Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Pyramids, pirates and parkour

R-E-S-P-E-T-O, find out what it means to "yo."
(pretty weak joke, agreed, bad Spanish grammar to boot, but it rhymes.)

Part One of our hasta luego, Mexico road trip is back here and it's glorious. Part Two is back here and is slightly less so. This is Part Three and will probably be the worst of the bunch because this thing is going to be a monster.

Then I'll write Part Four tomorrow and you're gonna be "enough already!" I'm processing a lot of emotions plus logistics right now. Dysfunction and short circuiting, that's what I'm doing.

The movers were just here to survey our stuff and left me a stack of forms to fill out before they can pack all our stuff on Friday so now I'm jittery and annoyed. I hate forms, especially ones with mysterious blank lines on them after words such as "attach copy of travel orders in invisible ink to Page Zero" and "apply corporate seal here -- and by "seal" we mean the animal, so go find one now, godspeed and good luck" and "we're killing you with all these forms right now, ha ha ha, don't care."

This hurried and frantic and annoyed Part Three picks up where I left off last time -- on a winding twisty nauseating road where people with nail boards made us stop and give them money

That winding road eventually deposited us in Palenque, which is frankly not a very interesting town. I'm not going to mince words, Palenque, your town is ugly. Our hotel was nice on the outskirts, though. It had a pool roughly the size of several postage stamps into which many sweaty tourists deposited themselves at the end of blazingly hot days.

The kids had a blast in the pool, as kids always do, but I swam a couple laps and surfaced with a wad of dark hair woven in between my fingers so that was enough for me. Thankfully the pool also had bar service so I watched the kids swim in hair while I enjoyed a couple beers in the sun. That is a win-win.

But here's the thing. The town is not charming but you absolutely must go to Palenque, Chiapas if you ever find yourself anywhere near it. Reason being, the Mayan ruins of Palenque are spectacular, my favorite of any ruins encountered thus far in the journey.

I wish I had known how popular the Palenque ruins are because I would have been a ballbuster about getting my family out of the hotel room at an early hour. As it was, we moseyed into the site's parking lot around 11:00 and holy hell....just holy hell.

Tour buses were everywhere as we approached, never a welcome a sign when you like your ruins quiet and solo-ish, and a very long line of barely moving traffic snaked into the parking lot where, of course, all spots were taken. We got lucky, though; a man appeared to offer us a parking spot right near the entrance and a car wash, all for the small fee of 400 pesos, about 20 bucks. (400 pesos is not a "small fee" in Mexico, it's a big fee, but for us at the moment given the circumstances -- helluva bargain, my friend, and thank you for the shiny car.)

The line for tickets was longer than long so the kids and I left Alex and Mario in line and went to drink water bottles in the shade. For the record, entertaining kids for the wait is roughly equal in difficulty to standing in a long line. So, so many rounds of I Spy.

The ruins at Palenque are the best and most interesting ruins because they are half hidden in the jungle. Even cooler and more mysterious, there are apparently still a ton of ruins back in that thick jungle they haven't yet been able to get to and excavate.

It is so weird and whispery and perfect.

The earliest signs of inhabitants at Palenque date from 100 B.C. but the city reached its heyday around 700 A.D. That good old late classic period, those were raging good times.

The site is so big that even with the uncomfortable number of tour buses parked out front, you can still find yourself poking around on a ruin all alone, surrounded by thick jungle vines and reached only by a set of mossy green steps. Parts of the site are silent save the sounds of wind through trees and rustles of animals in brush. It's very Indiana Jones, only with fewer booby traps and more tchotchke vendors.

Me and the Loosh enjoying ourselves in front of  my favorite structure,
the one with a jack-o-lantern face.

Some ruins are off limits as they are too fragile but those that are available to climb are not scary. The stairs are wide and the levels many, which always makes for a more relaxed climb and descent. If someone should happen to lose their balance and fall, they'll bruise extensively, sure, maybe break an arm or a leg or both, but multi-leveled wide ascents are preferable to the heartstopping death fear of the steep narrow things at Tonina.

Even Coco enjoyed Palenque, at one point said the actual words,"Mom, I like this place!" That is the highest possible praise because Coco is a very crabby ruins-visitor indeed. Because of all the above, Palenque earns my VERY RARE and VERY SOUGHT AFTER rating of 5 out of 5 pyramids! Wow!

