Palenque is an interesting place. There’s a fair-sized, lavish section that’s been built to house and spoil the large influx of tourist groups visiting the ruins here, but a short walk east quickly lands one into the heart of local hustle and bustle.
It’s weird to see so many cars again on the streets. Even though this section has the odd “supermarket” or appliance outlet, it still feels very much like a small town, with people selling produce and street meats from every square inch of space available.
Money exchange was again on the to-do list, so I tried several of the larger institutions first, eventually finding out that the Banco Azteca chain was the only one interested in converting American dollars.
The first one I found had a line-up that extended from tellers to street. The small, off-site gambling style shop did not present itself as a fun wait, no matter how I tried to spin the game, so I decided to wander more to see what else popped up.
Local fruit is pretty damn cheap here. I can easily keep my belly full on a couple bucks a day — not as many fresh tortilla vendors as Guatemala, but a very similar variety of fare, with the exception of papas fritas. Hand cut wedgie fries are strangely absent here. The Guatemalans were huge fans of fried chicken, freakin’ HUGE. There were more carts selling pollo and papas fritas than there were stray dogs roaming in just about every town I visited there.
I have a definite weakness for fresh cut taters, but even walking into a chicken joint here, they seemed baffled by my suggestion to procure the common item I could munch on for 5 Q anywhere in Guatemala.
Oh well, no big deal. I know deep-fried stuff isn’t the wisest choice in the world. At least the avocados are plentiful here, and always perfectly ripe.
After asking some guy in a tour kiosk the best place to acquire pesos, he pointed me toward another Banco Azteca, located at the back of a furniture store.
Another crazy long line, but worth the time to exchange my remaining American currency rather than pull Canadian dollars out of a machine for extra fees and a shittier exchange rate.
After the lengthy wait in the sweltering building, the teller gave me almost no hassle examining my bills, and, before I knew it, I was loaded up on 19 pesos for every yankee buck I traded. Cool.
There’s a coin here for everything from 50 cents to 10 bucks. It only takes a purchase or two before you’re wandering around sounding like Santa’s sleigh announcing imminent arrival.
The bus system here is a well-oiled machine in comparison to anything else I’ve encountered on my travels thus far. The ADO will connect you to any location in Mexico it seems, and the website is comprehensive and easy to use to check prices and departure times, despite piss-poor Spanish comprehension of retards like myself.
A 12-hour ride to Puerto Morelos, a teeny fishing village north of Playa Del Carmen, was around 400 pesos. The new plan was to make my way back to some soothing/healing ocean waters, while nearing Cancun for an eventual trip home.
Though I was only a couple kilometres away from the ruin attraction, I wasn’t sure if I might find it to be a letdown after the fun in El Mirador. I decided to sleep on it, and make a morning decision to visit the site, or begin the trek east. After another relaxed evening of writing and avocado salad, I turned in early as usual to enjoy one more relaxed sleep to the alien sounding chirps and wails of the birdies sitting amongst the lush-area treetops I currently called home.
In the AM, I decided a salt-water calling was preferable to a day alongside shutterbugs and peddlers of local trinkets, so I logged-on to the ADO site to confirm my 6 pm ride-time was still available.
It was, but at double the cost. Fuck. I guess the trick here is to buy your ticket a day in advance, as it was offered even cheaper again mañana. So instead of frivolously throwing my hard-earned dinero away on a rushed trip to Playa Del Carmen (and a connecting bus from there to Puerto Morelos), I realized it would be cheaper to pay another night in the hotel I was currently lodged in and visit the ruins, than trade pesos for the newly doubled fee to hop the bus.
Perfect. The Divine Tour Guide steps in once again to suggest which path might serve best upon reaching a road-fork.
I grabbed my camera and water bottle sling, and headed to the main drag to find a colectivo destined for the Mayan park. Some cabbie I passed along the way suggested he could take me there for a hundred pesos, but as naive as I might be, I thanked him kindly and proceeded to locate the local version of a bus stop, knowing signposts bearing bus graphics do not exist anywhere in this neck of the world.
Turns out I was only a 5-minute walk away to hitch a 10 peso ride to the grounds.
