Caye Caulker to Palenque, Mexico

It was raining our final morning in Caye Caulker, downpouring. The power went out at 4am, before a generator kicked on.  I woke up with a start and looked at my phone to make sure we hadn’t overslept.  At that point, we were both awake.  I went outside to take down the clothes we had left out on the porch to dry.  Lucky for us, the rain was blowing sideways from the other direction, so our clothes hadn’t gotten any wetter.  We sat on the porch, drank coffee, and talked, the rain indecisive, slowing to a drizzle and then ramping back up to a sideways blowing fury.

It was strange to be saying goodbye again after only a week, we had fallen back into normalcy quickly, and this felt just like a vacation.

I had planned on seeing her off on the 7am boat, and then waiting until the 10:30am boat, since I didn’t need to catch a bus to Chetumal, Mexico until 1pm, to catch my overnight bus to Palenque at midnight.  The less time spent sitting around a bus station in Chetumal, the better.

But when we had bought our tickets two days before, I hadn’t noticed that that had put us both on the same ticket.  I thought maybe I could go into the office before the boat, explain the situation and have them reissue us seperate tickets.   It was raining when our taxi, a golf cart, showed up at 6:25am. When we pulled to the water taxi terminal at 6:33am, and there was a crowd of people waiting and a boat pulling up.  If we hurried, we could make the late-arriving 6:30am boat.  I wouldn’t be exchanging my ticket, since I wasn’t ready for a rushed, kiss on the cheek goodbye.

It started downpouring the moment we stepped onto the dock.  I had one umbrella, which I gave to S, not that it did much good.  In the 50 yard walk down the pier, we both got soaked.  Somehow, despite the weather the water was flat, and the ride was uneventful.  We found two other people to share a taxi to the airport, and we arrived three hours before her flight departed.  There was nothing to do but sit and wait to say goodbye.  It wasn’t quite riding the subway to Penn Station and saying goodbye amongst the morning commuters, knowing I would be gone for three and half months and not see each other for two. After this, I only had thirty days left.  But it still was melancholy.

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Finally, she went through security, and I went to get a taxi back to the bus station.

The ride was long, with wet feet.  The border crossing went smoothly.  I paid another $18.75 for the privilege of leaving Belize, and $25 for the honor of entering Mexico.

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The next part was not so smooth.  I took a taxi from where the bus dropped us off to the bus station, but it was the wrong one.  I took another taxi to the right bus station, which was actually very near where the bus left us.  I bought my ticket at 6pm, and there was nothing left to do but wait.  The bus station was in a bit of a wasteland.  When I had passed through here in 2001 on my way to Tulum, and it had definitely seen better days.  The cafeteria was gone.  Three of the five shops were for rent.  leaving two mini marts. It was Sunday night, so anything nearby was closed, but for the tacqurias across the street.

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I went to one and ordered a small burrito and a diet Coke and then spent the next 5 hours sitting in the bus station, humid and smell of the pay toilets wafting through, and walking outside for 20 minutes to get fresh air.I changed into my dry shoes. The was a hard court soccer pitch in the weedy park opposite the station, so I sat and watched teenagers play in the twilight.  I can always while away some time watching pick-up games, be it soccer, baseball or basketball.  It was nice to be back in observed daylight savings time, so it stayed light later.

Time passed.  I entered a fugue state of waiting in a place of people passing through.  Two snotty Italian girls took up four bench seats with their baggage.  Two Mexican women bullied their way into the nicer waiting area that was reserved for people within thirty minutes of departure. I found an outlet to plug in my phone.  I went to another tacqueria at 10pm and bought three chorizo tacos for $1.75 and ate them as a dog sat and begged at my feet. I told him I’d give him something if he promised to stop going around and making more puppies that would just wander the streets begging food and scarfing garbage.  He stared at me blankly in response.  I observed all the things people carried.  A  fan.  A microwave. Flat screen tv.  A mattress.  Beat-up cardboard boxes with twine for handles packed with who knew what.

I had gotten better at waiting after two months on buses, watching the landscape pass, or here, the people change as they came and went.  I thought about the anticipation of arriving somewhere new, or leaving for somewhere else.

Finally, it was 11:30pm.  I could escape to the air-conditioned, free toilet lounge below.  Midnight approached.  No one said anything about a bus to Palenque.  People got up and stood in line for buses, so I went outside and looked for someone in a uniform to ask where my bus was.  I asked if this bus was mine. No, Cancun. That one is for Merida. I found someone to tell me the bus hadn’t arrived yet.   I had checked twice that I was at the correct bus station, but I was getting nervous.  At 12:25am, someone came in and shouted “Palenque.”

