Suitcase and World: Las ruinas. Palenque.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Las ruinas. Palenque.

After a relaxing swim in the hotel pool yesterday, followed by a wonderful dinner, a great night's rest and a hearty breakfast, I'm ready to hit the road this morning. The highlight of today's sightseeing was Palenque!

The ruins were located just a few minutes drive from our hotel.  Since Palenque is a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Mexicans have built a formal entrance to the site.  Juan Jose did the van drop off and Francisco did the ticket buying.  We hit the restrooms and stocked up on cold water.

We followed Francisco past the entrance gate and waited for a few minutes for a large German tour group to finish up before we took our turn to stand in front of a map of the site.  There, we got our history lesson from Francisco.

Though Palenque is considered to be a *medium sized* site compared to places like Tikal, it's still a big site when you have to walk it in the heat and humidity of this part of Mexico.

Fortunately, we would only be seeing what are considered to be the *highlight* ruins.

After are lesson, we continued our walk along the pathway which wound its way through the rainforest.

As we walked, the ruins started to come into view.  Just a peek, bit by bit.

We rounded the corner and I immediately recognized the Temple of the Inscriptions with the panels at the top and the Palace with its chimney like structure.  We would get to those soon enough.  But to start with, another history lesson from Francisco :-)

Temple of the Skull is the first structure that visitors see as they enter the site.  The temple is in poor condition but I wouldn't expect anything otherwise considering that the ruins at Palenque date back to 100 BC!  In fact, it's nice that the temple has not been restored to any sort of pristine condition.

We or should say I, carefully scaled the steps to the top of the temple and there, on a wall panel, was the skull that gave the temple its name.

The temple also has elements of classic Mayan architecture including the arch.  In the shade of temple, we got another chapter of the history lesson on Palenque.  Francisco's wealth of knowledge about all the sites is a reflection of his love of Mayan history!


From the top of the steps, we could get a better view of the Palace.

While everyone else scampered down the steep and uneven steps, I took it slowly....not quite crawling but close :-)

Temple of the Inscriptions, where Pakal the Great is still entombed, was the next structure on our walk.  Apparently, his tomb is much larger than any of the tunnels that lead to it so there's no way to remove it without destroying the Temple. His remains are still contained inside the tomb.

Just off to the side of the main steps that lead up to the temple were smaller set of steps, shaded from the elements by a thatched awning.  There was a line of people headed up the steps.  We joined the crowd.

The steps ended at a doorway that when you crossed the threshold, you were standing in the middle of a long a narrow interior hallway that had an arched roof. Walking in single file, we made our way up and down the hallway.

Off the hallway, there were several steps that seemingly led to nowhere.  In fact, they were stairs to chambers that housed tombs.  At this point in time, the chamber entrances are plugged up so all we could do was look around.

With crowds of people all around us and not much to see, we didn't spend much time inside.  Back outside, we took a few minutes to rest under the shade of the thatched awning.  There was a lot more of Palenque to see so we can't wilt now.

The steps leading up to the main part of the Temple of Inscriptions is cordoned off probably to protect the carved vertical panels at the top. Using my zoom lens I was able to photograph two of the panels.  Unfortunately, I can't remember which ones they were.  Beautiful though.

 Later, from the Palace, I could zoom in and capture a closer view of top of the temple.

And with such a spectacular Mayan ruin as the backdrop, it's hard to resist taking photos and having a silly moment while we're at it :-)

Next ruin?  The Palace!  But wait!  First, another set of photos with the Temple of Inscriptions in the background and more silly fun.  In the photo below, it looks like Ayşe is trying to cast a spell on my brother but in fact, it was a nice gesture on her part.  She had figured out that splashing water on herself was a quick way to cool off.  Of course, being the considerate person that she is, she offered to cool everyone else off too!  I'm not sure her aim was very good though :-)

The Palace.  Okay, back to the serious stuff.  Another history lesson from Francisco, standing in front of beautiful stucco decorations on the exterior wall of the Palace.

Cooled off and ready to go, we started our walk about the Palace.  The Palace is actually a complex of several adjacent buildings that are built atop a 3 meter high platform. The Palace also has a distinctive four-story tower.

House "C".   East corridor with distinctive Mayan arched roof.

House "C".  T-shaped openings known as "Ik".  To the Mayan, the T - shape represented the wind so it is thought that the windows were shaped that way to allow a breeze through the building.

West Courtyard.  House "C" on left, House "D" on right.  Tower in the background.



West Courtyard. House "C" and Tower.

House "C".

West Courtyard.  Looking south,  Tower and House "D".

East Courtyard.  House "A" on the left, House "B" on the right.

House "A".  One of the panels in the series known as the "Nine Grotesques".

Stucco roundels which once contained portraits.  House "A".

 Wall panel, House "C".

House "C".

Here's a 360 view of the East Courtyard with Houses A, B, and C.

