A faint shadow hovered over Dylancita (named for Bob Dylan) whenever we stopped: her peculiar habit of occasionally refusing to start! Particularly at military checkpoints, there was always silence and a holding of the collective breath when James prepared to turn the key. When it started, the Combi Gods were pleased. When it didn't? Well, five other people were available to push--much to the amusement of bystanders. It was a minor nuisance that somehow added an odd texture to the trip and was never a serious problem...except for two instances later in the trip. One could have been literally catastrophic.
James went about trying to find the cause on Friday morning. As handy as he was mechanically, he had a cavalier attitude toward tires, of all things! When I poked my head beneath, I saw that the left rear tire was less a tire than a ragged piece of worn rubber featuring a full, silver halo of exposed, busted bands! Horrifying! We had just spent a day snaking over mountains and bounding over topes! He was visibly annoyed when I told him he NEEDED to replace it but, moving his ego aside (so mine may take center stage), I take full credit for saving the Dylancita Party from certain peril somewhere beyond Ocosingo! I expect a medal and public recognition at some point...
|In case you think I exaggerate|
While in much better shape, his spare was another size, but an hour and two new tires later Dylancita was sporting new shoes and chugging faithfully toward Palenque.
Palenque was still a few hours away. With the late start we would not be arriving in time to fully explore the ruins even if we rushed straight there. In addition, after exiting Ocosingo’s mountains, the road dropped steadily into warmer and muggier terrain that would eventually become the jungle. Combined that with the fact that Maarja loved waterfalls, a side trip seemed in order.
I had never heard of the properly named Agua Azul, which is located 20-30 minutes off the main road, in the jungle, and at the bottom of a steep valley. Once inside, the waterfalls and crowded blue water immediately grab you. I have yet to see the research, but suspect that most gringos fail to explore beyond this impressive main vista, but the real treats lie hidden by effort. If you follow the merchant-lined pathway to the top of the falls, you discover there is much more lying BEHIND the falls along the banks of this tranquil, incredibly blue river.
We spent 30-minutes swinging from a rope into the cold mountain water before moving on only to find people living here! I saw traditional families obliviously bathing naked while others washed their clothes. The setting was surreal; as close to a 21st century time machine as you’ll find. I was quietly in awe, flooded with thoughts and ideas once again questioning that tired old imposed standard of success.
After several leaps from a large tree into the river, we were making our way back toward Dylancita then Palenque. The heat, humidity, and landscape soon showed that the jungle engulfed us, and James was now on the lookout for food: coconuts, bananas, mangos…whatever! Coincidentally, Chris was in a mood to climb (and perhaps show off) so we spent 20-minutes watching him climb a tree, machete in hand and mouth, procuring food. This would not be the final display from Frodo, and I chuckled as I thought back to Maryland in ’09 when, muttering something in a long-extinct D & D language he darted into the woods to molest yet another unfortunate tree.
Chris’s bounty? We thought they were green bananas, but instead were plantains which are closer potatoes. Nothing we could just snack on, but the picture made it worthwhile, and he would have more chances.
As night fell, we found ourselves on the edge of Palenque loading up on food and liquor preparing to camp adjacent to the ruins and celebrate Estonian Independence Day! The highlight: Vodka. Lots of Vodka. When asked what kind he liked, Jan responded in his Russian-sounding accent that, “Wodka is Wodka.” I will never forget that as long as I live!
James had learned from The Hippies that it was possible to sneak through the jungle and get into Palenque without paying, especially from a particular campground close to the gate. With a little effort, we found and secured our spot. Eevi and Maarja whipped up some delicious Estonian food, and soon a kitten joined us as we sat around a nice fire chatting with the Jurassic Park sounds of the world’s loudest land animal, the howler monkey, as a backdrop. Their three-mile howls do sound like dinosaurs!
I finally seized my chance at that precious perspective from the “other side” of the Cold War. As we swigged Vodka, Jan told about living in the Soviet Union, serving in its army, and to my utter shock, his affinity for Ronald Reagan! Jan’s position was simple: he HATED the Russians. They had seized and occupied his country; any enemies of theirs were friends of his. I came away from that chat further convinced that, regardless of politics, ideology, or nationality; perhaps in spite of it; we are all more alike than we would care to admit.
Parked at the campsite next to ours was a nearly identical yellow VW Combi belonging to a group of young Americans or Canadians. They seemed nice enough, but their large, hyperactive Labrador retriever failed to grasp his place in the world; he was determined to introduce himself to our friend the kitten. Haunted by memories of Baton Rouge, I was having acutely negative reactions to this dog, and kept watch over the cat until an adorable little girl, one clearly possessing an old-soul, stopped by, saw what was going on, chatted with me despite not sharing a language, and then whisked the cat away.
As Friday became Saturday, the “Wodka” flowed, and so did the chats. Sometime around 2am, something caused our neighbor’s dog to go berserk. A loud noise preceded him streaking uninvited through our campsite, barking in hot pursuit of something. “Fucking dog…” I muttered...or perhaps slurred. It continued barking for a few minutes running from one end of the campground to the other. Suddenly...a yelp. Then quiet.
I assumed someone had physically invited him to leave their campsite. I was wrong...