Welcome to El Panchan

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We are sitting in the middle of the jungle as I write and Linda is talking to an elderly man who knows the Zapatistas and is very familiar with the movement. I can hear the sound of bugs above the music. As we drove into El Panchan, Palenque, we could hear the howler monkeys. I was so excited. This is my first time in the jungle and it reminds me of summer camp, but even better. Here I am in the middle of the jungle, writing and drinking a beer. Is there anything better?

So how did we end up in the middle of the jungle you may ask? It is a long story that began last night…

We arrived back to San Cristobal from Oventic around 7pm and went to dinner. The food was good, but I expected it would affect me today. So far, so good. After dinner we got ready to go out for the evening and went to the same quaint little bar last night with live music (El Tapanco) and it was awesome. The waiter and singer seemed excited to see us and it was nice to feel welcomed.

(on a side note: Linda is still talking to the elderly man here in El Panchan and I can’t help but watch them and smile. Here she is, in the middle of the jungle, talking to a man who is likely sharing more with her than she could ever learn from a book. I think it is beautiful watching someone do something they are passionate about. I should encourage her to stay here for six months and immerse herself in this community to really understand what is happening here)

I wrote in my journal and Linda wrote about her experience with the Zapatistas. We tried the “Sacrificio Maya” which is what we had taken photos of the first time we came. It has cinnamon, tequila, and several other kinds of alcohol in it. The waiter lights it on fire and then sprinkles cinnamon on it which makes it flame up and out of the glass. After you drink it, the waiter holds a napkin over your mouth and shakes your head. Good thing we shared it because it has a lot of liquor and it would have been too much to drink alone.

On our way to the bar, Linda called her mom and her mom told her that her brother said we should not go into the mountains. Little does she know we not only went into the mountains, but we met with the Zapatistas. I don’t think she would be too happy if she knew.

So, we went to the bar and Linda started talking to the guitarist about the Zapatista movement and ironically he is working on a project about the indigenous women in Chiapas. So, they talked for quite awhile about their respective projects. I know Linda is disappointed by this trip in the sense that she has not gotten solid information and the Zapatistas asked that she write down her questions to “submit” them for review before they will respond to them. At the same time, I am not sure she realizes how many random connections she has made here. To me, it seems like everywhere we go she is running into interesting information. She is obviously disappointed that she has not been able to obtain direct answers from the most important people, but it is unlikely that she would ever get such information without being here for a lengthy period of time or by representing a major media organization.

The waiter was outside trying to solicit more patrons. So, I decided to join him and invite more people inside while practicing my Spanish. It was quite fun. He taught me how to say “come inside and enjoy the live music.”

The guitarist wanted us to wait until he was done performing to continue talking with Linda. He wanted to walk us back to our hotel, but the “grandma” in me did not feel comfortable with him knowing where we were staying. Linda seemed upset when I suggested that we talk with him in the Zocalo (town plaza) instead. But, I think she realized I was just trying to play it safe. He is a stranger no matter what they have in common and no matter how long they talked.

This morning we woke up at a decent time, but lagged getting ready. By the time we showered, ate, and exchanged money, it was 11:30AM. We caught the 12:15PM bus to Palenque. The ride was beautiful, but long and scary. It was primarily mountain driving and the bus driver was horrible. Numerous times, Linda and I thought we were going to die. A four hour bus ride turned into 6 hours and we arrived in Palenque around 6:30PM. our goals for Palenque are to visit the waterfalls and the ruins.

When we got off the bus, it was like stepping to a hot, humid desert. The temperature was about 10-20 degrees hotter than we were used to and the humidity made our clothes stick to us instantly. We walked to one of the Lonely Planet recommended hotels in the city. We were debating staying near the ruins, but we were concerned about the fact we desperately needed to do laundry and were not sure if it would be available at El Panchan. So, we rented a room with A/C in the City of Palenque despite the fact the city was drab, dirty and scary. After 10 minutes in the tiny room, I looked at Linda and said, “Let’s go to El Panchan. Screw it… I don’t care how much it costs.” I was really not feeling that city or the hole in the wall room. We grabbed our bags and asked for a refund. Not even ten minutes later we were in a taxi on our way to El Panchan for a mere $4USD.

