An early morning bus took me into the jungle of Mexico to visit another Mayan ruin, this time Palenque. Unfortunately I had somehow managed to develop a bad case of a cold and did not feel like doing anything.
I had booked into a hostel in the jungle itself and luckily it was cheap enough to have a room to myself. The hostel was lovely with paths running between the trees and a stream running alongside. After dark however, there was not much to do which in itself was a relief as I could head to bed early and try and recover.
My stay in Palenque was short so the next day I had to visit the ruins. But in the morning I still did not feel well and when I woke it was pouring with rain, so I rolled over for a few more hours sleep!!! Finally I could no longer put it off and I had to get up and drag my way out to the ruins. I am very glad I did, although I know I did not do justice to them.
Set deep within the jungle, the name Palenque (Palisade) is Spanish and has no relation to the city's ancient name, which may have been Lakamha (Big Water). Palenque was first occupied around 100 BC and flourished from around AD 630 to around 740. After AD 900, Palenque was largely abandoned and was soon taken over by the jungle. In 1746, Mayan hunters revealed the existence of a jungle palace to a Spanish priest named Antonio de Solís. Later explorers claimed Palenque was the capital of an Atlantis-like civilization. The eccentric Count de Waldeck, (who in his 60s lived atop one of the pyramids for two years 1831-33), even published a book with fanciful neoclassical drawings that made the city resemble a great Mediterranean civilization.
On first sight, Palenque appeared very impressive and continued to be so. Like Uxmal, I was able to climb up the many pyramids and in particular walk in and around the Palace allowing you to imagine what the place had been like when lived in. There were many remains of paintings and the colourful facades that would have adorned the buildings. For example the Temple de la Calavera still had a carving of a skull on the outside. The jungle completely surrounded the ruins and with the rain and cloud, it gave a very mystical feel to the place. I wandered through the trees to the Templo del Sol and the Templo de la Cruz, both of which offered more carvings at the top of the pyramids. The latter in particular was one of the highest and gave an amazing view out over Palenque.
I saw the ball court, aqueducts and the temple where the Count lived. It must have been quite an experience for him. By this time, the rain had seemed to have got to most people and crowds were heading for the exit. I continued along a path and came across the Group C temples. These were my favourite and had a serene feel about them. Maybe it was the silent ever creeping jungle, but the place felt happy! Finally as I made my way towards the exit, I wandered past some incredible waterfalls. Vines overhung the water, whilst the rushing water had moulded the rocks into a smooth wonderous shapes. The water was crystal clear and a lovely blue in colour. One of the waterfalls was called the 'Queen's Bath' and I could see why. It made you want to jump in.
A few more ruined temples later and I was exiting the park to the museum. The museum held many artifacts found from the sight, including a fabulous tomb. The tomb was engraved in-depth and quite beautiful to look at. Other artifacts included immense totem incense burners, the usual jewellery and pottery and statues of warriors. Quite a few of the statues looked oriental, which made me consider how interlinked we all are. I also sucummbed to buying a small pottery statue of one of the warriors in memory of the site, as it had really made an impact on me. In the shop the leaflet accompanying the statue clearly stated it was a replica. When I looked on the bus back, that statement was not on the sheet I was given. Knowing the next airport I am to go through is the States, I sincerely hoped it would not cause any problems!!
Despite the weather and feeling rubbish, Palenque was an impressive sight and perhaps my favourite. The impact of the jungle, the ability to explore inside the ruins and the serenity of the place combined to make the ruins an incredible place to visit. You could almost imagine what it had been like. Knowing that the entire site had been made by hand, with limited tools and not even the wheel also impressed me. We have lost so many skills with the advent of modern technology whilst Palenque demonstrates what can be done in so many simple ways.