Saturday, March 12, 2016

Palenque-Ocosingo-San Cristóbal: Waterfalls, More Ruins, Topes

On Thursday we visited two waterfalls a couple of hours away from Palenque.

Misol-Ha is a tall waterfall that shoots out from the top of a cliff and plunges over a hundred feet onto boulders and into roughly circular shaped pool. Agua Azul, in contrast, is a series of cascades over rocks from which the water erodes sediment giving it an aquamarine blue color.  Both falls are magnificent and beautiful.

In the U.S., these falls would be carefully organized for visitors  with paved paths, lookout platforms, guardrails, interpretive signage, refreshment concessions awarded through strict government procurement procedures and a host of rules and regulations to protect people from themselves. In Mexico, you can walk wherever you want, swim in and under the falls and the commercial activity adjacent to them is reminiscent of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. I think the U.S. approach might be better for preserving the appearance of the falls for sterile observation by those who can afford to, from a distance. The Mexican approach seems to engage more people in more ways with all that the falls have to offer, naturally, recreationally and commercially. As I see it, large numbers of tourists arriving every day in vehicles to visit a scenic area has about the same significant impacts in both countries, regardless of the differences in how the site is managed managed.

Yesterday we started our return trip back to Intermezzo by way of Ocosingo and San Cristóbal. We had two reasons for taking this route back. The first was to that we could visit more Mayan ruins in Tonina. The second was to avoid a circuitous 13.5 hour bus ride by taking small collectivo (minivan) buses and staying overnight in San Cristóbal instead.

To ruins in Tonina are fantastic, dominated by a huge “acropolis” terraced into and rising above a large hill. Compared to the ruins at Pelanque, Tonina is visited by far fewer tourists and is much more fun to clamber upon and explore.  It’s a long climb up the stair-stepped slopes to the top of the palace-temple and there are a bunch of chambers, ancillary structures and even a couple of tombs to explore along the way. The view from the topmost level is beautiful, with the temperate midland countryside sprawling out below.  These Mayan site are really amazing architectural achievements, even as ruins. They must have been breathtaking and magnificently beautiful in their day, when all the stucco frescos , sculptures were intact and the interiors colorfully painted.

We road collectivos all day- from Pelanque to Ocosingo, to and from Tonina and finally from Ocosingo to San Cristóbal. They were hot, crowded, bumpy and uncomfortable. I already had developed a passionate dislike for topes (speed bumps) in Mexico. Yesterday turned that dislike into a loathing. These topes are everywhere, to slow down traffic through a town, at a school, before a curve, after a curve or apparently just randomly or because there hasn’t been a tope for awhile. The reason they exist is logical; Mexican drivers ignore signs and pavement markings, so to slow them down requires something spine- and suspension-jarring. Topes are very effective at that. But they also make traveling by road very uncomfortable and frustrating, especially when one is jammed into the back seat of a minivan and enduring a couple of hundred of them in the course of a days travel. When driving rental cars, a few took me by surprise and once one managed to launch our Volkswagen sedan a couple feet in to the air, to the astonishment of the people in the small village for whom the topes were supposed to reduce my speed. Initially I reckoned that topes must cut Mexico’s GDP by a percent or more by unnecessarily slowing down transport, thus reducing productivity and efficient flow of goods and labor. Then I realized that this reduction was probably offset by production related to the repair of vehicle suspensions and more frequent replacement of cars and trucks, similar to the Keynesian concept of achieving economic growth by putting people to work digging holes and filling them in again.

To be clear: I abhor topes. And it will be a long time before I ride in a collectivo again.

Our resort hotel in Pelanque was a bit expensive for our budget, so we stayed in a very inexpensive ($26) place for our night in San Cristóbal as a penance. We had a private room with bath in a hostel. If you want to feel old, stay in a place where your fellow travelers are globe-trotting 20-somethings dressed in flowing colorful garments, with multiple pierced body parts, tattoos and having the youthful time of their lives. It brings back nostalgic memories of my own travels at that age, a time when we had to make do with just flowing garments as permanent body mutilation hadn’t become popular yet. Nor did we have organic, sustainably harvested coffee, artisanal sausage, bottled water or ubiquitous WIFI that today's bohemian traveler enjoys. In the good old days, we survived on instant Nescafe, super well-cooked mystery meat, iodine water purification tablets, and poste restante, a term I don’t think anyone under 40 even recognizes. Well, I might be dated, but I’m still out here doing it…enjoying my organic coffee, artisanal foods and internet access.

I’m writing this posting while riding on the bus (a real bus) back to Tapachula, from where we’ll take a taxi to Puerto Chiapas and reunite with Intermezzo. We’ll spend Sunday transitioning back to boat life and Monday preparing for departure. If we’re ready and the weather looks good, we’ll be leaving Mexico on Tuesday, setting sail for El Salvador.

Our hotel room patio in the junble, just outside of Palenque

Misol-Ha waterfall

Misol-Ha waterfall

Agua Azul waterfall

Agua Azul waterfall

Agua Azul waterfall

Sculpture at edge of ball court at Tonina. Hands bound, neck extended; obviously a member of the losing team, to be decapitated.

Tonina ruins, the "acropolis"

Stairs emerging from chamber inside the Tonina ruin

Renee exploring Tonina

View from the top of the Tonina "acropolis"

Me at top of Tonina ruin, wearing my backup hat, which I then lost on another bus. I think I may be suffering from a hat loss syndrome and won't be risking my special hat until I find a cure.