Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Palenque: Running Redux, Hat, Ruins

I went for another run yesterday morning before we left San Cristóbal for Palenque. There was no organized race in progress this time, but I'm wondering if I might have engaged in an informal one. As I was running down a quiet street, an indigenous woman who had been walking on the adjoining sidewalk started running. She looked to be about 45 years old, but was probably younger, as the sun, hard work and early parenthood seems to add years to many of these peoples' physical appearance. She was dressed in traditional clothes, an embroidered top, black skirt, sandals and was thin and looked quite fit. She matched my running pace effortlessly and then increased her's a bit and started pulling ahead of me. I sped up a little and caught up with her, neither of us looking at the other, just running along next to each other, 15 feet and a curb apart. After a couple hundred yards, she stopped and turned into a doorway.

Maybe she was late to work or some other appointment and her running along the same street as me was a coincidence and my sense of her engaging in a friendly race was a false impression. But I would rather believe that she has enjoyed running since she was young, has stayed fit, and was engaging in a brief morning's enjoyment showing me that she was still competitive and could whip me in a race, skirt, sandals and all.  It would make me very happy if that was indeed the case and that we shared a moment on a beautiful, crisp, sunny morning.

The bus ride to Palenque was torturous. The bus was comfortable enough, but it's only 130 miles from San Cristóbal via a direct route, yet it takes eight hours as the bus makes a giant loop and covers more than double that distance. I think reason for the longer route is the major bus companies have a hub-and-spoke network like the airlines so as to fill the buses with more fare paying passengers. We left San Cristóbal at noon and didn't arrive in Palenque until after eight at night. There was some decent scenery along the way, but we also had to endure four crappy American movies dubbed in Spanish for which we had no control of the volume.

We are staying at nice resort a few kilometers out of town on the road to the Palenque Mayan ruins. The resort is in the jungle, with beautiful tropical landscaping,  a small river running through it, a very nice pool, and quite a bit of wildlife. Needless to say, it's hot and humid, although a pleasant gentle breeze has come up in the evenings during dinner.

This morning we took a collectivo (minivan) bus to the ruins. Right after I getting off the bus, I realized I had left my hat behind.  Not just any old hat; a very special hat.

About 12 years ago, Renee and I traveled to Palm Springs and went hiking in the desert to a small waterfall. At the edge of the pool at the bottom of the waterfall I found a leather hat. I tried it on and it fit perfectly and it looked great. Since finding it, it has travelled with me all over the world and accompanied me on hundreds of hikes, shading my head and giving me a decent "Indiana Jones" look. It was a bit worn and weathered when I found it and continued to age over the years, but that only added to it's character. A couple of years ago, I bought a new one of the same make and model so that I had a un-weathered one for dressier occasions, but no matter how I tried, I could not form it into the same attractive shape as the old one that I found. As I had become very fond and attached to the old hat, I started wearing the new one more often because if I lost it, I wouldn't be a big deal compared to losing the old one. That plan worked well, because I lost the new one in Puerto Vallarta this January, but still had my precious old one. Until I lost it on the bus this morning.

I felt really sad about losing my special hat, my old traveling companion. I bought a cheap hat from a vendor outside the ruins to protect my head from the tropical sun, a pitiful substitute for my old one. I moped my way through the entry gate to the ruins, feeling like I had just lost a pet. The magnificent ruins grabbed my attention most of the time, but every so often, I would experience a wave of sadness from the loss of the hat. Finally I just told myself, it's just a hat, I found it after someone else lost it, now someone else has found it and hopefully they will enjoy it, the hat will continue it's journey through the cosmos, and a few other Zen-like bullshit musings that made me feel better.

The Palenque ruins are spectacular, located in a national park in the middle of a jungle. The major structures have been restored, but there are quite a few ruins of large buildings that are still claimed by the jungle, their stones entangled in vegetation. It is amazing that four hundred years of pretty advanced civilization could be wiped out in a few decades due to drought, well before Europeans even set foot on the continent. What impressed me the most were the thoughtful way the city was laid out and the monumental stonework of the buildings. We endured climbing up and down steps under a blazing sun in the humid heat, with short periods of relief in the cool interiors of the buildings or in the shade of trees between them.

Towards the end of our explorations, Renee and I got separated due to some spatial confusion by one of us (not me). We ultimately reunited near the exit gate, where one of us seemed irritated (not me). After sorting out that minor kerfuffle, we started walking to visit the museum across the road, a short distance away from the exit. As we approached the road, Renee exclaimed, "Look, that's the collectivo that we took this morning!". I waved down the driver and asked him if he had found my sombrero. He said no, but invited me to take a look inside the van. Lo and behold, a smiling passenger in the backseat pointed to my old hat, hanging from a headrest! I was beaming, blubbering in Spanish, "Mi sombrero! Tengo por doce años! Es mi amigo!", to the amusement of everyone in the van. I think Renee was even happier than I was that we found the hat, as she had not worked through any Zen-like acceptance bullshit yet. I don't believe in fate or destiny, but figure that there was about a 30 second window of opportunity for us to have crossed paths with that minivan again, and we did. And we wouldn't have if one of us (not me) had not experienced spatial confusion and delayed our crossing of the road until that window of opportunity occurred. Pretty long odds, but I'm reunited with my beloved hat!

After a full day of exploring the ruins, the cool water of the pool at our hotel felt great, as did the ice cold Bohemia claro as I drank it down.

Tomorrow, it's off to see some waterfalls. 

The refreshing pool at our hotel resort

Palenque Mayan ruins

Interior of the Palace, the king's bed chamber

Passageway inside the Palace

The jungle claims this ruin

Ceiba tree, sacred to the Mayans, growing from a ruin. Check out the knotted vine to the left of the tree's trunk.

The lush, steamy Palenque jungle

Small waterfall at the Palenque ruins