Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Palenque Waterfall

Long before the roads were paved, only the hardiest of gringos made the trek into the interior of Chiapas to see the Mayan ruins of Palenque.  Such was the case back in '82 when my father got a job in San Cristóbal de las Casas teaching English at a local college.  Back then, even from San Cristóbal, just to get to Palanque was a day-long trip in a rusty, old retired Bluebird school bus full of locals and various livestock rumbling up and down unpaved, single lane mountain roads with drop offs sometimes exceeding a thousand feet.  Guard rails.....what's a guard rail?  Unlike today, the occasional Zapatista rebel patrol didn't have any real interest in gringos back then, but there was always the fear of common highway bandits...and less-than-honest Mexican police.

Scared?  Shit no!  Three days (five if you count the trip there and back) of climbing ancient pyramids, walking down into the catacombs to see the Tomb of Pacal, playing a slightly less deadly game (of soccer) in the ball court, exploring the jungle, watching real archeological excavations, etc, etc, etc.  It was the adventure of a lifetime for a twelve year old, something straight out of Raiders of the Lost Ark....but without the Nazis.

A short hike from the main ruins, along a broken stone and tree root strewn pathway, are the stepped falls of the Otulum River.  The pools are formed when sedimentary limestone is trapped by underlying rocks, eventually forming pools beneath each waterfall.  The falls run for about 5km before coming out of the mountains near the modern town of Palanque.  You could (and I did) spend hours wading from pool to pool stark naked and not see and single soul.  At some point I stopped and snapped this with a little Kodak Instamatic 110 pocket camera...which I still have.

Nowadays, gaggles of shorts-and-sandal-clad tourists clammer off air conditioned buses, having traveled down freshly paved (and guard railed) roads.  Hungover, pasty-faced, fanny-pack-wearing turista on day trips from any given cruise ship (or hippie wannabe eco-tourists) stop at the ruins just long enough to snap a few pictures, stare at the temple complex, stop at the gift shop, and climb back into air conditioned comfort.  You can't climb the pyramids, there's manicured lawns everywhere, and you're not allowed to venture into the water. 

Sad really.  

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