We set off in the glorious sunshine and left Oaxaca state, into Chiapas. The brown and dry landscape gave way to lush, tropical vegetation, the roads became bumpier and more pot-holed, and after lunch, which was the first time we tried Iguana-and the last, hopefully- the weather started to change too.
Soaking wet after our first tropical downpour
As we climbed one of the mountains, the sky darkened, we rounded a corner and the road was wet, maybe we had missed the rain? No such luck, a minute or so later, the sky went from grey to black, and the rain came down. All we could do was laugh, within seconds we were absolutely drenched. Water filled our boots, my glasses steamed up, and the rain stung my face and cheeks.I slowed to a crawl and squinted through the droplets on my windscreen. Around the next corner we rode under a sign reading, “BIENVENIDOS A CHIAPAS”.
Fortunately the downpour lasted only 10 minutes or so, and we dried out in just enough time for the second instalment as we entered San Cristobal in the dark.
Our first night was a bit of a put off, arriving in the rain never really gives a good impression, and we just wanted to find somewhere as soon as possible to get out of the wet. We looked in our Lonely Planet, found a reasonable looking Hostel, and went straight there and booked in for two nights.
This was a mistake. We never usually booked more than one night at a time, but being tired, cold and hungry, we went along with the receptionists suggestion to book and pay for two nights. That night we slept very badly in the cold, windowless, damp room, and uncomfortable beds, and were awoken at 6 in the morning by the early shift arriving at the hostel and turning the music on, loud. The other thing that bugged us was the amount of rules posted on every wall in the hostel. In the breakfast room, a sign proclaimed;
“Guests are entitled to one visit to the breakfast buffet, one glass of juice, two slices of toast, one fruit, one cup of coffee”. It was worse than being back at school, and seeing as the only people causing problems in the hostel were the staff, we thought this was rather rich. We spoke to the receptionist in the morning to ask if we could check out and get our money back for our second day. He replied “ No problemo” so we went off in search of alternative accommodation for our second night, and that’s when we met Juan.
We had seen a couple of places, but when we went into Posada Mexico, we were greeted by the biggest, friendliest smile we had seen in ages. Juan was a chatty and quite excitable Mexican in his twenties. He showed us round, and we took a room and paid a deposit. We rushed back to our first Hostel, the Backpackers, to retrieve our bike and luggage and move out.
Nothing is ever as simple as it seems, especially in Latin America. When we went to get our money back from reception at Backpackers, we were told that the owner said that we couldn’t have the money back. Here we go again, I thought. I asked to speak to the owner, and the receptionist called him, and then told me that the owner didn’t want to talk to me. So I kicked up a bit of a stink, wrote a long and not too favourable report in their guest book, and left the hostel with half our money and a bad mood.
Back at Posada Mexico, we parked the bike up in the garage and settled into our room. We chatted with Juan, who was a mine of information, and then went to explore San Cristobal. This city was the first time we saw Mayans in traditional dress in an urban situation. The town was quiet, due to the swine flu scare, and we wondered round in the rain, diving from doorway to doorway trying to keep dry.
On returning to Posada Mexico, Juan introduced us to a couple of Frenchmen who were also staying in the hostel and asked if we would like to go out for dinner with them all, which we gleefully accepted. We all ate well, and drank too much that night, and became firm friends with the Frenchmen and Juan. We were all planning to go to see the ruins at Palenque and to visit the waterfalls at Agua Azul, so we decided we would go together.
The next day, the Frenchmen set off in the Jeep they had hired from Mexico City and we followed behind on our bike. We rode up and up into the mountains, through Mayan villages, over a ridiculous number of speed bumps until we reached the town of Ocosingo where we would stop for the night. Ocosigno had been the base of the Zapatista Rebels, and many of the bars and restaurants had pictures of balaclava clad, cigar smoking, gun toting rebels.
Then next morning we rose early and headed out to Agua Azul. We arrived early before the crowds and had the pools and falls all to ourselves. We climbed to the top of the falls, and then, made our way back down to swim in the pools at the bottom. By this time the tourists and the vendors had arrived. We were surrounded by young Mayan girls with baskets of bananas and tamales on their heads. We bought some of both and chatted with the girls, who found it extremely amusing when I tried to balance one of their baskets on my head, without much success. At midday it was time to head of to the jungle enshrouded ruins of Palenque.
We had all really been looking forward to Palenque, one of the best known ruins in Mexico, and we weren’t disappointed. We scrambled all over the site with our guide, up the pyramids, in the tombs, and through some of the jungle to see some of the 95% of the site that is still covered in moss, trees and grass.
The site itself covers some 20 km, with only 5% cleared and restored. We explored the site in oppressive heat, sweat pouring from all of us, until the site closed at 5pm, before heading back down to the entrance to the Palenque national park to find a place to stay in the heart of the jungle.
We were shown around a few options before Jacquie and I settled on a tree house overlooking the river. Needless to say the camp of cabanas, bungalows and tree houses were full of backpackers, hippies and travellers, and there was a very easy going and friendly vibe in the camp. We made friends with our neighbours, a group of Israelis who had just finished their military service, a couple of Swedish girls and a young Mexican bartender on holiday from Playa Del Carmen, and our newly formed posse headed to the restaurant for dinner and a fire show, and on returning, Jacquie had “Happy Birthday” sung to her in 5 different languages, simultaneously. Isn’t it strange how every nation known to me sings that song to the same tune?
I could have easily stayed at Palenque, in the Jungle Palace tree house, for a few more days, but the next day, with slightly fuzzed heads, we said our goodbyes to the Frenchmen and our new Israeli friends, packed up and rode out. We visited one more set of ruins at Tonin with the Frenchmen before we went our separate ways.
Posted by Dan Shell at July 02, 2009 08:07 PM GMT
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