Entering Palenque feels not only like stepping into a different country; it feels like stepping into another dimension. Palenque is a fantasy universe where everyone is relaxed and at peace; where everything around you is a natural, beautiful, living jungle; where it's easy to forget that anything at all in the world is bad; and where wearing a watch really doesn't make any sense. If you really want to understand the magic of Palenque, you'll just have to go and see it for yourself.
The famous ruins of Palenque.
I spent two nights at Palenque, with my hammock slung up at the jungle retreat of El Panchán. If I wasn't running so desperately short on time here in Mexico, I would have stayed at least a week. As it was, I just had time to relax, to discover inner peace in a way I'd never before thought possible, and to check out the spectacular Maya ruins of the ancient city of Palenque.
Tara, Dan, Alan, and myself got a colectivo back from Palenque ruins. Since Alan and I were planning to go straight into town and find some transport to San Cristóbal, and since Tara and Dan also needed to go into town, we convinced the colectivo driver to stop in El Panchán, and to wait for us for 1 minute. However, I hadn't already packed up, so I needed to do so in a hurry!
After two full days of just hanging out in the Jungle at El Panchán, I finally made it to the ancient ruins of Palenque this morning. Tara, Dan, Alan, and myself hopped on a colectivo (shared taxi / minibus) after breakfast (which we had at Don Muchos, of course), and gave ourselves a nice little tour of what I suspect is Mexico's best and most magnificent archaeological site.
This trick has to be even more widespread than the "almost free" lie, and it's even more aggravating. You go to the ATMs in Mexico, and you usually get a wad of 500-peso notes, sometimes with a few 200s thrown in. Then you try to use these notes to pay for something — dinner in a restaurant, for example. 9 times out of 10, they'll be rejected, with the excuse "no tengo cambio" (lit: "I haven't got change"). ¿No tiene cambio? Why the hell not!
At Don Muchos tonight, I decided to order myself a little Margarita after I finished my dinner. I don't know what the hell they put in that drink, but it must have been damn strong; because that was the only alcoholic beverage I had tonight, and it put me right out like a light bulb. I didn't even make it back to the hammock: I dozed right off at the dinner table, and I missed most of tonight's juggling show.
I tried out the Internet café at El Panchán, and I'm sorry to say that I wasn't impressed. When I got there, the Internet wasn't working at all. Then, when they finally got it restored, my mouse didn't work, the connection was slow, and the PCs were filled with more spyware than a James Bond movie. And all for a ripoff rate of 15 pesos / hr.
Coming to Palenque has really, seriously, given me more than I'd bargained on getting. Before I came here, I believed that inner peace, meditation, and all that stuff was total bollocks. But now, I can say for the first time that I understand what all of that means; and I understand why people are prepared to make such efforts in order to attain it. After spending a few days relaxing here, I feel better than I've ever felt before in my life.
This Aussie couple happened to be in Palenque at the same time as me, and along with Alan, I wound up spending some time in the jungle with them. They've both been everywhere, sometimes together, sometimes alone. They're both willing to try really crazy things; but Tara's really funny, because she just naturally looks a lot more sensible and careful than she is. They're also both from Sydney.
I cannot for the life of me remember where I first met Alan. It was somewhere else in Mexico :P. Anyway, we crossed paths again in Palenque, and we ended up hanging out together, along with a few other people, in the jungle for a few days. Alan's in his late 30s, and he's been travelling for a long time. But I felt that all his travelling has kept him young at heart. He's been all around South America, and he has plenty of stories to tell about that.
The success of my hammock-swinging experience here is yet another way in which Palenque has surprised me. I thought that hammock-swinging on Tulum beach would be the easy practice run, in preparation for the anticipated "grand challenge" of Palenque. But actually, it's been easier and more enjoyable here than in Tulum.
During my two-and-a-bit days in El Panchán, I ate every breakfast and every dinner at Don Muchos. Considering that it's really the only place to eat at El Panchán, this should come as no surprise. Also, considering that they have a total monopoly over everyone who's staying in El Panchán (and who can't be bothered to go into town for food), they're quite reasonably priced.