27 Oct Palenque to San Cristobal – pyramids and protestors, road trip through Mexico day 3
Palenque to San Cristobal 207 km
Day 3 of our road trip saw us heading out to the incredible ruins of Palenque. Nestled deep in the jungle and stretching across 8kms, these are some of my favorite ruins. I had been to Palenque before but somehow enjoyed it even more the second time.
Having our own car meant no waiting for taxis and leaving when we wanted to leave – score. After a coffee we were in the car at about 8am (which is when the ruins open) and heading for the entrance. Twenty minutes later we were staring at Mayan pyramids built 1500 years ago. Man I love having a car in Mexico.
The pyramids were shrouded in mist which just added to that feeling you get when you see something so much older than yourself. Hardly anyone was there yet and the air was still relatively cool, especially compared to our last visit. We wandered around for about two hours, climbing to the top of some of the pyramids and looking across the jungle. We even got to go inside one and look at a tomb in one of the rooms (I didn’t even know the pyramids had insides).
Entering the site of the 1500 year old ruins of Palenque
A multitude of tat for sale at the Palenque ruins
The view from the highest tower
The ruins at Palenque are amazing, the fact that you can walk on them even better. But it was time to move on. We had to get back to Margarita and Eds for a last minute shower before hitting the road again for San Cristobal de las Casas, a 4 hour drive up into the mountains. At least it should have been a 4 hour drive, but then the bloody protestors hit.
There we were merrily commenting on how we would be in San Cristobal de las Casas by 2 or 3pm, when suddenly the car in front of us stops. We had just driven into a little village and could see something was going on up ahead. After a couple minutes the car in front of us turned around and drove off. Upon investigating we were told by a couple of the guys who had blocked the road that we should go back because no one was getting through. “Yeah bloody right!”
Me doing some investigationing
We decided to wait a bit and see what happened. 10 minutes later a big cracking sound came from up the road behind us, the cracking sound I noticed was a large tree being cut down to block the road! Okay, well there were a few other cars so don’t stress just yet, I thought, wait it out. 20 minutes later the road block opened and we jumped in our car feeling happy that whatever the situation was, it had been resolved. 100 meters down the road however another road block had been put in place… Away from the eyes of the other towns people.
We pulled up to the road block and I got out to see if I could speak to the group of guys in the two cars which had blocked the road. As they all rushed up to me I got into defense mode, puffing out my chest and flexing a little, just in case. I didn’t think there was going to be a problem but you never know. I immediately let it be known I was from Australia and living in Playa del Carmen as Americans are not always a favorite of the locals. Fortunately the only thing they wanted was money and made it clear that for 100 pesos (about $8 US) they would let me through. I agreed and they rushed off to their cars. Then for some reason something changed and they decided not to move, I hadn’t given them money yet but they were arguing amongst themselves.
Suddenly another guy showed up in a truck trying to get through, he was a big bodybuilding Mexican and so I did the rational thing and tied my horse to his. After standing around for a bit listening to them arguing, we decided again on 100 pesos, handed over the money and were let through with a belief that we would reach the next town of Ocosingo. 20 minutes later we pulled up to the official roadblock, as opposed to the one which these fellas had used to wrangle 100 pesos out of people!
We stopped the car and I walked up to see what was happening – this road block I was told would go on until 5pm. Deciding to see what was further up we committed the cardinal sin and queue jumped about 50 cars. Fortunately this brought us to a restaurant so we wasted a couple hours eating really bad tacos and considering whether or not we would go on to San Cristobal once the block opened. I wandered ahead and got to the actual roadblock where I watched 100 or so people milling about around rocks in the road. They didn’t seem to be doing much and it left me none the wiser, but I did decide we could queue jump even more and we drove past another 100 or so cars who seemed a little bit confused by my maneuver.
Protestors stopping me from getting to San Cristobal and the best Pizza in Mexico
Stuck in Ocosingo, at least I got to the front of the queue
It payed off and half an hour later when the roadblock opened we were on our way again! Yeah! Onwards to San Cristobal, we would still make it by about 6pm. The road wound left and right, the rain poured down over windy mountainous roads half eroded and sliding down the cliff side next to us. But we were almost there, until, another road block. At this point I started not caring about what they were protesting and actually hoping that they didn’t get what they were after. Yeah they may want better education and/or treatment, but I was tired of waiting God dammit!
Wiser this time I drove straight on in the opposite lane, passing tourist buses, local cars and taxis. Onwards and onwards past another hundred vehicles until I could see the protestors. We pulled up as far on the right as we could and waited. The sun went down and… Nothing. People chanted God knows what… And still they didn’t move. Finally at 7pm the banner came down and people started up their cars, and then… Nothing. For another half hour or so we watched people stand in the road chanting, laughing and for all the world seeming like they were begging me to run them over. Eventually they moved and the stream began. Being at the front we dodged a couple near misses of being stuck behind trucks who couldn’t get through the congestion.
We drove in the dark, through the mist, across barely visible roads until finally we pulled into San Cristobal de las Casas. We had made it! At around 8:30 in the evening, 6 hours after we were supposed to get there, we pulled up to our hotel. They had rooms for $30 US a night, they were as good as we remembered (we stayed there last year) and we could park right outside. Success!
It was a long drive on what was supposed to be our shortest day, but the scenery was amazing and we got to San Cristobal safely. We had an experience and it had only cost us 100 pesos and 6 hours. But I still hate protestors now and might consider going pro-government. A hint to protestors, don’t piss off the people you hope to get on side. To the Mexicans credit, if something like this had gone down in Perth or London; if a group of protestors had blocked the roads without police there (the police stayed well clear) there would likely be a few barged cars and fisticuffs abound. The Mexicans just watched and waited… Which is what Mexicans do best.
This means “Come Back Soon”, and was in the town we got stuck in for 3 hours, no thank you.
Check out the others in this series Road trip to Oaxaca Mexico begins tomorrow! and Playa del Carmen to Campeche, road trip through Mexico day 1 plus Campeche to Palenque, road trip through Mexico day 2
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