The late night bus took an bee-lining route to Palenque. The direct route was one of those that were “not safe”. The morning vans went there with a convoy for security. This was the darker side of Chiapas, the land of Zapatistas, the rebellious natives and the scorn for capitalism. The longer route, however, was safe and come morning, we woke up in the beautiful Palenque.
The apartment we had booked was nice and cozy. We walked to it since a half hour walk was nothing we were averse to by now. Our host explained things to us, gave us a bunch of recommendations and left us to ourselves. It was a whole apartment with a functional kitchen, an air-conditioned bedroom and a clean bathroom. What more could a traveler want 😄
We went to see the Palenque ruins that morning. We freshened up and then walked out of the apartment. Our host had told us where we could get a colectivo for the ruins and we found one waiting there. We got in and a short ride through a beautiful road got us to the Zona Archeologica TODO of Palenque.
We bought the tickets and denied the guides who were explaining the site to us. These sites would definitely make more sense with someone to explain the history of the place but we were on a budget that did not allow such luxuries. Getting a guide would have meant cutting down on a whole lot else. So we contended ourselves with admiring the beauty, making sense from the short descriptions written here and there and imagining as much as we could.
The Palenque ruins were much more beautiful than the ones we had seen as yet - Teotihuacan and Monte Alban. There was a lot of restoration done which helped us imagine what the place would have been like in it’s glory. The murals were recreated and the descriptions told a story.
The only bummer was the oppressive humidity and heat so we took it slow and easy and did as much as felt comfortable. Then we wandered off into the forest surrounding the site. The forest was probably what made the site so beautiful. We walked around amidst ruins that were not marked. We even spotted a keel-billed Toucan and a black squirrel avoiding attention 😄
Back near the visitor center, we spent some time in the museum and saw Pakal’s grave. The recreation at the Jade Museum in San Cristobal de Las Casas that we had seen earlier seemed pretty accurate now.
We headed back to the centro and had a funny episode where we walked into a Chinese restaurant and tried conversing in Spanish with the Chinese lady to figure out if she had vegetarian food or not 😂 The dinner was made in the rare luxury of the kitchen and after watching Andhadhun I was dazed enough to fall asleep.
Dealing with the Heat
The next morning we woke up later than planned. While we had initially planned to just spend a day in Palenque, we decided to extend it to two. The relaxing apartment was partially responsible for it and the other reason was that I was quite excited about the Roberto Barrios cascades that our host had described as unique. After cooking and and eating some breakfast, we headed to the market to get a colectivo for the cascades.
Parul had not shared my enthusiasm for the cascades since the morning. Partly because of the hot weather and partly because the idea of “another waterfall” did not seem exciting to her. Meghalaya and South-East Asia had presented us with enough waterfalls to raise our bar for what exited us and what did not. I offered that she sit it out and chill in the centro but she did not take take option as well. Her mood was visibly sullen during the hour it took us to find a van and another on the road to get to the cascades. We bought a ticket and then went to check out the cascadas.
My first impression was that this was a slightly more spread out version of Kuang Xi (Luang Prabang, Laos). The water was not as surrealistically blue but the surrounding area was much less touristy. It was mostly a jungle with trails leading down by the sides of the cascades. There were a few tourists scattered here and there but not a lot.
We went down a couple of levels and found a nice pool where I wanted to take a dip. Parul joined in after much hesitation. Her mood visibly lightened once she got into the water 😄
There were ropes drawn across the pool. Apparently Mexicans share the same problem as Indians with regards to swimming skills. There were shaded spots where we lounged and the water’s temperature was extremely relaxing in the hot weather. The cascades formed infinity pools at every level and it was a delight to see. There seemed to be no end to these cascades!
We took a lot of pictures and swam around in the pool for the better part on an hour. I even jumped off a tree near the pool surface 😅 It was mighty fun!
The crowd increased as the day progressed and here I had thought we were late! We walked off to explore more cascades and saw some small ones hidden away in the forest. I have no idea how much of the whole thing we actually witnessed 😱
We exited and got a refreshing serving of mangoes and coconut at the exit. These guys put salsa on everything 😑 I had some grilled chicken with rice for lunch and then we found a van to take us back to the town.
We ended the night with some micheladas, mezcal and another movie. It had been a fun couple of days in Palenque.
Seven Hues of Blue
We woke up next morning later than we had planned to. This was becoming a routine now 😬 I made some breakfast of the things we had in the kitchen and we packed up and left. There was a random tripadvisor post that I had run into while searching for a cheap and local way to travel to our next destination and we decided to try it out first instead of taking the longer option later in the day. Fortunately, we were still in time to get a camioneta for Zapata that got us there in time for the 10:30 bus to Chetumal. We reached Chetumal later in the afternoon via some beautiful and green roads and barely any civilization enroute. After a super late lunch at a Subway, we caught a colectivo to Bacalar. It was by 7 PM in the evening that we dragged our tired selves into the AirBnB. It was a basic one but it would serve our needs. We would soon find out that Bacalar (and Yucatan in general) was much more expensive than the Mexico we had been travelling in so far. Later that night we walked out to see the centro, have some dinner of quesadillas and then landed at the Yak Hostel to book a sailing cruise for the next afternoon.
