I had a great day, in spite of the 4 am start. The road to Palenque is pretty well paved, with the odd huge pothole and hundreds of tome - speed bumps. My driver drove like a maniac, hitting the brakes hard at the bumps, swerving left to right to take a smoother path. There were 4 vans in the convoy and everytime they slowed down they put on their 4 way flashers. The road goes up and down, over mountains and along valleys. There wasn't much traffic thank goodness or it would have been more than the 5 hours to get to our first stop. Along the way-
Agua Azul is beautiful. The waters are turquoise and clear. I had a short swim in the cool water and the current is very strong. They have a lifeguard at every swimming place. There is a 700 meter walk along the edge lined with souvenir stalls, all selling the same stuff of course. It would have been a great place to spend a day but we only had a couple of hours-
Coco Loco drinks are available. They're served in a coconut with vodka and extra milk. I didn't have one because I knew it was going to be a long day-
Driving from Agua Azul to Misol-Ha, the turquoise river is visible in the valley-
Corn is planted manually on the steep hills and is in all stages of growth-
There is a restaurant where the tour buses all stop. You're supposed to order your food, then go see the falls and when you come back, your food will be ready. We had an hour and a half so I thought I'd see the fall, then order and get something fresh. Well, that's not how it worked. I asked for the best thing they had and got a tin foil wrapped thin chicken breast with even thinner slices of ham, a few French fries that had been reheated at least twice, great guacamole (you can't really mess that up) and an ice cream scoop of rice, which I don't eat. All I could think was that if that's your best, I can't imagine the worst!
Our next stop was Palenque. It's one of the best examples of Maya architecture in the country. Palenque means Palisade and has nothing to do with the site. It was first occupied around 100 BC and flourished from 630 - 740 AD. It's thought that they may have run out of food and/or water and this forced the abandonment of the settlement. The site was first re-discovered in 1746 by Maya hunters but it wasn't until 1837 that John L Stephens began investigating. There are hundreds of buildings spread out over 15 square kilometers but only a few have been excavated and restored. 70% of the site is original. Everything we visited was built without metal tools, pack animals or the wheel. We visited about half of the brown buildings shown on the map-
Behind this jungle is a mound that is Temple XI. This is what the whole site looked like before excavation-
All the buildings were painted blood red and had blue and yellow stucco details. Templo XIII contains the tomb of a woman, first thought to be Pakal's mother. She was found in a stone coffin that is still red from the treatment with cinnabar. When important people were buried, the coffin was filled with about a thousand pieces of jade and other riches. She also wore a malachite death mask and they put a noxious gas in the coffin so if it were raided, the gas would escape and the thief would die from the poison-
Remains were sent to a lab in Canada of all places and it was determined this woman came from the state of Tabasco so was probably Pakal's wife - Queen Tz'ak-b'u Ajaw. The Tumba de la Reina Roja was only discovered in 1994-
The Temple of the Inscripciones is Pakal's mausoleum but is now closed to visitors. They want to 'save' the murals that line the walls of his tomb. His skeleton was covered in jewels and his death mask was made of jade. Luckily for me, it was moved to Mexico City to the Museum of Anthropology where I will see it. The temple is built in 8 levels and the staircase rises 25 meters where there are a series of small rooms and a staircase leading down to Pakal's tomb-
Él Palacio took 400 years to build, beginning in the 5th century and was the residence of the rulers-
The tower was built in the 8th century by Ahkal Mo'Hahb' III and restored in 1955. Archaeologists think it was built so Maya royalty and priests could watch the sun set directly into the Templo de las Inscripciones on the winter solstice-
The shape of this window was very effective for air flow. There are also remnants of the red frescoes that adorned the walls-
The roof is not exactly peaked because there is a 2 foot wide piece of rock joining the two sides of the roof together. The thinking was that if there was an earthquake and the roof collapsed, one side would fall into the other and not fall down-
There are 3 styles of toilets still visible. Underneath is a sewer system, flushing the waste away to a septic tank-
Pakal, seated on the right, is being presented the crown to signify he is the new ruler. He was only 12 years old. He reigned from 615 - 683 and lived to be 80 years old-
Travel to the underworld involves passing through 9 stages, depicted on this painting on cow hide-
The Complex of the Cross and the Triad of Palenque were built in the 7th century by Pakal's son K'inich Kan B'ahlam II. There are 3 buildings and they were dedicated in 692 as a spiritual focal point. The Temple of the Sun has a well preserved roofcomb-
The Temple of the Sun is on the left and the Temple XIV on the right-
The Templo de la Cruz is the largest-
I enjoyed my time visiting the site with my Spanish speaking guide! I was quite proud of myself because I understood at least 80% of what he said!
Our ride home was mostly in the dark, once again in a convoy of 4 vans. Everyone in the van except me was from Mexico. They played their music and sang along for most of the 5 hours. I couldn't get over how they listen to music that to me sounds like Neil Diamond kind of stuff. They're young people but not listening to rock and roll or American music. They also knew all of the words for many many songs.
We got back to San Cristobal and I walked home on Real de Guadeloupe, the pedestrian street. I was quite surprised that except for a couple of restaurants/bars everything was closed.
I am looking forward to visiting San Juan de Chamula and Zinacantan tomorrow- 2 small local villages. At 8 pm, I'll take a night bus to Oaxaca.