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.|
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.|
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.|
|This kitty was enjoying the music from Nate's bike as well.|
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.|
|Some of the falls as I wandered next to the riverbed.|
|The falls he'd directed me to. Super peaceful.|
|Human for scale.|
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.|
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.|
|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.|
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.|
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.