Friday, November 13, 2015

Don't Go Chasing

Leaving the cool mountain air of San Cristóbal behind, I made (tire) tracks down the mountain and into the jungle. After a stop in Ocosingo for a ridiculously good quesadilla (steak, quesilla from Oaxaca, pineapple, peppers, and lettuce: 30 pesos), the temperature quickly started to rise and the humidity rose with it.

I'd made my way down out of the mountains once again, this time into the jungle.
I'd gotten a bit of a late start on the ride since I'd spent some time talking with the other riders before heading out, so I didn't take many breaks on the ride, except one: Agua Azul. I'd heard it was amazing sight to see, but also very over-commercialized, so I didn't want to spend a night at it. But I also didn't want to drive past it to Palenque and then come back the entire hour-long drive later to see it.

So I pulled off at the turn and headed down the 5km spur to the waterfall entrance, paid my entrance fee, and rode in. I was quickly waved into a parking spot by a man who promised to "cuidarla" (take care of my motorcycle). I asked how much it would cost, and he gave a sly look and said whatever I decided to tip.

I find myself torn in these situations. I don't want to be the hapless tourist who pays too much, but I'm also scared that if I give him too small of an amount, he'll decide that my things are worth more than the money I gave him and I'll come back to an empty motorcycle. I ended up giving him about what I paid in an entry fee, and wandered my way up through the vendors.

The stories I'd heard were right on both points - the falls were absolutely stunning, but behind every photo I took was a vendor yelling at me to buy something. I exaggerate a little - I was there towards the end of the day, so quite a few of them had closed up already, and others were in the process. But it was definitely a bit too much commercialization for my tastes.

The clouds even behaved well for the stunning views.

The name of the falls is due to the (usually) bright blue water, but due to it being rainy season, it wasn't quite as brilliant as it supposedly is the rest of the year. Nonetheless it was stunning.

But, nervous about my abandoned belongings and eager to get to my destination before dark, I left after not too long to keep on the trail for Palenque. I couldn't resist stopping for a few pictures on the ride, despite how close it was coming to sunset.
Stunning landscape, and clouds to match. As usual, click for larger.
Zoom in on one part of the hills.
I ended up not quite meeting my darkness deadline - I know many of the riders I've run into recently don't seem to have too much problem with riding at night, but as a solo traveler I'm a bit more hesitant to do it. But I rolled into town and hit up an ATM, and then found my way to El Panchan in the dark.

El Panchan is a collection of a couple different hotels, two restaurants, and a little bit of camping here and there too. As I pulled in and looked around trying to figure out where to go, a guy came over and asked about my bike in English. It turned out he was a fellow motorcyclist from Israel who was also doing "the trip" through Central and South America, and had linked up with an American rider recently. He directed me to the hotel I was looking for, where I proceeded to pay $6 for a roof with screens and curtains.
My glamorous accommodations, complete with single exposed lightbulb and noisy fan.
After settling in and rinsing off the sweat that I'd been soaking in since arriving at the lower elevation, I joined Niv (the Israeli rider) and Nate (the American rider) with Justin (the Australian traveling by bus) for some dinner. Niv cooked up some rice, sauteed some ground beef and onions, and then mixed it all with some cream of mushroom soup, refried beans, and corn for a delicious dinner that he refused to accept payment for. I paid him back the only way he'd let me, but using his guitar (yes - he's traveling on a motorcycle with a guitar, and yes - I'm getting ideas) to serenade him and the others with some Nicki Minaj. The desk attendant behind us even turned off her music, so I think she was enjoying it too!
This kitty was enjoying the music from Nate's bike as well.
We all went over to the bigger of the two restaurants for some drinks afterwards, but didn't stay long - Justin needed to catch a late night bus to his next destination, and the other three of us were pretty exhausted and ready for some rest.

I woke up in the morning to the sounds of the babbling creek next to my hut - which convinced me to ignore my alarm and just sleep in for a while. When I finally got moving, it was due to the encroaching heat and humidity - the humidity is ever-present, but seems to feel worse and worse as the sun comes up.
A shot of my "room" from the outside, with the creek down to the right.
Niv and Nate had already headed out in the morning for their next destination, so I planned out a morning of checking out the ruins and then returning to camp. I figured it'd be a short walk down there - I wasn't completely wrong, but it took me quite a while to actually end up getting there. About halfway down the trail, a guy on the road told me in Spanish that there was a waterfall down this trail over here, oh and by the way do you want any weed? I declined on the weed but took him up on the waterfall, and headed back to check it out. It wasn't huge, but it was pretty, and completely secluded as he said - with only the birds around, and a bat or two as I explored the nearby cave.
Some of the falls as I wandered next to the riverbed.
The falls he'd directed me to. Super peaceful.
Human for scale.
After wandering back out to the road, I kept heading down towards the official ruins. Continuing straight past bus parking and a huge visitor's center and museum, I quickly got warm and sweaty in the exposed sun on the road. When I finally found a chance to duck back under the trees in the form of an official trail through the jungle, I took it.

