The Tehuantepec and Chiapas – A Grand Finale for Mexico (Part II of II)Part II – La Venta and Palenque

To read part I of this post click here:  From The HelmsMistress: The Tehuantepec and Chiapas – A Grand Finale for Mexico (Part I of II)

The sacred Ceiba tree.

Moving on from San Cristóbal, it was time to put away the winter clothing and get ready for the jungle.  We were advised to take the long way to Palenque in order to avoid some recent road blocks relating to local protests and political disputes.  The blessing in this longer trek was that it took us past Parque Museo La Venta in Villahermosa, Tabasco.  A quick stop off the road, this outdoor park and zoo afforded us a close-up look at the colossal Olmec heads and other basalt carvings from the nearby archaeological site of La Venta.

For a quick refresher of history, the Olmecs were the earliest known Mesoamerican civilization dating back to approximately 2,500 – 400 BC.  Based along the Gulf of Mexico this civilization far predated the more historically recognized Mayans and Aztecs. Mystery surrounds these massive carvings as they are believed to be carved solely with stone tools and were made from volcanic basalt sourced from mountains roughly 70 km away from the archaeological site.  The colossal head pictured below stands nearly 8 feet tall and weighs in at 24 tons!  After paying around $2 a ticket, we quickly perused the exotic animals in the zoo, bypassing most of them in favor of the sculpture trail.

Triumphal Altar with a prominent figure
Colossal head with coati photobomber emerging from the underworld

A guide greeted us with hand sanitizer and requested that we didn’t touch these nearly 3000 year-old sculptures – no problem!  There they were, close enough to touch and exposed to all the elements.  What a testament to resilience!  We had coatis running wild on our path, squeaking, and squaring off at one another (I’m pretty sure we interrupted a coati sibling rivalry).  We didn’t spend much time here though as we were racing against the sun to get to Palenque before dark.  Once again, I highly recommend this stop and remember to bring bug spray – you’re in the jungle baby!

Coatis run wild throughout La Venta 

Palenque

Chad booked a place within walking distance from the Palenque archaeological site called Hotel Maya Bell. What a heavenly retreat after driving all day!  It had a loft bedroom for the girls, was elegantly decorated with local art, and we fell asleep listening to live music from the onsite restaurant.

Full moon at Hotel Maya Bell

In the morning, we hiked up the road towards Palenque, paid our fees at the park entrance, and took in the views of the lush jungle as we walked.  The park is vast with remains of an aqueduct, ball court, and beautiful waterfall in addition to the proverbial pyramid tombs.  Palenque, originally named Lakamha’ “the place of the great waters”, was one of the most important cities within the Mayan civilization during the Classic period (250-900 A.D).  One of the most notable structures is the Temple of Inscriptions which is King K’inich Janaab Pakal’s tomb.  It took 4 years of excavation by Alberto Ruz Lhuillier and his team but in 1952 when discovered, it was the richest and best preserved of the ancient tombs of the Americas.  Beside the Temple of Inscriptions is the Temple of the Red Queen, aptly named due to the large amount of cinnabar (red mercury) covering her skeleton found at the time of excavation.  These massive structures were built in the 7th century and are pictured below.

Pictured here are both the places where King Pakal’s tomb was uncovered and where the Red Queen’s Tomb was found (to the right). The story of the Red Queen is interesting because they have actually brought her back to Pelenque and reburied her, somewhere.

The Queens Bath

Although we would’ve loved to take the extended tours and see some of the outlying archeological sites, the heat was taking its toll and our time was limited.  After spending the morning walking the grounds, taking pictures, and watching the iguanas climb the pyramids, it was time to walk back.

On our way back we heard what we thought were jaguar sounds projecting from a speaker.  This is not as farfetched as you may think as the jaguar holds special meaning within the Mayan culture.  Furthermore, craftsmen were selling small carved whistles that make jaguar sounds, so we didn’t make much of it –someone marketing something for the tourists, we thought.  As we got closer to our hotel however, the sound just kept getting louder and eerier, so we asked a housekeeper in our best Spanglish where the sounds were coming from.  The lady laughed at our speaker theory and replied that they were “monos” or monkeys.  Monkeys?!  That sound? No way!  You know we then trekked up a makeshift jungle trail following the continued loud, bellowing howls until we finally spotted two tiny howler monkeys way up in the trees above our hotel – welcome to the jungle!  If you’ve never heard the appealing cacophony of howler monkeys, just imagine starving yourself for 3 days and putting a microphone up to your abdomen to capture the guttural sounds of your stomach wailing with starvation.  Now mix in some T-rex sound effects from Jurassic Park and then project these sounds with a large speaker throughout your neighborhood.  That pretty much sums up our howler monkey experience.  Now in Costa Rica, hearing their distant howls daily, I realize they have a wide array of vocal ululations, all of which make them sound much larger and scarier than they really are.  It’s not difficult to see how they earned their name.

Howler monkey high up in the tree

Having satisfied so much on this trip, it was time to return to the marina and pick up our 4-leggeds from their pet hotels and begin preparations for our next journey into new countries.

So, here’s what I can offer.  I’m learning that sometimes you can sit and analyze, research, contemplate and justify all the reasons why not to go…on a vacation, on our next open ocean passage, for a job interview, or on any new adventure.  However, when the researching and analyzing leaves you sitting on your arse watching the world pass you by, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate a few things.  Get out there, live life and experience the world.  There are so many reasons why we should NOT be cruising full time with our family, but so many MORE reasons why it has been a glorious decision to do so.  As we prepare to leave the comforts of Mexican cruising grounds in favor of new countries with unique adventures, it is with much appreciation that we say muchas gracias a Mexico.  It’s been a wonderful 2 ½ years of cruising your waters and what a grand finale it was to explore the beautiful states of Chiapas and Tabasco.  ¡Hasta Luego Mexico!

Teagan and Kellyn discuss their first jump off the swimstep 2 ½ years ago, not knowing there’d be so many more to come.

This post concludes our time and travels in Mexico, which has been very, very good to us.  You may also notice that we have not done extensive discussions on the history of the Olmecs or Mayans or Pelenque, because you can click the links to more professional discussions and writings about the same subjects.  These are also not totally detailed travelogues like you may find on other blogs just because that’s the way the HelmsMistress writes, but we are more than happy to answer detailed questions you may have…via our comments section.  In Chiapas, we recommend the company we mentioned in the first post, Tours Discover Chiapas and we loved our hotels in San Cristobal and Pelenque.  We did this whole trip on the safe side by taking longer busier roads and slowing down, which made for very long days but saved us the worry of remote country roads.

Remember, we’re happy to answer detailed questions if you have them.  Wanna support our travel habit? Check out our Patreon site, as we’d love to have you buy us a beer.

To read part I of this post click here:  From The HelmsMistress: The Tehuantepec and Chiapas – A Grand Finale for Mexico (Part I of II)

 

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