Monday, September 12, 2005

Hotel Maya Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico

11:30 p.m.

A very warm, humid night here in Palenque. Thunderstorms in the area and it has been raining off and on. I'm working at a computer station off the lobby of this popular tourist hotel. Reached town just before sunset after another butt-burning day of riding. I plan to visit the Mayan ruins of Palenque tomorrow morning.

After stripping all the gear off the bike and stowing it in my room, I rode into the center of town looking for something to eat. It was late (9:00) and the bike was attracting a little too much attention. A new BMW is certainly something they don't see too often. Found a taco shop that was doing a lively business, so I figured it might be somewhat less risky. Ordered a couple of "Gringo" tacos which included a couple kinds of meat (I don't want to know what kind), onions, cheese, some pineapple and who knows what else. Topped with salsa fresca, they were quite good.

Head down, enjoying my food, I was suddenly startled by a faint voice near my right ear. A grubby-looking boy was saying something, obviously looking for a hand-out. I pulled out some change, then watched if others were doing the same. Some did, some didn't. I later found him sitting outside and said hello again, as I got ready to mount the bike. A woman, drunk or stoned, came over and stood on the curb, saying something about "mi casa" and holding out her hand. I told her I had to go, and she made a feeble attempt to grab me. Scurried back to the hotel. The security guard asked if I had driven downtown. He was surprised when I said "yes". Obviously (now), it's not advisable late at night.

The ride today, from Catemaco to Palenque was about 270 miles, much of it on toll (cuota) roads; some quite good, others not so. Crossing into the state of Tabasco, the highway was new and in excellent condition. At the military checkpoint, even the soldiers' uniforms looked new. I was able to look beyond the road surface and traffic hazards, enjoying the landscape for change.

I would describe the landscape if I knew what I was seeing. Many of the trees and plants are very strange to me. There are plenty of tall palms and coconut trees, and squat banana trees, corn and sugar cane; then there are dense, many-tiered forests that (to me) look completely exotic and impenetrable.

In Villahermosa, a major city, I went to a "VIPs" restaurant (an upscale Denny’s). I was directed to a parking space by a man waving a colored cloth. He was part of a group alternately directing cars and tending to the landscape. When I came out of the restaurant, I noticed cars with old pieces of cardboard over their windshields. Then I came to my bike and it had a small, dirty piece of cardboard over the seat. This was one of the services provided by the attendants. Of course, a gratuity was expected for their service.

Four days in Mexico, and I still haven't been comfortable pulling out the camera. In part it is not wishing to attract the wrong kind of attention, but it also a reluctance to show disrespect. Conditions are harsh. People are doing the best they can. I don't want to treat them as a curiosity, or spectacle.

Amidst all the poverty, the big winners appear to be the beverage companies. Certainly the most modern facilities I've seen have been the bottling plants and distributors for Corona, Sol, Modelo, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and others (including their bottled water operations.) Their gleaming plants and warehouses, are gated fortresses that dominate many towns. Obviously, a highly-desirable employment opportunity. Their trucks are seen plying the highways everywhere.

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