back we took a short detour to visit the Cascades’ de las Golondrinas. Here, two rivers converge to create five aqua blue foaming waterfalls and you can bathe in the pools formed at the base. Golondrinas is remote and again we were the only ones there. After a great mini break we bounced back over all the topes (Yann was sure they had increased) to return to Palenque to enjoy a well earned drink. A couple of days later we waved Yann off on his onward journey. It is the people you meet on a trip like this that is so
interesting. A day later we met a couple, Sarah and Andy from the Peak district and got chatting. They are cycling from Alaska to Tierra de Fuego in Chile and expect to complete the trip in about 18 months! We glanced at our Rig and felt humbled by their journey. We now follow their blog and send messages of encouragement from the comfort of our home!
The travellers at the site usually come and go within a couple of days but we realised there was a core of longer term residents here, mostly up in the hammock and tenting area. It appeared some were exchanging work skills for staying here. It was like a more bizarre “Marigold hotel where the guests gradually take over the place. We decided at one point we were probably the only ones paying to stay there.
There was the French woman, walking around with her clip board and paper always “just about to translate the menu for Christmas” eve, It took her days ............. even I would have managed in about five minutes. (I might not speak much Spanish but I can do food.) Rather oddly when it did
appear the choices were exactly the same things as on the usual menu that we had all been reading in Spanish with no trouble all along.
Then there was our neighbour, perhaps hiding from many things but definitely avoiding the chem trails, of which there are apparently less in Mexico than the States. One thing he wasn’t avoiding though was his keen interest in the wild mushrooms growing around here. Then suddenly, he appeared in the kitchen as a pizza cook, (could be interesting). Apparently they built him his own bit of the kitchen in which to create these pizzas. I felt there was a slight flaw in the plan as Pizza was not mentioned on the menu or promoted in anyway, so no one knew they were available. Or perhaps this was the plan as when I enquired how it was going he replied in a stressed manner , “there is so much to think about, so many steps involved, I need to perfect the dough”.... uhmm.
Then we met the South African women, sleeping outside in a hammock but always immaculately dressed (just how did she do that, look immaculate I mean)
now selling jewellery on site. This one obviously worked all round. Each time I saw her she was reinvesting any profit straight behind the bar enjoying several margaritas.
They say Palenque is a magical place, it certainly has some sort of magnetic pull. I began to wonder if I could have a future here, there must be some skill I could barter with.
Time to move on, As we were entering the Yucatan we passed the police check, they appeared to be ignoring us so as we went by I said “We are through”, then “oh perhaps not” as we were, (here we go,) waved down by the Police. It’s the Federales (State) Police I rather pointlessly commented to Graeme. He didn’t really need this bit of information as it was written in bold letters all over their cars. We pulled over curious to see what they wanted. The policeman didn’t approach the driver’s window but walked around to the door side. I opened it to be greeted by a smiling officer. You have a lovely Casa Rodante he said, we smiled and thanked him. He waved his phone “foto” he said, we looked
Sarah and Andy in Palenque
Cycling from Alaska to Tierra de Fuego in 18 months.
at each other, oh yes come in, “no” he replied foto of seat belts for The Campeche Police Face Book page. Amused and bemused we smiled and said of course, he walked in front of the bus, took pictures and then cheerfully waved us on. Only as we drove off we realised we should have taken some pictures as well. We searched FB but haven’t found us yet.
As we have travelled around Mexico there has been a distinct lack of travellers from the US. The people we have seen have been mostly Europeans, most heading further south & Canadians heading for the coast. This lack of tourism is having an effect on the Camping Parks, many becoming rather run down, or if in a prime location, sold for development. We heard that the one in Merida was still there but possibly not for much longer.
Well, it was still there but looked much neglected and on either side huge Malls were either being or already built.
We pulled in to look for a space. Well, you would think that bit was easy, we had plenty of spaces to choose from
but it wasn’t .When we checked for the services either the taps didn’t work or have the right fittings, the space wasn’t right or the electric was, take your pick either off, live, no earth, reverse polarity, too high voltage, too low voltage, all in all......not good!
As Graeme wandered around checking them all out I looked across at the Mall and spotted an H&M sign, my interest was suddenly diverted. My wardrobe is pretty shabby now, trousers that started up long have become cropped, then long shorts and now shorter shorts (only to be worn at home). T shirts have been washed so much I have created faded on faded trend. You might think it is easy to buy more but no, it isn’t. We are never in the right place at the right time and also I just want plain, simple, cotton, not frilly, lacy, and bejewelled or camouflage design stuff for a small(ish) short person. The last time I purchased anything was at an H&M in New Orleans, so I was hopeful.
