Today we got up In the dark to take the long drive to Palenque. We backtracked down past Tuxtla (where we got on the boat yesterday), then worked our way over the mountains into Tabasco state, almost to the Gulf of Mexico before heading east and then inland again to Palenque. The roads ranged from two lane good roads, to freeways, to incredible pot-hole dodging thrill rides. We went from cool mountain air to tropical jungle terrain. We left about 6:20, stopped at Maltaso for a breakfast break about 9:00, had a lunch break in Villahermosa about 2:00, and one short break in between, then arrived in Palenque about 5:00, giving thanks that our legs still functioned after sitting so long!
There was sparse settlement over the mountains, but more development as we got closer to the coast. Lots of fruit stands, cattle ranches, towns, small cities (with Walmart). In one of the mountain towns the road was so badly pot-holed that it was like a roller coaster dirt road. It made me wonder if there was a political story behind the lack of road maintenance.
It is warm and tropical here. Palenque is a small town, mainly to provide services for the Mayan archeological site that we will visit in the morning.
A few observations:
-Peel the tread off a truck tire in one long strip and lay it across the road for an effective speed bump, and the more the better
-Outdoor thatch-roofed restaurant featuring Christmas vinyl tablecloths with Santa and snowmen
-One of the guys got a fish dish served in the fish, which looked a lot like a little crocodile, including teeth
-Double yellow lines don’t really mean ‘no passing’
-The shoulder can be a lane when someone wants to pass you
The map makes it look like a short trip today. In reality, we went slightly northwest almost to the coast, then east a ways, then back inland to Palenque.
Up early for the short trip up the hill to the National Park and Palenque ruins, we planned to beat some of the crowds and the heat of the day. It was not too crowded to get a good look at the amazing Mayan city, which was at its peak from about 630-740. The city was large—about 15 square kilometers, but not all has been excavated. The main sites are the homes and temples of the ruling class. Unlike the previous ruins we have seen in the central highlands, these emerge from the jungle just as the hills reach the coastal plain. Some of these have the buildings in place on the top of the pyramids, giving a real feeling for the actual appearance of the structure. Of course rather than plain stone, they would have been painted bright colors. I left the big climbs to the others, but there was still plenty to see and appreciate, moving around the ruins and courtyards on the hillside. Like other places, there were plenty of souvenir sellers too. On the way back along the path to the bus, we even saw some monkeys in the trees.
It was quite warm for us northwestern folk, so we appreciated getting back to the air conditioned hotel. This afternoon is free (over 90 degrees), and it is nice to relax after the long day yesterday and the busy morning. The pool looked pretty inviting, but I didn't want to leave the air conditioning after my walk into town in the heat of the day.
We went to dinner out of town in the bus, and turned down a narrow road that took us to ‘Don Mucho Restaurante’. We sat under a grass roof and had a menu of ‘Mexican-Italian’ items. I had a great chicken/mushroom/broccoli fettuccini. There was a family birthday at the next table, which was fun to watch—the birthday boy was about 8, and was very excited (even though his big brother pushed his nose in the cake). There was live music, and people dancing, which was fun.
Tomorrow we head to the coast for a stop at the beach, and then on to Campeche.