Don’t Sweat the Lock, I’ve Got A Palen-key…

After finishing the mural in Flores, it was time to make a new travel decision. Money exchange is always an issue here, so I needed to consider a plan that included getting me near an airport to facilitate quick escape if necessary. Belize City was definitely the the cheapest place to fly home from, but the thought of going back to that country did not excite me in the least.

I made a decision to go a little bit east, and spend some time around Lago Peten Itze, as I found some cheap and beautiful hostel locations to stay at. A few days there would provide guidance where to head next, and some enjoyable waterfront relaxation after a week of mural painting.

But I forgot about the Cancun option for flights I briefly looked at before leaving Canada. A bit pricier to travel south, but worthy of checking prices to fly north. So I perused the airplanes leaving that hotspot of international travel…

Hmm, whattayaknow… a handful of direct flights to London, Ontario, for 212 bucks.

Hell yeah!

So it began again…

Taking a bus from Flores to Mexico through Belize would be the quickest way to get back to the Mediterranean coast, but that would involve two border crossings, and another exit-fee tax to leave Belize.

Fuck that.

Scouring my electronic map, I spotted a familiar name to the west of Guatemala…

Palenque — known for a pretty kickass Mayan site if memory served correctly. I asked my Workaway hosts if they knew where to find a bus to get there, and they informed me they could book a discounted trip themselves for 200 Q.

Perfect.

In a snap decision, I decided to blow off my lake idea and book the 8 am bus the next morning. Whenever I make a decision of this nature, I always think back to part of an Alan Watts talk I heard not too long ago:

“When we decide, we’re always worrying —’Did I think this over long enough? Did I take enough data into consideration?’ — And if you think it through, you find you never could take enough data into consideration. The data for a decision in any given situation is infinite. So what you do is you go through the motions of thinking what you will do about this. And then when the time comes to act, you make a snap judgement.”

I’ve always been terrible when it comes to making decisions. I overthink everything. I can stand in front of a jar of tahini and peanut butter at the supermarket and mull over choices for an eternity, like an OCD psychopath debating wallpaper designs… nutritional profiles, sodium content, raw vs cooked, spending 7 bucks, saving 50 cents, organic hype, food combination choices that may or may not upset my gut, and on and on…

Whenever I start this process now, I always think back to that speech, and have finally learned to say fuck it when the pro/con debate begins running through my monkey mind.

The best way to move forward is to make a firm, quick decision, and never look back on what might have been. The “what-if” scenario of torment always fucking sucks  — like when you’re eating a banana dunked in tahini, and wondering if the peanut butter would have been the wiser choice. Best to forget the path not chosen, and focus on the experience resulting from a decision that can’t be undone.

Waiting at my pick-up location in the morning, wondering why no one else had arrived yet at the foot of the bridge I was told to go to, some security dude tapped my shoulder and began a dialogue that mostly slipped passed me except for boleto — bus ticket.

I showed him my stub, and after he examined it for what seemed an eternity, he flagged down another dude passing by to cross the bridge. Apparently I was on the wrong side of the water. With only 10 minutes to spare before departure, the new guy waved me to follow him, and brought me face to face with the colectivo driver headed to Palenque.

God totally loves me.

I loaded my backpack in the minibus, grabbed a seat at the back, and in a few minutes we were ready to go. We, as in the driver and myself — no other takers on this ride to Mexico. Seems I just hired a personal chauffeur to take me on a 4 hour drive for 30 bucks. I rock.

The ride was amazing, the land beautiful. After one quick stop for my driver to load up on munchies, we arrived happily at the Mexican border. He informed me I was switching vehicles, and as he saw me begin to freak out about how to proceed with the shuttle switch I was unaware of, he assured me he would be at my side throughout the process of passing through customs till I was safely in my new charter, which he did. Love that guy.

The border security was kinda fucked. It was weird, because I wasn’t necessarily forced to go through the only small office that showed any concern with my reason for entering the country. It was more a protocol suggestion. If I skipped this step, and went straight to the two ladies who wanted to make sure I wasn’t transporting fruit in my bag, I don’t think anyone would have been the wiser. After the fruit police, I had to run my gear through an x-ray machine like an airport, pass through one more meaningless sliding door all the locals were walking around, and voila! Welcome to Mexico!

Some old guy driving a taxi was my ride. He told me to wait a moment as he went inside to locate a female passenger, who would accompany us to Palenque. That worked out well, as it provided him a conversation partner that I would have been inadequate to emulate sitting in the backseat, not only because of my lack of Spanish language skills, but because the entire highway trip was done with the windows rolled down —windows completely divorced from any electronic buttons that would allow them to change position, as I quickly discovered.

The hurricane force winds deafened me and whipped my hair into a tangled, matted frenzy, as our driver and female passenger seemed to go out of their way every chance they could to purchase snacks. They ate constantly, swapping food and drink back and forth like lost lovers separated for a decade. At one of the last stands they stopped at, in a town I was sure was not on our “preferred” route of direct travel, an issue happened with the vendor not having enough change.

Waiting patiently in the car, I saw them return every sweet and savoury item in their hands, before we set off to find another suitable distributor of the strange items they were craving.

As we approached a sign that indicated the highway to Palenque on the left, he spotted a stand he was about to stop at, when the chick completely freaked out, repeating an angry “vamos” about 15 times while we made our turn.

Not sure what the issue was, but they didn’t talk the rest of the trip. The last stops he made for munchies, he ate them all himself, not offering to share with her once. I have no clue what went sour with the passionate camaraderie I witnessed during the first 3 hours of the drive.

As we arrived in Palenque, he asked me which hotel I wanted to get dropped off at. I was winging it as usual, so I told him the closest bank would be fine. As he brought me to an ATM, I explained, the best I could, my cards were useless here — I needed an actual institution. I was without any local currency since I just hopped the border.

What he said scared me briefly, as I stopped paying attention to what day of the week it was. I caught “Sunday” in his dialogue, and “closed.”

Oh shit, I didn’t even think of that.

So there I stood, wondering if a hike down the road was in order to unfold my tent for a third time in a little “stealth” camping, but I decided to try the bank machine nonetheless.

My card was worthless in Guatemala, but I figured I had nothing to lose to try the Mexican system of monetary digital transfer control.

Like Guatemala, my card got read, I made an amount request, and I held positive expectations for dinero. Instead of getting the Spanish version of “Whoops dude, we had some problems here, better luck next time,” I received a “Thanks for using Banco Five-o,” or whatever the fuck it was called, and large denominations of Mexican bills slid out the slot.

Woo!

I was entrenched in surcharges and rip-off dollar exchanges again, but I couldn’t have been happier! My obscure, Canadian Simplii Financial card was useful again! Fuck yeah!

After an hour of wandering, searching aimlessly for hostels with a 45-pound pack strapped to my back, I settled on a motel-style place that charged me 300 pesos for a private room. Despite the 200 peso limit I imposed on my frugal brain, I happily set up shop in the room that had two beds, private toilet, and hot(ish) running water.

Ah, felt good to be “home” again.

I ended up wandering the streets later for sustenance options, to find a wild and crazy Mexican populace, finally settling on a fruit stand that sold me 2 avocados, 4 bananas, 6 eggs, a mango, and head of lettuce for 2 bucks American. Love it.

I settled back into my room, and watched the colours get fired up as the sun set. Another kick-ass day, with much more gratitude sent out to the Universe.

We’ll pick this up another time after a visit to the ruins.

Life is good, hope you’re keeping warm wherever you are.

Later amigos.

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