Sunday, February 22, 2015

Ropes and stones won't break my bones, but pleading eyes do hurt me.

San Cristobal de las Casas is an interesting, diverse and fantastic city to explore. If it weren’t for the chilly weather we encountered there, we probably would have been tempted to stay for longer. But, we were excited to check out Palenque and move on to Guatemala.

So, we spent a day wandering through the colorful markets… watching the peaceful protests of indigenous artisans… and running around to get warm. Roel, Ewan, an Aussie gal from the hostel and I met up for dinner with Lifes2Short’s, Mark and Lori from Canada (riding two up on a Triumph 1200) and had a great time catching up about our travels in Mexico.

The hostel we stayed at was awesome - not only was there ample secure motorbike parking in the courtyard but if you arrived on a motorcycle, your first nights stay was free :) (And as a side note, I forgot our most important travel equipment there, our French coffee press, and the employees at Rossco Hostel worked with me to send it along to Palenque with another hostel guest who was traveling there just after us.)

Playful kids in truck beds make traffic jams so much more fun. Never-mind traffic safety.

The ride to Palenque was almost as interesting as Palenque itself. No, perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but in 200 kilometers:

-We counted 422 topes (some small, some large, some super-sized)
-We rode through small villages where the bikes and us got a lot of attention, and in many cases, smiles, waves, whistles and laughs from women, children and men wearing very traditional, handmade clothing.
-We had two small boys pick up large rocks when they saw us coming.
-A young girl (11 or 12 years old) ran out in front of my bike an pulled up a string across the road (her companion, still on the other side, was holding tight to her own end). A ploy used to get a few pesos out of passers by.

The topes we expected (especially the ones in the corners, thanks to Seb & Kim .
The mixed reactions from villagers we had been told about (which made the smiles and waves especially rewarding).
The kids palming rocks was also not surprising. We had heard about kids throwing rocks at foreign vehicles so we were mentally prepared for this. Upon seeing the two reach down for the rocks Roel came to a sliding stop right in front of them and with Ewen stopping right next to him, they gave them the kind of look that persuaded them not to throw the rocks, and I passed by unscathed, as did they once they finished the stare down.

We’d been told about the rope ploy and had even encountered it once on the way from Oaxaca to Zipolite, but there was an adult on one side and a kid on the other… and he dropped the rope almost as soon as he had picked it up. While I have to give the girl credit for being brave enough to run out in front of a big moving motorcycle, there was no way I was going to stop and give her money. 1. What kind of message is that sending? Encouraging her to put herself in danger running in front of moving vehicles that may or may not see her (it is apparently really common for kids to pull this in front of RVs - probably because they have to actually stop at topes and hence are ‘easy targets’). I would be reinforcing the notion that begging yields easier money than working at something productive (and more safe)? and 2. If you’re in a car and this happens, you roll down your window, hand over a few pesos and continue on your way. On a motorcycle, once you stop and start looking for pocket change, you’re totally vulnerable. What if she has an older brother in the bushes with a machete who wants more than a few pesos (btw EVERYONE along the road seemed to be carrying a machete; obviously for the usual purpose of hacking away at bushes, but still). Unlikely, yes. But I didn’t need to stop and find out if my imagination was getting too far away from me.

I slowed and shook my head several times, giving her a chance to drop her rope and save it for the next vehicle to pass by. (Of course, I wouldn’t wish this upon anyone because it broke my heart, but these people have so very little and even if this one piece of rope she has is being used in a negative way, I still felt bad about potentially ruining it.) Anyway, my head shakes only seemed to encourage her to come closer, boldly gesturing for pesos in her palm as she moved. So I revved my engine a few times. Still, she was determined. I swerved away from her and throttled out. Fuc&ing rope, be damned.

It was sad. It made me sad. And shook me up. She’s a young girl and this is what she has been taught is an acceptable way to make money.

Rereading what I've just written about the rocks and rope makes me feel like a bully. They're just kids. Ugh. Although 99.9% of the people we've met have been fair and extremely kind and generous, the sense of "other" and the old "tourist tax" does wear down on you after a while... I guess that's the only thing easing my conscience right now.

Regardless, it was a beautiful ride, and those two incidents didn’t detract from the overall beauty of the experience. Everyday in Mexico, we have encountered some form of what our “Developed World” upbringings deems poverty, and in many instances, it is heartbreaking, but it is part of this beautiful country. I want to give all of my wallet to most of these young kids, but it won’t solve the overall problem, which is one that is going to likely worsen in some areas, the further south we go. The thing I try to focus on is the fact that while many of these children have ‘nothing’ they have one of the most important things: a smile. We often see barefoot, under-dressed children running and screaming gleefully… playing with each other, as children should be, rather than playing with smartphones. Those are the moments I try to hold on to - though these kids have little, they do still have what matters.
The other side note about riding through small villages, that I imagine will continue as we go further south: people are still really surprised to see a girl riding a big bike, so people who may have only stared as Roel went by, once they realize I’m a girl, will return my smile, and sometimes even my wave. It’s a GOOD GOOD feeling.

Anyway, after surviving the 422 topes, we arrived in Palenque. And wow, what a site. So different from Teotihuacan and Monte Alban in that it is completely in the forrest and surrounded by green. There is even an un-excavated pyramid right when you arrive at the site, and I’m sure there are many more around, still hidden under feet of moss and tree roots. The site itself was incredible, but the museum was excellent. The artifacts that have been moved there have been placed in as “in situ” (in it's original place) of a manner as possible… particularly the impressive tomb of Pakal, the most notable ruler of Palenque.

There were lots of interesting architectural elements of Palenque, but after visiting the museum, some of them made more sense… Like the fact that there are many “holes” in the walls, like windows, in the form of a “T” - well, apparently, it was common for Palenqueans to carve a “T” in between their front teeth, as it resembles the Maya sign “Ik” for wind. Naturally, the windows that were carved out of the wall for ventilation would be in the form of a T to encourage the wind to pass through and cool the halls of the palace.

The tomb of Pakal which has been removed from the pyramid in order to preserve it. I really appreciate how they did their best to mimic what his tomb in the pyramid that looked like with what they constructed in the museum... right down to etching the carvings from the walls of the tomb into the plexiglass around the coffin in the museum.

Anyway, spending the day wandering around Palenque and then taking a refreshing dip at our campsite was a wonderful way to spend our last day in Mexico.

Guatemala tomorrow!!!


  1. I love it when people whose blogs I am reading meet up .... I enjoy your blog and Lifes2Short :-)

    1. Thanks Brian!! We loved meeting up with Lifes2Short! Such awesome folks! And thank for reading our blog :)

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