Chiapas, Mexico – Then it was on to Palenque. We decided not to stay in town but in the backpackers getaway, El Panchan – former ranch land that was reforested and now houses a few hotels and restaurants surrounded by jungle. It’s definitely got the hippie vibe. Our guide book even warned us not to buy the mushrooms from locals because they where the hallucinogenic kind.
During our first night there we awoke to the surreal sound of howler monkeys howling in the distance. That was surreal enough, no special mushrooms necessary.
We got up early to visit the Palaneque ruins – by now we had figured that the best time to visit the more popular ruins was right when they opened, you avoid the crowds (and the annoying tour groups) and it is the coolest time of the day.
The ruins at Palenque was the first Mayan site that we visited and the most impressive yet. Unfortunately, the main temples are roped off and you can’t climb or enter them anymore, but there are smaller groups of buildings still covered in jungle that were super fun to explore. Most tour groups just hit the main attractions, so we often found ourselves alone with just the ruins, jungle and wildlife.
The next day we took a tour to visit some ruins near the boarder with Guatemala that left at 6am. Contrary to what you might think, sleeping in isn’t something we get to do often – we are up early frequently, either to catch a bus, or to beat the crowds, or to just enjoy the day before it gets too hot.
We’re not tour people, but we really wanted to visit the Yaxchitlan ruins and it was much easier, and actually cheaper to go with a tour group. We drove for about three hours and then took a 45 minute boat ride down the Rio Usumacinta, which is actually part of the boarder between Mexico and Guatemala.
We were one of about four small tour groups visiting the ruins that day, so even though we were with a tour, it was still pretty empty. The ruins there were pretty cool, still surrounded by thick jungle, but I think we were even more impressed by the wildlife. We saw spider monkeys and all kinds of birds, including red macaws – but the coolest thing were the howler monkeys in the trees above our heads. One would start howling and others would join in until the jungle was filled with this huge roar that got louder and louder. It was like being chased by the smoke monster on Lost!
We visited the ruins at Bonampak on our way back to El Panachan. These were small ruins but they had fairly well preserved paintings on the interior walls. When they were rediscovered by Americans in the 1940s the murals were actually in much better shape, but early visitors threw kerosene on the walls to try and bring out the colors!
Stuart and I were the only Americans in our tour group and the other eight people all spoke Spanish, which was fine – we knew enough to listen for important information from our driver. But as we were leaving Bonampak one of the guys in our group casually walked up to us and stared talking to us in English. That’s not the first time we have spent several hours with someone on a bus or collectivo that didn’t let on that they speak fluent english English until hours later.