It was quite a trail - and official though it may have been, I saw something like 3 people in the 2 or 3 miles I ended up hiking down the trail. There was one viewpoint for a waterfall, bigger than the one I'd seen on my own, but not quite as interesting from a wooden observation platform. I stopped for a bit to chat with a Candian girl and Irish guy that had been laying on their backs on the platform listening to the water and talking.
Still a very pretty waterfall from this view.
I continued down the trail, and was only convinced I was still on an "official" trail by the occasional sign with some info about the park. I saw no people after the waterfall, and the trail maintenance was pretty lax, with tree trucks and branches encroaching throughout.

But I was rewarded as I continued on by my own personal set of ruins. I first stumbled upon a pile of rocks that appeared to have been a small building - it looked like it possibly could have been recent, but how do you even tell on your own when there's no signs or information or experts?
The contrast between the stone structures and enormous, beautiful trees is stunning.
Just past there, I found steps that led down into a clear, still pool - the water must have been moving through there for it to remain as clear as it was, but you couldn't really tell. The steps leading in were slick and rounded, but I stepped down in them to dip my toes in and shoot this shot.
The pool is just off to the left here - only realized when I was out that I'd failed to take a good shot of it.
While I was next to the pool, I noticed that I could hear the sound of running water - but couldn't see it. So I climbed back out and searched around - and eventually found a small underground channel covered with rocks that a little stream was running through. In fact, I'd walked straight over it on the trail without even noticing it, as it was covered pretty perfectly, but a little off the trail a few of the rocks had collapsed in. I followed it the other direction where I could see the stream sprout from under a dropoff, so I climbed down and found this little aquaduct.

About this time I decided to turn around - the trail hadn't turned yet as it showed on the map, and I was running a bit low on my water (sweating a ton in the humidity and constantly replenishing it), not to mention I hadn't seen another person for a few miles.

So I tracked my way back out, taking a slightly different path that brought me out of the jungle right near the entrance to the ruins. I restocked my water at a vendor and picked up a ticket, and headed into the ruins.

The ruins were fantastic - some of the most interesting I've seen. The contrast of the restored ones with the ones that are buried under jungle regrowth blew me away. I ran into a few Australians who had paused their wanderings through the ruins to listen to the howler monkeys - seriously one of the most surreal things I've heard, and it took me quite a while before I realized where the sound was even coming from. It echoed throughout the jungle in one of the creepiest ways that I can imagine, making it almost impossible to pinpoint the source as 4 or 5 of them called back and forth to each other.

The Australians and I wandered through the ruins, wondering aloud about the scale of these projects, how they decided to build them, how long they'd been here, etc. It was nice to have someone to appreciate them with, since I'm often at these types of things solo (and had been planning on it that day).

Open fields separated many of the structures in the main section, while the structures on the fringes were buried in the jungle.
Some buildings were being taken over by the jungle a bit still.
Climbing to the top of this was fun, despite the ridiculously tall steps.
Some of the partially restored art.
One of the only views I got of the plains in the distance before my phone died. You can see why they chose to put a city here with the kind of visibility they had.
As afternoon rolled on we were all getting tired, so I walked with them back down the road under the blazing sun. When we reached the restaurant halfway down the road, we ducked in to replenish - I hadn't planned on my whole day being spent in the ruins, so I hadn't eaten much (anything) in the morning and hadn't brought anything with me, and my stinginess prevented me from buying overpriced crap outside the ruins. We ordered the restaurant special: A stone bowl heated up to piping hot; steak, chicken, onions, and peppers hanging over the sides; filled with a mixture of green sauce, refried beans, and hot sauce. It comes out with the sauce bubbling, a little tray of four sauces on the side, and more chips and tortillas than we thought we could finish (we did anyway). Split three ways, we were all extremely satisfied.

That was my first day at Palenque, and I was already pretty amazed at what I'd seen. But there was still more to come.

No comments:

Post a Comment