21st to 26th June

Saturday 21 June

Today, we take the bus for San Cristobal de las Casas, in Chiapas. As the direct bus would have let us in the middle of the night over there, we chose to go first to Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of the state. And from there finally, we take a bus for San Cristobal. The travel takes much longer than the salesman had told us: 8h instead of 3 hours. When we arrive in San Cristobal, it’s surprisingly cold. But we understand soon with the help of the GPS: we are now at 2100m high. And it is raining a bit. We turn a little around in the city before finding a hostel. We arrive at a beautiful hostel for cyclists, in the Felipe Flores Street. It is very cheap for us, in the centre of the city, with a nice atmosphere!. Perfect. We’ll stay here a couple of nights.

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Sunday 22 June

In the morning, we join a couple of American tourists for a small tour by bicycle to the nearby caves. Our guide is Orestes, who uses to spend his time between his bicycle rental/reparation shop, and the hostel where we sleep. It is just up of the city of San Cristobal. The first cave is the Arcotete: it is a karstic formation, from 18 million years ago (Miocene), that the river, called Arcotete, dug into the rock. Now there is a huge arch over the river, several dozens of meters high, which we can visit. Inside, there are the typical limestone stalagmites and stalactites. This arch has its legend of a gentleman and his lover, swearing eternal love, and of course, they are separated, and it ends tragically, with the gentleman (whose name is Jean d’Arcecete) stabbing his heart under the arch.

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The second hot spot it the mammoth cave. It is a giant underground room, of a hundred of meters diameters, and maybe ten meters from the floor to the roof, artificially illuminated, like the grottos we visit in Europe. There are many limestone formations, some of them having recognizable shape, of guess what: a mammoth, but also a sleeping lady.

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When we arrive to San Cristobal, everyone is in the street observing the sky: apparently a small tornado has just occurred. As the rain arrives, we stop to eat some delicious tacos of pork cooked in the oven, typical from Mexico.

Monday 23 June

Today again, Mick is very tired. He probably got cold in the bus coming to San Cristobal, with the air conditioning. We have a lazy morning in the hostel. In the afternoon, we go out during the football match Mexico-Croatia. It is the last match of the round robin phase, and the winner will be qualified for the next phase. The streets are literally deserted. And the bars are full! it’s an interesting experiment to observe the Mexicans as they support their team. Fortunately, Mexico wins this match.

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We have a small walk in the city, to the market, the cathedral, and the hill of Guadalupe. From here, there is a nice view on the city, nestled between the mountains.

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Tuesday 24 June

We leave San Cristobal this morning. In the end, we stayed a night more, replacing the bicycle trip to Palenque by a bus ride, and more rest! but Mick is still very down. We take the first bus for Palenque, which leaves! now. It is a big rush to buy the tickets, pack the panniers and the bikes inside the bus. The travel lasts 6 hours, in the middle of the jungle, with some wonderful landscapes of steep mountains, recovered by a green blanket of forest.

In Palenque, we follow the advice we received to go directly to the national park to find accommodation over there: it’s much nicer than the city, closer to the archaeological site, and cheaper. We find a small ecological barrack, in a beautiful garden. And of course, the mosquito nets all around the bed.

It’s only one kilometre away from the archaeological site, but the site is already closed now. In fact, they close it at 16h30. And after this, if you want to enter and be alone in the site, you have to pay a subsequent quantity to the guard (not so official of course).

Wednesday 25 June

We go to the archaeological site of Palenque. As we come by walking, we enter the site on a side entrance, and arrive to some ruins complex without any tourists. The Palenque city was built by the Mayas, starting as a mere farm around 100 BC, till it became the capital of a kingdom encompassing a big part of now Chiapas and Tabasco states, in 600-900 AD. The centre of the city is the edifice called the Palace, where were taken all the political decisions, and also the religious and social centre. This place is also where the king and the most important nobles lived. Around it, the more normal people had houses, but they have been destroyed by the time. The most important king of Palenque was KinnichJanab Palak, born in 603AD and who reigned from his 12 till his death at 80. He erected a tomb for himself, now known as the Temple of the Inscriptions. The scriptures in this building tell about the mythical life of this king, and present the famous Maya calendar. The room for the sarcophagus of the king was covered by a red pigment, made of cinnabar and mercury. Because of the mercury, the first discoverers of this tomb fell sick, remembering the “curse” on the Tutankhamen tomb discoverers.

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The Maya civilisation has flourished for 3000 years in this region, till it disappeared, a little before the year 1000AD. They developed many technologies, the arts, religion, ! It appears that the Mayas have provoked themselves their decline, by cutting way too many trees (they needed the resin of one tree in particular to prepare the cement for their buildings), thus destabilising the soils and making them unfit to the agriculture anymore. We are probably on a parallel way nowadays, but on the scale of the planet!However, the population did not disappear, and now, the indigenous of this region all have Maya antecedents, and they still speak some of the Maya languages.

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Thursday 26 June

After a calm morning in the barrack, we go for a tour in the jungle. Our guide, Jorge, brings us to some areas of the park closed to the tourists. We start in the jungle, on a small path that disappears quickly. Then we arrive at a river.

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We are now in the dry season, so the river is very small. But in wet season, the water level raises a lot, flooding a big area, creating many waterfalls, and finally redesigning the local orography. We follow up the river, since we get much milder temperature here. The water contains a lot of calcium carbonate. For this reason, the water snails, once dead, become totally made of stone within only a few months. And of course everything in the water follows this path, like the roots of the trees, the wood pieces falling in the water, till the rubbish, that becomes rocky and can create small waterfalls.

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As we arrive to a cascade, the water pours down like a shower. Jorge brings us some clay mud to rub our bodies! it’s the first time we try this “girlish” practise, but it is very nice! it cleans your skin from all the dead cells, and leaves your skin as soft as a baby’s. As we continue, Jorge explains us about some medicinal plants we can find here, and how the indigenous people use them for centuries. Now all the big pharmaceutical firms come to the jungle of Mexico, in order to understand and industrialise the active elements of these plants.

Jorge brings us to some Maya ruins, not yet explored by archaeologists. Apparently, since the Maya epoch, the ground has gone up at least two meters, so the constructions are now hidden, protected. However, in some cases, a part of the roof has collapsed, so we can enter inside the ruin. The only dwellers now are the bats, some very little cute bats.

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As we end the tour, going to have a bath in the cascade, we see a peculiar event: a snake has caught a frog. The prey is still alive, trying to escape, although it does not have much strength left. In a few hours, it’ll be entirely swallowed by the snake.

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After this enriching tour in the nature and the past, we go to the city of Palenque, to take our bus. We take tonight a night bus to Tulum, another archaeological Maya site, on the beach.

Here comes the video: