Palenque, Bonampak, Yaxchilan

Last weekend, some friends from the states and Claudia and I met in Villahermosa, Tabasco (state), Mexico to begin a trip into a remote corner of southeastern Mexico.  The Palenque area, in the state of Chiapas, Mexico combines the allure of the jungle and all of it’s wildlife and sounds with the fascinating ruins of the ancient Mayan culture to make it one of the worlds most special places.   Hearing the Mayans converse in their native tongue – Spanish is a second language – adds to the allure and gives one the feeling of being transported to another world.

We visited the 3 ancient cities of Palenque, Bonampak and Yaxchilan.  The most remote was Yaxchilan, only accessible by a 45 minute boat ride down the Usumacinta river.  All were truly astounding.  But for me, the main attraction was the bird life around these sacred sites.  I’ve attached a bird list of sightings which numbers around 40 – and these were the ones that sat around long enough for me to identify. Margarite, one of our traveling companions, saw even more on a separate side trip.  Many, many more birds passed by us too quickly to even guess at their identity.  Needless to say, it’s a bird watchers paradise.  Birds from Palenque Trip

We stayed at Campamento Río Lacanja which is on a tributary of the Usumacinta River which forms the Mexican/Guatemalan border.  The rustic cabins on the Lacanja River were bathed with the tranquil sounds of the many waterfalls that flowed in from all around. At any moment the entire area around the cabin would erupt with dozens of different bird calls as if they all converged on a toothsome food source here at the same time.  In several such situations, I tried frantically to identify all of the birds I saw but fell hopelessly short of time trying to find them in my guide.  Then as quickly as they arrived, all would vanish into the jungle.  One afternoon, we watched a small spot where 4 different types of flycatchers all  competed for the same bugs.  Red Lored Parrots and Scarlet Macaws entertained us in the background.  The ubiquitous howler monkey, while always an impressive sight, has a more impressive roar that cuts through the jungle giving the listener a mental image of a giant human hunting dinosaur.  Disconcerting unless you know what you are hearing.

The ruins were impressive.  When considering the fact that these giant structures were built without tractors, cranes, stone saws or the like, one can only view them with a sense of awe.  The Mayan cities once covered a vast area and though many sites are available to view, the vast majority of the Mayan patrimony is yet to – and may never – be uncovered. In Palenque, guides told us that only 5% had been excavated and were available for viewing.

Varied wildlife, beautiful terrain and water, interesting culture and compelling history are all reasons that the southeastern Mexican jungle should be on your bucket list.



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