From San Cristobal to Yucatan’s flatlands. Visits to famous and remote Maya ruins. Mystical, overgrown places in the dense forest.
San Cristobal, 7th December
Today we do something we’ve been avoiding for a very long time: we book a tour. A real tour, where you get driven in a lousy van to some places you want to visit, get everything explained by a lousy guide – even if you don’t want to know anything and your opportunity to visit among other things some places you would never ever go to.
And this incredible adventure with 2 Mexican couples who are not interested in driving in a van, permanently refuse to listen to the guide and don’t care about any place they visit. They’re just about buying kitschy souvenirs wherever possible.
Well, we book this tour to so-called indigenous villages in the outskirts of San Cristobal. Of course, by now you’re wondering why the hell we’re doing that. What the hell prevents us from driving ourselves.
It’s simple. It’s the terrible reputation of some of the villages. And a church you absolutely must see – in the village with the worst reputation you can imagine.
But let’s start: the 1st village is pretty ok. As members of the tour we have to visit a traditional weaver. It turns out to be an ordinary souvenir shop where they push you hard to buy whatever you don’t want to. Fortunately, our dear Mexican tour members are perfect victims. Whatever, we resist and wait patiently outside the shop.
Then to the reason for the tour: The church of Chamula. This village is somehow not part of Mexico. It’s the center of the Totzils – descendants of the Maya, defending persistently their culture and their traditional religion. Thus, extremely opposing any external influence, especially from tourism. An attitude somehow visible at many places.
They don’t follow the existing Mexican laws, don’t allow police to enter the village and have the doubtful reputation to be the unfriendliest, often pretty aggressive guys in all Chiapas – thus, many reasons to visit with a tour.
Arriving there, we’re slightly astonished that the village looks like any other. Still, our tour guide reminds us not to walk into the side alleys – you never know what will happen.
Then we arrive at the church. We’re reminded not to leave the square in front of it. Not to take pictures of people. And most important even not to think about taking a pic inside the church. Draconian penalties await the stubborn tourist not respecting that – even google knows of a few cases.
So, we sneak around the square – even a little outside. Observe the numerous people entering the church and …
… then we enter the most famous church in Mexico. An atmosphere you definitely don’t experience in any other church. The floor covered by pine needles, 1000s of candles burning, the air filled with their smoke. Groups of people sitting, chanting. Some sacrificing a chicken. Others just eggs. Many people drinking Posh – the local spirit to get into the right mood.
Amazingly enough we’re absolutely free to walk wherever we want, to look at all we want. They just ignore all visitors.
A place we’ve never experienced before.
Then we move on to the cemetery around an abandoned church before being driven back to San Cristobal.
In retrospect the visit to Chamula has been much less troublesome than reported by all kind of gurus or expected by us. True, the inhabitants’ friendliness and cultural openness may not be their strength. But definitely it’s not as bad as the stories and the rumors say. It’s questionable why you should not visit it on your own. At least this could avoid this nasty visit to this cloth shop.
Back in San Cristobal Here already the next event is awaiting us – as usual in honor of Virgen de Guadalupe
Chiapa de Corzo, 8th December
We move on. Today to Chiapa de Corzo, just 70km from San Cristobal. To visit the Cañon Del Sumidero.
We leave San Cristobal with pretty mixed feelings and experiences. Somehow an interesting place, definitely worth a visit. On the other side it’s difficult to ignore this tense atmosphere and the unfriendliness of many inhabitants. Finally, for us it’s pretty ok to leave now.
Of course, before starting the journey, we check if the road is free. Just in case, as the Chiapis are famous for road blocks at every occasion and everywhere.
Today on the old road to Chiapa de Corzo nobody observed a block- up to now. Slightly different to the highway – a gathering of numerous people is reported. Normally a clear sign of some disturbances in preparation.
How do we know this? Easy, as for everything else in the world there’s a fb group: bloqueos carreteros Chiapas. Should you be in the area – become a member.