It was 28 C and a sunny day, so, off I pottered full of anticipation. I had forgotten that
for Mexicans it was winter. The store was full of winter apparel, a huge choice of coats, boots, woolly hats or nice shiny, flowery or frilly Christmas dresses. I walked past the ice rink!! to check out the other stores, it was the same, how cruel. Not to be deterred, and after several attempts of looking around, I eventfully found a few sale racks to rummage through, gleefully I pulled out some cotton trousers, OK, they were a bit patterned and rather long (odd, Mexicans are not tall) but nothing a pair of scissors couldn’t correct. Always ready to compromise, a purchase was made.
Merida was nice but all a bit overwhelming and busy. New Year is probably not the best time to sightsee. We stayed a couple of days before heading off. We were passing the turning to the area where the asteroid that impacted the earth and wiped out the dinosaurs hit. Apparently it is marked by a small sign. We did consider driving to see it but then thought as it was only 17km away and the meteorite was big enough to wipe out the dinosaurs, we could probably safely say were already in
the impact zone. We carried straight on.
We headed toward the Yucatan peninsula. About 65,000,000 years ago this peninsula was covered by an ocean, under which formed one of the world’s largest reefs and limestone platforms. When the sea levels dropped they were exposed to the elements. Over time, as rain passed through the limestone surface it carved underground tunnel systems & huge caves now filled with beautiful rock formations, stalactites’ and stalagmites. Eventually, in some, the cave roof collapsed exposing the water in the caverns to the surface. These formations are known as Cenotes. There are hundreds of them in the area, some have a small hole in the roof letting in light, some, the roof has collapsed completely opening them up to the sky. Some are ground level and others deep below the surface. Some have been commercialised, but most are in remote areas. All offer a unique experience for swimmers, snorkelers and divers. We aimed to visit a few.
We followed instructions and arrived at Cenote Suyutan, just outside Valladolid to find a lovely peaceful, empty site with a pool, cabanas, and their very own two Cenotes. Staying here meant you
could visit early or late in the day and enjoy the place in solitude. They offered us electricity & a water hook-up, but as we had a full tank of water & the electrical outlet was a 15amp socket nailed to a tree with dodgy wiring, we opted to pay less & run the much more reliable onboard generator instead.
Early one morning we were enjoying this peace and solitude and gazing at the beauty of the cave when a couple of guys bounded down the stairs, one wearing the tiniest pair of trunks you could imagine. He rushed to the centre circle to pose for photos, many photos, in many poses. Encouraged by his companion/ friend/partner (take your pick) he twirled and posed some more, arms raised skywards, glancing backwards, kneeling, enigmatic pose, action pose...... you get the picture. Then his C/F/P said dive in, dive in. “I can’t” he replied I have my phone in my trunks! Really, where? Now I was fascinated, possibly more by what type of phone he had. It certainly couldn’t be an Iphone +, the trunks weren’t that big.
We checked out several other Cenotes. One was
a huge open beautiful blue/ green pool with jungle vines hanging all around. Using these you could (well not me, obviously) do a Tarzan like swing into the water below, one was cave like with a hole in the roof filtering in the sunlight, one was partially open, all were different and all quite beautiful.
From here we headed to the Caribbean coast of Mexico. At one end is Cancun, and Playa del Carmon. We were here many years ago, knew it had really developed since then so decided to give it a miss. We headed to Tulum, where you can visit the only Mayan ruins on the coast.
On the way we stopped at Paa Muul, a campsite we had stayed at 12 years ago, which had now become taken over by permanent structures, leaving only a few RV sites squeezed in between those buildings. It has also become ridiculously expensive for what it is. In spite of this it has a beautiful location on the Caribbean Sea.....so we rested a few days.
Again we had passed Tulum before about 20 years ago or more, when there were literally a
few small buildings surrounding the ruins which stood on the cliff edge overlooking a beautiful empty coastline. Twelve years ago it had a bit of a Hippy vibe going on but still had not changed that much. Now............. well, let’s say it tops, no actually it is possibly the only place on our “don’t visit there again” list.
The coastline has been developed by trendy coast hogging boutique eco hotels, offering American menus at American prices, or even worse Mexican menus at American prices. Also, isn’t if funny how many of these eco hotels offer drinks with a plastic straw.. Some were putting on (eco?) Raves on the beach at a mere at $150 a head!! In addition these Hotels made it very difficult to gain access to the beach. About 2 km inland a town has developed along the main road. The streets have been named after constellations, stars and planets which sound delightful...... It isn’t. As you can tell not our favourite place Still, in this life when your home has wheels you just move on which we planned to do.
