After that we turned the bikes north toward Palenque, and the huge Mayan ruins site. The road north through Ocosingo has a reputation as one where the locals (aka revolutionaries, Zapatistas) often blockade the roads and demand money, and we found them. The issue is the government mistreatment of the local native Mayan folk. The technique used is to take a board, drive hundreds of nails through it, then lay it down across the road, one in each lane, with the points up. Traffic backs up horribly. If they get what they want, they drag the spiked board out of your way, let you go, and then slide it back. At the first one we ran into, they had traffic backed up about a half mile. Policia, we noticed, were allowed to pass right through (but they did nothing!). We rode up the margin to the head of the line, and the guy asked me for 10 pesos. I said no. He said 10 pesos. I said 10 for both bikes. Okay. A coin went into the bucket and we were through. At the second roadblock we encountered, we rode right up to the front, then glued our front tires to the back of a huge tour bus they had to let through, and so got away for free. Later that day at Palenque, we ran our friend and fellow traveler Claudia, whom we had met in Oaxaca. She is German, and drives a righteous Toyota Land Cruiser diesel wagon that has a pop-up camper top, a serious overland vehicle. They demanded 100 pesos of her, but she refused, finally parting with just 10 and getting through.
We found a campground at Palenque, but the ground was still extremely soggy from drenching weather the previous days. We took a little casita there instead of pitching the tent, then rode the bikes helmetless and in shorts and t-shirts the two kilometers up to the ruins. It felt scandalous and terrific. The Palenque Mayan ruins are a site with over 500 identified structures, but only a couple of dozen have been fully excavated. We were offered a tour but blanched at the price, and went off to fend for ourselves among the excellent interpretive signage. This is a site worth visiting! We were agog at the huge structures, and the details that were still visible etched into the stones. An especially interesting building was one that they had restored on one side, and left completely untouched on the other. A lovely pyramid with artful stonework here, but around the corner it’s just a hillside covered with trees. Ground penetrating radar has helped to reveal hundreds of structures in recent years, indicating a city of vast proportions, with intricate waterworks coming down off the hillsides above. Apparently, Mayan water managers really knew their stuff, and the city had running water everywhere.
After Palenque, we headed to the northeast and the Yucatan Peninsula. The ground quickly flattened out, and we dropped to just a few meters above sea level, and we were never higher than about 15 meters for the next week. We began to see monkey bridges over the highway. They are made by erecting a pair of “telephone poles” on either side of the road, then stringing ropes between them, and stretching net between the ropes, creating a sort of high suspension bridge over the pavement. There are five or six ropes leading up from the ground to the tops of the poles on either side, making it easy for monkeys but extremely difficult for any predators.
It was coming on Christmas, and so Jalene found us a place in Tikul, just south of the city of Merida, where we could relax a few days and take a Christmas break with good wifi for FaceTime. Christmas was a very quiet day for us. We connected with families, catching up on the latest news back home. All seems well, which is always a relief. Maybe even more so for them.