Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Campeche, Mexico

11:00 p.m.

It is recommended that one visit the Mayan ruins at Palenque early in the morning, when it's shrouded in mists. I've rarely been successful getting an early start during this journey. Today was no exception. I allowed less than three hours to drive out to the park, walk among the ruins and return to the hotel before the 12:30 check-out time.

The ruins are not far from the city of Palenque, and are tucked into the northern slope of a densely-forested mountain. In the small parking lot, I was directed to a spot and paid a young man to watch my bike. Parked nearby, were three identical BMW R1150GS motorcycles and a red support van, its roof stacked with tires. They had English plates. The windshield of one of the bikes had a map of the Western Hemisphere, with a red line indicating their route from Prudhoe Bay to Tierra del Fuego. I didn't see the riders, but imagine I'll cross paths with them further down the line. Declined offers for a guide, “no tiempo”, I didn't want to take too long; I was eager to move on.

Beyond the Palace of Palenque is the plain of Tabasco.

The setting is quite peaceful. From the number of tourists in the city, I had expected crowds here, but only encountered a few tour groups. Hawkers lined the pathways throughout the archaeological park, though they were not at all aggressive.

I know little of the Mayan culture and its history; this is really my first exposure. In school, how much more we were taught of European culture and history. The history of Central and South America (except for the European explorers' role), was pretty much glossed over.

Temple of the Inscriptions

Climbing among the stone temples, I was quickly soaked in sweat, just like in the movies, where the hero is hacking his way through the jungle. From the faces of passersby, I must have looked a sight.

The Temple of the Cross (right)

Petroglyphs inside the Temple of the Cross Foliada

The Temple of the Sun (left)

The Temple of the Inscriptions (left) and the Palace of Palenque

Returned to the hotel and checked out at 12:30, but spent another two hours updating the blog and responding to e-mails. On the road again before 3:00, heading for Campeche or Merida. The clouds were quickly building over Palenque, but winding northeast, the highway magically avoided several thunderheads. I had to keep moving to out-run them.

At a "Pemex" station, I paid the attendant 200 pesos for a 95-peso fuel bill. As he was talking to me, he handed back a 5-peso coin. I didn't even put out my hand, but just looked at him. “Dos ciento…” He produced the additional 100 pesos without a trace of embarrassment or guilt, then took my 200-peso note from the bottom of his wad of cash and tucked it into sequence.

Crossed into the state of Campeche, past the military inspection point; the two-lane road is excellent, and traffic much lighter. I was making good progress. Aesthetically, conditions were improving as well; there are MANY roadside trash (basura) cans! Garbage is piled around them, but at least there is a service that’s tending to it.

My luck ran out just before Champoton, and I changed into my "Aerostich" suit (the first time in Mexico), as I was about to drive into a black curtain of rain. Swam through a torrent of rain and into this quaint town of narrow streets and colorful small stucco homes with gated courtyards.

Things get pretty slippery in the rain: boot soles, foot pegs and especially gas station tarmacs. You always have to be aware of how you plant your feet, and tuned to how the tires are tracking.

Finally reached the waterfront and it was strange to look west across the sea, the sun setting out beyond the clouds. With a large thunderstorm in the direction of Campeche, I decided to look for a place to eat and wait things out a bit. Noticed one food stand with a number of trucks parked in front and pulled in to join them.

Serving seafood (mariscos) only, I ordered a large shrimp cocktail (ignoring the common travel guide caution “don’t eat the seafood”). Hopefully the lime juice kills bacteria and such. ("I wonder what water they use?") Sat under the large red "Coca-Cola" tent, watching the rain, and a sliver of turquoise blue sky and pink cloud to the west. It was relaxing. I didn’t even mind the passing truck traffic.

Suited up and jumped back into the mess as night was falling; another 40 minutes to Campeche. Treacherous conditions in town: traffic, dark poorly-marked roads, huge puddles and pot holes. But then I’m suddenly on a perfect four-lane toll road. Someone must be watching over me. The lightning had stopped, but it rained all the way to Campeche.

Campeche is a bustling city with historic buildings, administration complexes and an amusement park near the waterfront. Checked on a couple hotels - expensive. After searching and finding few choices, checked into the “Ocean View” conveniently close to “Sam’s Club”, “Church’s Chicken” and “McDonald’s”. It was expensive for this region: $80 with tax. And no ocean view; no view at all! No internet – for some reason my computer wouldn't connect, even though I was hooked up with the ethernet cable. Nothing to do but rest. Never thought I would long for my tent, but paying exorbitant prices for sub-standard accommodations is starting to wear on me.

A small double-scoop ice cream cone from “Baskin Robbing” provides a day's end treat.("That running water that they dip the scoops in – is it safe?")

One sees the most pitiful-looking dogs here; emaciated, mangy and quite fearful as they slink around.

Whistling is quite common to get attention. More so than shouting. I often find myself looking around to see who's calling. Maybe its inspired by the birds of this region, which have such varied, beautiful calls. More auditory signals here. Passing motorcyclists are more inclined to honk their horn rather than wave.

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