Our driver, sweet kind Mario, asked Coco to take a picture of him 
in front of the ruins to send to his wife.
She is six inches from his face.
She is such a punk.
(These two are peas and carrots. She makes him laugh a deep belly laugh.
He has become a good friend, 
and we are going to miss him very much.)

There's another kind of dumb thing you can do near Palenque, and that is the Misol-ha Falls. Alex liked it because he could jump in and swim right next to a pretty waterfall. I did not like it much but that is because I am a killjoy.

That's Al swimming in the water hole.
He had just been whistled at by many whistle-carrying employees
because he swam too close to the falls.
Alex is a rule breaker.

The next day was a smooth ride to Campeche City in the state of Campeche. At home in Seattle, I am the driver. The kids once asked Alex if he knew how to drive and he was highly offended. But he knows that I love to drive, that I like little more than sitting behind the wheel cruising down the open road (or, as is more likely within Seattle city limits, sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, which is admittedly less enjoyable.)

What I realized driving to Campeche was sometimes it's nice to be driven, too. I sat in the second row of our sweet minivan and zoned out with my headphones listening to my tunes and looking at the gorgeous scenery. I would sometimes snap back to attention when I noticed one of my family members waving frantically at me. I would remove my headphones and they would say, "We can't talk to you like that!" and I would say, "Yep, that's the point."

If Palenque were my favorite ruins, Campeche was my favorite city. Campeche is a sleepy little town, likely because temps in the summer run hotter than hot so everyone hides indoors. The buildings of Campeche are painted pastel colors and the streets are narrow and seldom used by cars. It's a glorious mixture of pretty and uncrowded and full of good food. It's too hot, though.

Campeche used to have fairly serious and upsetting problems with invading pirates. They built a wall around the city for protection but those damn pirates just kept coming. Campeche has now embraced its pirate past; there is a pirate-heavy history museum and you can find a guy dressed as a pirate sweating profusely on nearly every corner.

This is the nightly pirate show.
The guy on the ground is drunk, of course.
Perpetuating drunken pirate stereotypes.

When the sun goes down, Campeche comes alive. All the people who have been hiding from the sun come out for a nightly show in the main square. This one was traditional Mexican dance. The kids asked me what a traditional American dance was and I said, "I dunno, I guess a barn dance, or like a square dance?" and they seemed disappointed. They don't understand how heartstopping I can make the Virginia Reel.

There is also a nightly light show projected against the library on the main square. It celebrates the history of Campechans. The light show is so well done, we watched it two nights in a row, even hurriedly finished our cochinita pibil the second night to get there in time.

Hell yeah, celebremos Campeche.

Now a brief Campeche cell phone picture explosion --

Coco running through the streets at night.
Finally deliciously cooler.

Coco and Alex have found a pirate.
What a surprise.
(It's not a surprise at all)

The kids and I
on my favorite giant sign.

The C and A and M represent three of our first names.
Lucien was offended so decided to add an L somewhere.
We debated between "clam" and"calm" 
and decided "clam" fit us better.

Coco up on the wall surrounding the city 
ringing a warning bell.
Pirate issues again.

Our next stop on the itinerary was Merida up in the Yucatan. I have heard many great things about Merida but we did not love it as much as we'd hoped. It's not Merida's fault it's 500 degrees during the day in July, and that we'd been on a long journey before reaching it, but by the time we drove into Merida and began strolling its beautiful streets, we were wilting like fragile flowers and very pissed off about hot charming Mexican cities.

There were some great parts. The mansions along the Malec√≥n are without equal -- 

old mansion tour

As are the "conversation chairs" lining the city's main streets and squares --

It's another giant sign.
I'm very stressed out and sad right now.
Just work with me, please.

We tried a bus tour in the hopes of air conditioning but were disappointed to find the bus didn't have such a thing. We sat on the top of the bus in hopes of a breeze but there wasn't much breeze to be had. We jumped off early because even our fancy fans purchased back in San Cristobal couldn't help us.

The best part of adding Merida to the road trip? MORE RUINS. I gotta have more ruins. Between Campeche and Merida we stopped at the nearly perfect Mayan ruins of Uxmal --

We are out of control.