We pulled off the road just before the entrance to the Palenque Ruins and drove into the jungle. Immediately, you could hear the sounds of the jungle and the howler monkeys. I was not sure how this was going to turn out considering Linda is not much of a wilderness or heat person and she expressed her fear of the monkeys as we pulled in. We checked into an “apartment” below the main house at Margarita and Ed’s Cabanas (Insert new link to TripAdvisor Review Here) since no cabanas were available. The owner Margarita was very interesting. She speaks English and appears to be very friendly. I have yet to see Ed though.

After checking in, we went up to the tourist tiki hut and enquired about the day trips they offer to Agua Azul and Misol-Ha. While talking to them, we discovered that one of them, Araceli, was the daughter of the man who developed and built El Panchan, Moises Morales. Linda explained why we were in Chiapas and Araceli suggested she talk with her father since he is very knowledgeable of the State of Chiapas, the Palenque ruins (he was one of the first guides), the indigenous people, and the Zapatistas.

She sat with him for over an hour. It was beautiful. She learned a lot about the movement from the perspective of a man who knows Marcos on a personal level and used to believe in the movement. However, he no longer does. Being the largest tourist guru this side of Chiapas, he has been responsible for guiding very important people through the area. He shared a story with Linda about Marcos and a French guy who used to write letters back and forth arguing about numerous things. When the French guy came to Chiapas, Moises Morales was responsible for showing him around. He brought the French man to a lake that is essentially untouched by locals and tourists. While there, the French man was concerned that the area was too open and Marco’s people could easily have him assassinated. Later, Marcos discovered his arch enemy had gone to this lake. So, he ordered the indigenous people in the area to never allow anyone to travel to this lake again. They, in turn, burned the whole place to the ground.
Depending on how long we stay, Linda was invited by Araceli, Moises’ daughter, to go on this unorganized trip to a remote place undiscovered by most people. Her father found it and is taking a small group there tomorrow or Sunday. I would love to go, but Linda seems to be in a rush to get back to San Cristobal. Although, the longer we stay, the more she wants to stay. She wanted to leave tomorrow, that is until she talked to Moises Morales (link to an interview with him – pdf document download)

On a side note: I love this place! I love where we were, where we are, and where we are going. It has been such an awesome experience. I am trying to talk to a group of young guys from Oaxaca and I suck at Spanish. From what I gather, they are students staying here for four days and are planning to visit the Palenque ruins. We raised our beers in a toast a couple of times, but they appear very young. Maybe 16-18 years old, if that. Welcome to Mexico…

2 thoughts on “Welcome to El Panchan

  1. I envy you Jenneil! How exciting it must be! Great blog! How long are you there? Sound like the indigenous were very accepting to you (=

    You’ll have to explain to me sometime on how you came about to take this trip & did you quit your job? I want to tarvel to London next to stay with Sonja Tack for awhile. It always boils down to finance & work obligations )-=

  2. Before the economy took a dive, I had the opportunity to earn a lot of comp time off (CTO) and was able to travel to Chiapas twice in ’07. The trip around the world doesn’t start until January 2011, but I am trying to bank as much vacation time as possible. I am also trying to work with my employer to take an unpaid leave of absence for the rest of the trip. By the time we leave, I should have 3-4 weeks of paid time off which will help when those checks are deposited while we are gone.

    Traveling around the world can be cheaper than you might imagine. I will be dedicating some posts to this topic as soon as I get my old travel journals uploaded.

    Plus, I am supposed to be coming home next month and I will be able to talk to you about it more if you are around. But, I haven’t bought my tickets yet. I’ll keep you updated.

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