Oh, how time flies. It is the last day of March already. Last night, we chatted with the campsite owner and learned about the waterfalls and the local Mayan ruin site called Bonampak. To hire a guide was too expensive, so again, we opted to go it alone. We set off this morning to first find the hiking trail that led to the local waterfalls called Cascadas Lacanja. The village of Lacanja was quite far away and we took the van. Surprisingly, the backroads to this small village were well signed and we found the trailhead and information centre without much trouble. There was a nominal fee to hike the waterfall trail, but it included an information centre documenting the local flora and fauna. After reading about the area, we set off down the path. The start of the path is a beautiful arch of bushes, that at the right time of year will be covered with flowers. We noticed flowers all over the ground, so we were just a tad too late. To reach the waterfalls, it took about 45 minutes one way and it
was more of a nature walk than a hike. The trail winds through the jungle and across numerous bridges over the Lacanja River. To our surprise and delight, the bridges were all built with materials from the jungle using little or no modern hardware. The posts and railings for the bridges were small trees that were tied together with vines. Some of the posts were actually small trees still rooted in the ground. Time passed quickly and before long we were at the waterfalls and being greeted by a local man that seemed to serve as some sort of guard over the waterfalls. He was very kind and walked us around the area pointing out some of the more common areas to swim beneath the falls. We had heard that there were ruins in the jungle, just passed the waterfalls, that had yet to be uncovered so we asked about how to get there. The kind man smiled and advised that we would not be able to pass without a guide as there are far too many trails back in the jungle and we would be dangerously lost with one wrong turn. Not to mention there are many jaguars that roam the jungle paths as well. In the end, he did offer to take us for a price of course. We mulled it over, but eventually declined to go as the price was too high and we had limited food and water to make the 1.5 hour hike each way.
We headed back down the path toward 'Nilla when we detoured to check out a massive Ceiba tree. There are Ceiba trees scattered throughout the jungle, however this one was huge. There was actually a metal platform mounted near the top and locals offer tourists the chance to repel above the jungle canopy for an amazing view. No-one was at the tree the day we were there.
Next stop - Bonampak Ruins. We putted down the dusty road toward the ruins and took in the sights of local living in the process. The road to the actual ruins was being covered with a
pinkish rock. The machinery laying down the rock kicked up tons of dust...as did the cars passing over the fresh material. The guide book noted that the ruins were 9.5km down the road, so we did not give much thought to an area we passed with large buses parked all over the place. Maybe we should have, because a few kilometres down the road we were passed by a small compact car that pulled in front of us and slowed us to a stop. Apparently, the area with the buses was the parking area and we were not allowed to drive ourselves to the gate, the park shuttle was required transportation. We did not argue and followed the man back to the parking area. It was here that we were
hoodwinked out of lots of money.The park entrance fee was $70 pesos each, which did not include the $33 pesos each of us would need to pay to enter the ruin site. There was nothing in the park besides the ruins, so why there were two fees is beyond us. The man explained that the $70 pesos covered the parking, washrooms, transport to the ruin site and the museum, which was nothing more that a handful of signboards and cartoon pictures of the ruins. Wow, did we ever get hosed. As we were being shuttled in the man's personal car toward the entrance to the ruins, we noticed that taxis were allowed to shuttle people in as well. We should have parked just outside the 'park' and taken a taxi to the ruins as there is no way the taxi would have been more that the $140 pesos we paid at the gate.
The Bonampak ruins were buried in dense jungle until their discovery in 1946. Two Americans that were studying the local Lacandones were the first to see the ruins that cover an area of nearly 2.5 sqaure kilometres. Bonampak is famous for the amazing painted walls located in the 'Templo de las Pinturas', which is set on the steps of the Acropolis. The name Bonampak actually means painted walls in one Mayan dialect. It is said that early discoverers poured kerosene on the walls in an attempt to bring out colour of the paintings, which has resulted in their poor current condition. Bonampak is thought to have been abandoned before the murals were finished, as the classic Mayan civilization is said to have imploded. The day we attended, the ruin site was quiet and
there were only a handful of other people there. It was most pleasurable. We sat on the steps of the Acropolis and watched yellow tailed birds fly from the jungle trees to their nests which were hanging from a big Cypress tree. The nests looked like purses dangling off the tree branches, rather than the nests we usually see built on top of the branches. We later learned that this bird is called a Montazuma Orapendula.
