|After much discussion, Sam and I decided it was time to leave the lovely hamlet of El Remate and move on. The hard decision was how to get to Palenque. There are two ways, really: 1) take a bus to Flores by 5:00 a.m., catch the 5:00 bus to Bethel about 4 hours away at the border, find a lancha to take you across the Usamacinta River into Mexico and on the other side find a bus to take you to Palenque which is another 3 hours or so OR 2) pay extra cash to have someone set up all this crap for you. Option 2 won out due to the sheer fact that we really wanted to get to Palenque, and the border portion of Trip #1 could take a day or three.
Option 2 fun facts:
* 4:30 a.m. was our time of departure, and our time of departure was 4:30.
* Our bus ride from El Remate to Flores was punctuated by the constant horking and spitting every few seconds of our driver
* Our 5:00 bus to the border left at 5:45.
* The road between Flores and Bethel is ALL unpaved, making for a bumpy, dusty ride (our noses and ears had quite a bit of produc' for a few days after)
* Crossing the Usamacinta was awesome: the water is a gorgeous turquoise and we were a fleet of long, thin lanchas cruising down the river for some ten miles or so.
* We were packed into a super cozy mini van for the ride from Corozal to Palenque in Mexico. The van was stopped four times by armed military personnel. The combined temperature in the pants of Sam and I reached a whopping 120 degrees.
Then we were in Palenque. Before we even got a hotel, Sam and I traipsed into a restaurant near the parque, backpacks and all, and had the best meal we've eaten in a couple of months. Delicious enchiladas with mole. Fantastic salsa. Good God, we were in Heaven. Sam's appetite has finally returned. We then grabbed a hotel just down the road - our room is a bit tiny and musty, but the kicking fan and cold shower are awesome.
So, today we spent the day at Palenque. Palenque is another giant Mayan city like Tikal - only 5% of the city has been excavated, which is something to be said when one sees how big the excavated section is. The great period of development in Palenque was between 600 and 900 A.D., which is considered the Classic Maya period, but there is evidence of people living there since 100 B.C. The city was abandoned by 1000 A.D. for unknown reasons.
Sam and I hired a guide in the morning to take us around, a luxury we did not have at Tikal. The whole tour was in Spanish, so it was great practice for both of us, plus he had tons of information that neither of us would have gleaned by just walking around. For instance, he knew the meanings of several of the inscriptions found at the site, or at least he pretended like he did. He also knew a bit about the plant and animal life around the site.
Perhaps the coolest part of our visit was going down into the bowels of the Temple of the Inscriptions to check out the tomb of Pakal, one of the great kings of Palenque. A guide at the guide stand in the morning told us that it was possible to enter this tomb between 3:30 and 4:45, but you had to get permission first at the site museum. So, around 1:30 or so, Sam and I went to the offices at the site museum and asked if we could have a permit to enter the tomb. We were asked to write down our names and where we were from as well as a paragraph or two about why we wanted to see the tomb. Instead of saying "Cuz it sounds real neat", I wrote an eloquent statement regarding our interest in all things Maya and added "Cuz it sounds real neat" in a postscript. This was written in English, but the non-English speaking worker said she understood our intent after a quick glance. We are going to keep our eyes on the national newspapers to see if our work shows up somewhere without our permission.
We were two of twelve people to enter the tomb today. Apparently the humidity created by the sweat of 1000 visitors to the tomb each day was affecting the murals in the tomb (in fact, they are barely visible anymore), so now only 100 people are allowed to enter per day. However, the possibility is not really advertised, and there are lots of huge tour groups coming from all over Mexico that probably would not have the time (or the knees) to go in. We first had to climb to the top of the temple from the back, circle around to the front and then descend two sets of steep, crazy, and sometimes slippery steps to the crypt below. (Sam claims to have felt like an extra in The Mummy, but The Rock was nowhere to be seen, much to her chagrin. Roar.) Along the steps to the tomb is a hollow tube that supposedly allows the soul of the person buried there to escape to the heavens. Suspended above the actual sarcophagus was the original lid, complete with murals, inscriptions and glyphs. It was really amazing to be down there and very cool to imagine not only the people who lived during this time period, but the people who excavated the site and discovered all of its treasures.
Any which way, a picture is worth a thousand words (right?), so check 'em out.