Highlights of Mexico (11): from San Cristobal de las Casas to Palenque

Day 8 (Wednesday) was essentially another travelling day so it was an early start again: alarm at 5 am and departure from the hotel at 6.15 am with a packed breakfast. We were journeying from San Cristobal de las Casas north to Palenque in our minibus along a single lane road – a trip of 220 kms (140 miles) with a major scenic stop on the way.

We were fortunate because the Cox & Kings itinerary had warned us that, due to frequent demonstrations by local communities and subsequent restricted access to certain roads, it might be necessary to take an alternative route which would be both much longer and miss our the scenic site. Indeed the two previous days, such demonstrations were taking place, but the Mayan gods must have been shining down on us because today the road restrictions had been lifted.

The first section of our journey was through the lush scenery of the Chiapas highlands, passing through pine forest covered mountains, coffee and banana plantations, and Indian villages. The good news was there were no road restrictions and, as we drove through the indigenous village of Temo, we saw the pile of rocks that had blocked the road the previous two days. Indeed we saw other rock piles in other villages just waiting for the next protest.

The bad news was that the road was constantly twisting and turning and there was an unbelievable – repeat: unbelievable – number of ‘speed bumps’, making the ride somewhat challenging. Every village and every stall and every commercial endeavour (even a couple of kids selling drinks or fruit) would have ‘speed bumps’ constructed across the whole width of the road both before and after the location. Locals had created these ‘bumps’ in order to make the occupants of passing vehicles more aware of their existence and offerings.

Soon the road started to weave its way downwards from the cooler highlands to lower and lower elevations where it was hotter and hotter and more and more humid. After about two hours, we had a coffee and comfort stop. Then we went through villages that were strong supporters of the Zapatista uprising and we encountered a military checkpoint searching for drugs. After another hour and a half, we reached our scenic stop: the waterfalls of Aqua Azul.

This is a wonderful location at any time of year with a succession of waterfalls surrounded by verdant jungle. We were visiting the site in the dry season which meant that the flow of water was less (but still significant) and the water was at its most colourful (a dazzling turquoise which gives the site its name). It was here that our guide Alberto and Roger discovered that they shared a passion for movies when Alberto described the shooting of a scene from “Predator” at these falls.

After Aqua Azul, it was another hour and a half to reach the town of Palenque where we had lunch at the Hotel Ciudad Real. Our accommodation for the next two nights was different from our previous three hotels. First, it was not in Palenque but a 15 minute drive out of the town. Second, it consisted of separate bungalows. The Chan Kahn Resort was built on arid land originally used as a cattle ranch but now reforested to restore the surrounding jungle of some 50 acres that one sees today. The resort comprises 79 bungalow-style buildings called casitas surrounding a separate restaurant and an open air swimming pool.

From our hotel this morning to our hotel this afternoon had been a journey of nine and a half hours, so we were pleased to leave the heat and humidity and enter our air conditioned casitas.


XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>