Arriving in Chiapas State
11.21.2008 Villahermosa to Palenque
No La Venta para yo in Villahermosa:
Quote of the Day: “No museum is worth this!” (Jazy)
We tried to visit La Venta. Really we tried! Let me paraphrase from my dear beloved 2005 Church’s book: “It’s easy to drive around Villahermosa- big, wide, new streets.
You can even park a big rig on the street just beyond La Venta and walk back 200 yards, even on a busy Sunday (when museums in Mexico are free). Piece of cake. Easy as pie.”
Here’s the scoop in Nov. 2008. There is NO parking along the road in front of La Venta. After the tiny parking lot for cars only, there are 4 lanes of high speed traffic on that lateral road, beside the highway. Zero parking. Since there’s absolutely no possible place to park, we tried to find parking on a nearby street. So we turned right at the first major light which headed us straight toward the colonial center of town, with cobblestone streets and tremendous traffic everywhere (no lanes marked). We took a right at each of the next 2 lights, ending up on a small cobblestone street filled on both sides with parked cars.
A place to park- are you kidding? It was like driving in Boston.
Our mirrors skimmed by the parked cars. We had to make a run for it on the only open middle lane. Oh no! A car came toward us! I pleaded with my hands pressed in prayer and she finely understood that I could go nowhere and kindly took the little spot to our right so I could squeeze past. I almost blew her kisses but figured that would be a bit much.
With more begging hand motions and “Gracias!” we managed to cut in onto the high speed lateral again, escape up the ramp to the highway, and out of town. It was crazy! Something most definitely happened between 2005 when the Church’s book was written and today because there is NO parking for a any rig larger than car-length in that mess. We would have taken a taxi if I’d had a clue. I don’t think Houston has as much traffic as Villahermosa on a Friday at 10:30 am. Oh my gosh!
And so, we’d missed our chance for La Venta because we were outta there.
I was grateful we’d stayed on the west side of town last night. I cannot imagine traversing it during rush hour! There is a Super Walmart and Sam’s Club there, and every modern store you can imagine. I wonder if the city’s population has increased tremendously lately. Whatever the situation, it was crazy. I’ve driven in Boston and New York, but not in a 26.5 foot long rig. And I won’t do Villahermosa in one again either.
So we drove a few hours through delightfully calm roads, although they were pretty torn up in places. Still, we did not complain because we were alive!
Palenque and Mayabell’s Campground:
Within a few hours, we arrived at Palenque, the town, which was pretty busy and crowded.
But thanks to Nuvi, we made it to the gates of the National Park and straight to the GPS coordinates for Mayabell’s Campground. Hooray!
Now you may be silly enough like me to hope that this international mecca of a campground might have someone who speaks multiple languages, given too that English is mandatory in school here, but no such luck had we. Which is just fine because they get to hear my butchered Espanol as I practico. Entertaining indeed! They do seem to suffer me kindly enough.
Palenque is a UNESCO World Heritage site of Mayan Ruins set in a magnificent jungle!
Pre-Hispanic City and National Park of Palenque
State of Chiapas, Municipality of Palenque: GPS N17 29 00 / W92 03 00
A prime example of a Mayan sanctuary of the classical period, Palenque was at its height between AD 500 and 700, when its influence extended throughout the basin of the Usumacinta River.
The elegance and craftsmanship of the buildings, as well as the lightness of the sculpted reliefs with their Mayan mythological themes, attest to the creative genius of this civilization.
Palenque Ruines sign- scary
We took a bus up to the park entrance. How do you catch the bus when the bus stop (both the bus booth and the only place for a bus to stop off the road surface) are on the wrong side of the road? Well, you wave at the bus when it is going in the correct direction, then you back up out of the way because it pulls over (to the wrong side of the road) to the entrance of the campground. See? You don’t stand on the correct side of the road because there’s no road shoulder and only thigh-high jungle grass. Besides, there’s no place for the bus to stop over there. Ahhh…fortunately, helpful travelers are around to help.
Speaking of other travelers, we had to turn the Palenque Guest Book back 2 pages (about 100 entries) to find any Americans at all and they were traveling in a group of 40 people! There were people from all over the world: France, Canada, India, everywhere, and hardly any Americans.
I have been really surprised by that. I think the news and State Dept. warnings have scared people away, not to mention the economy issues. Still, so many more Canadians wherever we go! (Good thing we love Canadians too).
We almost took a picture today of a motorhome coming toward us, as we haven’t seen any, but alas, it was just a bus. We’ve seen no motorhomes to date on the roads in Mexico. I think the RV from El Cieba in Catemaco is here with us tonight. That one and the Roadtrek are the only two here with us, and a few folks in tents and the huts.
Mayabell’s is an exotic, tiki torch type of bohemian campground with palm frond roofs on the restaurant, bar, pool cabana, and some small hotel huts or cabanas. The people staying here are world travelers and take me back to my backpacking days. It feels very much like a youth hostel environment.
While not everyone speaks the same language, everyone is open and friendly • and we all look rough and weathered. The pool, while lovely from a distance, was not quite as clean as the kids were willing to risk.
This evening we sat near the pool and heard howler monkeys shriek their wild, scary shrieks in the treetops beside the campground. I hope our video of their serenade comes out. It sends chills up your spine! What an experience!
