Ruins and Falls

Trip Start Jun 11, 2005
Trip End Sep 01, 2005

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Flag of Mexico  ,
Sunday, July 31, 2005

Today was great. It was one of those days that wouldn't have been the same if I didn't have the luxury of traveling alone. I'm in Palenque now. Most people here wake up at 7 a.m. to get to the ruins. You have to beat the crowds they say. But everyone is there at 8 a.m. to beat the crowds. Which makes it...crowded. I slept til 11. Took my time getting ready. Had some lunch. Wandered over to the ruins at about noon thirty. There were no lines to enter the park. There weren't so many people that I couldn't get a decent picture. It wasn't...crowded.

Remember when you were a kid and your parents woke you up at 4:30 in the morning so you could beat the crowds to Disneyland? You got there before dark and managed to find parking in the Mickey section, space number one. Then waited a couple of hours for the park to open. Your mother lugged in her purse which was stuffed with 42 peanut butter sandwiches so you wouldn't have to buy any food at the park. Disney food is expensive. It's packed full of Disney magic and nutrition.

Then you all jogged over to the new Thriller ride so you could see the Michael Jackson robot dance and sing (insert gratuitous pedophilia humor here). From there you hit Space Mountain and waited 90 minutes to ride a roller coaster in the dark. But you were so exhausted that the cool darkness lulled you to sleep. And all you remember of Disneyland is how you made all the dwarves sign your autograph book before you'd leave. And Dopey scribbled his name very child-like. You know, so it looked like he was...dopey. But not Cinderella. She wrote pretty. And she smelled like flowers. And peanut butter. After 42 sandwiches everything smelled like peanut butter. Isn't Disneyland great?

When we were in high school all the Trooperettes went to California for a competition. A group of the prettiest, richest, and most popular girls at our school got caught stealing from the gift shop at Disneyland. Disneyland doesn't put up with theft. Even from pretty rich girls. It was a huge scandal. I saw those girls in El Paso last weekend. They're all married and have children. I hope they take there kids to Disneyland and remind them not to steal. Why? Because stealing is wrong.

So back to Palenque. I've finished the trifecta. I have now visited the 3 most important sites in the Maya world. What does that mean? Pretty much nothin'.

But I can compare the three. Copan, in Honduras, is always called the Paris of the Maya world. Because it has the most art. Tikal, in Guatemala, is called New York. Because it's huge and has towering structures. Palenque is called, Palenque. It has no doppelganger.

It's very different from the other two sites. Mexico has more money than the other two countries, so the site is very well maintained and accessible. All the paths are clearly marked and paved with gravel. The grass in the plazas is cut short and the grounds are kept immaculate. And this all means that there are people there that would never visit Tikal. Tikal is in the middle of the jungle. It's huge and the buildings are sprawled over several square miles. It's Manhattan. In the jungle. Palenque is pretty small and well reconstructed. But toward the end of the tour there is some jungle.

Speaking of: I heard some howler monkeys toward the end of the tour. I didn't realize Palenque had howlers. For those of you who have never come into contact with these monkeys, let me describe them. The word "howling" doesn't really do the sound they make justice. When they "howl", it sounds like Satan is belching and speaking tongues simultaneously. Throw in some angry Chewbaca (and he's angry because he's choking on hot tar). It sounds like that. They also jump from tree to tree and shake the branches and can make the whole canopy look like it's alive. You don't have to be close to see or hear them either. We saw them in Belize from half a mile away. Their voices carry. The jungle crashes like waves. It's really disturbing.

Sorry. Back to Palenque. When you look at these pictures you will see that the buildings are quite impressive. They're large, well built structures. Lots of stairs and angles and decoration. The plazas are lovely and green. Every step around the park leads to a great photo opportunity. But remember that what your seeing is a ghost. The city is a shell of its former glory. It's like looking at a mummy. Most the features are still clear. All the parts are there. Head and legs and arms. Mouth and hair and teeth. But the skin is grey. The body is atrophied and shrunken. You know what you're looking at was a person, but no more. The thing is silent and dead. The city is the same.

These buildings used to be painted in dazzling colors. Red and blue and purple. When you see the photos of these bare, grey walls, imagine them covered lavishly in these vibrant hues. And the city was populated not by hundreds of tourists, but by tens of thousands of Maya. They too were brightly colored, their clothes decorated in intricate patterns, bursting with life and light. The tops of the temples and palaces exploded out of the thick, green jungle canopy. The people in their iridescent garb poured down the stairways in colorful lava flows. They swirled into pools in the plazas, wound like rivers between the buildings, carrying the population to every corner of the city. It pulsed with life.

If you try hard enough you can see it still.

When you walk these cities you can forget what you're looking at. We're numbed by Disneyland and Universal Studios. Those are just playgrounds created for our amusement. They may look real, but they're hollow inside. They are fabricated and artificial. But these ancient cities were the stage for a living epic. Hundreds of thousands of people lived and died here. Wars were fought...and won or lost. Arts and sciences were born in these walls. A thousand years of labor and ingenuity were poured into this city. When you remember these things, it's clear that cities like Copan, Tikal, and Palenque are much more than a photo opportunity.

But Disneyland is nice too. I like the Matterhorn.

From there I went to a waterfall called Misol-Ha. It was beautiful. But I forgot my speedos so I just took some pictures. I did see a guy in a speedo though. That photo is not included.

Tomorrow morning I leave for San Cristobal and a break from the heat. I'll post from there.
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linzstoker on

sooooooo impressed
Dane, this is some of the best imagery I have ever read! Ever! Seriously terrific! And you are such a great storyteller. I love your personal side stories. The Disneyland and peanut butter touch was lovely. Oh, and I laughed out loud at the El Paso people prohibited comment. Too funny! But next time I expect to see you in a speedo! -Lindsey

dseward on

Just to set the record straight, my purse could not possibly have held more than 39 peanut butter sandwiches. Like someone else I once knew, you make me feel like I am right there with you.

tomwil on

Speedo's are cool
I too wish you would have taken a pic in your speedo, that would be hot. I really think that you should travel around Mesico in a Speedo.

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