However things are always interesting and we ended up staying for
a few days. There are few camp sites in this area, but we had read on IOverlander, (a travellers App) that you could stay in the Chedraui supermarket car park. Why not we thought we stay in Walmart, so headed that way. We pulled in to see lots of smaller campers and trucks already there, found a spot and set up. Cero, from Argentina immediately came over to chat to us, followed by many of the other travellers. It was really interesting, all were doing different things and had different plans. We met Kieran, an English guy and Marilena, his Italian girlfriend. They had met in New Zealand. Martin, a French Canadian and Mariola from Guadalajara. They were “just married” and their van suitably decorated. There was a Basque and Haitian couple, Martin & Luli Argentineans’ heading south, and other Argentineans heading north, several French families and more, it was an international fluid population, each night we waited to see who might pull in next. Or in one case, who arrived our last morning, it was Yann.
Many people did seem to like the place so we wandered around to see if we were missing something. The
best thing we could say was, for us staying in the supermarket car park which was quiet and had nice restaurants and coffee shops opposite and a friendly camping population was the best place we found.
We headed to Mahahual. To reach this coastline you drive down a 41 mile (66km) straight road with nothing in between the beginning and end. This place was a remote empty beach until it was decided a few years ago that somewhere was required for the cruise ships to stop. So as Cruise ships = money, Hey Presto = Mahahual, a totally made up coastal town. It is a perfect place to swim and snorkel as the beach, protected by the reef offers shallow, warm Caribbean water, which we hoped to enjoy, but the weather turned stormy and was set in for a while. We were sitting there watching the waves when we got a text from Marilena saying “We are at Bacalar, it not raining here”. We packed up and set off to meet them.
Bacalar is home to the Laguna de los Siete Colores. It looks like the ocean but is
a fresh water lake. It is about 27 miles long and only 1.5 miles at its widest.The lake is renowned for its striking seven colours of blue, crystal clear, warm, mostly shallow waters. It is fed by three underground centoes. At those points it is not as shallow as they are possibly over 100 mtrs deep. The lake is perfect for Kayaking and swimming.
There was no campsite for us here. We met with Kieran and Marilena outside the cafe, looked around a bit and decided the best place to park was exactly where we were. We were having coffee when Martin who we met in Tulum came over to say Hi, they were also staying here for a few days, and between us we created our own perfectly placed campsite. Coffee shop opposite, W FI , best Taco stall 2 minutes away, a beautiful view, Kayaking, a nearby Cenote, and all next to the historic Fort and Zocalo. The police waved as they passed by, what more could you want. Oh, I forgot to mention great company, we had that too. Actually whilst we were here we didn’t even have to think. Each morning Martin greeted
us with a plan for the day and we were happy to follow. It happened to be my birthday, so we went to the Cenote Azul, had the best shrimp Tacos for lunch, afternoon on a boat trip and Martin cooked Pozole supper for us all. A perfect day to celebrate the beginning of my new decade.
A few days later it was time for us all to go our separate ways. Kieran and Marilena were going to the border to sell their car before flying back to the UK (in January??) Martin and Luli were heading to Belize & Guatemala on their way to South America. We had been inspired by our fellow travellers and would have loved to have been heading further south but our Motor home is not the vehicle to do that in, so we headed towards Chetamul, the last Mexican town before Belize.
When we were last here we met and stayed with Kathe and Colleen whom we wrote about in our last 05/06 blogs. They were building a retreat here, Sadly, Colleen died and Kathe had recently sold the place. We planned to stay for just a few
Marilena on swing
In case he reads this, I have to admit this is Kieron's picture.
days, whilst we decided if we would go on a trip to the Belizean Island of Ambergris Caye, as a birthday treat. The weather forecast was for storms, so we waited, the storms didn’t arrive. We spent a couple more days tackling the tiny ants that had found the honey in the larder. We watched the weather, the sea, the Pelicans, (so ungainly) killed more ants, watched more weather. We met up with Kieran and Marilena who had now sold the car and were on their way to fly home to start their next adventure of converting a van to continue on their travels. The campsite was empty, we had a pool, beautiful tranquil view, a gardener, WI FI, a restaurant next door, an empanada cafe down the road, just about everything really and before we knew it nine days of chilling had drifted by. Then, motivated by Yanns' pictures on FB of Caye Caulker we made the effort, left the ant free RV and set off to catch the boat to Ambergris Caye.