Mayabell’s is not far at all from the ruins. However, there are crime reports occasionally for the south pathway entrance, so we didn’t want to take that one, and our Spanish disadvantage meant we couldn’t determine even where the pathways were located. So the 20 pesos for the 4 of us on the bus ($1.75) worked great.
Palenque Ruins were magnificent with huge structures that you could climb up and walk around in the ancient courtyards and interior rooms.
You could see sarcophagus rooms and stone crypts, although the bodies had been removed. Since most of the buildings were dated around 600-700 AD, they were amazingly mysterious.
Mayabell´s campground- Yum
We could have hired a guide who spoke English. The initial price of 600 pesos was down to 350 by the time we got in the gate, but I questioned how much “English” was really known. Our Michelin Mexico Book provided plenty of detail for our purposes.
After several hours of exploration, we found our way past the gorgeous waterfalls to the exit. We got a wee bit worried about safety. We’d already taken a picture of the sign that said it was inadvisable for people walking alone to take a certain path. Good grief. Then the other people around us vanished down alternate paths, so we hurried quite a ways to the exit. No issues at all.
At the bus stop, we were hot and tired from climbing all the temples, when a fellow traveler told us that the campground was only a 5-minute walk.
The kids, however, didn’t believe her and so we ran back for the bus (which is a van really). Sure enough, Mayabell’s was only about 50 yards down the road. I sheepishly paid 15 pesos as an ignorance tax. However to be fair, sometimes people do say “just down the road” and it is actually miles. The grief received during the subsequent long walk is just not worth it.
So we’re here in Mayabell’s: exotic, beautiful, green and lovely. The payphone doesn’t work, so I’m again happy to have the Find Me Spot. We also have full hookup with 15 amp power. We’ve not had 30 amp power at all in Mexico, which is fine. We really haven’t needed our air conditioner. It costs 230 pesos for the 4 of us here tonight. Right now I can hear lovely guitar music from the restaurant area.
We enjoyed a Mexican dinner at Mayabell’s restaurant with enchiladas, tacos, and a hamburger (don’t laugh) and a cool pina colada.
All is well in beautiful Mexico.
Mayabell´s campground- listening to the howler monkeys
After the Villahermosa near-tragedy (no, that’s not overly dramatic- ha!) this morning, I declared emphatically that I wanted a small Roadtrek on a new Sprinter chassis. Then we pulled into Mayabell’s and the only other rig there was… you guessed it. I offered to buy it on the spot, make a trade, whatever, but Vance and Louise from Ontario claimed that it was their daughter’s rig and not theirs to sell. Ahh, too bad for me. I had a good time talking with them as they expounded upon the virtues of the Roadtrek, all of which I already knew and turned me more green with envy.
I cannot overstate how important it is to either have:
a small and adventurous vehicle (as in able to fit in a normal parking spot) or
2. a tow vehicle so you can park for a week and run around in a circumference or
3. a truck from a 5th wheel to use or
4. Copious amounts of both time and money so you can stay in cities for the long periods of time required to arrange taxi/bus service, guided tours, or a rental car.
If you have none of the above (1-4), you’re not going to be able to see and do all that you’d like in Mexico, particularly in cities. It’s just the way it is.
While I love Ciao, it is not easy to get around everywhere in her here in Mexico as I can in the U.S. I’ve even driven Ciao down the ancient River Road in Savannah and through historic Charleston.
No problemo. I think I could drive any road in Houston and live to tell about it. Not so in Villahermosa, lovely capital city of Tabasco that it may be. Or Poza Rica, or Veracruz, or Tampico… you see my reasoning. We’re getting better with public transportation, but need to hone our skills. It is quite an adventure!
Palenque Ruines burial crypt
We’ll probably make a long drive tomorrow to Campeche, then off to Uxmal, and finally to Merida to see Jonna and Mimi, who we’re really excited to meet in person. While I’m bummed about missing La Venta (with the huge stone Olmec heads) and the adjacent zoo, at least it put us here early enough to get back on schedule, arriving in time to tour Palenque. Now we can drive early in the morning.
Palenque is also in the State of Chiapas, the southernmost state in Mexico. We have driven a long way south now. No police sightings today.
Palenque is one of the 4 great Mexican ruins. The others are Tulum, Uxmal, and Chichen-Itza, which we also plan to see. Campeche is also one of our UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Our plan is to be near Belize around December 1st so we have plenty of time to explore Central America, which is much more difficult to get to than Mexico, as Harriet Halkyard told me.
We can always visit Mexico easily from Texas. So after Merida we’ll go to Chichen-Itza, Cancun, then down to Chetmal and into Belize- it’s really not too much farther to go. We’re looking forward to slowing the pace very soon.
Campeche (city) will be in the State of Campeche and they reportedly “clean out your refrigerator” when you cross the state border. We think they’ll be sorely disappointed in our offerings, as we’d hoped to stop at Walmart today, but that attempt was quickly aborted in you-know-where. So we have little food to provide, although technically I think they are supposed to take only eggs and either pork or chicken products.
Lia’s tummy hurt a bit last night and this morning, so I’ll be watching for signs of Malaria pill side effects.
I lost my balance on the top of the tallest temple, but I think that was just normal dizzy behavior for me. I can’t blame that on the pills, unfortunately- no one actually fell during that incident, so no harm was done. J