This was going to be my first trip in Mexico, and it got off to a bumpy start.
The plan was to go straight to Chiapas and spend most of my three weeks Christmas holiday in that state. However, I did find a cheap flight from Mexico City to Villahermosa, in the neighbouring state Tabasco (the one with the hot sauce). Tabasco is a state known for it’s Oil Industry (and hot sauce) rather than tourism, but I thought I’d check it out regardless, before heading on to Palenque.
I got accommodation sorted in Mexico City, where I was going to spend the night before boarding my flight to Villahermosa the following day. I wanted a relaxed start to my holidays and taking a bus on the same day of the flight, as delays do happen in this country, could potentially be a tress factor. Therefore, I booked a bus ticket to the capital some days ahead, on a company that doesn’t stop en route; I made sure to be at the bus terminal with plenty of time to spare, made sure the bus number and destination on the digital display matched my ticket, gave the luggage-guy a tip to make sure he handled it with the utmost care, went through security, and was one of the first people on the bus. In a blissful state of inner peace and mindfulness, I sank down into the soft upholstery of my assigned seat, knowing I’d ticked all the boxes for a tress-free beginning of my trip. The bus pulled out of its bay on time, and as we left the last buildings of Querétaro behind us, I closed my eyes and dozed off.
As my mind trotted the line between sleep and wakefulness, it suddenly stumbled upon an “OH SHIT!” realisation – I forgot my passport! Wide awake by panic, with my heart pounding close to hyperventilation, I realised I had to get off this bus and go back home! I got up and walked towards the door that separates the passengers from the driver. I knocked tentatively and was met with a somewhat annoyed sounding “¿Qué?” from the other side. I didn’t want to speak through a closed door, so I knocked again in the hope someone would open it. “¿Qué?” I mustered my best Spanish and told the tinted glass pane in front of me that I’d forgotten my passport and if he could please stop and let me off the bus, as I had to go back and get it. The reply was negative. This was a direct bus and the driver wasn’t allowed to make any other stops for safety reasons. Resignation with a hint of despair set in as I realised I had to cancel my accommodation, go to Mexico City, get on a bus back to Querétaro (each way is about 3hrs), then get on a bus back to Mexico City to catch my flight. In total, it would mean at least nine hours on buses, if I managed to get the best connections (which I didn’t). Despite the fact that I did catch my flight in the end, this was not the holiday start I’d envisioned!
Upon setting foot on Tabasco soil, my phone’s battery decided to die. This meant I couldn’t contact my Airbnb host who was going to pick me up. I enquired with the airport taxis, as I had the address, but these were ridiculously overpriced. I sat on a bench outside the airport and decided to wait for a bit, hoping the guy would just turn up. He didn’t, but an UBER driver who’d just dropped someone off, asked if I needed to get somewhere. I said yes, and off we went. On the way he explained that the airport had blocked the UBER network in order to force people to take the expensive airport taxis. That’s why he approached me. Good on him!
The Airbnb place was really nice and after some yummy street food, I was finally ready to relax!
Villahermosa, the capital of Tabasco, turned out to be a gem. I absolutely loved it! Walking around the city was a lot of fun, as it does not obey the rules of a grid layout. It’s built on a swamp, and roads and buildings had to be constructed wherever possible. Therefore, if one’s walking on street X, turns left and makes two rights around the block, doesn’t necessarily get one back to street X. I came across some really interesting places like that. However, what stood out for me was the lake, “Laguna de las Ilusiones”, close to the city centre and the adjacent “Parque de la Venta”. The lake is home to a variety of wildlife, including the Belize Crocodile, whereas the park has a population of White-nose Coatis and a collection of Olmec statues. Unfortunately, the actual museum was closed due to remodelling works. I had been told that a bus leaves from the park to Yumká, an animal park close to the airport, which I decided to check out. For some reason the bus wasn’t running that day, but I was told I could get a Combi out there. After pondering a taxi ride for five seconds, I decided to be cheap and do as the locals do. Combi means a mini-van (emphasis on MINI!) which runs a certain route and crams in as many (or more) people as possible. When I got on, no seats were available, meaning I had to stand, which wasn’t an option either (emphasis on MINI!). With my right ear pressed to the roof of the van and my spine bent into a lateral S-shape, I tried to counteract permanent damage to my uprightness while trying to hold on to my backpack. Fortunately, the Mexicans are a kind people and someone offered to hold on to my backpack, easing my struggle a fair bit. Eventually, we got to my destination, and I was able to crack my spine back into it’s natural shape. Yumká covers a wide area of rainforest and swampland, housing a variety of native and non-native species in large fenced-in areas, allowing the animals to roam with relative freedom. Although Zoos are not my cup of tea, I did enjoy this place.
The return trip got interesting, as rush hour traffic gets nuts and drivers are mad! Luckily I had a nice one who dropped me off at the next Combi I needed to catch back to the city centre. This was still a ways off my accommodation, but at least I could get my bearings from there. After those Combi rides, a comfortable, easy taxi ride was in order. Or so I thought: standing by the road trying to flag down a cab, they were all full – every single one. After some time, I went over to a couple of policemen standing nearby and asked where I could get a taxi. They said I was in the right place, to which I replied that all were full, to which they replied that these were “colectivos”. What that means is that a taxi will take you if the destination is convenient for them, considering the other passengers on board. That’s a concept I wasn’t familiar with, but it worked!
My Airbnb host recommended I go to Comalcalco and the archeological site of the same name, so I extended my stay to do just that. An uneventful one-hour-busride got me to the town, where, since I’d skipped breakfast and was now close to starvation, I dragged myself to the first place that looked as if it might sell food and instructed the friendly man to please give me “one of each”, while I slumped into a plastic chair. I wasn’t quite sure what I’d ordered, but I ended up with a platter of five or six tacos, that were some of the most delicious I’ve ever had, even after discovering at least one was tripe! Revitalised, I decided to walk to the site, which is outside of town. Upon reaching the outskirts of Comalcalco, I caught up with man dressed in rags, presumably in his forties, who was walking in the same direction as I. I asked him if I was on the right way to the Mayan ruins. He said yes, and that he was going to show me where to turn. So we walked side by side for a while, making smalltalk. People in Tabasco are nice indeed!
The ancient city is awesome, and, as the rest of the state, hardly any other visitors were there. It is the western most Mayan City and unique for being the only major city built with bricks, instead of the usual stones. The site is surrounded by forest in which Howler Monkeys jump around and howl at the weary travellers. The place is also swarming with tough determined mosquitoes, completely unperturbed by my insect repellent. On the upper levels of the main temple, a little old man with skin burned to leather from a lifetime in the tropical sun of Tabasco, stepped out of a shaded area and started talking to me. Apparently, he was some kind of guide, and he seemed happy to have someone to talk to. He was very knowledgeable about the site and the Mayan culture of that area, and I got a very detailed guided tour of the Palace. Wikipedia has interesting information on this site.
This was an excellent introduction to the Mayan culture – I was ready for Palenque!