Ambergris is just a 1.5 hr boat trip away, geographically the top end of the island almost touches Mahahual, where we were earlier,
it is surrounded by the same Caribbean ocean as the one we had just spent days gazing at, we wondered just how different it would be?
We disembarked in San Pedro to be greeted by a laid back Caribbean vibe, bright pastel coloured wooden shacks and buildings lined the street, Reggae music playing in the background, Golf carts, the main form of transport here, were zipping around. (Actually it was a bit like rush hour on the M25 they were everywhere). We walked towards the Hotel taking it all in. I checked out some of the menus, and had to look again. I couldn’t believe it. They offered fresh fish, varied, Caribbean fusion food, salads, and more ........ Choices, so many choices, we hadn’t had that for a long time. It was so exciting, it was worth the trip for this alone.
We settled in and set off to see what was around. The first discovery was the hotel had a great Sushi Restaurant. The second was that they offered snorkel trips to the Reef, so we booked it. I am not sure why I repeatedly book boat trips, as although I like being
in a boat, I can’t really swim and am quite scared of the water, but for some reason I always think it will be better next time. What’s that called when you never learn from your mistakes, Optimism or stupidity?
Well this time the optimist won. The Guide, obviously noting the horror on my face as he told us about the hour + long snorkel safari and explained how to watch for the currents reassured me and said it would be fine. He gave me a float jacket and said he would attach me to a ring and pull me along. Still uncertain but never wanting to miss out, I heard but didn’t listen to, the little voice of sensible reasoning in my head shouting NO! I launched myself over the edge, grabbed the ring rope with a grasp no one would ever be able to break free and bobbed about a bit. I thought he was taking me for a trial “tow” when I realised we had joined the group and were heading towards the reef.
Known as the Mesoamerica barrier reef it is 620 miles long and runs from the tip of
the Yucatan, past Belize, Guatemala and Honduras ending at Nicaragua. It is the second largest reef in the world.
In this area the coral is healthy and close to the surface. It is populated with many different types of fish, shark and sea creatures. I couldn’t believe the coloured Corals of many different types, the darting shoals of fish, the larger, more curious fish that come and look at you, the huge eels slinking in and out of the coral caves, and best of all the stingrays flying by you, it was fascinating and fantastic. It was just like a Disney movie! The time flew by. When we stopped for snorkel 2 at Shark Alley I couldn’t wait. “Where’s the ring” I asked, the Guide just threw it over the side but didn’t make a move to enter the water. I looked at him then looked over the edge. I quickly realised you didn’t have to go far from the boat to see the sharks because they came to see you, they were everywhere.
I had (pardon the pun) a whale of a time. It was another first (and probably a last) for me.
I feel it’s always good to challenge yourself at least once each decade and that’s mine over.
As for the sushi menu, well, it was so good we had to have it twice. The restaurant was nothing fancy but supposedly the chef had worked at Nobu. We don’t know if that was true or not and didn’t care because it was some of the best sushi we have ever had and considerably cheaper than Nobu.
We took another boat trip across to the next Island of Caye Caulker. We had visited here about 25 years ago and remembered it as a laid back type of place with sandy tracks for roads and the one vehicle was a golf cart which was the Police vehicle. We had arrived on Bob Marley’s birthday and all over the tiny Island his music was playing. Well it had changed a bit, but was still on “Island” mode and Bob Marley was still playing although this time we had just missed his birthday by a couple of days. We also just missed meeting up with Manisha, who was arriving with her family for a holiday the day after we
left. Frustrating as normally we can stay on whenever we want to.
We had a great few days on the Island and it had got us motivated and on the move again. We returned, packed up the Motor home and set off .The only way now was up, we were heading towards Oaxaca but that was many days travel away.
When there is no other option we stop overnight in Pemex fuel stations. It was coming to that time of day and a Pemex was up ahead. We needed fuel so decided to fill up and ask if we could stop for the night. We pulled in, looked at the pumps, they appeared to be working but had cones in front of them. We asked “are you open?” Yes, he replied. Next question, is there any fuel? answer No. Can we stay the night? Answer, yes why not so we set up next to the coffee shop.
