After I got back from a long day of wandering around and a huge, piping hot bowl of meat, beans, and veggies, I went back to my little hut by the stream, put on some music, and sat back and rested. It wasn't long before I heard a bit of a giggle from what sounded like right outside my window...
Sure enough, it was the Italians again. They'd arrived in Palenque after a grueling day on the bus that included a five hour standstill for a protest, but we agreed to meet up in a bit for some dinner at the restaurant. When I went over to get them at their room, they were sitting and chatting with two American, bald, motorcycle riders who were heading down the Pan American highway as well.
Gene and Evan had taken off from Albuquerque and headed down on a similar route to mine. I'm honestly pretty surprised we hadn't run into each other before Palenque given how similar our routes were, but they were spending a bit more time in each place but seeing a few less places. They were both on KLR's, one green and one orange (jealous), so we sat and traded stories for a bit before heading to the restaurant.
The restaurant was a little on the full side when we got there, so the hostess aimed to seat us off to the side - but the Italians were having none of that, and had them set up a new table in the back of the main area so we could be closer to the band and the music. That turned out to be fortuitous, as it put us right next to a little craft shop. The woman who made the crafts was from Quebec, so we traded a few French words, and I talked a little bit with her daughter.
|Super cute, and she loved seeing herself on the screen.|
But first, a step back. When I was in Puerto Escondido and first met the Italians, we were out partying and ran into an Australian bachelor party. While I was talking to the Australians, one of the guys told me to ask around at "the bar" ("I don't remember which one, but it's the main one") in Palenque for the special tour, and then gave me two names. They're brothers, he said, and they do an amazing tour of the jungle. I wrote it down knowing I'd never remember otherwise, and then forgot about it until I got to Palenque. When I realized I wasn't going to actually be in Palenque proper at all, only at the El Panchan, I kind of gave up on trying to find these guys since I clearly wasn't going to be at "the bar."
So we're sitting at dinner, at this table they set up specifically for us, and I look over and see a sign. "Jungle tours" it says, and down at the bottom are the same two names that the Australian gave me.
I'll say I probably got a bit more excited than I should have, but I quickly tried to explain in Spanish to the Italians about it, and then in English to the Americans. As I was gesturing excitedly at the sign, a man walked up and said hi - it was one of the brothers. We chatted for a bit about the tour, and within a few minutes all five of us had decided we wanted to go.
Side note: I'm avoiding using the names for Google reasons. I think they'd probably be okay with it, but we talked about it some and it seemed like, while he didn't mind it being on the internet, he preferred word of mouth advertisement. If you're headed that way, I'll definitely give you the info. For now I'll refer to our guide as G.After we made our plans, I ended up leaving the restaurant kind of early (10pm) to walk over to a nearby hotel and meet up with a Dutch couchsurfer to chat for a while. She had been traveling for the past 3 years, and was working at the hotel there for a while in exchange for housing and food, affording her lots of opportunities to explore and enjoy Palenque. We talked for a bit, drank a few drinks, waited out a pretty hard rain, and pretty soon I looked at the time and it had gotten to be 4am without me noticing! So I called a cab (the half-hour walk over there was bad enough at 10pm) and crawled back into bed.
Morning went a little slowly after that late of a night, so my first thing on the schedule was to meet up for the tour at 1pm. While we were waiting for G to prepare everything, we ran into the hotel's resident monkey, and the staff even gave us a banana to feed him.
|He had some cookies for dessert too.|
|Stuffing his face.|
|Got to say hi to this girl again before going on the hike, she even paused her hula-hooping attempts to take a quick picture.|
Our tour began by entering the same marked path that I'd started down the day before, outside the official ruins but still within the protected park. But that's where the similarity to the day before ended: about 20 feet down the path, G looked around, and then made a sharp right down an embankment and took off through the brush.
And off we went. We went down to a waterfall and rubbed a particular mud on us that helps keep mosquito bites from swelling up, then rinsed it off while swimming into the cave under the waterfall. We matched G's footsteps carefully to avoid stepping on the leaves with little spikes on them, as we'd all joined G in being barefoot to better feel the jungle. We watched a trail of leaf-cutter ants almost 30 feet long parade their little pieces of leaves down into their nest to farm the algae that they eat and only grows on those leaves. We looked into a dark cave with a river coming out of it, and then pulled out some lights and hiked up our pants to wade into the cave which turned into a Mayan aqueduct as you went farther back in.
|Into the cave we go.|
|And up out the other side - just to the left is where the aqueduct feeds into the cave.|
|Looking down into the cave.|
He'd give us a few warnings here or there too (like with the spiky leaves). He showed us a tree, and pointed out the ants crawling on it - fire ants, he said, and they live in symbiosis with the tree, protecting it from harm ("like from us"). He then put a finger on the tree, and immediately every ant in the vicinity made a bee-line for his finger. He pulled it away before they got there, and they all went back to what they were doing. Tommy didn't believe his eyes and had to try too - sure enough, they all bolted for his finger and then went back to work as he hurriedly pulled it away. That, along with a tree trunk covered in spikes, was one of our lessons: "Before you touch, watch!"
Eventually we got to a clearing next to a stream heading downhill, and rested for a while. For a good half hour or so, we just wandered, explored, and asked G any questions we had. Gene and G had some really interesting discussions about how the official history of the Mayan empire didn't give the whole picture, and G talked about how he thought it had happened.
|Talking, enjoying, relaxing.|
|Italians in the jungle.|
|G walking up one of the waterfalls - this one had a number of petrified trees embedded in it too.|
|Another river where you can see a few levels of this one.|
Eventually we wound our way back out of the jungle following G's lead (I had no idea where we were or how to get back out) and made our way back to El Panchan, where we all loaded up on a hearty dinner and a few beers while we enjoyed the entertainment.
|Every night El Panchan seems to have something interesting, and that night it was unicycle jugglers.|