There are dozens of Mayan ruins to visit in Mexico, but one can’t see them all. Also, entrance fees in Yucatan are pretty high for our budget, so we would have to make choices there anyway. Palenque was one we definitely wanted to see, since it is also tucked away all the way in the jungle of Chiapas.
We parked the car and got in line for tickets. We got there just at 8 a.m. at opening time. In true Mexican fashion, we first joined the line to get a ticket to Palenque National Park and then joined a second line to buy the ticket to the Mayan ruins. Very efficient as always in these countires, but we adjust.
We decided to take the less visited “back” entrance to walk through the park in the opposite direction. This way, at least in the beginning, we had part of the park to ourselves. The structures here are fantastic to look at and unlike some other ruins in Mexico, here you can still climb the steep stairs and enjoy the complex from a different angle.
The Palenque complex is known for its well-preserved relief stones on which the drawings of various rulers and many glyphs are still very recognizable. The structures themselves are also in good condition, although of course they have been restored to their former state over the past few decades. When the Spaniards came across the complex in the 16th century, it was under a thick layer of earth and the jungle had reclaimed the area. It is estimated that only five percent of this Maya city has now been discovered and excavated. So there is still a lot to discover!
We left the site through the main entrance and hiked through the jungle looking for another temple which is hidden here in the middle of the jungle before making our way back to our car to continue to the Caribbean Sea.
We left the province of Chiapas on a road where it was actually possible to drive over 80 kilometers per hour for long stretches. No speed bumps nor villages that slowed us down, and asphalt in reasonable condition, although here again lies the immediate danger! A deep hole in the road is never far away so we always have to stay 100% concentrated while driving. We never had expected that we would be able to cover the last 170 kilometers until the Caribbean coast today. It made us extra happy to experience our first acquaintance with the white beaches and blue waters of the Caribbean.
We also slowly noticed that the temperatures were now really rising. During the day it was necessary to seek shade as much as possible and to empty more than one bottle of water per person. We stayed on Sean’s property for two days. A Canadian who had bought a piece of land including a beach five years ago and built a number of cabanas for rent. Officially, he’s not open yet, but camper tourists like us don’t need much and he’s happy to grant a spot on his land among the fledgling palm trees. So we made it through the day, spending mostly in the shade. We hung out in the hammock and swam in the water for when it really got too hot.
The ruins of Edzna is a less visited Maya site and rather small scale compared to those of Palenque or Chichen Itza. We visited the site and were particularly impressed by the number of iguanas we stumbled over almost every time we took a step. We climbed the Gran Acropolis up to the plaza and were saddened to learn that nowadays it is not allowed to climb the steps of “The temple of the Five Storeys”. We put ourselves in the shade of the steps and tried to imagine what life was like here 1,500 years ago.
From culture it moved almost seamlessly to nature. In that respect, Mexico has it all to offer. We were now on the Yucatan Peninsula for several days, but today officially crossed the border of the province of Yucatan. We drove back toward the Caribbean Sea, and we did so because of a large colony of flamingos that are here west of the Yucatan capital of Merida. The list of wildlife we have already been granted to see is already quite long, but we did not have the chance to see these pink colored birds so far and so we drove to Celestun.
We passed the bridge over the lagoon. We didn’t count them but there were plenty of boats here to choose from. We signed in and after consuming our lunch we were able to board a boat together with two Mexican couples and set off. Before long, the first flamingos accompanied us through the air, flying even faster than our boat powered by a 60hp 4 takter. Several pink spots popped up in the distance.
Our Mayan driver slowly steered to the right across the lagoon straight toward a pink spot that kept getting bigger. Hundreds if not thousands of flamingos spent their time here mainly standing quietly in the water. Every now and then apparently it got too dull for one of these birds and it flew to another spot and sometimes some landed again. We stayed around this colony for about half an hour which gave us plenty of time to study these animals. The pink color they get because their diet consists mainly of shrimp larvae. These contain so much carotene that their feathers gradually turn pink. They are born as white flamingos.
At high speed, we drove past a number of islets where a number of other bird species were gathering. This lagoon was full of life. Pelicans, cormorants, several species of heron and quite remarkably…pink spoonbills! We waved hello to a ray and after leaving a mangrove tunnel behind us found our way back to Celestun where we spent the afternoon on the beach and in the water.
We had spent the night in a hotel parking lot. There was a shower, a toilet and a good Internet connection, but the owner exceptionally did not demand money for it. As a kind of quid pro quo, we enjoyed a delicious breakfast in the restaurant before leaving Celestun again.
Yucatan has another asset in terms of natural beauty. There are more than 2,500 cenotes on the peninsula. Because Yucatan is largely composed of brittle limestone, over thousands of years beneath the earth’s surface many rivers have excavated the largest river system in the world. In places where the ceiling has collapsed, a kind of deep lake has formed where you can cool off. Not all 2,500 cenotes are accessible, but a lot of them are, so we had to make choices about which ones to visit. Next Monday we had an appointment in Merida to have our car checked at a garage, so we stayed near this city and went in search of our first two cenotes.
It was wonderful bathing in this natural environment. Roots grew down into the half-open cave and in the clear water lived small fish that gratefully evened out the bumps on your skin. The overall picture was actually perfect. Places like this naturally get crowded, but with the staff making sure that there were no more than 10 people in the water at a time and that people didn’t hang out in the cenote for more than 45 minutes, it was all quite manageable.
After a quick visit of the historic center of Merida we spent the evening and night at Parque Aleman. We had heard that this is a lively park where locals gather in the evenings and since it was Sunday, we expected some hustle and bustle. We also wanted to sleep here along the edge of the park so that was also immediately arranged. We made a tour of the park and saw that they were building some sort of market. The local youth were mainly in the skate park and families with children were at the fairground. We decided to eat something first and later stretch our legs again where we sat on a bench with a drink and watched people stroll by.
The next morning we drove to Oliver who has his garage on the outskirts of town. We now had over 47,000 kilometers on the teller so it was high time for a check-up. We immediately noticed that we were in good hands with Oliver and during the time he was worrying about our car, we were enjoying ourselves with the six dogs running happily and freely over his property. Fortunately, Oliver had good news and praised the condition of our car. What a relief!
We had written down a few little things for him that bothered us, all of which he could fix. Only the oil change remained to be done. A task that normally poses no problems, but here in Mexico the right oil, oil filter and fuel filter are not so easily available. Oliver disappeared with his car for two hours and then returned with oil and the filter. Since by now darkness had set in, we decided to spend the night on his property. Tomorrow we can finally hit the road again.