Monday, July 27, 2015

Palenque, ruins from the classic period Mayans

Palenque, ruins from the classic period Mayans

20 Julio 2015

San Cristobal to Palenque - green line
Palenque to Yaxchilan/Bonampak and back - yellow lines
Of the many penances Mags has had to bear in our years together, one has been listening to me recount my earlier travels. Palenque has figured huge in those stories. To realize that it had been 45 years since I rode my Lorne Atkinson/Pugeuot bicycle up the hill and into Palenque parking lot, felt at once, very recent and a long time ago. I spent a week, living in a hammock, with a group of about six other travellers in the generally empty parking lot. We clambered through the jungle, finding tunnels into the foyers of Mayan ruins and swam in the calcareous rimmed pools on the opposite side of the parking lot. Only the front half of the large pyramid, Templo de la Cruz, was exposed, everything else was shrouded in jungle and mystery. In the week that I lived there, I doubt fifty visitors came to the site. At night, with howler monkeys creating a cacophony of noise in the trees above me, challenging me, berating me, I was terrified. The memories are indelible.

Mags in front of the first pyramid
Surrounded by jungle
Fortunately I had seen the recent google earth shots and was prepared for how much was uncovered. Also, The Lonely Planet Central America book had also prepared me for the changes in the small village that had grown into a prosperous town several kilometers from the parking lot. Now, about midway between town and ruins, a group of hostels and restaurants have sprung up in the jungle. Fortunately they have done little to no clearing, building where the streams and trees let them.
Our breakfast visitor
The first of these constructed, Margarita and Ed’s Cabanas, started about twenty years ago, is still in operation and has added more rooms in new buildings reached by following winding trails. The extent of vision through the jungle is about twenty to thirty feet so you are not aware of the construction until you are in front of it. Our immaculately clean tiled room, complete with a ceiling fan and private bathroom with hot water, was a far leap from the nights in the hammock. We were visited by a young howler monkey while we ate breakfast at the restaurant reached by a pathway from our room. He was timid but took a banana from a traveller at table close by. As he scampered away into the trees, little did he know his great uncles had done such a ferocious job of terrifying me in past nights.

Architecturally amazing
The Palenque ruins are some of the most extensive and architecturally significant of the Mayan sites as it was the seat of power for an extensive region. The development came under the dynasty that began with the reign of Pakal in about 630 AD and continued to about 740. Some of the mosaics are still visible and the museum that has been constructed about a kilometer before the entrance provides a wealth of information. As I said about the Copan ruins in Honduras and the Tikal ruins in Guatemala, I will let the ruins speak for themselves. The rumbling howls of the Howler monkeys in the surrounding jungle is still an evocative sound that endures with the pyramids.

A 45 min river trip to Yaxchilan
From Palenque you are able to do a side trip about 150 km south east over to the Rio Usumacinta, the river that forms the boundary between Mexico and Guatemala. Once at the river, you board long narrow launchas that do the forty five minute trip down the river to the Mayan ruins of Yaxchilan. Due to the strategic location on the river for both trade and conquest, Yaxchilan developed an impressive site with temples, religious and commercial sites  as yet only partially uncovered from the jungle overgrowth. Again, howler monkeys are ever present and survey their domain.

Only the combs are visible on the 4 story temple at the top
Interior frescos retain much of
the original colour
Back up the river to the van and another 20 kilometers take you to the ruins of Bonampak. Although not as large as either Yaxchilan or Palenque, Bomapak retains some painted frescos that are quite detailed. The hot, humid jungle settings, alive with the noise of insects and birds and the ever present howler monkeys complete the sense of an exotic past.
After spending two full days of climbing pyramids at Palenque (4), Yaxchilan (1 very tall one and a labyrinth) and Bonampak (another tall one and numerous steps up to the Acropolis) we were ready for a day off. We decided to stay an additional day in the jungle at Margarita and Ed’s. We cannot say enough good things about the location and ambiance.

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