We arrived in the bustling little town of Palenque after a five-hour bus ride that wove us through the mountains of north-eastern Chiapas. Ear phones in, listening to a killer playlist that included Billy Bragg’s ‘Californian Stars’ on repeat, I was calm and relaxed despite the narrow and curvy roads we bounced over, exited to be on another adventure in an as yet unexplored land. After almost 10 months of continuous travel, on a variety of vehicles of questionable road-worthiness, my first Mexican bus was among the most comfortable I’d experienced.
Or maybe I’d just learned to have a little faith, let go and enjoy the journey.
We cabbed it from town to the jungle-village of El Panchan, just outside the entrance to the national park where the ancient ruins are located. We don’t own a Lonely Planet, though I do have a few old PDF files on my computer, which I happened to locate too late to be of much use, and anyway, they were out of date. Tyrhone isn’t much of a travel planner (his journey through China sans me is a testament to this), and yet, if I get stuck on something, he has a gift of being able to find a place to stay at the last minute, after I have exhausted all my key-word combinations on Google.
And so it was that we arrived at Margarita and Ed’s. With no website or online booking system to speak of combined with our evening arrival, we hoped they would have a room available. Thankfully they did, or should I say, she did; Ed is unfortunately no longer with us. We found that out later of course; when we arrived Margarita was far too busy personally seeing weary backpackers to their rooms to go into too much detail.
She did, however, show us to a spotlessly clean, huge room at the back of the property, and we were overjoyed that despite being in the jungle we didn’t have to be, well, in the jungle. I’ll listen to the howler monkeys from the comfortable confines of a fan-cooled, concrete and tiled, bug-free suite, thanks very much.
After a lovely candle-lit dinner at the main restaurant, Don Muchos, we had a relatively early night in preparation for our morning expedition to the ancient ruins.
Of course this is a gross exaggeration; a 10 peso collectivo ride to the entrance gate does not an expedition make, and whilst part of me envies the explorers and archaeologists that uncovered the ancient crumbling Mayan city in the mid-century, another part is also extremely grateful that I can tick it off my list of ‘World Heritage Sites I’ve Seen’ in a morning.
Ah, how the definition of ‘adventure’ has changed over the years!
Walking over and around the ancient, jungle-clad structures whilst eves-dropping on the English-speaking guides, I was, for a minute, able to imagine the lost Mayan civilization of Kings, slaves and human sacrifices.
Apparently, appeasing the Gods was of the utmost priority to the rulers of Palenque, and absolutely every act of war, offering and sacrifice was made to ensure the creators of life continued giving it. Gods were feared and obeyed through complex rituals and ceremonies, with stories of creation and destruction passed down through the generations.
I wondered if in fact we humans had ever been peaceful beings. I’ve visited the remains of a few ancient cultures in my time – Egypt, China and Greece – and it seems as though war, violence and power-mongering, as well as bizarre God-fearing rituals have always been prevalent among us humans. All of the ‘great civilisations’ were eventually wiped out to be replaced by another, and yet still the wars in the name of God continued.
Of course there has been a bit of hype around these parts about the end of the Mayan calendar on December 21st. I for one am a bit disappointed that we won’t still be in Mexico to either watch the day come and go as any other, or be blown to smithereens by a wayward meteor. Some people here take it quite seriously; I met people who were planning to move away from the Riviera Maya over that time due to a prophecy that is supposedly carved into the stone tablets of Coba, 13 KM from Tulum.
Translation: ‘The world will end on December 21, 2012’. Kidding.
There is of course the other, tourist-friendly interpretation of the prophecy; that the end of the calendar simply marks the end of one age, and the beginning of a new one.
I kind of like this idea, but find it hard to believe that the new age is just over one month away. I suppose Obama was re-elected, so things can’t be that bad, but the dawning of a new age of consciousness? I suppose I have to hope that it is possible…
The idea of the world as we know it possibly coming to an end got me thinking, “How would I live if I knew there was only a month left?”
Thankfully, I wouldn’t really change that much, except that I would live my truth with more confidence. I don’t mean that I’m currently dishonest, but that I do question the inner essence of myself more often than I’d like, getting distracted by all the ‘noise’ of the external world.
I know that the truth isn’t ‘out there’, despite once being a fan of The X-files. It’s in the quietness of the soul, where pure love and knowing resides, free from worry or fear. It’s not in the striving, or achieving, but in the claiming of what already belongs to us. It’s in the letting go, and in the absoluteness of faith.
Since I don’t actually believe that the world will end on December 21st, when I’ll be preparing to share Christmas with my friend Hannah at her little house in Goa, I suppose I’ll continue on with things as they are. Yet I know my time on earth is limited, so that’s gotta be reason enough to spend every day becoming a little bit more aware of that which I know to be true, and less time doubting it.
What is your interpretation of the Mayan prophecy? Where will you be on December 21? How would you live differently if you knew there was only one month left of life as we know it?
More photos of our time in and around Palenque are on the Sarah Somewhere Facebook page. If you enjoy what you read here, please consider sharing my posts with your friends; every bit helps me to continue doing what I love – travelling and writing!