I settled into my seat in the two-thirds empty bus.  I stuck in my headphones, reclined my seat and went to sleep as quickly as possible.  I was awakened by a flashlight in my eyes.  It was an anti-drug agent asking me to leave the bus.  We were being searched.  The fifteen or so of us stood by the side of the road. It was 2:33am.  We stepped forward as our bags were removed from the luggage bin and stood as there were pulled apart.  An agent dug his hand in, felt around and pulled things out at random.  He pulled out my bathroom kit, which in my groggy fugue state, with a flashlight shining in my face, I didn’t recognize, and I drew a sharp breath.  I thought someone had slipped something into my bag, or I was being set up.  But the officer looked at it and tossed it back in my pack.

Twenty minutes later, we were on our away again, but I was wide awake.  I looked out the window and wished I could see the road.  I could tell it was scenic, as I could feel the bus going uphill and going around sharp bends.  Rain splattered the window, seeming to follow me now wherever
I went. I didn’t want to take night buses, because the point of going by bus was to see the landscape slowly passing by, to feel the miles passing in a way you can’t on a plane.  But there were a couple segments in Mexico where night travel was the only option.  Nothing to see, I lulled myself back to sleep.

I opened my eyes again at 6:30am.  The landscape out the window, and I could tell it was hot and freshly rained on. An hour later, we were in Palenque.

I was only going to be in Palenque for a day, to see the ruins ruins and break up the trip between Chetumal and San Cristobal.  I was in  daze as I walked to my hotel. Six hours waiting in the nowheresland of a bus station and seven hours sleeping on a bus left me feeling a bit out of body.  The hotel had a room, but wouldn’t let me check-in until noon.  I went to find breakfast, a premade sandwich and a diet coke, and then to buy my bus ticket for San Cristobal tomorrow.  First there were computer connection issues that required several restarts of the computer and router, then the woman didn’t want to accept my 200 peso note in payment for my 102 peso ticket.  Didn’t I have change? Couldn’t I just go next door to a food cart and buy a soda I didn’t want and come back with the change from that.  Because I’m sure the woman selling me a soda for 10 pesos would be happy to break a 200.  I had already asked her if I could pay with a credit card, and she said no, even though the machine sat there in plain view next to her keyboard.  Unfortunately, this bus company had a monoply in Palenque, so I couldn’t say fine, I’ll go give my money to  someone who actually wants it.  If I actually knew how to say that in Spanish.  At a stalemate, I told her I’d come back later, thinking I would have change after lunch. I didn’t intend it as a threat, but she took it as one, and told me fine, give her the 200, and made change out of her drawer full of change.

Finally, I could check into my hotel.  The hotel seemed nice, but the service was indifferent.  I walked back in at 11:30am, and I’m sure my room was ready, but no one said, “oh, you can just check in now.”  They were sticking to that noon time.  Everyplace else I’d been gave me a room as soon as I got there, however early.  I sat in the garden drinking a beer until 12:05, not wanting to seem too eager for some reason, got my room and showered.  It was just, here’s you key, your room is around there.  No, here are the bathrooms(my room didn’t have one) here are the showers, there’s a shared kitched up here, this is the wifi password.  That was standard in any other place I’d been, and the lackluster service was just an indication that I was back in the land of tourists, and being treated as such.  The room was fine.  I had to ask for a fan.  The door was shaped like a tempe door, narrowing geometrically at the top, which looked nice but was impractical for a 5’10” person to get through without banging his head if he wasn’t paying attention.  Which I wasn’t repeatedly.

The Palenque ruins themselves were anti-climactic.  Even after a shower and change of clothes, my head wasn’t right, and you can’t see something again for the first time.  As at Tikal, I took some delight in taking pictures I had taken before, and had some disappointment I wasn’t taking them with a nicer camera, as I had planned.

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I’m not a mystical person, but Palenque had a wierd feeling the first time I was there. Someone tried to tell me their  were power vortexes around the world, Palenque being one of them along with the pyramids in Egypt and the giant line drawings in Peru, and some other places that channel energy or something, I don’t know, I stop listening and my brain starting playing the commercial jingles when people start talking about that stuff.

I was standing amidst 1500 year old ruins, overgrown with jungle, trees tearing the mists into shreds, looking out over the flat limestone plain of the Yucatan peninsula.  Howler monkey’s roared.

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The sky darkened, and the vendors quickly started packing their wares and rolling their blankets, a sure sign it was about to rain.  I readied my jacket and umbrella in time to keep dry.

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It didn’t stop raining all night.  My shoes, which hadn’t dried, were freshly soaked, putting me back to zero.  I contemplated not eating, but ended up going to the gas station minimart, the closest place to get food that wasn’t an American priced high-end restaurant, and got beers and another premade sandwich.  If I’d walked a little farther, I’m sure I could’ve found a taco stall, but I was cold and miserable and just looking forward to getting out of their tomorrow.   I ate in my room, which smelled of wet socks and shoes.  A mosquito I could never see buzzed around my ears and bit me invisibly, eluding my slaps.

In the  morning, it drizzled.  I put on my wet socks and my wet shoes. I walked to the bus station not bothering to avoid puddles.  I could only hope that the rain didn’t follow me to San Cristobal.

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