I don’t want to come across as negative, but my suspicions were soon verified, as I entered tourist hell — a frenzied hive of merchandise sellers, asian photo-journalist wannabes, and endless propositions for services I had no interest in.
Upon seeing the extensive map of the site, my spirits quickly perked. The place was massive! I could spend days wandering here! I rapidly made my way inside, intent on not wasting a moment of exploration time.
Seems I should have examined the map more closely. In my haste, I didn’t realize only a small section of this artist’s rendering was open to touristy schmucks like myself.
Though the pyramids were impressively beautiful, all the fun looking ones were roped off, inaccessible to climbing or closer scrutiny. The sign I quickly became familiar with was the NO PASAR suggestion. I’m sure you don’t need me to translate that one for you.
At least the only other restrictive admonition I came across put a smile on my face. The “No Bathing” sign, erect in the middle of a dried creak, made me guffaw aloud. Rats, I thought, what am I going to do with all this shampoo and homemade soap I brought with me?
Although I walked away with some beautiful snaps of the monuments that were definitely “tweaked” in the restoration process, no doubt by some expert who likely dictated to local slave-labour masons what a Mayan temple “should” look like, I still felt a tad disappointed, especially because one of the few sections supposed to be available to curious eyes displayed yet another No Pasar roping.
Why would my Tour Guide direct me here? Just for the sake of me telling others I’d seen and done this? Didn’t quite feel right to me…
By now you probably realize this is the cue in story-telling time where I share a little serendipity from God’s grand Universe.
Let me backtrack to El Mirador for a moment. On our very first hike into the jungle, our local tour guide, after watching me munch recklessly on foreign berries, made an offhand remark about keeping our eyes peeled for “magic” mushrooms, as they were plentiful in the area if you knew where to look. I had a running joke going the rest of the week about our clan sharing a low dose ingestion one night before a temple-top sunset experience.
Never did find any. The dry season was not conducive to spores building fungal structures in donkey shit, or any other location for that matter.
So as I exited the grounds in Palenque, looking for the most likely spot to sit and wait for a ride back to town, some dude washin’ his car muttered “mushroom?” to me as I passed by.
Wait, what? Did I hear that right? Did he just say the word mushroom in English?
Though I had no interest haggling with a local dealer of hallucinogens, I felt compelled to inquire further.
200 pesos he said.
Yeah, yeah, whatever. I know this game. Not even sure what you say you have is legit, but show me anyway, just for the hell of it.
Looked to be about 3 grams of dried liberty caps, though I’m no expert on psychedelics, wink, wink.
I offered him 50, and we chose a middle ground of a hundred pesos. Frittering away 5 bucks was in no way going to destroy my budget. Fuck, why not. The timing of it all seemed far too strange to blow off as coincidence or random chance. My entire journey has been constant proof the exact opposite forces were guiding me. The healing benefits of psilocybin have barely been explored in a mainstream manner, much like Ayahuasca, San Pedro, and the lengthy list of banned substances growing from the ground which our governments “shelter” us from with their labels of illegality, doing their best to keep us safe from harm while we swallow the always toxic petroleum-based pills produced by Big Pharma, all of them ironically derived from natural sources that have been expunged from modern society’s familiar database.
I have yet to sample the plant medicine I acquired that day, but know that I don’t take a frivolous attitude when it comes to altering perceptive realties. When the correct time and place presents itself, I will attempt to make contact with the spirits of the plant. A personal journey into the mysteries of my mind always leads to greater awareness and appreciation of the magical planet we call our home.
My Divine Tour Guide has not led me astray yet, and my faith in Its guidance remains stronger than ever.
That’s all for now, we’ll pick this up after a 12-hour ride to the Mediterranean. I need to dig out my jeans and hoodie. If the buses here are anything like the big coaches in Guatemala, I want to be fully prepared to endure the sub-zero conditions of a vehicle that seems to have no “moderate” setting to govern the air-conditioning. It’s always a daunting sight to watch a local carry a winter jacket onto a bus.
But I guess we all need to chill every once in a while, tee-tee…