As there was no sign to say there was no fuel, the fuel guy sat in his chair watching as people pulled in....... and out again and we watched him watching them (exciting life
this) We wondered if there would still be a night guard....there was, as the toilets & showers were open all night and he watched them
Looking at the map we realised we were near the remote ruins of Calakmul. We couldn’t get there in our RV but we could in a Taxi. We felt it safe to leave the RV here, after all there was a Guy sat in a chair all day with nothing much else to do other than watch things going on. We wandered out to the main road, stood there a while and sure enough along came a taxi.
From the main road you drive 60 km deeper into the jungle along the increasingly narrowing road, then walk a further 20 – 30 minutes to get to Cakakmul. By the time you get there you are, as the crow flies just 22 miles (35k) from the Guatemalan border.
known as the Kingdom of the Snake, Calakmul, is one of the largest and most powerful ancient kingdoms & city ever uncovered in the Mayan lowlands, (so far, they are discovering more by the day) These people didn’t just
camp out in the jungle gazing at a few large temples for their God-like leaders they lived in an organised and complex society. The Calakmul kingdom, including the city itself covered an area of 5,000 sq miles, and the population has been calculated at 1.75 million people, peaking in the 7th
c and diminishing in the 10thc
. The city itself is estimated to have supported a population of 50,000 – 70, 000 people (approx the population of Salisbury) The residential area has been estimated at 7 sq miles, and so far 6,750 ancient structures have been identified. A complex reservoir and canal system surrounding the city to sustain the population has been identified.
This site was first reported and explored in 1932-8, then nothing much happened until the 80s. Only recently has it become a large scale project for exploration and excavation, and large scale it needs to be.
When we bought our tickets there was no paper map on offer and you can forget about using phone signals and Google maps as an aid, so we wandered off along the ancient pathway, following the rather erratic signs of different coloured arrows pointing in seemingly
random directions. Now, remember, we were about 2 hours into the jungle, it is a site of over several square miles, there are not many people around, and considering that in a minute of walking away from a pyramid that stands over 148 ft (45 mtr) high you can no longer see it, investment in a few paper maps and better signage might not be a bad idea. We wondered what happened at the end of the day when there was a solitary car left in the car park? Where would they start to look for you, or would they????
This was another different ruins experience. We really were seeing this site at the beginning of its tourist life. Being so large, and still so relatively un- excavated you could not get an overall view of it and you certainly couldn’t get a feel for the layout of it at all. You followed an arrow, and hoped it was correct but 10 minutes later when you haven’t got to anything you started to get a bit suspicious you were going in the wrong direction. It was a bit like being in a jungle maze. Several times we
retraced our steps and tried again, eventually we came into a clearing and there was a huge pyramid.
An almost vertical 120 feet later we were standing on the top of it gazing out over the jungle, a bit surprised to see, not far in front of us an even bigger structure.
When we climbed down, which was a harder task than up (these Mayans must have had tiny feet) we couldn’t even see a trace of the second pyramid. We walked a short distance through the jungle and suddenly there it was. This structure is 390 ft square and stands over 148 ft high. Up we went. A different technique was required for this ascent, these steps were really wide, and so lots of foot room but really, really high, mostly I crawled up as I suspect most short people would. From what we have experienced, evolution wise, Mayans should be small-footed, long-legged people, possibly with a balance problem. At the top we were higher than the treetops and could watch the monkeys swinging through the branches below us. As we caught our breath we looked out at the scenery, all you could
see to the horizon was............ jungle.
There is going to be a lifetime of work here. The core area of Calakmul alone covers approximately 3/4 sq mile (2 sq km) and contains the remains of roughly 1000 structures. Many of the pyramids are built over previous pyramids Russian Doll style and only a few have been superficially explored, the potential findings are enormous. It was an unexpected and fascinating day out. When we got back Joaquin our taxi driver said where would you like go tomorrow? Why not we thought, it’s OK here, so to complete the “Ruins” part of our trip we visited Xpujil, small & intimate, Becan, with huge curvy buildings and Chicana, which is more residential than ceremonial and where all the richer people lived, a sort of Mayan Mayfair, it was different and really interesting.
We ended up staying three days in our private Pemex campsite. When we left they still had no fuel, they still had no sign to say so and the same guy was still sat on the chair.
Having travelled this area before, we had thought twice about returning, luckily we did. The
Yucatan peninsula & Quintana Roo was a wonderful and interesting part of our trip. We fulfilled several of our travel “wish list” moments, met some great people and enjoyed new experiences. But now we had sweated enough, it was time for a change. With great memories and looking forward to the cooler mountain air of Oaxaca and sweating a bit less, we ( and our ants!) drove away from the humid coastal area.
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