As James Taylor (Kelly’s favorite artist) sang, Mexico – I never really been but I’d sure like to go.”  Aside from a quick hop over the border to Tijuana when I was in San Diego on business about 18 months ago, this is my first real visit to Mexico.  And in one day we managed to cross into four of Mexico’s 31 states – Quintana Roo, Campeche, Tabasco, and Chiapas.  Sunday was a loooong drive – some 495 KM (or more than 300 miles) from Chetumal to Palenque, the town next to some famous Mexican Mayan ruins.

The drive was mostly uneventful and the roads were surprisingly good-excellent, except for one patch which is under construction.  The drive was quite picturesque as we passed through a number of different landscapes.   We did the drive in about 6 1/2 hours and might have been a tad quicker except for a wrong turn we made looking for a road that did not seem to exist.

Had dinner at Don Muchos, an interesting joint just outside the Palenque park.  It was a very busy restaurant outside in the jungle, and they had really good live music.   Most of the place is covered by thatch or awning, but we had a table in the open, which was fine until the heavens opened (there is a reason they call it the rain forest!).  Luckily we were able to move our table under cover and continue our meal.   I had chicken with a fantastic mole sauce.

The next day we had a slow start and headed over to the Palenque ruins mid morning.  First you pay a small entry fee to get into the ecological park and then drive up to the ruins and buy a ticket to see them.  There were so many cars and buses that we ended up parking at the side of the road and could have had our car washed while we toured the ruins, but since it’s a rental, that seemed unnecessary.

The ruins of Palenque were perhaps the best and worst experience we’ve had at a Mayan site so far.  The best, in that the ruins themselves are spectacular.  Perhaps not as large a site as some of the others like Tikal, but the buildings were in a much better state of preservation and restoration.  There were lots of places with glyphs, stucco, and carvings still to be seen and it was perhaps a bit easier to understand how the buildings must have looked and functioned in their heyday.  But the place is incredibly popular – tons of visitors, mostly Mexican, but also foreign tourists.   A number of times we had to stop in order to go with the flow of people and it is impossible to get a photo of any of the key buildings without people in the way.  Visiting the more remote ruins of Belize and Guatemala was really a very different, quieter, and even occasionally, solitary experience.

We stopped by the museum on our way out, but it turned out to be closed on Mondays.  We decided to come back the next day and headed over to the town where we had a great late lunch (superb mole enchiladas) and walked around and bought a few gifts and souvenirs.

The next morning we checked out of the hotel and drove back to the museum.  Frankly I had half thought of giving it a skip so we could get on our way as we had another fairly lengthy day of driving.   I am so glad we did not.  The museum has been the highlight of our Mayan experiences so far.  Although we have seen a few original pieces, much of what has been on display in the other museums are replicas, photos, etc. 

The collection in the Palenque museum is all original pieces from the site and they are spectacular.  The explanations were all in Spanish and English and had first rate illustrations making the information very user friendly.   Firstly one sees the incense censers which are about 3′ tall pottery pieces and are incredibly detailed and colorful.  Next there are funerary pieces such as jewelry and jade masks.  Several thrones and other stone pieces have carvings that are so detailed and fresh looking you might think they had just been created.

But the piece-de-resistance is the tomb of King Pakal which was discovered in 1952 buried in a perfectly intact crypt deep inside one of the pyramids.  The exhibit included several short movies that not only explained the tomb, its iconography, architecture, etc. but also gave a strong sense of the experience the archaeologist must have had when he made the discovery.

This was absolutely first rate and it is not possible to look at these Mayan ziggurats, hieroglyphs, jewelry, etc. and not make comparisons to the Egyptians.  The level of detail and artistry in the carvings makes contemporary European stonework seem crude by comparison.

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