The following post details the Global Goulets’ journey from May 2 – 6:
Day 32 – Continuing our rally can sometimes be so hard, especially after an experience as profound as ours with Paco. Nearly all the way through this diverse land and we’d seen almost every side of Mexico; from its colonial charms to its beaches, and from its indigenous roots to its rebellious side. The one remaining untainted frontier? La selva. The jungle. We were targeting Palenque next, a town deep in the mountainous jungles of Chiapas, where terrific millennium-old Mayan ruins lay hidden under misty, dense green woodlands.
On our way, past autonomous Zapatista villages, through more mountainous roads, we had a brief scare with some police upon a failed attempt to film an external shot. The cop, who pulled up to our parked car on the side of the road, seethed with a mixture of shock, urgency and anger. Pointing to the tops of the hills to our left, he shouted something very quick and indistinguishable to us in Spanish; it was something to the effect of, “They are watching you, what in the world do you think you’re doing with that camera?!” Later, a boy of no more than 5 years stopped us in the middle of the road with potatoes in one hand and a jagged rock in the other and insisted we give him 10 pesos. “Solo cinco pesos,” Brian bargained. “No! Diez! Quiero diez pesos!” The makeshift weapon staring right back at him, behind the wheel, Brian relented. “Okay, okay!” he agreed. Driving away, the shock of what had just happened set in. “I think we were just mugged by a five year old,” he acknowledged.
Over the course of the next several hours we made a couple of quick stops to some of the most extraordinary waterfalls we’d ever seen in Agua Azul and Misol Ha. Sadly, the experiences were entirely uninspiring to us due to the saturation of tourists. So… many… tourists.
At last, we made it to Palenque. Once we settled into our camp site we met Domingo, a Canadian electrician who spends half of the year at work back in Ontario and the rest of the year traveling somewhere in the world. He was a one-of-a-kind gentleman who prescribed to our philosophy to always make all decisions at the last second. He bought us a beer, so we returned the favor by giving him a ride into el centro. Later on, after some tacos, we returned to town and chatted with our campmates, some Mexican rasta viajeros (travelers) over cervezas.
Day 33 – What a wonderful Sunday morning we awoke to. With our new rasta amigos we hiked through the road less traveled, into the rainforest, and towards the long-awaited Mayan ruins. As we entered, we got some salty looks from the guards, who gave our buddy Rene grief for trying to bring a 40 oz. of Superior with him into the park. It seemed like a perfectly reasonable request (“por favor, no cerveza a dentro del parque”) but Rene didn’t see things the same way (“la policia, me odio la policia”). Things only got worse once inside. Rene attempted to take a swim in the little river flowing through the park, past a white rope clearly labeled, “no pasar, no bañarse” (don’t pass, don’t bathe). Brian and Eric blindly followed, with Alex manning the camera, when suddenly whistles sounded. Caught, red handed! Park security surrounded us, kicked us out, and told us we couldn’t re-enter under any circumstances. Even Alex’s patented, “please, we came all the way from New York to see the ruins” sad puppy routine failed us. Our last hope was to wait for the jefe (boss) to come and plead our case. After an hour waiting around, thinking about how sad it would be for us to come all the way to Palenque and not even get to see the legendary ruins, the jefe arrived. He turned out to be way nicer than you might picture a jefe; rather then sternly send us packing, with our Goulet tail between our legs, he gave an “ok, you get a second chance, but don’t screw this up” get-out-of-jail-free card.
Back inside the gates, without the accompaniment of our rasta friends, we wandered around the park and gawked at the extraordinary centuries old structures. Brian particularly felt connected to the Mayan spirits, while Eric delivered a series of one-liners to the camera after climbing the tallest pyramid on the premises.
We returned to our campgrounds where we found Rene understandably dejected. He’d been given a hefty sentencing: a one-week ban from visiting the ruins. This may seem rather minimal, except when you consider Palenque your favorite place in the whole world. We felt sorry for our pal and bought him a beer. To wrap up the awesome sights of the day, we caught a sweet fire show at Don Mucho’s. We agreed, this whole place is magic.
Day 34 – On Monday a new dude arrived at our camping platform, a Russian-Israeli-Australian student named Gabriel. We convinced him to hold off on his plans to check out the ruins and instead come with us to Roberto Barrio, a series of sprawling cascades and sun-soaked natural pools about an hour outside of Palenque. We thought it safer to avoid driving ourselves, as this particular location was about 14 kilometers off the main road and entirely within Zapatista territory. Instead, we went into town and found a taxi who would safely transport us to Roberto Barrio. Our adventures there included comically vein attempts to swim into heavy currents, a glorious view of the waters before an untamed jungle background, and of course, debates over whether those little black dots on the rocks were tiny bugs or tiny holes. They were bugs. No, holes. Well, maybe some were bugs and some were holes. God only knows.
Day 35 – There was a decent chance we were going to leave on Tuesday. 3 days typically satisfied the amount of time we needed at any given place and we were fully pleased with our experience here in Palenque. We figured, let’s fill up our gas tank, get some wifi, and decide whether we should drive towards Belize next or go straight to Guatemala. Sadly, we didn’t make it very far into our day’s itinerary. After filling up our tank at PemEx, the gas attendant called our attention to a gas leak dripping from somewhere underneath our car. Of course, classic goulet car troubles. We found an auto mechanic, Manuel, and got our diagnosis: the tank was so horribly rusted that at some point a hole punctured through, which now required a pretty serious maintenance job. Manuel would have to siphon out all of the gas, remove the gas tank entirely from beneath the car, solder the hole closed, re-attach the tank, and finally re-siphon the gas back into the tank. After 4 hours toiling under the merciless sun, Manuel broke some bad news: he wasn’t able to finish the job by close of business and needed the next morning to complete the process. This meant another night in Palenque and worse, a night without the incredible convenience of our trusty Santa Maria. Now we were just as handcuffed as any normal hitchhiking backpacker. For the rest of the day we awkwardly took taxis to and from the center of town and eventually another one back to El Panchón, the camping area in which we’d been staying.
Day 36 – We were a bit bummed that during our first four rain forest days of the rally we hadn’t seen a single monkey, despite hearing them every single night screeching somewhere in the darkness. But early Wednesday morning, out of the corner of Eric’s eye, he spotted a crew of them swinging around in the tall trees above the A-frame structure where we’d kept our tent. Immediately he gathered the other two Goulets and, like middle school girls, we Goulets gleefully gawked at the spectacle up above.
The day turned into quite a productive one. We took a collectivo (group taxi) into town, walked to Manuel’s auto shop and waited for our new friend to finish the job. The car now intact, we circled around el centro for a solid half hour in search of another auto shop that might be able to repair our dysfunctional air conditioner. We found a guy but after he completed the inspection, told us it wouldn’t be so straight forward and that we had two options: (1) accept a Band-Aid job that would temporarily sort of give us decent A/C, but only when the car is moving, or (2) give him $120 and 3 hours to fix the issue somewhere deep inside our air vent, which would cure the car’s ailment permanently. We shrugged, looked at each other, and all agreed cheap and shortsighted option 1 was for us. We drove back to the campsite, packed up our tent, gave some daps to our man Rene and took off to a border town near Guatemala. We were simply too down on our funds at this point to go off-course towards Belize. No turning back now, Guatemala beckoned.