Palenque - Chiapas

From Merida we started our trek towards Guatemala by way of Palenque. There are only so many border crossings into Guatemala from Mexico and as our first stop in Guatemala was slated for Antigua the road through Palenque made the most sense. It was going to be a long day on the bike, around 550kms so we took the toll roads to make time.

Toll roads are great, except when you haven't got an import permit for your motorcycle. As we approached the turnoff for Palenque all traffic was directed through a giant new 'vehicle processing station.' I'd passed through it on the way to Merida without a hitch as it was unmanned, this time was different. The whole facility reminded me of a border crossing with separate lanes for trucks, buses and cars. There were barriers that raised and lowered as each vehicle went through while lights flashed and license plates were photographed, and that's where we got nailed. We were flagged off to a holding area and papers were requested. I tried my usual 'non habla Espanol' but the officer had the same Spanish English translation app on her phone that Cole had downloaded for me so she stuck her ground. Long story short, we either had to ride 150kms to pay for the appropriate paperwork, or get out of Mexico. As we were heading to Guatemala anyway we chose the latter but just before we rode off she said, "I see you again without the paperwork you lose the bike." Simple as that, delivered without the slightest hint of a smile.

The  next morning we made our way to the ruins. Palenque ruins are the most popular tourist attraction in the State of Chiapas for good reason. Founded during the late Preclassic period Palenque rose to prominence between AD 500 and 700 and today represents one of the best Classic Mayan sanctuaries to be found anywhere. The site itself is amazing. It is a short drive from the town of Palenque and what sets the ruins apart is the location. Sitting in low jungle covered mountains it has a very organic feel and the ruins we explored only represent 10% of the total site with over a thousand buildings still covered by jungle, the same jungle that hid the site from looters after it was abandoned in the 9th century. Combine the fact it was hidden away, with a durable choice of building materials and incredible craftsmanship the ruins at Palenque are in pretty good shape. The biggest threat to its integrity is probably tourism as can be witnessed by the fact they've burrowed a new entrance into the side of The Temple of the Inscriptions to allow tourists access to Pakal's tomb. The last time I was here in 95 it was accessed from the temple superstructure which created bottlenecks inside the temple's narrow inner passages. Now you walk in from the side and you can be in and out in the blink of an eye which encourages faster turn arounds for visitors which number around 600,00 per year. Probably a good thing but I still remember the sense of anticipation the first time I entered the temple and stumbled down the narrow stone steps which led to the tomb, a feeling that was absent this time around. Tourism can take its toll in funny ways. We followed up The Temple of the Inscriptions with The Palace and its corbel arches, T-shaped windows and observation tower before walking the grounds. It was magical and I'd have to say Palenque is a pretty spiritual place and I was very happy that I had the chance to explore it again, this time with my son.

Palenque...a very serious place.

From the old we made our way to the new...or newish town of the same name just down the road.

Busy at Christmas.

We finished off our day downtown looking for food and boy was it ever busy. We walked the main drag and took in the sites. There was a real bustle in the air as the town was full with Christmas holiday makers. We eventually settled for a second floor open air restaurant that overlooked the main drag and were seated just as the rain began to fall.

Dinner Palenque style with live music while the rain poured down.

The next morning it was time for a decision. Out with the old - in with the new. You see the battery situation had reached a turning point and as we were heading into some sketchy border areas I didn't want to risk being stranded by the side of the road. Besides there just happened to be an Auto Zone a couple minutes from the hotel and they had a battery for my bike...like it was meant to be.

Guatemala here we come.