Friday, May 24, 2013

Leaving Mexico via the Plains of Yukatan

Maya ruins - Palenque 
Emerging from the Lacadon forests, I made my way to some of the most spectacular ruins in Mexio - Palenque. Very impressive and consequently also busy with tourists but fortunately they all stay in the main squares and it is easy to wonder off around the periphery and have it largely to oneself. In fact, just across the road from the ruins is a beautiful forest with extensive trails. But what is amazing about this forest is the sheer quantity of ruins scattered everywhere. What appears to be a pile of jungle-clad rocks turns out to be just that - but a closer inspection reveals that the rocks are all hewn and form bits of walls, a couple of steps, a stone-lined viaduct with big slabs of rock covering the top - in many ways more alluring than the reconstructed temples in the main tourist area - and not a soul to have to share it with - actually, not entirely true. When I left the trail in pursuit of howler monkey calls I encountered a couple of additional primates - two french students studying the social behaviour of the monkeys, one doing her masters and the other a volunteer. Feels like Indiana Jones territory in here!

Howler monkey - my early morning wake-up call
From Palenque, I left the mountains behind and ventured onto the hot steamy plains of Yukatan. This wasn’t really what I had been expecting - not that I had any real idea of what to expect, but it seems that much of the Yukatan peninsular is a vast limestone shield riddled with holes (cenotes) that have filled with water, many providing delightful, jungle surrounded swimming holes. I don’t know if it is the shallow water table or low nutrient limestone soils, but the forest here, while thick, is not tall so doesn’t have the lushness that one normally expects from a rainforest. Also, it is the end of the dry season so everything is looking a bit stressed, I suspect that in another month or so it will be a completely different place. Visited more ruins at Calakmul, then traversed northwards through quiet backroads to Uxmal and the spectacular Chichén Itzá, all in great forest settings, before cutting to the coast at Tulum, with yet more ruins perched on the cliff tops overlooking the sea. This spectacular location makes it a big draw for Mexican and foreign tourists alike but many were more interested in swimming at the beaches below the ruins than they were in the ruins themselves. The beautiful beach of Xpu-Ha, just north of Tulum kept me entranced for a couple of days before heading southwards once again to spend my last two nights in Mexico in the very pleasant Yax-Ha campground in Chetumal as I got organised for Central America! 

Ruins at Chichén Itzá
Some of the wildlife around the ruins...

Idyllic beach at Xpu-HA

Beach-side camp spot

Ruins and tourists at Tulum

So...somehow, six months seem to have slipped by. I’m not sure how that happened. Actually, I can see how it did...Mexico is an amazing country, and even after 6 months, there is so much more that I could have done. Muchisimo gracias to the many, many Mexicans that I met along the way for their endless humor, hospitality, great company, insights and learnings - not to mention the wonderful food.

Last camp in Mexico - Central America here I come!
If you’re reading this blog with a view to taking to the road, and people are telling you that you shouldn’t go to Mexico, based on my experience, my advice is - ignore them!

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