It’s more reliable than Waze.
We pass some rather lost villages and the usual pilgrims getting ready for 12th December, …
… then we’re on the highest point of the road – followed by a descent of nearly 1700m. And just 1h later we arrive.
Chiapa de Corzo: just a small town, but the gateway to the Cañon Del Sumidero. 1 of the deepest in the world.
As everybody we go for a boat trip. Just pay 10 bucks, get your all-important life jacket and you’re on the way – in a speedboat.
At the beginning, it’s quite flat, opportunities to observesome lazy crocs, …
… then it’s getting darker, the canyon deeper, the walls higher. Up to 1000m.
Unfortunately, some traces of civilization – the uncivilized behavior of some guys is more than visible.
After reaching the dam on the other side of the canyon we return.
3h thru the canyon. Great trip.
In Chiapa de Corzo not much else to see or to do than the canyon. Maybe with exception of the Lenin Hotel. Where else in the world can you find 1.
And of course, their ultimate evening program: today a doggie contest. Who has the nicest, best, most stupid mascotte.
An important advice to all US citizens who think they need to save all Mexican dogs and later run into trouble to find space in their bags to take them back home: visit Chiapa de Corzo. The place where you can experience real dog love – the Mexican way. Surely you wouldn’t have converted your all beloved doggie into Rudolph the Reindeer just because it’s X-Mas time. But visibly real dog lovers do that.
Palenque, 12th December
After this doggie experience we’re back on our way. Towards Palenque. Again, the road climbs to nearly 2000m. A long journey on a narrow and winding road.
Passing thru 1 of these miserable villages with a few lost souls living there we still find the proof who’s the real hero in this country.
Later afternoon we descend to the plains of the Yucatan Peninsula. Cross into the State of Tabasco.
Finally, we stay a night near the small town of Teapa to continue tomorrow to Palenque.
Next day: on the way a side trip to the village of Tapijulapa, another Magic Village. A village looking pretty different to all others in Mexico. The houses rather remind us to an Andaluz settlement.
Then the last 200 km to Palenque. On the road numerous pilgrims – all on their way to celebrate 12th December – the feast of the Virgin of Guadaloupe. Many guys running in front of the pilgrim’s cars, others more comfortable in the vehicle’s boot. But all fully participating.
Finally, in the evening we reach Palenque town – time for a beer or 2.
The famous Palacio without a crowd of tourists climbing up’n’down – a rare sight …
… on the top still, some ongoing restoration work.
Entering the different chambers.
From the top you can also observe the hawkers preparing for the buses to discharge the huge groups on their all-inclusive 2 days trip from Cancun’s all-American style luxury hotels.
Hence, the mystical atmosphere of the place starts to disappear.
By 10 am the real business starts. You hear the guides in all languages you can imagine explaining whatever they consider important or the tourists want to hear, …
… or pushing the poor visitors to buy some more souvenirs for their grandma, auntie Emilie or cousin Dung Feng Peng.
Time to sneak to the more remote structures, out of the reach of ordinary package tours.
Hey – that’s it for world famous Palenque. A place definitely worth the visit if you go at the right time of the day and the right place once a few busloads of visitors have arrived. This way it definitely remains a kind of mystical place.
The next day another tour. Not because we liked the last 1 so much. No, it’s simply because we want to visit 2 pretty remote sites: Yaxchilan and Bonampak at the Guatemalan border. Pretty complicated to go there. For the 1st 1 the last stretch is by boat, the latter 1 you can only visit with the transport provided by the locals. We finally decide to book with Tulum Transportadores Turistica, Some 800 Peso per person for 14h babysitting. And as they promised that we would not have to visit any shops nor need to listen to any guide we decided to go.
Thus, at 6 am we’re on the way. In a pretty smelly and bumpy van. 12 poor participants and an autistic driver. An hour later the 1st stop: breakfast. Ok, that’s welcome.
