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Friday 18 Nov
Palenque, Mexico

The roar of the jungle

Following an uncomfortable, high speed, 14 hour bus journey on small windy roads that would test even the sturdiest of stomachs, we are now in Mexico's most southern state, which borders Guatamala.

Chiapas is home to a large proportion of Mexico's indigenous population, and is where in 1994, the day Mexico signed the North American Free Trade agreement (NAFTA), Zapotista rebels tried to 'reclaim their land', demanding social justice, indigenous people's rights and an end to government corruption.

Seeing little change, they renewed their efforts in 1997, resulting in many being massacred in the villages surrounding San Christobal de las Casas, a pretty colonial town where we stayed a couple of nights.

There is still supposed to be guerrilla activity in some areas of Chiapas today, but don't worry we don't intend to find out. The only evidence we've seen of the 'war' is the little rebel dolls sold at handicraft markets. Although, the locals do seem to set fire to rockets day and night (our guidebook tells us this is for religious purposes).

We are now firmly on the gringo trail, you know this when the people with dreadlocks out number those without, and the kid next to you in the hostel kitchen cooking up ganja butter for dinner, offers you some for seasoning!

We are now staying in El Panchon on the road to the Palenque ruins, an intriguing hippy kind of place founded by an archaeologist, Don Moises.

He bought a plot of land in the jungle 10 years ago, called it El Panchon (Mayan for heaven on earth), and now him and his family run a number of cabañas and a couple of restaurants. All of which are intertwined with the jungle making it quite atmospheric.

We visted the Palenque ruins this morning, built at the height of the Mayan empire and it's the most beautiful of all the ruins we've seen in Mexico (and we've seen a few)! Set against the backdrop of the jungle it really is impressive.

Walking around the ruins, we kept hearing a faint roar in the distance and joked that it must be the dinosaurs in the jungle. It did have a feel of Jurassic Park to it.

As we walked along the path to the exit the roar got louder, followed by what sounded like chest beating, and we stopped and exchanged looks with another couple. At first we thought we'd been duped and the park rangers had put a couple of speakers in the trees as a joke. The noise was constant and sounded like a recording on a loop.

Curiousity got the better of us and we decided to stray from the path a little (only 200 metres), and follow a small stream through the jungle to where the noise was coming from. When we stopped it was directly above us and pretty deafening. We could hear the rustling of branches and I was getting increasingly nervous. This was definately some kind of primate and by the noise they were making there were lots of them and they were pretty big.

I couldn't shake the image of that David Attenborough programme out of my head. The one where the gorilla comes bounding through the jungle and knocks him over. Rob saw one of them walking across a branch and I caught a glimpse of black fur, but we thought we were testing our luck and retreated back to the path.

We were later told that what we had seen (or rather heard) were Howler monkeys, and that the noise they make is often mistaken for the roar of the jaguar. I'm not surprised!

Anyway, that's enough Indiana Jones excitement for one day. I think I'll relax under the foliage of our hippy jungle campsite, order a mojito and watch the fire dancing.

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    Palenque

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    Sara and Temple of the Moon, Palenque
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    Palenque

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    Rob, Palenque
  • The Palace...

    Palenque

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    The Palace and the Tomb of Inscriptions at Palenque
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    Palenque

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    Sara runs from the Howler monkeys at Palenque