Ruinas (and Heading Home…)

As one bookend of our trip, we visited two jungles ruins – Palenque and Bonampak – both close to the border with Guatemala. And speaking of which, we will not make it to Guatemala, at least not on this trip; we have enjoyed Mexico so much that we have been traveling slower than usual, and we just ran out of time to get to Guatemala and Belize. (Actually, we’re on our way home right now.)

We had visited a few ruins before in Mexico: Teotihuacan, outside of Mexico city, built by Zapotecs and Mixtecs (although no one is quite sure) and boasts the second largest pyramid in the world, and the scale of the site, and its pyramids is very, very impressive:

Looking down "main street"

Looking down “main street”. The large pyramid in the next picture, is on the left

The 2nd largest pyramid in the world (after the Cheops in Egypt)

The 2nd largest pyramid in the world (after the Cheops in Egypt)

We also visited Templo Mayor, the main temple of the Aztecs, located in what is now the center of Mexico City. Large parts of the central plaza, and the central cathedral in Mexico City are built on top of Templo Mayor, which has to an extent been re-discovered and is being excavated in parts.

The main cathedral of Mexico City is built on top of Templo Mayor, and now overlooks part of the excavation.

The main cathedral of Mexico City is built on top of Templo Mayor, and now overlooks part of the excavation.

Here is where the cut-out human hearts were deposited and burned

Here is where the cut-out human hearts were deposited and burned

And then, outside of Oaxaca, we visited Monte Alban, a well-preserved set of ruins built by the Zapotec.

The main plaza of Monte Alban

The main plaza of Monte Alban

Inside one of the tombs

Inside one of the tombs

But, as cool as these ruins were, they were not located in the jungle. And let’s face it, “real” Mayan type ruins need to be in the jungle – Indiana Jones style. This brings us to Palenque, and Bonampak.

We camped right outside of Panlenque in a cute little campground where howler monkeys were warming up. The next morning, we walked to the ruins, approaching them via a path from the south.

The path leading to the ruins

The path leading to the ruins

The ruins suddenly appear

The ruins suddenly appear

And then, you get the full effect

And then, you get the full effect

K and new friend Linda enjoying the views

K and new friend Linda enjoying the views

Although there were quite a few folks visiting, the ruins were amazing, and close by there is a great, great museum!

Next, we drove to Bonampak; a set of ruins which lie about 160 km from Palenque, right on the border with Guatemala. Bonampak was discovered much later than Palenque, and is significantly harder to get to (unless you have your own vehicle…). Here the attraction is not so much the ruins, but the Templo de Inscripciones (murals), a temple with three rooms of well preserved murals.

At its peak, Bonampak was ruled by this guy (center) Chaan Muwaan II

At its peak, Bonampak was ruled by this guy (center) Chaan Muwaan II

The ruler, Chaan Muwaan II, let’s call him CM II, commissioned three sets of murals where he is the star.

CM II himself, in full war regalia (watching over the torture of some of his captives)

CM II himself, in full war regalia (watching over the torture of some of his captives)

One of the captives - note the blood drops falling from his pulled out finger nails

One of the captives – note the blood drops falling from his pulled out finger nails

Nobles arriving to celebrate the birth of CM II's son

Nobles arriving to celebrate the birth of CM II’s son

Three women performing ritual bloodletting

Three women performing ritual bloodletting

Partying after a war victory

Partying after a war victory

The ruins themselves are pretty as well

The ruins themselves are pretty as well

Bonampak may have been the most powerful set of ruins for me. First, there are many fewer tourists. We camped close by (again) and arrived there early – there was literally one (1) other person on the ruins. Being able to absorb the vistas without being surrounded by 100’s of people makes a difference.

Second, and more important, are the murals. These are the only ones we have seen, and though our pictures don’t show it, they really bring the Mayans from circa 700 AD to life. Remarkable.

We visited Palenque and Bonampak with our new friends Linda and Aron, whom we had met in St Cristobal. Linda and Aron are just setting off on their travel adventure – spending the next year driving south along the pan-american highway. Somehow it was fitting that as we turned back North to head back to Colorado, Linda and Aron headed South to Guatemala; our adventure is ending, their’s is starting. They are going to have a blast!

The happy hour spot at our campground close to Bonampak. The waterfall is a nice accessory...

Aron, Linda, and K at the happy hour spot at our campground close to Bonampak. The waterfall is a nice accessory, and fun to jump off of…

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