We spent the next morning in a cafe. Starbucks had come to mean good and reliable internet for us in this country. I am always amazed at how far ahead India is in terms of internet connectivity than most of the world. I downloaded Civ6 which had been lying around in my steam library waiting for some good download bandwidth and I would be addicted to the game for at least a few days to come 😆
At 2:30 in the afternoon we went to the Yak Hostel and waited for the sailing trip to start. The Bacalar Lagoon stretched out infront of us. It was called the Lagoon of Seven Colours because it sported seven hues of blues in very distinct strips. It was quite surreal to see and extremely pleasing and soothing.
Eventually our sailboat arrived and we boarded it with two Dutch girls and el capitan Miguel. The sails caught wind and we slowly moved into the depper parts of the lagoon. The blues of the lagoon changed colour with the underlying depth. The wind felt nice and I was reminded on the paraw cruise I had done in Boracay a few years back. Miguel, however, kept the boat from speeding and we enjoyed the slow ride on the blue waters.
We stopped at one of the cenotes that was in the lagoon. The water there was darker and Miguel explained how the water came in from an underground source and due to the volcanic nature of the source, it was smelt and tasted of sulfides. We did not get into the water here but went to the shallower parts for a dip. This was next to the Pirates Channel. There were broad areas that you could stand in, and splash around. More sailboats and motorboats had started appearing in the lagoon and there was a general atmosphere of gaiety where we stopped.
While we clicked pictures and floated around, Miguel crafted a delicious fruit salad for us. All of us shared stories of our travels and Miguel told us how he had been sailing since he was three years old. He was a Mexican brought up in Italy and spoke Spanish, Italian, French and English. He had a seriously cool life goal as well - he wanted to buy a sailboat in Europe and sail it across the Atlantic to Mexico!
We got on the boat again and sailed into the lagoon. Miguel put on some music and everyone receded into their own thoughts, looking at the beautiful lagoon and the sun slowly dipping in the sky. We returned as the sun set and said our goodbyes ere the light left this small lagoon-side town in Mexico.
We had some dinner at Christian Tacos, the place right opposite our AirBnB. The tacos were nice but their cocktails did not have any effect 😬 Perhaps we were developing a strong constitution when it came to alcohol. We suspected the Mezcal had something to do with it 😂
Falling in Love
We had fallen in love with Bacalar during the two days we had spent here. The prices were a bit on the higher side but then we would have to make peace with it anyway. Yucatan has tapped into it’s tourist potential and it was going to be similar if not dearer as we went ahead. We decided to extend our stay in Bacalar by some more days. We moved into a villa by the lagoon which was a little far from the centro.
We enjoyed the water and kayaked a little towards the sunset on our first day at the villa. I was thoroughly enjoying the water and we had gotten quite good at kayaking. There was the obvious pleasure of clicking off with our cameras as well. Later that night we sat by the lake and indulged in some good wine after a dinner of instant noodles 😂
The next morning we had planned to go kayaking at sunrise but failed to wake up for it. Parul is not really a morning person and I get tempted into staying in bed seeing her blissfully asleep 😛 We headed out of the villa once to eat at Taco Loco, an extremely delicious taco place that served seafood tacos 😋 The rest of my day was spent in the same way as the last - enjoying the water, reading and writing, and playing Civ6. We kayaked again that evening to the other side of the lagoon where there were colonies of stromatolites. We got off the kayaks in the shallow waters a little away from the colonies and enjoyed the water before heading back as the sun set. It was fun and tiring.
The next morning, while Parul stay asleep, I woke up and went out as the sun rose. I pulled a kayak and got into the slightly choppy waters watching the sun rise towards the east. We were far from the city center so there was absolutely no one in the water out here. I was floating on a kayak, alone for any distance to see with land far away on every direction. Somehow, in that isolation, I felt happy and I rowed on. It was almost a kilometer to the other side of the lagoon and I rowed on till I got to the spot we had come to the previous evening and then, on impulse, I rowed on towards the Pirates Channel. It was a long distance and at the Channel I found more groups that had started from the town of Bacalar; some in kayaks and some in paddle-boats. I rowed on and crossed the channel with it’s current helping me to the other side. It was another water body that opened up here and I decided to take a break. The muddy banks reminded me of the snow treks as my foot pushed into the soft mud and I was struggling waist deep at times. Much unnecessary adventure later, I sat and watched the sun as it climbed higher and higher and heard the shouts of a group of girls trying paddle-boat yoga somewhere behind me in the channel. A couple conversed in rapid Spanish on the other side of the channel from where I sat. I decided that I was more at peace in the middle of the lagoon and head back, struggling against the current of the channel on my way back to the Bacalar lagoon. Once the channel ended, I was hot enough to appreciate a dip in the refreshing water and relaxed in the water for a while before heading back towards the villa. I cut across the lagoon this time once the villa came into sight and while I had expected the current to be working in my favour this time, it clearly was not helping me any. Breaking now and again, I finally pulled into the dock at the villa where Parul was sitting smiling and wondering where I had been gone for five long hours while having left a message to be back after two 😬 But I was tired and happy and thinking that perhaps the two were deeply related for me.
We packed up in time for checkout and then planned to walk back the couple of kilometers to the ADO bus station but a couple leaving the villa in their car gave us a ride to the city center. They were riding around the Yucatan themselves and gave us a really nice recommendation - El Cuyo, that we meant to but could unfortunately not follow up on.
Taking a drop at the city center and then walking to the ADO station, we bade goodbye to Bacalar and looked forward to the promising Yucatan that we had been introduced to in such a beautiful way.