2-16-09 - Palenque, Mexico – “We don’t fit in,” observes Will. Fellow campers at the Maya Bell, the campground/cabanas nearest the magnificent ruins of Palenque, are an eclectic bunch..Carved out of the jungle’s edge, the place caters to lots of Canadians, a smattering of Europeans (French, Belguim, German, to name a few), some Mexican tourists, and – shokingly – several folks from the USA. We haven’t seen so many Americans since Mazatlan!
The Maya Bell seems a refuge for a high concentration of hippie-types: barefoot with dredlocks and baggy clothes, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes (among other things); with gaggles of free-range, semi-naked, long-haired children in tow. “Are they boys or girls?” inquires Kim geniunely unclear. In addition to present-day hippies, there are plenty of yesterday’s hippies kicking about as well. Grey-haired and balding, folks who most likely discovered Palenque 40 years ago and have been coming back ever since. One such couple, traveling from Vermont (of all places) with a hound dog named Moon, hold musical court on the porch of their premier poolside casita, which it appears they rent for the season. It’s an equisite setting nestled in dense, broad-leaf vegetation; a botonists dream.
Last night we lay awake listening to the deep gutteral growlings of the Howler Monkeys high in the canapy not far from our tents. Perhaps dozen or more, communicating in different pitches, durations and intensities noises Paul Winter might record to work with. “They sound like lions,” notes Dave. Beyond the hilucienogenic set, nature loving orothologists may be the second largest group attracted to this lush tropical setting. Wearing sensible shoes and drapped with expensive high-resolution field grasses, one such birder in a camophlage vest with multiple pockets, informs us that “Ten years ago you saw all the birds you wanted, right from this campground. Today you really have to look to find them.” We speculate habitat loss, pestisides, and climate change as possible reasons for the reduction of species diversity in this wintering ground for many of our favorite northern aviary residents.
After an early breakfast, we step onto the road to head to the ruins. Almost immediately a van stops, offering us a lift up the hill for 10 pesos each. We hop in, beating the bulk of the tour buses and the mid-day heat, to explore the intricate stone temples, tombs and tunnels inhabitated by Mayan people 2,000 years ago. Several stone carvings still exist depicting kings, queens, warriors and gods. Climbing to the top of the Maize Palace, our family sits perched above the tour groups and salesmen hocking an assortment of Mayan “ketch” that all starts looking the same. Dave renames a momument the “Temple of the Dirty Diaper,” after finding one not-so-descreetly left among the rocks. Eventually, heading down a jungle path we come across overgrown secondary ruins to our collective liking. Kim’s assignment is to discover six facts about the Mayan culture. I’m sure she is thinking about them right now as she takes a refreshing afternoon swim in the pool back at the campground. Today is extremely hot and humid.
In addition to camping, the Maya Bell offers an assortment of thatched-roofed accommodations. One such dwelling, right next to our van, is a two-story bugalow with a playground ladder and slide for access to the upstairs. Secretly Dave and I speculate the downstairs inhabitant has come here to die. Skeletally thin, donned in white from head to toe, he pads outside a few times daily shuffling along in white hospital slippers. Otherwise, he remains inside, curtains drawn, hacking quietly away. Imagining its his dying wish to return to Palenque where, in his peyote-induced youth, he found his first true love. You never know, it could be true. Suddenly, the familar purr of another VW Westfalia (1986 to be exact) enters the campground, breaking our daydreams. Finally, some other “normal” people to chatt with!