The minivan came hooning round the cobbled corner just after 5am. ‘Palenque!? Paaalenque?!’ and as fast as he’d jumped out he’d bundled us in and we were off to the jungle. Somehow the driver mistook Kim’s somewhat basic Spanish as much more than that and assigned her the translator role for the Brit whose girlfriend is sick and can’t come. Kim can’t help but feel important despite her assistance being minimal. A bit of hand flaling and we get there.
In true Mexican tourism fashion we start the day being herded into a breakfast buffet which errs on the side of pricey but also on the side of fecking tasty, and yes we will eat our weight in pancakes and tortillas, thanks amigos! After so much food Kim can’t wait to get her bikini on at the first stop, Agua Azul. Beautifully blue water (hence the name) cascades out of terraced pools that stretch one atop another for as far as we could see in the time chico driver allowed us. Weasling through the souvenirists we find a good spot for a dip. Muy frio, she’s chilly! But nonetheless a welcome reprise from the rising humidity, even at 10am.
Next stop after winding an hour or so through hills laced with reductors, or in kiwi terms – speed bumps, was a hefty 35m waterfall, Misol-Há. A good spot for a dip and an ice-cream (delighted to see Trumpets) but we do have some goodies back home that would eat this waterfall for breakfast. Impressive still, and in this case we walk behind the falling water from above and, along with the umpteenth geezer, catch a quick snap with the snelfiestick. After a snack we’re off to Palenque where we adios the group. The crazy cats are going to see the infamous Palenque ruins and brave the 5 hour return trip to San Cristobal. Good riddance to their lunches over those reductors. For us it’s jungle time.
With our internal humidibarometers spiking redlines we stumbled down a dusty driveway into a plethora of vines, tropical plantations and the continuous clatter of inverterbraes rubbing their legs together – bienvenidos to El Panchan! It was a sweaty, sweaty mess in that jungle. Our jungle habitat for the eve was at one Margheritas & Ed’s…. a charming and somewhat mazelike oasis literally in the thick of jungle flora and fauna (hoping that the latter remain on the outside of said accom), skippered by an infamous corto chica by the name of Margherita. She entertained us with wisdom from someone who had survived 20 odd years of hostel management in the jungle, and even better directed us to the local watering hole – Don Mucho. DM from then on provided us with all the goods you would hope for from a Mexican jungle’s fine establishment: quenching cervezas that drenched our coasters, guac that dulled our longing for flavour, fantastic performances and live bands – including 6 piece bands playing tracks by Buena Vista Social Club, hippie fire stick/poi & bongo battles, endless slick salty happy hour margeritas and passionate, envious salsa-dancing locals (unfortunate it was that salsa lessons didn’t occur until after this episode). We couldn’t have asked for better, or more liquor by nights end.
One thing that we’ve noticed in Mexico is the abilty for any (ANY) vehicle to be permitted to drive on the road without restriction – as opposed to the Warrant of ‘Fitness’ regulations we are thus familiar with. If it has wheels, or even if it doesn’t, you can freely hoon it round at top speed to your heart’s content. Missing a bumper? No problemo! Nonregulation taxis conduct business in a day-to-day manner without hesitation from passengers whether they be local or not. Our observations play out first hand as we rustily flagged down a kitsch-like van at the gate to Palenque ruins, some 8kms from the main entrance. Our driver shuffled us into his pride and joy and drove us as quick as he could up the hill, with the sliding door missing and the rest somewhat ajar. Knuckles tighten on seats as jungle trees flash past quicker and closer. Also common, if not mandatory, is the presence of a shattered windscreen – and this guy took the cake for the spiderweb perception when looking through his. He was well stocked with spare gas in the rear of pocekts of the seats, 2.5L Coke bottles spilling with dino juice. Not a good time, but we arrived in good time.
On arrival to the entrance to the Palenque – once the power centre that ruled over a large part of what is today the Mexican states of Chiapas and Tabasco – it was clear these ruins were a refreshing change of scenery from previous encounters: this time jungle theme. The typography of the location creates vast areas of which would easily fit into a level of Crash Bandicoot, a fitting reminiscent theme song would be somewhere in the middle of DJ Shadow ‘You Can’t Go Home Again’ and State of Mind ‘Back to the Jungle’. On several occasions the locals wanted pictures of us instead of the majestic surroundings – Rangas and snorting browny-blonde must be rare in this neck of the woods. Boasting 1,400 documented buildings, of which 10% of the city is all that has been excavated, Palenque did a great job of enthralling us with its vastness and its heat. How intriguing to think of what still lies under the large mounds of vines as the howler monkeys stretched out in shadows among the treetops, too hot to show us their skills. Echoes of the howls of wooden jaguar-impersonating instruments rang out around the temples. You can’t escape the stalls of sellers at any tourist attraction in Mexico.
Another Corona/Guac combo, an overnight bus involving Spanish subtitled movies and we landed in what would be one of our favourite towns, the beautiful beachside Tulum. Our tastebuds awoken by the sweet licks of BLT Bagels and smoothies, courtesy of unbeknownst to us our hostel’s manager. Both his Babel cafe and The Weary Traveller hostel are highly recommended. The hostel’s kitchen is without doubt the most well-equipped and (gratis-ly) supplied we have ever cooked in (massive choice of cook-yourself breakfasts), their swimming pool the most refreshing and their salsa lessons the most patient (sort it out Jim). What ensued within the next 3 nights in Tulum town and 2 nights in Tulum beach was an exciting whirlwind of fun: scooter rides over pillion-hib-hold-bruising-sized reductors to the beach – postcard dreamy sugar white sands for miles; scooter ride/snorkel missions to the amazing, bat ridden underground water caves of the Gran Cenote; an early morning escapade to the iguana infested, beachsidely magnificent Tulum ruins (if you are fortunate to go, get there before the masses which tidal wave the attraction at 9am); sleeping in tents above giant crab holes at Turquesa hostel; alldayers spent bodysurfing and sunning on loungers under thatched umbrellas while drinking en masse Coronas, smokin’ Cohibas for dessert; too many fish tacos; too many muy buenos. Oh, and guac. Always guac.
Eventually the beach bonaza gave way to our next first class bus ride to the small town of Pìste, in stone’s throw to one of the New Seven Wonders of the World: Chichèn Itzà. The small town of Pìste provided us airconned accomm within walking distance, an Oxxo, and a budget yet fine-dining expericence including black condiment sauce and subsequent sore tummies. Unfortunately not much else. It’s teeny. But it was just what we needed for an early morning entrance to Chichèn Itzà, which lived up to its fame. The size and scope of the architectural designs is somewhat mindboggling, so too the magnitude of the El juego de la Pelota ballcourt, El Castillo and the Plaza de las Mil Columnas. What a contrast to our small and youthful Aotearoa. Props go to the engineers of back in the Mayan day that designed the pyramids so tour guides can now amplify and echo their applause when standing in just the right spot. Another well timed expedition that sees us exit as the throngs of buses and tourists encroach – welcomed by happy sombrero sellers, 12 hats atop one head, perhaps optimistic that stock will be in such hot demand there would not be a moment to replenish. Too early we were even for the 89 gift stallers to assemble and unwrap their wares. Seeing how far they lug their plentiful goods by hand every morning gives us a new respect for them… Still haven’t warmed to the jaguar instruments however.
It’s a funny thing when you’re travelling, to be carrying around a constant sense of excitement with another burst of new people, places, experiences, and unknown around every corner. The excitement levels are peaking for the next jaunt: the last few days of April sun we’ll be spending in Cuba.