I visited several Mayan sites throughout southern Mexico, and Palenque definitely stood out thanks to some of the most magnificent ruins surrounded by equally majestic tropical rainforest. It is a popular tourist site, so don’t expect me to streak right there.
However, I didn’t miss the opportunity to explore the jungle right around Palenque ruins in the buff.
Given the warm and humid tropical climate, this idea was nothing odd. The only tricky part was that I was going to get a guide, as I was alone this time and didn’t want to get lost on the unknown territory. Upon arrival to the ruins, I was immediately approached by one of many certified guides awaiting tourists. His name was Cruz; in case you happen to be in Palenque and find a guide with this name, maybe you’ll be lucky to have the same guy! He first offered a tour at the ancient site itself and just briefly mentioned the protected rainforest around it. I was intrigued about the latter, and he convinced me that it was actually one of the best preserved virgin tropical rainforests in the area. However, I figured that I’d be able to get around the ancient site on my own and would rather need a guide in the forest. As we were discussing hiking in the areas where very few visitors ventured out, it wasn’t long till I asked Cruz my burning question: “Could I hike naked?” He seemed puzzled for a second, so I briefly explained him the concept of naturism. Also, in that weather, the clothes is definitely obsolete… “and, – I continued – that’s probably how your ancient Mayan ancestors explored the jungle too”. Cruz seemed convinced and even murmured that I wouldn’t be the first tourist to do so either.
So, after I was done with the pyramids, temples and castles, Cruz met me again, carrying a machete this time, and we headed to the trail. Well, actually there was no trail, we just walked by a small spring. There were clear signs of more ruins still covered by the forest, and Cruz said that was what satellite images suggested; the whole site was taken over by forest after it was abandoned, and only a fraction was cleared after its rediscovery.
There were a lot of snails in the creek, and Cruz collected them for a later meal.
In some places, we had to do a little bit of rock-climbing.
Maybe it was the sweat after all that, or my ‘ancient Maya’ argument was so strong, but when I told my guide that he should as well hike naked like me, he liked the idea. It seemed to me he only waited till I would suggest him to disrobe.
Somewhere midway up the hill, we left the creek bed and turned right into the jungle. That’s where Cruz made use of his machete, although he still lead the path up the easier way, e.g., along fallen trees.
We saw some beautiful flowers on the way, like this heliconia, for example.
However, these blue leaves appeared far more extraordinary, as blue is not a very common colour even among flowers, let along leaves.
Cruz told me a lot about local plants, but unfortunately I cannot recall most of it. I remember seeing papayas in places where sunlight wasn’t blocked by tall trees,
but there were also some fruits that weren’t edible.
I thought that this vine was a passionfruit, but Cruz said it was something else. I forgot if he said it was edible, although it did not look ripe in any case.
It was great to see such a diversity of fruits, it made me confident that with certain knowledge I’d be able to survive there, if I were lost; especially papayas looked encouraging in that respect. That was a tropical rainforest after all! Though after very good blueberry season in New York last summer, I can’t complain here either.
Well, the forest wasn’t just full of plants, there were animals too, but most of them would rather avoid encounters with humans, especially during day. There was one notable exception, though – a spider monkey!
We were already on top of the hill, and Cruz pointed up one tree. There was a spider monkey, really close to us, munching some leaves calmly. It was fascinating to see how easily he moved through the trees, not without help of his fifth “limb”, the tail.
And it’s not like he didn’t see us, he stared at us curiously for a while and didn’t seem to be worried.
He continued his business and then would only pay attention to us when Cruz imitated spider-monkey calls.
According to Cruz, monkeys are the only wild animals in the area that feel at ease near humans, maybe because of our close evolutionary kindred. Then it definitely helped that we were naked. Have I mentioned he was naked too?
After he left, I realised I was hungry too, so I happily got to my mangos and other local fruits.
Although we were on top of the hill, we could not see much around because of the trees, and I didn’t feel like climbing those.
It was time to go down, but we went by the other side of the hill, and soon reached the dry bed of another creek.
We heard some loud animal calls, so I hid under the huge leaf of anthurium.
It had two holes that perfectly matched my eyes… but no one showed up.
We continued walking, and I was mesmerised by some very tall trees.
Even some lianas grew as thick as trees.
When we reached the spring, it was nice to refresh in its cool water,
and we continued our hike down along it.
We were approaching the border of the forest, however, so after some final naked shots, it was time to get dressed again.
Then I took photos of the ruins in the nice late afternoon sun.
Now I had a pretty good impression of what that wooded hill next to the ruins was like.
It was hard to judge whether I was impressed more by the magnificent constructions or the equally splendid forest… Probably it was the combination of both that made Palenque very special.