The Cabanas were right at the entrance gate to the Zona Arqueologica Palenque.
“Can you walk there from here?” I asked the man at reception.
“Yes, you can”. He said.
I guess you have to be a bit more specific with these Mexican Mayan types. As I trudged along the side of the road I realised I should have asked: “will it take many hours to walk from here, and will it be so hot that I would be better advised to pay the 20 pesos to get one of the many colectivo mini-vans that go up and down the road to the ruin?”.
It was a question I asked of the chickens, cows, leaf-cutter ants and a feather that I passed along the way.
After some hours, perhaps just one and a bit, I reached some museum or something where again, the three British girls appeared.
“Hello”, said the blonde one, “have you been to the ruins?”
“I’m just on my way, I decided that I needed a bit of exercise, so I thought I’d walk. Is it far from here?” That could have been another question I asked of the guy from the cabanas reception.’
“Just up the hill” said the short blonde woman.
“Are they good?” I added.
“Amazing”, said the blonde woman.
I took a breath and a sip of water, “I guess I better be going up the hill then”.
“You can get buses”, said Laura the very white woman.
“I’ve come this far, I might as well walk the rest of the way”. And I waved them adios.
Along the last stretch of the road came many offers from Mayans to act as tour guides. I would have taken someone up on the offer but I had spent most of the little cash I had at Don Muchos last night, so I only had money left for the entrance fee into the park, a snack and the taxi fare back into Palenque town.
At the gate into the real Zona Arqueologica Palenque – where you walk in and see the actual ruins, and not chickens, cows, leaf-cutter ants and a feather (it was a nice feather and I shouldn’t sound ungrateful that I saw it) I grabbed a red skinned banana. The guy at the gate told me I couldn’t eat it inside, I presume because you may attract spider monkeys. As I headed through the gate I could feel the potassium and carbohydrates surging through my blood streamline, giving me the strength to explore.
I was here. I thought I would be amazed, but I wasn’t amazed. After a long walk I just felt like quietly walking around, enjoying what the Mayans built here in the forest, listening to the howler monkeys in the distance, looking into the canopy for any signs of a toucan. I just took it all in. The buildings in the hill, the famous steeply stepped temple pyramid. I presume at least it was a temple, and I guess it qualified as a pyramid having some resemblance to those I saw a few days earlier at Teotihuacan, but having no guide I was only guessing, it was still grand after these hundreds of years, despite the tarpaulins covering the restoration work.
I believe Che Guevara came here to Palenque at some point in time. It didn’t seem like history, or really like ruins. You could still imagine an ancient Mayan popping out of some of the doorways, offering you a cup of cocoa and starting a conversation about a papaya grove he’d discovered in the forest that was then attacked by spider monkeys.
I wandered through the walls, the light sunlight glimpsing over walls, the forest framed through holes whose only purpose seemed to be to bring these stone monuments closer to the surrounding nature.
It was a spot of quite contemplation. Where you feel that life is not a waste of time, where there is a connection to the broader universe. It had a humbleness, exceeding any artwork in the Louvre, and without the airs of grandeur.
It was their life. Just as the locals still sat amongst the ruins selling crap to tourists, the ancient Mayans would have sat themselves, under a tree, keeping the papayas away from the monkeys.
Sure, probably a few heads went missing in their time, and warriors sacrificed after loosing the ball game they played in the arena whose foundations still remain at the site, and blood was drunk, I imagine, but it was all just normal. The stucco pictures with their feather head-dress on the walls, the stone tower, the temples snuggled into the hills, the trees, the light. It was amazingly normal.
I sat in what remained of the ball game of death arena for a while, thinking you can see this all in a few hours but realising that it will take months away from the place to absorb it. There was no point trying to consume too much at once, even the thirstiest of thirsts only take a glass or two to satisfy. I rose, took one more circuit around, then turned my back and walked down the hill into the forest, past the streams and waterfalls, and the walls of some Mayan homes of that same ancient era.
Back at the cabanas a few hours later, around dusk, I walk into the forest to find the howler monkeys. I find them perched high in the branches, along with a little squirrel thing that scampers along through the leaves.
I hit Don Muchos as the night settles, with a beer, frijoles and corn chips, looking into the canopy.
I notice the British women, the short blonde, Laura the very white, and the latino looking one, sitting near the table next to mine. When Laura notices me, she consults with her travelling companions and calls out to me, “would you like join us?”
“Thanks, that would be nice”, I say, and I move over and we retell the day in the normal sort of way. And Laura and I catch each other’s eyes from time to time, and they drink margaritas, and I drink beer and tequilla, and I hear of their other adventures through South America and think my day is but a day, normal as it is, but in that amazing normal sort of way. We eventually part ways, though I wish we wouldn’t have to. Maybe, like the New York Yank says, I am running. But I have no desire to run, I am happy here for now, but happy to leave the jungle behind manana.
“Buenos Noches“, I say to my companions, and rise, alone, and head to the cabana, not wanting to go inside just yet, preferring to sit on a fence and look out into the universe, listening to the howler monkeys.
“Are you okay?” Asks Laura as she walks past with the other two girls, her skin shinning in the night.
“It’s all good”, I smile, “just taking in the the jungle one last time”.
And as with the ancient people of Palenque, tomorrow I will be gone.