Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Campeche and Palenque

It's getting close to the end of the trip now! We still have time to fit a bit more in though. Moving on from Mérida, we spent a couple of nights in Campeche, a beautiful colonial city on the Yucatán coast. The architecture is reminiscent of southern Spain, especially in the leafy, open central plaza where our hostel was located. We had spectacular views of the city at night.

Campeche was fortified against pirates by the Spanish and parts of the fortifications remain, such as the city wall and several of the 'bulwarks' or 'bastions'. These are miniature forts spread along the original line of the seafront (the seafront has since been moved by filling in new land), housing cannon and lookout posts for defending the city.

It was incredibly hot though: an almost unbearable 45°C (113°F) during the mid-afternoon. After a couple of days we couldn't take any more and headed for Palenque.

Palenque was inhabited from around 100 BC and flourished around AD 600-700. It has a fantastic setting surrounded by hilly jungle, making it a very atmospheric place to visit (despite the crowds of tourists). Above is the Temple of the Inscriptions.

Palenque boasts many well-preserved bas-reliefs, depicting major events and glorifying rulers of the city. The one above, which I am imitating, may be of a decapitation, while the scene below shows a soldier (looking left) with captive prisoners from another Mayan city-state. Other carvings around the site still show some colour on them (thanks to the long-lasting pigment made from squashed beetles).

One of the best things to see is in the site museum. A reproduction of the giant sarcophagus of king K'inich Hanab Pakal (who died aged 80 in AD 683), found inside the Temple of the Inscriptions, is displayed inside a special exhibition space that shows the size, shape and interior decoration of the original tomb. As the tomb itself is now sealed inside the temple following its discovery, it's a great way to imagine what's inside.

After the heat and humidity of the steamy jungle, a visit to the nearby Agua Azul (blue water) waterfalls is highly recommended. It's a series of cool freshwater pools which make for great swimming.

Rach always loves a swim (I think she aims for at least one a day if possible), and particularly enjoyed the refreshing dip here. Perfect for relaxing after a day's sightseeing!


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