I have great news, guys. The Mayans have figured out rounded corners and modern construction techniques involving mortar --

she's a beauty

We got to Uxmal early in the AM, having learned our lesson at Palenque, so were there nearly alone. Many others arrived later so while it's not without its crowds, you can avoid nearly all of those damn tourists if you arrive early. And no, of course, we're not included in the "tourists" category because we are TRAVELERS.

What did I love most about Uxmal? The rounded corners and mortar techniques, of course, wouldn't that be everybody's enthusiastic favorite? Second to that was the intricacy of the carvings still affixed to the buildings. I also loved the size of the site. We were poking around and exploring for hours, so much to see and all of it spread out and all of it interesting. We ran out of stuff to see at the exact moment we all thought, "yeah, we're kinda done now." Perfect size.

Fourth, I loved the bats. Lucien heard them first in the old palace, a faint squeaky chittery sound I never would have noticed without my animal-loving son in tow. He said, "Mom! There are bats nearby!" and I was like, "Yeah right, whatever" but then he poked around for thirty seconds and found them. The squeaky chittery sound stopped immediately as soon as he was directly under them. The bats had noticed the child in their midst. Lucien peered up into the crack above his head and there they were, a bunch of little bodies swinging upside down and staring right back down at him with their little shiny eyes.

We are looking at another 5 out of 5 pyramid rating here, people. If Palenque and Uxmal decided to duke it out for my affections, I would frankly be like, "Stop the childishness, you are both perfect to me and I will love you both forever." And then I'd just bail the town because who wants to stay in a weird town where pyramids fight.

Back to the bats. It's not easy to take a picture up into a dark crack full of dark animals but I did my best --

The outlines of their little bat heads are cute if you ask me. But Uxmal is where I learned Alex hates bats. We yelled to him we'd found bats and were confused when Al said, "nope nopeity nope nope, no way in hell" and hightailed it in the opposite direction.

We all have something we can't stomach and would prefer to avoid, of course, but I never pegged Alex as a "no bats" guy. In my mind he's more of a "no area rugs" or "no leg warmers" or "no toast" kind of guy because he's just a little different, a little out there, that one. Bats seem far too common a thing to dislike for my Al. Good to know he can still surprise me even after all these years.

Uxmal explosion --

The picture directly above is the Pelota field at Uxmal. Pelota was a popular game of the times so you can find a Pelota field at nearly every ruins site through Latin America. In Pelota, a ball was bounced off the hips and forearms to put it through the hoops at either side of the field. It also often involved human sacrifice at the end of the match. And get this -- it was often the winners who were sacrificed because they were the strongest and best offerings to the gods. It was an honor, you see. 

Every tour guide through Mexico makes the same joke after they relay the above information: "This is why Mexico never wins their soccer matches."

Anyway, it's rare to see an intact Pelota hoop like the one above; almost all are crumbled away or removed to museums. It was the best I've seen. *calm down Palenque, I love you, too*

La Casa de las Tortugas at Uxmal.
It's the house of the turtles.
That is adorable, Uxmal.

I have neglected to mention thus far
how many big lizards hang out at all of these ruins sites.
We always think of our Bobo, of course.
(Lucien saw this guy above and said, "Mom! Lizard parkour!")

Nicely done, Uxmal, nicely done.

I'm not done writing about this trip, may never be done! But I also may take a break just for a second. Mario is taking me to the ciudadela today, which is the huge artisans market in the centro historico. I'm going to stock up on souvenirs in a major way.

Tomorrow, the adventure will continue. I am blogging so fast these days my fingers ache. It's nothing compared to what's coming with those damn forms, though.

Lizard parkour!


  1. I'm old -- had to look up parkour. Very clever, Lucien!
    Who knew lizard parkour is a thimg on youtube.
    Sorry about the forms and the packing and the moving, but I'm loving the travelogue. What a beautiful and fascinating country and what an excellent account. You guys know how to get the most out of travel.
    I'm glad Coco found some ruins she liked :-)
    Laura, Seattle.

  2. Hahah that lizard parkour made me almost snort my coffee. :D

    Lovely pics - the pyramids remind me distinctly of "Apocalypto" - the movie directed by Mel Gibson. Would love to go see them myself.