Sunday, January 10, 2010

Paa Mul to Palenque

Pulled out of Paa Mul early and we headed down the coast toward Tulum — still chasing down the sunshine. We'd hoped to go to Cozumel for some more snorkelling but the weather didn't agree with us. We stopped in at Tulum to see the ruins. The setting is really spectacular, cliffs and perfect beach, lovely landscaping and a lot more people than we were used to. Another great mecanico experience, he tightened up the filter, let us clean the air filter and when we asked how much he smiled and said ¨put something in the pot for softdrinks.¨

We stopped in Felipe Carrillo Puerto for lunch and to pick up some supplies. Spent a perfect hour at the market. We couldn't resist the man waving us into his loncheria. Five long tables covered in plastic, with little stools tucked underneath. On the tables are different-shaped tupperwares, all brimming with yummy food. One held flautas, a tortilla rolled up like cannelloni, but flattened and fried, topped with shredded chicken, crema and avocado, another held salbutes, little tortillas fried and covered with a smear of refritos, shredded chicken or chopped barbecued pork, chopped tomatoes, avocado and pickled red onion, another held empanadas stuffed with spiced minced pork. Down the middle of the table, a big bowl of hot sauce and another of minced cabbage in lime juice. The music is blasting out of massive speakers on the drinks fridge. The food was amazing. Ran across the street to pick up our Rosca de Reyes to celebrate the 6th like Mexicans.
We drove on to Chetumal, a pretty charmless town that is so very close to Belize (and feels so much like Belize). We ran around looking for a new cooking set up to replace our Coleman stove and lantern (which leak everytime we go over a tope). We found our way through the maze of the old market and then got redirected to the new market which was a dozen blocks away. We finally found the man we were looking for on the last little back street of the market and picked up a new two-burner with a little 2 kg gas tank. We couldn't resist the fish market and picked up these gorgeous fish steaks for supper. Filling up the tank was another adventure in directions. By the time we were pulling out it was lunchtime so we stopped for a pollo asado by the side of the road — a line of women standing in front of dozens of spiced chickens on an open barbecue. We had half a chicken with half a kilo of tortillas, a little bowl of yummy black beans, cole slaw, a couple of hot sauces, the sweetest onion, barbecued then sliced up and put in a bowl with lime juice and minced jalapeno peppers. Perfect.

We drove on to Bacalar, a very pretty little town on shore of the the Laguna de Siete Colores (Seven Colours) because it changes shade depending on the weather. The lake provides access to the Caribbean and was therefore a favourite target of pirate attacks. It has a beautifully preserved fort just off the Zocalo with gorgeous scale models of famous pirate vessels and ancient navigational instruments. We tried out our snorkelling gear in the very shallow and very warm laguna.

The next morning we headed off to Calakmul, a set of ruins very near the Guatemalan border. We made it into the bioreserve at 3:30, not enough time to do the one hour drive down the road to the ruins, so we stopped in at Yax-che, an eco-camp in the jungle. The place is a few lowslung, screened buildings with no electricity and no running water — one kitchen/diningroom with a display of dried up scorpions, a dry latrine and a rainwater shower. Scattered along a path hacked out of the jungle were tents erected on little wooden platforms, only one occupied. We had a hike around the two paths around the camp, one led to a tower, four bouncy wooden platforms with five rickety ladders that climbed up above the treetops. Crazy amount of green — every leaf and bug and tree and bird bigger and more colourful than anything from home - made me realize just how much happier I am when I have names for the things that surround me.

Our new friend, Andreas, a German transplanted to Tokyo, joined us for a glass of Mexican wine and some supper. We were served by people wearing headlamps. We found a good home for the Coleman gear. We were woken bright and early by the very eerie and incredibly loud call of howler monkeys. Andreas told us it is second only to whalesong in terms of volume in the animal world. We stood underneath the monkeys and watched them have breakfast in the trees above us. After that the hairy drive to Calakmul, a road that could not have been windier and more full of creatures, agoutis, boars, wild turkeys, toucans... Calakmul was simply magical. You make your way along paths in the dense jungle and suddenly these massive structures appear before you. The scale of the buildings dwarf Chitchen Itza, Palenque, anything else we've seen. Climbing the steps slick with rain and moss is scary but rewarded by the most spectacular views — of an endless sea of green, of the tips of other pyramids poking through the treetops, of Guatemala. Calakmul is the site mentioned most often in inscriptions at all other Mayan sites and it's easy to see why. Add to this the howler & spider monkeys swinging overhead. A day we won't soon forget.
After Calakmul we drove to Palenque with a quick stop in at Ocosingo for a very forgettable lunch. We stayed at what felt like a hippy commune near Palenque, one German man kept offering the kids his homemade goodies, all very healthy and all tasting faintly of chalk, politely bitten and then spit up when he was out of sight.

Palenque was cool. Very different look than all the other ruins and very interesting to go into a pyramid and see a tomb. We got rained out however.

The road from Palenque to San Cristobal was crazy. Up and up and up, it seemed without end, to 7500 feet on the most switchback, barfy road ever. We were all huddled in the front of van with eyes glued on the road. We drove through some desperately poor villages that left us feeling very gloomy. If the barefoot, dirty kids hauling piles of firewood don't do the job, the Zapatista banners by every pueblo underscore the fact that Chiapas has gotten the shaft.

San Cristobal is all they say, a beautiful colonial town with an undercurrent of college hip -- like San Miguel for the under 30 set. It's cold. Our computer woke up this morning flashing the question mark sign so it looks like it's going to be internet cafes from here on in.


Peter C said...

I am definitely having Mexican tonight ! Fun, fun. Nature scene sounds great. Hope you get to camp out a bit and relax.
Its -15 here !

Unknown said...

Re the extremely loud howler monkeys - hope you find another solution than the rooster method.

Sounds like a amazing trip. Thanks for the stories,


kelli ann & lorie said...

thanks for bringing your trip to life for us. wish i could have stowed away in a tire well. bises, --K