We made a deal with the man that drove us to the ruins to be picked up a few hours later at 4:30pm. We did not have a watch, and arrived back to the pick up area at 4:45pm. We got a little distracted chasing around a turkey at one of the souvenir shops. The man was not impressed that we were late, however he was aware that we did not have a watch when he dropped us off. We did well just getting back there somewhere near the scheduled time.
Back at the main parking lot, we were dropped off right at the van. This is when the driver had the gall to ask us for more money. Our jaws dropped open. We made it clear that we already paid over $200 pesos ($20 CDN) which included TRANSPORTATION, and he was not going to squeeze another nickel from us. He then explained that the extra money was because we were a few minutes late and that he needed water. What the water had to do with any of it was mind-boggling. We smiled and walked away.
That night we returned to camp at Servicos Touristicos de Lacanja. We were both hungry from a long day of physical activity and decided to make a pasta feast. We boiled the noodles and in the process of pouring off the water, the lid slipped off the pot and our freshly boiled pasta was all over the ground. Oh well, we salvaged what we could and ate it up anyway. In the process of cleaning up the spilled pasta, Michael realized he was standing on a mound of dirt. With fresh food on the ground, ants started to pile out of the dirt mound. They were small and looked innocent enough, until they started to attack Michael's feet. He jumped around and nearly cried as the ants took miniscule bites out of his flesh. He abandoned the food clean up and ran to the waiting arms of Geraldine for comfort. She applied 'afterbite' to his tiny wounds and soothingly cradled him. Michael's version is that millions of ants chomped at his feet nearly bringing him to the ground, however valiantly he battled back by whacking them with his mighty hands before digging up the mound and defeating the queen ant herself.
Photos of March 31 '07: http://www.kodakgallery.com/Slideshow.jsp?mode=fromshare&Uc=16xvaj2z.37seaufz&Uy=vggdat&Ux=0
The next morning the on April 1, 2007, the same ants were back to claim more skin from Michael's feet. We think he must have spilled some juice on his toes or something, as those pesky ants loved his feet. That did it...we were moving on. Just teasing, even without the ant attacks we still would have been leaving today as it was time for a new adventure. So we headed down the road towarrd Palenque, one of the most famous and largest Mayan ruin sites.
We pulled out of camp and noticed that 'Nilla was awfully squeaky. We figured that she had sustained some damage on her flight over the tope a few days prior. Michael examined the
shocks and springs and nothing seemed to be drastically wrong, so we hit the road as there was nothing we could do about our problem in the little village of Lacanja Chansayab. Somewhere along Mexico Highway 307, we passed a little sign boasting waterfalls. We were intrigued with the name of the park, "Centro Ecoturistico La Cascada Wuelib-Ja", and decided to head in for a visit. There was an insignificant fee to park and enter, and we then followed and well groomed gravel path down to the water. The path led along the side of a river and ended at the waterfalls, obviously. The area was quiet and serene. Its main visitors were locals and there were only a few other tourists. It was like a natural water park with numerous swimming areas, rocks to dive from and calm waters to float in. We relaxed by the water for a while before getting back on path to Palenque. The drive to Palenque went fast and the scenery was unchanged from the few days prior.
Once in Palenque, we drove around to see what the city had to offer. We were not able to find much in the way of parking so, we decided to hit town another day by taking a bus. There are numerous camp areas around the Palenque ruins, which are just outside town in a small village called El Panchan. We settled on Mayabell, which is a mix between trailer park, campground and hippie commune. It was different and we were able to negotiate a discount that brought the camping price within our budget. We picked a quiet spot under the shade of large bamboo trees and set up camp proper as we planned to be here for a few days. After we finished setting up, we sat back to watch as other campers poured in. It was very busy as tons of locals were off work celebrating Semana Santa, the holy week before Easter. Our favourite sight was watching 16 people literally pour out of a full size Chevrolet van with all their camping gear in tow. The train of people seemed to be never ending. Within 20 minutes our once secluded campsite was surrounded with tents of all shapes and sizes. It was awesome! We hit the sack early as we were planning on hiking the Palenque ruins first thing in the morning.
Photos of April 1 '07: http://www.kodakgallery.com/Slideshow.jsp?mode=fromshare&Uc=16xvaj2z.841g5knz&Uy=-uwvl59&Ux=0