Feeling quite pleased with ourselves we took the easy way out of Rancho San Nicolas and hit the road early in the morning for the 230km drive through the mountains to Palenque. We did stop at some ruins (Tonina) half way but the road still took us 8.5 hours to drive and we passed over 440 Topes. This is perhaps the slowest road we’ve ever driven. There were washouts of the road (heralded with signs saying DESLAVE – we didn’t know what this meant but soon found out when the majority of the road disappeared). Another hazard was locals selling things by the side of the road and lifting a rope across the road as you appeared to try to force you to stop – why they bother when there are so many Topes who knows. We had heard stories of these sellers getting really aggressive and even beating the side of vehicles so we adopted a tactic of driving straight through. They soon dropped the rope with 8.5 tonnes of the Beast bearing down on them.
We eventually reached Palenque and stopped at the Mayabell campground and cabanas. This is a well know stop on the overlander’s trail. On arriving we found Nancy & Drew there once more having down the same drive only marginally quicker than us.
The ruins we stopped off at on the way called Tonina are seldom visited and much less touristy than the big ones but surprisingly large. They basically consist of a city built into the side of a hill peaking with two pyramids at the top. There are a couple of buildings that you can explore inside – although they are pitch dark inside.
The city was at its height between 699AD and 909AD shortly after which it was abandoned. The climb up the face of the ruins is very steep and the steps are pretty large – nearing the top you are definitely using hands to help pull yourself up.
At Mayabell we were in the jungle and the temperature and humidity had both ratcheted right up. The big difference here was that the temperature doesn’t drop off much at night. The other thing is the jungle noises – in the night there is a roaring sound (like a special effect from a sci-fi movie) which is howler monkeys calling out – they move around through the night so the volume varies throughout the night – waking you when they get too close !
Our first morning at Palenque we got up early and walked out onto the road in front of Mayabell. It didn’t take long for a combi van to arrive which we flagged down and were driven the 2 km (uphill) to the main Palenque site. We’d timed our arrival to get there just as it opened because we wanted to be able to see the main pyramids without people on them.
Palenque city flourished between 300 and 900 AD and towards the end of this period ruled a large part of modern day Chiapas and Tabasco. At its peak there was a population close to 100,000 in the city.
The city itself is built on the top of an escarpment with a huge complex called El Palacio as the centrepiece.
Next to this is a huge pyramid called Templo de Las Inscripciones where the tomb of Hanab Pakal was found. We had seen the enormous sarcophagus from this tomb in the anthropological museum in Mexico City.
The ruins continue down into the jungle as you walk down the hill, passing a number of jungle waterfalls. The exit from the site is conveniently only 200m from Mayabell.
We had completed our tour before the heat of the day and spent the rest of the day chilling out by the pool at Mayabell. The pool at Mayabell is freshwater from a jungle stream which is filtered through a pool at the side (filled with fish) before entering the swimming pool.