From Costa Rica and beyond

Thursday, September 29, 2011

From Oaxaca to Palenque

Another beautiful day driving through at times stunning scenery in southern Mexico.  Another day of really curvy roads and nearly constant ascents and declines...until I reached the coast.  There, the hills and curves were replaced by wind.  It was`t an epic wind, but it was constant.  So, the surprise was not great to see wind turbines appear on the horizon.  The closer I got, the more I saw.  When I finally reached the first turbine, I could see hundreds of them.  Some were relatively small (and old, I reckon), others were huge and not even running yet.  A quick google later told me that that is Latin America`s largest wind farm and one of the largest in the world.  It was financed largely by Cemex, Mexico`s huge cement producer.  Cement production accounts for a considerable amount of the world`s CO2 production.  Cemex claims the wind farm offsets about 25% of their total energy use.  Wow!

Shortly thereafter, I crossed from Oaxaca State into Chiapas. Again, the road coiled and rolled.  My hope was to camp, but no good spots appeared.  Onward I pushed then to San Cristobol de las Casas.  The last hour was rather intense drive.  It was night when I drove up into hills surrounding SC.  As my sister put it, it was like a video game.  It was dark, the road was twisty, lightning was in the background, there were animals (mostly dogs, but an occasional cow and horse too) along the road and lots of indigenous people walking without lights.  Then came the fog.  Almost forgot the mention the trucks I encountered.  Pickups with neon lights, above the cab, flashing around some religious message, frequently asking God`s protection.  I was really happy to pull into San Cristobol.  Finding lodging was not too hard as my guidebooks finally begin down here in Chiapas.

SC is a lovely city of mostly two story dwellings set at about 2000m elevation in a little valley.  Despite the southern location, the evenings were cool - perfect for walking around, checking out the pubs and restaurants and markets.  This city also dates back to the 1500s.  The oldest church has a nearly completely gilded interior with a very ornate exterior that bears the double headed eagle of the Habsburgs of Spain (probably during the reign of Philip IV).

The indigenous peoples that constitute the majority in this region are mostly either peasant farmers or selling crafts in the towns.  The women are easiest to distinguish with their fluffy/furry skirts (I think a variation on this could catch on in New York) and their colorful blouses.  They are all over town marketing their colorful  wares, this includes setting up a new market in the center of town each night at 8:30pm.  The men stand out less.  Some sport cowboy hats, but most dress with jeans and t-shirts -- especially the young.  Many of these people are rather small in stature.  The older ones have darkened skin and show the wear and tare of years of hard work and probably substandard nutrition.  I felt pretty big next to some of these people.  But then there are some tourists.  Quite a few northern Europeans here.  Some of them were enormous and made me feel small again.  They towered over the locals.

I spent three nights in SC.  The hotel price was right and I needed to change my oil.  I found a little motorcycle shop with just the oil I needed.  They let me change my own oil there.  Good thing, because the oil alone cost me nearly $30!!

The next ride was four hours through Mayan countryside to Palenque.  Again, green valleys, much of them farmed.  The locals grow corn everywhere they can, including steep hillsides.  They also harvest lemons and bananas.  Men, boys, women, girls along the road had bags filled with lemons for sale.  While I zipped along on my motorbike, these people are mostly walking everywhere they go.  Their area is beautiful, but that does not translate to a good standard of living.  Signs along the way indicated support for the Zapatista rebellion against the Mexican government a few years ago.  Boys pretended to conduct roadblocks.  When I approached, they would simply drop their rope and let me roll on by.  Just the day before, though, there was a real roadblock that forced a French couple (Laurent and Carole) to drive 25km of terrible roads on their BMW.  About half way to Palenque, the temperature started warming and the air grew more humid.  Oh no, here we go.  Good bye cool, fresh air.

Following the advice of Lonely Planet, I pulled into Maya Bell, which has Cabañas, camping places, and Palampas, thatched roofs under which you can stretch a hammock.  My hammock has been dead weight since Malibu.  At last, it could start earning its keep.  Maya Bell also has a lovely pool - that`s where I met Laurent and Carol.

Take a listen, though.  This is a new climate and with it come new critters.  Most unmistakable are the howling monkeys.  Yes, that`s what they`re called.  They don`t howl like wolves.  This is a deeper, more gutteral sound.  Buddhist monks might be impressed.  Birds and insects are also adding to the green noise here.  Laurent and Carol asked me to join them for a ride into town for tacos.  It was sooo nice to ride in light clothes through such temperatures.  The tacos and conversation were very nice.  We returned to a darkened Maya Bell.  I groped through my panniers to find something and instead found pain...all around my ankles.  Damn!  Fire ants.  I parked right on their turf.  How many more tropical denizens are going to get me?  After a beer with L and C listening to live music that is a nightly occurence at Maya Bell, it was time to climb in my hammock.

I was smart enough (for once!) to buy a hammock with an insect net.  I tentatively climbed in, laid myself diagonally (as instructed), and enjoyed a floating sensation.  It was really quite comfy...and no bugs!!  At 2am, the rain started.  With the exception of two really random splatters that hit me in the face, I stayed dry, as did all my gear.  With the rain came slightly cooler temps.

Today, I rose early and went to the Mayan ruins, just up the road.  This city grew from 600AD to about 900AD when it was abandoned.  Much of the ruins remain unexcavated.  What we tourists see though are temples, a palace, and a couple rather small residential areas.  It is hard to describe such a place without resorting to cliches.  Indeed, I think the cliches color one`s perception of it.  Yes, it`s an amazing place and it is staggering to think of the labor involved in building up monuments, some of them dedicated to war, in such a climate.  Of course, war led to many prisoners and I`m sure they did much of the grunt work, if, that is, they weren`t beheaded for losing a game in the ball court.  I bet those were intense games.

As always, click on the link to the right to see more pictures.

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