The Bank of Heather called in our debt and the sole Benemérito bank considered us kingpins in the Mexican drug trade, for trying to launder 100 USD in dirty money (the bills were dank from cohabiting with dampish clothes in a slightly moist pannier due to the almost daily rain).
We were up before first light to catch a three hour combi (mini bus) ride to Palenque to get some cash and as a welcome side benefit, visit the ruins. I expected empty streets at 5:30 in the morning, but there were a surprising number of people waiting for rides, opening shops, manning taxis, etc. The butcher was already at work. I watched him deftly work the band saw on a cow head and a side a beef while waiting for our combi to appear.
After an uneventful but cramped ride we arrived in the city of Palenque. It took us three tries to become locally solvent again. The first ATM was out of cash. The second refused our card for no obvious reason, even though it advertised that our card was associated with the network. The third attempt at an ATM felt like winning at a slot machine in Vegas. Instead of the flashing lights and exciting electronic upbeat tones of a one-armed bandit, we high-fived each other to the muted sound of shuffling bills being loaded into the cash dispenser.
The ruins at Palenque were amazing but the entire experience was marred by overwhelming number of hawkers leading up to the entrance and on the grounds of the ruins. The crowds were overwhelming — the ruins are popular, with busloads of gringo tourists infesting the site alongside a multitude of Mexican nationals, for which it is free to enter on Sundays, coinciding with the day of our visit. I’m glad that such a treasure is well supported (the money helps preserve the site and fund other archeological undertakings) but the numbers detracted from the experience.
We had Monte Alban virtually to ourselves when we visited, which lends tranquility that added to the awe inspiring structures and vastness of the site.
While the ruins themselves were impressive, the jungle background along with the associated sounds lent to the site experience. We spent several hours climbing the steep stairs to the various structures and walking around the site.
Finished with the site, we had some time to do a bit of shopping. Being in a city provided access to not only road staples (oatmeal, raisins, ramen, etc.) but also hard to find items (peanut butter, italian pasta sauce, mushrooms, and green peppers). Sarah and Heather were excited to get hold of a bottle of wine and I beer. It was our bad luck that we seemed to be in the bible belt of Chiapas. Although we found stocked shelves, it was Sunday and stores were prohibited from selling alcohol.
A bit dejected, we made our way back to the combi station where we bought our tickets and waited to shoe-horn in, watching the roof be loaded with, not a joke, dozens of piñatas as well as large bags of salt and rice as well as other cargo that fellow passengers had stocked up on in the city.