Looking back at the Temple of the Inscriptions from the Palace.
The toilet :-)
Tablet commemorating Lady Sak K'uk' presenting her son K'inich Janaab' Pakal (aka Pakal the Great) with a headdress at his accession in 615 AD.
Ayşe posing in front of House "E". Underground room with raised stone platform that Francisco described as a bed.  My brother decided to put it to test. :-)
After walking through the Palace, we made our way to the next section of the site.....walking past the souvenir vendors.  Since when did Mayan ruin sites allow souvenir vendors? The Aqueduct over the Rio Otulum. We crossed over what looked like a creek but Francisco explained that it was actually remnants of an aqueduct.
Apparently, one of the little known facts about Palenque is that it has one of the best preserved system of ancient Mayan aqueducts. The ancient inhabitants of Palenque faced an unusual situation.  They were living in an area with more than 50 springs and 9 rivers and streams but little land for farming and for constructing their massive stone temples and homes on.  So, they basically had to figure out a way to divert the water and this led to the construction of aqueducts, bridges, channels, pools that represent a unique example in Mayan architecture. The path led to another opening.  We had arrived into the part of the site with the temples that are collectively known as the Cross Group.  Encircling an expansive grassy area were the three most well know temples in the group. Temple of the Foliated Cross was on our right.
Temple of the Cross was on our left.
Temple of the Sun, with it's beautiful comb roof, as slightly behind us.
We skipped climbing to the top of the Temple of the Foliated Cross, opting to scale the Temple of the Cross instead as Francisco said that it has a nice bird's eye view of the site.    Up we went. The steps were steep. As usual, I was the slowpoke in the lot. Francisco was not lying.  The view from high above was magnificent.  We could see the Temple of the Inscriptions, the Palace and Temples of the Foliated Cross and Sun.  Tucked into the woods, just behind the Temple of the Foliated Cross was another temple.
Inside the Temple of the Cross were some carved panels. It's a little hard to make out but this panel shows a flowering world tree growing from a sacrificial bowl, flanked by depictions of Kan B'alam II as a child and then as a man.
Another panel depicting Kan B'alam II.
More people shots :-)  After all, I wouldn't have enjoyed my visit to Palenque without these three people by my side.
On the way down from the Temple of the Cross, my brother bumped into a group of local tourists.  They decided they wanted to practice their English with him so I watched and smiled as they peppered him with questions.  Then in was his turn to practice his Spanish.  I don't know who was enjoying themselves more, the locals or my brother.   I was say that trips are never as fulfilling for me unless I get to interact with the local people.....and in all my travels, I've rarely encountered people who were not friendly. While I took some respite from the blazing sun and humidity sitting under "Temple of the Shade" :-) My brother decided to climb to the top of the Temple of the Sun.  He's the little speck of white close to the top.
From there, he took this photo of the Temple of the Cross.  I'm the teeny, weeny figure smooshed up against the wall at the base of the temple.  Any chance for shade and I was there! One last view of the Temple of the Sun as we made our way to the next spot.....
The Ballcourt!
  The North Group.  The Ballcourt is situated in what is known as the North Group of buildings.  One of the most famous buildings in the North Group is the Temple of the Count which was so named because an eccentric explorer, Frederick Waldeck,  made this temple his home for 2 years, between 1831 and 1833. The temple was originally constructed in 647 AD.
More of the beautiful buildings in the North Group.
Looking back at the Palace from the North Group. The expanse of well manicured grass and trees were just too inviting.  We all took a bit of a rest.  By now, we had been walking for a couple of hours in the heat and humidity and we were beginning to wilt.  Fortunately, the rest of our walk would be through the woods. A walk through the woods. Back on our feet, we followed the path that would eventually lead us out of Palenque.  Into the woods we went.
Of course, with Francisco as our guide, there was a lot of looking at things.  We would be walking along and all of sudden he would spot something and that began another lesson.  On our walk through the woods, it was about ants.....the big ones. And of all things, who would thought that we would encounter a man handing out flyers selling a house?  I guess there's a captive audience here. When we started on our walk, we were the only ones on the path.  Didn't take long for us to hit a traffic jam of people.  Since I'm the slowpoke because I'm always taking photos, I got stuck behind a mass of people.  I even ended up behind woman with her walker.  Her fellow travelers were attempting to assist her down some steps and they lost hold of the walker.  I managed to catch it just before it would have tumbled down the steps.  I got the walker down and then went back up to help the woman all the way down.  My Good Samaritan deed for the day. After that though, I was really behind.  For some reason, no one noticed I wasn't with them :-( B, C, and Bats. Anyway, I did catch up.  By now, the had arrived at some more ruins. On our walk through the woods, we passed by the Group B structures, the Group C structures and the Murcielagos (Bat) Group. We had to duck our heads to through the entry to what would have been the walled interior of a building in Group B.  According to Francisco, pregnant women would come to these rooms to prepare for the birthing process.
Group C is a set of buildings built around plazas on different levels is where the elite lived, from about 750 to 800 AD.  It is believed that rituals took place here as bone remains have been found under several of the structures in Group C.  We crossed a small footbridge that took us across the Rio Otolum which flows down a series of bathing pools, known as the Bano de la Reina (the Queen's Bath). 
We continued along the path until it took us back to the road leading in the parking lot.  There is a museum on site but we didn't go inside.  Instead, we met back up with Juan Jose and our wonderfully air conditioned van.
As we pulled away, I for some reason felt compelled to take a photo of the wrist band that everyone who enters Palenque has to wear.  I didn't take the band off for several hours.....until after I had gone through all the photos on my camera and re-lived my visit to these truly amazing ruins.  Next destination.  Campeche.