We had spent the last few nights in San Cristobal (about 5 hours from Palenque by bus) and although there were tons of tours (about 300 pesos each) to Palenque, they were all day trips with about 2 hours at the ruins. 2 hours at my first mayan ruins in the jungle? Clearly not enough time. We left our stuff at the hostel and set out with an overnight bag to Palenque. The trip from San Cristobal to Palenque travels right through Zapatista terrority, the indigenous army that started a revolution in 1994. Still unresolved, the violence has for the most part died down although the political conflict continues with the occasional violent outbreaks. A number of small indigenous autonomous zones exist in Chiapas, ruled exclusively by the Zapatistas without any Mexican government involvement. Since we’d be traveling through these areas we took heed and decided for safety it would be best to travel during the day. There are still infrequent reports of bus robberies, etc… on this route at night. The five hour journey was incredible. Where the north of Mexico was dry and desert, Chiapas is fresh alpine highlands, cloud forests and indigenous villages mixed with lush rain forests comprising ancient Mayan lands. Constantly twisting and turning on the road, we saw signs demarcating the Zapatista autonomous zones. Sorry, we weren’t willing to hop off the bus, so no pictures.
Arriving in Palenque we hopped on a collectivo to the jungle to find out cabana for the night. We stayed at a small group of cabanas nestled in a meadow not more than 3km from the actual ruins. It was my first time in the jungle (one of many firsts on the trip!) and although Danny thought nothing of it, the best part of our stay there was the howler monkey we saw on the way to dinner. (Didn’t get a picture though, besides its huevos were hanging out and who wants to see that anyhow!) My first night in the jungle and my first monkey in the wild. 🙂
We made a beeline for the ruins when they opened the next morning and spent four hours wandering through pyramids, temples, and looking at the glyphs. At the top of one pyramid we heard this awful screeching noise that sounded like a pack of hungry lions on the hunt. Excitedly Danny said, those are howler monkeys and headed for the jungle. Following somewhat skeptically behind him [Editor’s Note from Danny – Jill actually thought the sounds were from speakers to help create atmosphere- is this disney world?] the howling grew louder and louder. Each time I asked again, are you sure those are monkey’s? The screeching was constant and as we made our way up the path following their noises we were joined by other people also looking for the monkeys. It was my favorite part of the ruins. In all different languages people kept yelling “Do you see them?” and as we climbed higher up the mountain. It was thick jungle and the soil was loose so by the time we decided to turn around (monkey’s still unseen) we were covered in dirt, but beaming from ear to ear. No monkey’s this time, but we know they exist in Palenque!
Brushing ourselves off to look presentable enough to join the other tourists, we continued to explore the ruins. Climbing the pyramids one by one was a feat in and of itself. Seriously. We are in good shape and by the time we reached the top of the third one our chests were heaving. Some of the pyramids seem to have hundreds of stairs, so by the time you reach the top you just want to sit and collapse. But you can’t, because its HOT. Really hot. It is a jungle out there. 🙂
Although the major pyramids and groups of ruins are completely excavated and tower several stories above the ground, we enjoyed the small residential buildings the most. Almost completely consumed by the jungle, these ruins are less visited and seem not to be restored or preserved in any way. We were able to crawl through tunnels, visit inner chambers and even see a subterranean burial chamber (did I mention it was pitch black in there?) under a home. It was a pretty cool experience and although the pyramids are impressive, the smaller ruins were by far more of the “ancient jungle ruin” experience I was looking for. I’m sure in a few months I’ll think nothing of ancient mayan ruins towering in the jungle or monkey’s in trees, but it really was a “discovery channel” moment climbing under the homes and through the jungle looking for monkeys.