Palenque is really cool.
Of all the places you travel in Mexico this is one that will stay with you, even if you don’t stay all that long. Palenque is home to Mayan ruins that were treasured only by hippies until the Mexican government suddenly realized what a profitable bit of ‘heritage’ they had. Now coach after coach arrives with Mexicans and foreigners to gape at the stone penises of shamans.
It’s still much quieter than Chichen Itza or the other Mayan ruins and Palenque is arguably one of the most charming of all the temple palaces in the jungle. The Palenque ruins are set against slopes of jungle that seem to breathe with each pulse of the song of the cicadas. The view sweeps on down to the cultivated land in the distance and you get the feeling you’re somewhere very ancient and mighty.
For ruins freaks the restoration work is pretty bad, straight lines and fresh concrete next to the ancient curving relief of stone. Rumour has it the US wants to sponsor effigies of Mickey Mouse next to the old Mayan Gods.
Some of the best ruins are to be seen towards the back where they still haven’t cleared the jungle yet. Shady, with drooping vines, a good place to light a joint and make a prayer to the Mayan spirits. Then walk out the back and trip out on the mini waterfalls and streams.
We say ‘trip out’ because as you walk up the long road to the ruins, just about every Mexican you pass will offer you hongos, magic mushrooms. Palenque attracts the psychedelic traveler, Mexican and Western and as long as you don’t freak out on the bugs of the jungle, this is a fine place to trip.
There’s no point in staying in the town of Palenque itself – take a collectivo van up to the entrance of the national park and walk from there. All along the 3km road up to the ruins there are places to stay and some of them are regular communities with people staying for weeks, months or years.
The jungle is all around you here and it’s a living, breathing psychosis of green that will either have you stripping off to run wild through the elements or onto a bus to the nearest desert. There are howler monkeys, ants that cut metre wide trails through the jungle and big, black scorpions.
There’s a million and one things that will have you for dinner here and it’s one time you might want to think about mosquito spray. Try to find somewhere to stay with bug screens on the windows or else you’ll be eaten alive.