There is a direct transport from San Cristobal to Tulúm. But it is a long drive and after the experience we had to Puerto Escondido we look for the possibility to split up the trip. Palenque is more or less in the middle and a town with frequent buses to other destinies and even better: there are ruins to visit.
The ancient Maya city of Palenque is one of the biggest with more than 1200 temples, sanctuaries, palaces and other buildings and as you might expect one of the most important at the time the ancient culture reached its peak. (2,5 square km to visit today and experts estimate that this is just 10% of what Palenque was) As we arrive we get overwhelmed by guides who offer us their services for 1500pesos. The official park office with guides informs us that this is the price and there is no chance to negotiate the price. “We just have three hours to visit the ruins, 1500pesos is a lot for three hours, wright?”, I try to explain but no chance. We buy an entrance ticket for 57pesos (same price for all ruins all over Mexico) and just before entering the area I grab a guide aside and ask for his rates. He offers us 1300pesos because it is not a whole day… I look a moment to Giorgia and tell him that I’ve decided to pay him 200pesos. He almost jumps back and with a smile on his face he looks at me as I’m totally out of my mind. “No good business, my friend!”, he replays and offers us a 1000pesos service. We can’t pay 1500 or 1300; even 1000pesos is a budget-killer for us! So I give him ‘the look’ and simply say:” Look it’s 14:30, the cite closes at 17:00. All of the tourists come in the morning and spend a long day and possibly pay 1500pesos… I know a medium salary in Mexico is not more than 100pesos day. There are no more tourists to come. If you guide us, you go home with 200pesos more than you expected 5 minutes ago. For 200pesos we are you clients and your wife will be happy tonight.” He understands that it is 200 or nothing… we shake hands and enter the archaeological site. First the “Templo Del Calavera” referring to the skull sculpture at the base of the pillars on top of the pyramid. At first, those who discovered the temple, thought it was a minor temple on a mountain, later they discovered that this mountain was actually a pyramid and not even a small one.
Like this bit by bit the enormous city of Palenque was discovered and by this bit by bit experts started to understand that Palenque was an important centre in the Mayan world. Palenque not only had contact with big cities as Coba, Ek Bala, Chichén Itzá (one of the world wonders) and Tulúm in Mexico but also much further for slave trade with Tikal and Yaxha (Guatemala) or Xunantunich (Belize) for instance. Even more surprising are Copan from Honduras that commercially traded with Palenque and shared knowledge such as astrology and cultivate techniques. Later we pass the “Temple of Inscriptions” or as well “Pyramid de la Reina Roja” popularly named like this for the coloration of the skeleton dewed to the red/amber colour at the inside of the sarcophagus. Interesting fact about the Red Queen is that it was the first time in Mayan history that a king or queen could search for and find a partner outside the reduced closed group of royals. She gave birth to a son that lived for 81 years!!! That was a sign of the gods, an authentic exception in that time and even more for kings or queen that used to live around 30 years. If in Europe we would have thought about spreading genes… accidents as Charles of England would have been avoided!!! Palenque is till now the only Mayan archaeological place where you really can get a good idea of how a city functioned: how the buildings are inside and by that how the Mayans lived (at least from the ruins we have visited, the only one that aloud people inside the buildings), how the process of recovering ruins is and how the jungle eats, covers and hides for centuries a metropolis this immense.
So after some palaces and temples with all their explanations we enter the jungle. Small paths connecting hills, overgrown with tropical trees and beautiful flowering plants, each one of them pyramids temples, palaces or houses. Root s of trees penetrate walls and destroy ancient architectures with their treasures inside as they grow further inside and get thicker and heavier. The whole scene gives a magical Indiana Jones feeling. Above us a black howler monkey is eating some fruits and different animal sounds indicate a prodigious diversity.
So here we are in the middle of the jungle and maybe at the same time in a street where an important Maya princess got her first kiss. We wonder: Apart from the costs (not even possible to calculate) to recuperate the whole city, is their enough time for cutting away carefully the roots and reconstructing the city the way it was with its more than 1200 constructions? (A small temple takes about 15 years) What is the natural impact to cut a hole that big in the middle of such an ecological system? If in an ideal world we could clean all with the snap of a finger, without losing the wildlife… we would stand in front of a world wonder out of proportions not comparable with any other. We would find treasures of jade never seen before. We would find a construction builded with an unlikely astrological accuracy. We would be able to give back a part of history to the natives that now is burned by the Spaniards. We would stand in front of Atlantis, the lost city, and understand that it was not the water that covered its beauty but a green ocean that swallowed the city bit by bit. Palenque could be all that… but for the moment it’s just a jungle with some beautiful Maya Temples.
This is the map of Palenque Maya City: inside the red square I marked the temples we visited and the square indicates the part of the city which is prepared for visiting… the rest is still hidden by the jungle!!!