Running after Paradise

I travel down from the northern deserts up the Sierra Madre del Sur to San Cristobal de las Casas, specifically in a casa belonging to a peculiar old lady,  Senora Maricarmen. Here I find Françoise (la morenita) and Penny (la huera), Fil (el pacheco) and my sister Ailavemos: a small crew representing folks from my home, accompanied by two rather unusual Mexicans. Louis La galaxia, and David in his journey among the notes of pain and love…

After the air-conditioned journey, I am impatient to return to tropical climates. This is nothing that San Cris can offer, so we spend the afternoon admiring the local architecture, arts and crafts- mentally preparing to run after an idea of paradise that is created in Italian’s minds. Our first stop north-east through the rural mountain villages on a bouncy minibus is the most beautiful river I have ever seen. It’s the amazing, incredible, stunning deep turquoise waters forming pools deep down in the tropical jungle. The Agua Azul river flows by while the Sun hides behind the trees; leaving just enough light to climb up river, dive in the pools, swim to each end and finally reach the massive waterfall just when all the tourists have alas left for the day. We swim right under it, finding caves under the fall where the loud, incessant splashes cleanse our minds. Soon we realize we have infringed the safety rules, as a local chap spends his days sitting on the rocks whistling to the people who try getting close to the water dropping at high speed from the limestone formations.

I sleep in my hammock a few meters from the river and wake up in the extreme jungle dampness, lost in dreams of water fairies. Palenque is the “no se puede” (it’s not allowed) stop. We arrive there after driving on the back of the local truck through the communities waking to the light of dawn, with school kids and farmers jumping on and off. At the ruin’s entrance we are immediately submitted to the ordinary tourist traps: paying for luggage deposit, disgusting coffee, old yogurt dug out from the bottom of the icebox, a natural park tax and the entry fee of MXN $70- which can all be avoided if you are willing to take the risk and trek through the jungle to find a way around it, of course. Once we reach the archeological grounds we sit on the steps of a pyramid and finally begin our breakfast: sucking on mango, drinking coffee and eating the old, sweet yogurt as we watch the first morning tourist make their appearance. Most people are accompanied by guides in blue shirts: soon one comes up to us and tells us off. We assemble everything and start walking away while we guiltily finish out our breakfasts. After walking up and down a couple of ruins trying to figure out how much they had endured restoration and archaeological raping, we feel the Sun already draining us: it’s time to lie down in the grass and take a nap. With our energies slightly restored, we decide to find the famous river pools narrated to us by an obnoxious Spaniard who had been our cabaña neighbour. By the stream, we are confronted with restriction signs and ropes. Fra and I quickly jump over and down the suspension bridge and into the icy waters. When we hear groups of people along the path we kneel under the bridge and wait for them to walk over us and leave. Fil doesn’t like plainly breaking rules so kneels out from the bridge in order to get water to wash tomatoes and have another clandestine snack. A guard passes, I hide our meal under my dress as he explains that the river used to be accessible until the tourists started leaving too much trash. CONSCIENCE, PEOPLE!   The amazing thing about Palenque isn’t much the massive buildings in the centre of the grounds, climbed up and down by masses of tourists. Rather, a greater and more fascinating attraction is found in the untouched and still authentic, simpler ruins in the surrounding jungle, holding the real charm, lack of restoration and menacing insects.   We leave the Mayan park in the mid-afternoon, greeted at the entrance by people desperate to sell us drinks and food. I am the only one to eat something that makes me feel good: a cold coconut and it’s juicy white vegan meat. A walk three bends down the road and we find the pathway leading us to a cold stream. Here, I commit a common mistake of mine: simply taking the clearly marked path that leads upstream. After some hiking, we meet a lonely quiet guard, kneeling on a stick and contemplating the transparent flowing water. We strip in front of him and climb down some rocks to dip our evaporating bodies in the shallow stream, probably making this the greatest day of his life. Then, the guard surprises us all by offering to take us to the waterfall. We walk back down to almost where the path joins the road again and take a route downstream. In no time we are at the top of a small fall, with its secret wonders to discover. During our refreshment, we start finding shells that have been there for so long they have turned into stone. As we sit on the rocks, our feet are being nibbled at by tiny fish. For some weird reason, the fish dedicate themselves to a particular part of my right foot, right under the ankle bone; I let them nibble at it until it seems like my feet are to turn into fins. In the end, I fail to notice any difference in my skin after the fish feeding, endured while suppressing laughter from the tickling feeling. We take the old bus back to the town of Palenque, oddly enough with the very same driver that took us up, a funny man we nickname “Il Piccione”, the pigeon, for his fast and vibrating voice and his rolls on the back of his neck. Penny manages to break his door and he doesn’t even seem to care, so funny. A night bus to Bacalar for 400 pesos drops you off at 2 AM on the side of the highway with not even an idea of which direction the lagoon is. During the trip, I argue with a cute but insane little kid leaning in my face for most of the trip, staring and trying to grab my knife as I serve myself and Fra slices of cheese. He lies by murmuring he is a solo traveller, and I get so annoyed with him (and scared he will cut himself with my knife and get me in trouble), I have to threaten him I’ll tell the driver an underage child is travelling alone. The response I get is his first and final proper phrase: a blackmail in return. He says he would tell the police we are drinking beer on board. Then his mum spanks him to tears, and we giggle evilly.

The old pirate town of Bacalar is deserted in the middle of the night, but we meet a skater boy who offers weed and directions. On the shores of the lagoon, in front of the infamous watering hole, El Galeon Pirata, the late night kids are still there, two hours after its closing, drinking, smoking and chatting away. In turn, the members of the crazy crew proceed in describing their camping situation. We decide to accompany Balam, (Mayan tiger) to sleep on the deck of his cheap camping place. Such deck proves itself a square meter plank, plonked at the feet of a beautiful tree, right on the shores of the lagoon. We decide to leave Balam his spot and camp under a wooden roof that protects us from the night showers. In the morning we are woken by a gang of stoners working on the construction of stairs. The manager invites us to clean all the land from leaves in exchange for another night of free camp, and use of his kayaks. We politely explain we’d rather spend the day enjoying the seven shades of blue and pay 50$ /2.50 E instead.   Our furthest destination into the state of Quintana-Roo is the popular Tulum. A four hour hitch-hiked ride on a very slow truck and we are there! We get food poisoning at the Mariachi Loco, so the next day I am so sick I vomit on the grounds of Cenote Dos Ojos (Which we would love to have the pleasure of sharing pictures of but Penny cannot be bothered to share her album). Although the pools are exquisite, the place is too packed for my tastes, and the cold waters don’t do me much good after the long and hot hike to get there. We finish the day on Tulum beach, my friends go out on a boat trip to see dead choral and bump into turtles, while I run after the Sun and tell my stomach to get better.   Back at the hostel we have a giggling session, after a German translator tries to make friends by repeating the fact that she is German, (Alemana)– Fil feels embarrassed by our lack of responsiveness and holds out his hand: “Piacere, Alemana, yo soy Filippo” (Nice to meet you, German, I am Filippo!).  

1 thought on “Running after Paradise

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