Palenque – A Real Travelling Experience

Deep in the Mexican Chiapas jungle – filming location of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Predator, lie the incredible Mayan ruins of Palenque.

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I thought Chichen Itza was impressive but these ruins were just incredible, especially as you could climb on them and venture inside the central palace walls. Again – I’m not a big fan of things that are still hanging around from centuries ago. I’d rather find an interesting bar or go for a hike than marvel at a fragment of pottery that has survived from a 10th century old kitchen, but I was impressed by the sheer magnitude of this ancient city that still existed.

Arriving in Palenque

“You may choose to base yourself in the funky travellers’ hangout of El Panchan…” Lonely Planet suggested. El Panchan is located in the jungle, at the very entrance to the ruins. I checked out the website before booking and it all looked pretty good! Basic but clean, and I was excited about the prospect of staying in a jungle hut, surrounded by nature.

We arrived  early in the morning and caught a taxi to the jungle lodgings. As we were shown to our cabin we walked through a big open plan restaurant. Cute, cute, I thought…but something filled me with unease. There was something a bit dated about it all – something a bit 1960s – something a bit hippy. I don’t mind a bit of hippy but this was stuck in time and had gone a bit stale and mouldy with it. I blocked out the weird, flaking hand painted murals on the walls of the restaurant, and 60 years worth of spider’s webs hanging from the ceiling. I tried to remain optimistic as I was led down the jungle path to a cabin – quite separate from the others – like a back garden shed, overshadowed by old trees with dead branches and hanging twigs.

Blair Witch Project.

“Well, this is alright…” I said to Seamus. He looked at me blankly and surveyed the room. Vomit yellow painted walls with spiral hippy hand murals, mouldy sheets and a torn bath towel. It was like a scene from a horror movie that usually ends with chainsaws and massacres. “I’ll go and tell her that we’re staying for 3 nights instead of 5″ I said…”and we’ll just figure it out from there.”

A Great Day Out

So we wanted to go to the ruins and we also wanted to go to 2 nearby waterfalls. I was reluctant to do any of this as part of a tour but sometimes doing things independently can just be a pain in the arse. We took the tour.

We spent a whole morning touring the ruins. They were beautiful. We had 4 hours to walk around freely before meeting up at the minibus again. We got chatting to a British couple on the minibus on the way to Misol-Ha, a stunning 35m jungle waterfall. Mike and Mairi both worked for the government in some capacity – Mairi as a humanitarian aid worker. They both left their jobs behind to travel for 14 months. I really liked these guys and got to thinking – some of the most interesting people I had met, I had met through joining small tour groups. I tended to avoid people in the hostels as they were the ‘talk about yourself, high-pitched, wanna get wasted’ type of people. It’s nice to meet people who are on the same level as you.

The waterfall was amazing and despite it thundering down, there were ropes stretched out across the water you could hold onto to stop yourself from going too close to the current. Myself, Seamus, Mike and Mairi went in for a swim. I have never been so close to such a powerful waterfall, and the experience was an incredible one I will never forget.

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After another stop at another set of waterfalls we made our way back home. As the night began to close in the heavens opened up and we found ourselves in the middle of a storm. Another couple on our bus from Germany had to stop at the bus station in town to buy bus tickets for that evening to Tulum…13 hours away. They had some luggage left at El Panchan and some at another hotel they had stayed at. They had quite a small window of time in which to get their stuff together and catch the bus. I could tell they were anxious.

The Flood and the Rats

The minibus pulled into the entrance of our jungle ‘retreat’ and stopped suddenly by the reception area, where people stood huddled under cover. As we stepped out of the van we were faced with a river of water, blocking our path. It was dark and the rain was torrential. Somewhere nearby a river had broken its banks and we were left outside stranded. The German couple were aghast. We soon formed a group, thinking of solutions – about how we could cross, and in the event of not being able to, how we could get the couple’s luggage to them on the next bus. It was great to be a part of this little group, pulling together. The lady at reception held her hand up to her neck, showing us how deep the water was and there was no way that we could get across.

About 20 minutes later the girl from the couple shouted out to everyone that the water levels were dropping. They were, and at quite a rate, as if the river in front of us were some sort of bath tub. I suddenly saw what seemed like a huge skunk scurry away out of the water. What appeared to me to be the white of a skunk tail was in fact the thick grey tail of a rat that was the size of a large cat. Oh. My. God!

The guy from the couple, desperate now, started wading through the water. The current was still strong but he made it! On the other side I heard music coming from the restaurant. I was tired, drenched and cold and just wanted a beer. I was next to follow him. I’ve never felt a current so strong against my legs and then half way across, something big, something living, something…furry…slipped past my legs. Just think of the beer, just think of the pizza…I said to myself. I made it – we all made it.


And so – our first real adventure with the elements. I ordered a huge pizza, a bottle of beer and a shot of tequila and sat with Seamus, Mike and Mairi. We exchanged stories and travelling tips, we laughed, we went our separate ways. And so travelling goes.


Check out my highlights and travel tips for everywhere I travelled to in the world: CubaMexicoColombia, Ecuador, The Galapagos IslandsArgentinaLAFijiNew Zealand, Australia, Indonesia and Japan.


 

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