The ruins at Ek Balam, near Valladolid, Yucatan


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Page 8: Palenque, February 12 and 13

When we arrived in Palenque a little before noon, we decided to stay in the city rather than out near the ruins. We needed internet, laundry, and information about security issues on the routes we're considering — all of which would more likely be available in town than at El Panchan, which might have been a sea of mud after all the rain. Palenque town was more agreeable than our guidebook led us to expect. Sure, it was busy and a little noisy, but it seemed less depressing than Escarcega and Balancan. The cheap place where we decided to stay, Posada Shalom, wasn't bad either.

The most striking thing about Palenque, strictly from a cyclist's point of view, was that we had come to the end of the easier riding. Below is the view out our window. The moutains look ominous, and the clouds and rain don't improve them!

If our stay in Palenque started out dismally because of the persistent rain, it certainly improved on Sunday when we went to the ruins. We'd been there a few years earlier, but we were amazed again by how beautiful they were, even in the continuing drizzle. Below left, the Temple of the Inscriptions, so named because tablets inscribed with Mayan glyphs were found there by archaeologists. On the right below is another striking building at Palenque, the Temple of the Cross. (No implications of Christianity in that name!) This building is one of the highest in the ancient city and was of great religious significance.

Below is the view from the top of the Temple of the cross. The building with the tower on the right is the Palace, home of the royal family and an administrative center.

It's not only the ruins that make such an impact. Palenque is a full-blown National Park, and if the ruins were to vanish overnight, it would still be a gorgeous botanical garden, with meticulously groomed paths through the jungle, magnificent trees, and lush plants of all sorts. Some of the paths lead to "suburbs" that have not been reconstructed. The walls of ancient buildings seem to rise organically out of the jungle.

There is water everywhere in the park, and some of the most photogenic waterfalls we've ever seen. The falls below are called The Queen's Bath, on the small Rio Murcielago, which means the Bat River.

There is also an excellent museum at the ruins, really one of the best we've ever been to. All the exhibits are well displayed, clearly organized, and accompanied by informative text in both Spanish and English. Below left is just one of many remarkably well-preserved stuccos, this one depicting a warrior or king, we don't remember which. He is identified, we believe, in the glyphs to his right. Below right are more Mayan glyphs. It seems to be an interesting written language. As we understand it, each glyph represents a syllable.

To the right is one of many censers displayed in the museum. They were used to burn religious offerings, typically herbs mixed with blood. We were pleased to hear that the blood didn't necessarily come from human sacrifices. Rather, the Mayans used some sort of quill to draw blood for these ceremonies. Of course, they apparently had human sacrifices as well — though probably not to the same bloody degree as the Aztecs and Toltecs. At least that's what one modern Mayan guide told us.

Late in the afternoon we returned to Palenque City. A couple of street scenes are below.

We were up at 5:00 a.m. on the morning of the 14th, outside lubing the bikes at 6:00, and well out of the city by 7:00 a.m., on our way to the Carretera Fronteriza.

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