Palenque: Part 1: Into The Jungle

Palenque – Into The Jungle
A post by Greg
I can distinctly remember being in my childhood home and sitting down to watch a film with my father and older brother one evening – we’re going back nearly thirty years here. We’d watched all of the James Bond films to date (an era pre-Brosnan, let alone Daniel Craig), and I had enjoyed them, but they were never to be one of my favourites when it came to films.
That night we were going to watch a film called ‘Raiders of The Lost Ark’, which was apparently the first film featuring a character named ‘Indiana Jones’. I didn’t know it at the time, but sitting down to watch that film was going to be a life changing experience, and one which gave me a dream in life, one that would take nearly three decades, and Felicity, to fulfil!
As soon as the opening shot appeared of a mysterious figure in a fedora in a South American jungle, I was hooked on the idea of adventure. As his story unfolded over three films (the fourth would not come out until much, much later in my life of course) I watched a world of history, adventure and travel unfold before me. The only other film that reaches these heights in this way for me (and is, arguably, a better film), is ‘The Mummy’ with Brendan Fraser – which I won’t go too deeply in to at this point or Felicity will bring up the fact that I will watch anything with Rachel Weisz in it. That film, released when I was fourteen felt like part of the storytelling journey that had begun for me with ‘Raiders’, an adventure story which continued to inspire me.
It was these films that started me on my interest in history, and sparked the beginning of my history shows. They were also part of the reason why I leapt at the chance in 2007 to head over to Italy, where I would spend most of seven years travelling around the country performing. The first time I went to Venice in 2008, travelling overnight on a train from Turin to get there, it was Indiana Jones visiting the city in ‘The Last Crusade’ which had inspired my journey.
That, however, is the past and a world of fiction. This blog is about our adventures in the real world!
When we sat down to plan our honeymoon, we decided on Mexico because it was a country where Felicity could visit the whales of Magdalena Bay, and I could visit some jungle ruins. My imagination conjured up that opening scene of ‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark’ from a faraway childhood memory, and that was what I was hoping for (hence Mexico: Mayan Mystery and Marine Majesty as the title of our video!).
You may have already read about our first ruin in Teotihuacan in an earlier post, and at some point I will get around to writing about El Tajin and Uxmal. All of these were incredible sites in their own ways, and it felt through those three as though we were edging ever closer to my ‘real jungle ruin’, but each one of them just missed it.
Then we arrived at the Mayan city of Palenque.
As we pulled up in the car-park, intending to head straight into the main site to see the ruins as they have been uncovered, we met the gentleman in the photo above, Marco. He introduced himself as a guide, and offered us a guided tour into the jungles outside of the main site. He was friendly and not pushy, and after he had explained what he could offer, he left us alone to discuss it.
It was only a short discussion – we were very keen to experience something a bit different, and the price was very fair – and so we set off with him out into the jungles. A few minutes in we discovered what could have been a minor problem – in the form of a slight language barrier. Luckily we discovered the problem and the solution at the same moment.
As we first made our way into the jungle we were introducing ourselves, and in some way a mention of Italy or Italian made me mention that I speak the language. At this point in time Marco seemed to relax and, switching to Italian, explained that he was fluent in Italian while his English was basic. In Italian we could relax, chat and ask questions, and suddenly I became Felicity’s translator for the tour. It was strange to be in Mexico speaking a foreign language, but one that was so familiar to me, having been struggling thus far with what wouldn’t even pass for ‘schoolboy Spanish’.
There is a lot of mystery about the Ancient Mayan people, and one mystery involves why there was a mass departure from their large cities. In Palenque, however, their reasons for leaving were probably as simple, and recognisable to us, as climate change.
This jungle, Marco informed us, had been cut back as the people expanded their city from its origins around 266BCE. This led to climate change, and the area became a desert, without enough rainfall to grow crops and feed the ever increasing population, until the city was finally abandoned some time during the 9th Century CE. After the people were forced away by this lack of water, however, the jungle began to take back control and spread back over the ruins until they were once again engulfed the city, and water returned to the area, where now a small river runs through the jungle, and a host of wildlife has returned including monkeys – which are beautiful to see, but don’t stand beneath them in case they need a ‘bathroom break’.
Out here in the jungle, as well as watching out for monkeys, we were seeing the ruins as they had first been found. We were pleased to hear that, with all the wildlife in the jungle, that the trees are now protected. What has been uncovered of the ruins (which, we were informed, is a mere 5% of the whole city) are now preserved as an archaeological zone, while everything left in the jungle remains overgrown.
Nearly every step you took you could see, buried beneath hundreds of years of tree growth, remains of Mayan houses, temples, and other buildings. We were off the beaten track – literally, a lot of the time – and when we paused we could hear nothing but the sounds of the jungle – monkeys in the trees, a river flowing and birds singing. There was no sign that we were within a mile of ‘civilisation’, and all of a sudden we were living a dream. We were in a jungle, finding ruins everywhere – and even making our way through some of the ruins – and I was having the type of adventure which I had only imagined while watching Indiana Jones. All that was missing was a bullwhip (although I did buy a couple of these to add to my show kit while we were on Isla Mujeres later in our journey).
In my next blog post I will delve deeper into the site itself, and its discovery. This post, however, is about achieving a childhood dream. I must note, I also watched Tarzan as a boy, and Palenque did give he a chance to play at being Tarzan – but for that, you’ll have to watch the video HERE!

Thank you for reading, and safe travels.



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