Quite different to the Maya sites we’ve seen so far. Much more of the original structures, less restored – many parts overgrown by tree roots and covered with moss. Thus, all looks much more authentic – you still have the impression the spirits of the old Mayas swirl around in certain buildings.
To start with you have to cross the so-called labyrinth. Well, it’s not so much the maze you may imagine. It’s more about to sneak thru a few dark tunnels to reach the buildings on the other side.
A steep stair leading uphill, …
… on the way up some moss-covered ruins, …
… finally, the Templo on the top.
Inside something quite scaring: a torso and at some distance its head. Carefully separated. Don’t be afraid, it was not the IS practicing for their next propaganda video.
No, the good old Mayas created this statue. Sometime over the centuries the head fell off. Simple as that.
And nowadays all locals know it would simply mean the end of the world
should these 2 pieces join again. Hence, you can admire the torso and its head in 2 adjacent chambers. But even don’t think about joining them. Even if nobody may see you doing so.
On the way back some more amazing buildings in the jungle – among others the Central Acropolis. Then back to the boat and on in the van.
2h later we approach Bonampak.
The site is on the territory of the indigenous Lacadon people. They understand themselves as the guardians of their rainforest. Therefore, to prevent any damage they don’t allow anybody to enter their territory with other means than Lacadon owned transport. So, we have to change the van and drive another 15′ to reach Bonampak.
Despite its relatively small size the site has something no other 1 can offer: the best-preserved Mayan murals.
Thus, enough reasons to visit this remote place. Just 3 people may visit each chamber with the paintings simultaneously. Just you and your camera may enter. Be ensured, the watchdog outside takes care of that.
Many frescoes just showing Mayan everyday life, …
… while others are pretty explicit on torture techniques to impress unruly subordinates.
Then climbing up to the temples on the top.
Nevertheless, time to get back to Palenque. Another 2-3h drive in the bumpy van await us.
Xpujil, 15th December
After 2 days in Palenque we drive on to Calakmul. Another Maya site, rarely visited, some 250 km to the north-east.
Hence, a day thru flatland, forest – a fairly lonely area.
Calakmul: visibly a really remote site as they even don’t have hawkers or souvenir stands for the poor tourists. Either it’s the remoteness or the complete lack of any opportunities to buy some gifts for uncle William that there are quite few people visiting. Nevertheless, there’s a pretty weird system to have the poor tourist’s Pesos migrating to other pockets. Leaving the main road there’s a gate where you pay a handful of Pesos. Only later you realize, that this was not the entrance fee for Calakmul, but a support to maintain the surrounding biosphere. A few km later the next gate. For some more Pesos you’ll get the ticket to enter the very same biosphere reserve. Finally, entering the archeological site you pay the usual entry fee. No further comments needed.
Definitely Calakmul is a huge site. Many km2, some 7000 structures spread in the forest. Long ways to access everything.
It’s said to be fully restored. Nevertheless, remains the impression sometimes they over restored a bit. Especially the structures of the Great Acropolis.
On the other side you still find many very authentic sites, overgrown by trees and moss. Still reflecting a kind of mystic atmosphere of the kingdom gone a long time ago.
Following their marked trails, you will sneak around a few hours before you reach the places you’re coming for: the Gran Plaza with the surrounding huge pyramids. Structures so high, you’ll have the overview above the forest – up to Guatemala.
But that implies you climb up the numerous stairs. Even at 34°C and 125% humidity.
Nearby the next pyramid. Even a little higher and steeper. Equally with a great view …
… especially to the 1st pyramid.
Of course, there are many more sites to visit, …
… nevertheless, it’s now too hot’n’humid. Anyway, it’s late afternoon and we still need to return to Xpujil – the ultimate place to stay when visiting Calakmul.
That’s it for this post. Supposedly you’re tired of all these old stones the Mayas collected to build their splendid towns. We too. Promised the next post we’ll diversify a little more.