A Fairy Tale; Palenque and San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico

The 20th of August, 2015  

After reviewing the information I got from the lady at the bus station, regarding the time-table for my connections, I returned on the 19th downtown, to book the tickets for my trip from the 20th until the 25th of August. I wasn’t really looking forward to this long bus ride, especially not the one back home; 14 hours in the evening/night bus from San Cristobal to Merida straight!  I did check the flights from Merida to Tuxtla Gutierrez, the airport closest to San Cristobal, but prices were around 300 to 400 US, so out of the question.  For the bus ride from Merida to Palenque one way, leaving at 22.00 p.m. I had to pay 568 pesos (a rough 35 USD). I also booked the bus ride from Palenque to San Cristobal for the 22nd at 9.45 for 206 pesos. Last trip I had to book was the bus ride from San Cristobal back to Merida on the 25th in the late afternoon, for  around 750 pesos. After all this was done, I had to start packing. Camera and computer and clothes for very hot weather (Palenque) and for “in between” weather and even cold in the evening (San Cristobal). Well, I didn’t bring any winter clothes or boots for my trips to Costa Rica and Mexico, so I did have a small problem there.  The taxi picked me up to bring me to the “night” bus and I had for all trips reserved places, as I am not good in the back of the bus (nor at the front, but this is where the Gravol comes in handy).  My trip to Palenque wasn’t that bad. I got some sleeping pills from the nice pharmacist in Merida and the bus made a stop every 2 hours at a decent place, where there was a decent washroom available; very important, as the ones on the buses make me even more “seasick”.  The last part of the trip was through a lot of villages and that means “speed bumps” in Mexico, after every so many meters, so impossible to sleep………Once arrived in Palenque it was daylight and I was so happy be outside again, that I avoided all the taxis and walked to the hotel. It was easy, as Palenque is not a big city.DSC01118

My hotel room was “interesting” and clean and everything was there and of course I was glad to have my earplugs handy. After a shower and a quick nap, I went looking for a place to have breakfast. Within a few minutes walking, I found a nice, open eatery, where I asked for a normal breakfast and then I got this enormous plate with eggs, thin tortillas and sauces at the side and somewhere a bowl with fresh fruits, coffee and freshly pressed juice with way too much added sugar! I couldn’t eat more than half of it and they asked me, if it was not tasty enough!DSC01123

Mexicans like their food and they can eat! By now it was already around 11.00 and I had to go to the Mayan ruins of Palenque, which are situated in an enormous Natural Park, mainly covered by jungle. Around 10% of the old city is revealed; the remains are still uncovered and are overtaken by the jungle.

In Palenque there are mini vans, which are going back and forwards to the park. They stop by the entrance and you first pay around 30 pesos for entering the park. After, you have to pay the officially fee for visiting the ruins, which is around 65 pesos. Many people are offering their knowledge as guides, by the entrance of the park, even boys no older than 8! I never make use of them, as I need my time for taking pictures and these people are most of the time in a hurry……DSC01146

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It is a great area to wander around the archeological sites, or hike into the jungle and enjoy the beauty of the nature and listen to the howler monkeys. The setting is totally different in comparison with Chichen Itza;  far more impressive. Also fewer vendors than Chichen Itza.  The structure of the buildings is different too. If all the ruins would be discovered from beneath the jungle grounds, it will show what an impressive city this site must have been.   DSC01173DSC01150

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After a short visit to the museum on site, I call it a day and head back to the city by minibus, have a shower and walk around Palenque, where every night an open air market is held and many other vendors occupy the pavements. By now I am extremely tired and find a quiet spot in a restaurant. Tomorrow, another bus drive of 5 hours and I need a good night sleep! The next morning I have time for breakfast, a bit computer work and some quick souvenir shopping. I left a tip in the room for the cleaning lady, but the clever receptionist goes first to “check” the room, after the clients return the key. That way she can cash the tip!!! Though seemingly it is necessary to check if everything is still there, as I witnessed that a businessman had to open his computer bag, where one of the small bathroom towels was hidden. Yes, it is hot in Palenque and we all need a towel now and then……….

Half an hour behind on schedule, we leave Palenque for San Cristobal. While driving away, the bus driver first had to make the sign of the cross and later I understood why……..as soon as we left Palenque, the road goes high into the mountain and gets very, very curvy!DSC01211DSC01216 First though, we had to return to the busstation, as they forgot two passengers, who were in the bathroom. Then after a few km. the chauffeur realized that he lost the keys of the luggage storage. While driving, he started looking all over in the front of the bus and managed to find them. I was sitting on the front row at the other side and witnessed his face expressions. This was only the start of the journey! He also managed to eat a sandwich, have a coffee and check the passengers list, while driving through the mountains. The road is the main road to San Cristobal, but nothing like a highway. It is just wide enough for the buses to pass each other.

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I must confess that our driver was very competent! I even tipped him at the end, which is not common here, but he appreciated it. I had taken a Gravol and tried to make pictures during the trip, which distracted me from getting sick and there was so much to see on the way, that it took all my attention. We passed a lot of villages, where Mayan people were dressed in colourful outfits and everywhere they had different costumes; different patterns and different colours.DSC01242

A lot of poverty, many houses reminded me of Cuba. Children were washed in wooden feeders of the animals and women were doing the laundry on old fashioned washboards. It was a very interesting trip, but also very long. We made one stop for petrol (all the curtains had to be closed; why, I still don’t know) and another, where you could quickly get a drink or some food.DSC01198

Once we arrived on the highway, it was a quick drive to the beautiful mountain town of San Cristobal de las Casas. A short taxi drive of 10 minutes brought me to the Parador Margarita, a quiet hotel with spacious, rustic rooms and a nice courtyard. Very centrally located, but just out of the noisy area of downtown and above all, the bells of the Cathedral and all other churches. From the 2nd floor you have a great view over the mountains and part of the town.

DSC01252DSC01250After getting settled in my hotel room, I walk the short distance over the cobbled streets towards the old historical center of San Cristobal and I enter another fairy tale; cozy streets with small patio’s, filled with people from all places of the world. Musicians playing all kinds of instruments, indigenous women with the babies on their back wandering the streets, “retired” hippies from different foreign countries mixing with the locals and of course the homeless and disabled……..Everybody seems to get along with each other fine.

In front of the huge Cathedral are many indigenous people selling colourful blankets and sweaters, scarves and mittens, as it can be cold in the evening here in San Cristobal. I find a cozy eatery, with the name “La Surreal” on Real de Guadaloupe, where they serve big glasses of nice red wine and tasty sandwiches. I now realize how hungry I am.  My last meal was breakfast and it is by now 8.00 p.m.  I sit inside, as the temperature has dropped to around 15 degrees C. and after the heat of Palenque, it is quite a change. I realize I have to buy some warm clothes on the market, as soon as possible!  Once back in the hotel, I enjoy my quiet room with the king size bed and I look forward to another day of exploring this vibrant city.

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