Misol-Ha waterfall, a thin, pure stream.
Behind the falls.
Agua Azul's falls are wide and fast.
Agua Azul's pools of turquoise.
Little Amina goes
Everyone gets photos of themselves at the falls.
Vendors in palapas line the falls.
The falls tumble down many layers of boulders.
Our companions get into another van.
Comitán's Santo Domingo, built in the late 1500's.
Santo Domingo steeple.
Lots of church steeples in this town.
Modern sculpture in the Zócalo
Patio of wooden columns.
Spring is in the air.
Hilly streets offer views into the surrounding
Crowds take seats on the Mayan stadium stairs.
Performers appear on the 1200-year-old ruins.
Blowing on a conch shell.
Rituals for the dead victim.
Marina Chiapas at dawn.
(Photo courtesy of Capt. Andrés Reyes Prudente).
Agua Azul, Misol-Ha & Comitán, Mexico
March, 2012 - Besides the mysterious ruins of Yaxchilan & Bonampak, the Palenque
area is bursting with beautiful natural features as well. We hopped on another van
tour, this time to see waterfalls. We went with a no-name tour company, one of dozens
selling tours in town. It was cheap, this was just a day trip, and all we really needed
was transportation to the falls. We sat behind a very seasoned Central American
traveler from North Carolina named Tom who was just starting a four-month tour from
Mexico to Colombia. His itinerary, unlike ours for some reason, included both the
waterfalls and the Palenque ruins.
"I never have any expectations
when I get on a bus in these
parts." He said knowingly. We
had had plenty of bus
adventures, so we nodded with
him, almost as knowingly.
Our first stop of the day, after
bouncing over the rough roads
out of town, was the magnificent
Misol-Ha waterfall. A thin wisp
of water flowed in a steady
stream off a cliff into a cool, wide
pool. We followed a short trail
down to the falls and discovered
we could crawl underneath a rock
outcropping behind them. The fine
mist that sprayed us all was
Our group was in high spirits in the
early morning air as we piled back
into the van. Young European
backpackers dominated our group,
including a pair of gorgeous, tall,
leggy, blonde Danish girls up front
and three boys from Switzerland, Austria and Germany speaking German together in the
rear. A little four-year-old Mexican girl, Amina, from Playa del Carmen in the Yucatan, sat
next to me and asked to see our waterfall photos on our cameras.
A very comical and rudimentary conversation in Spanish ensued as our chatter wandered
to our granddaughters and she told us about her cousin. There's nothing like having a
four-year-old native speaker show you just how poor your command of Spanish really is.
Her giggles and funny faces made it clear we sounded pretty goofy to her. Luckily her
grandma bailed us (and her) out a
few times when our conversation
reached a total impasse of
incomprehension. We were quite
humbled when she later talked up a
storm with the van driver!
Our next stop was Agua Azul, a
series of cascading waterfalls that
rushes over stair-stepping boulders
and lands in the most exquisite
turquoise pools. Wooden viewing
platforms encourage tourists to take
their time soaking in the views and
posing for photos. The water
thunders down the rocks from
several directions and then rests for
a bit in shades of aquamarine before
The tour vans line up outside the park
while visitors are granted anywhere from
an hour to an afternoon to enjoy the falls
and pools. Lots of young travelers
eagerly donned their swimsuits and
jumped into the water.
Vendors selling all kinds of snacks and
trinkets under makeshift palapas line the
sides of the waterfalls at various levels beside the endless wooden stairs going up. We climbed up
and up and up looking for the top of the falls. The clan of young boys from our van rushed ahead
and later reported that there was a fantastic swimming hole
a mile or so away. We never got that far. Instead we
settled at a picnic table to enjoy eating mango on a stick (a
great way to eat mangos!) and watermelon slices in a cup.
After a few wonderful afternoon hours at these rushing
falls and placid pools, we all made our way back to the
van, a little damp, and rather tired at the end of a great
day. The drive back should have taken just an hour, but
this was a budget van. It turned out that not only had our
North Carolina friend, Tom, not been taken to the ruins in
Palenque as he expected, but the European travelers with
us were not returning to the town of Palenque at all. They
were headed in the opposite direction to San Cristóbal de
las Casas, some 5 hours away. Huh?
Apparently our van was supposed to meet another van on the
road somewhere and transfer the travelers over. Problem
was, "where" and "when" were not well defined, and although
we all stood by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere
waiting for over an hour, the other van never showed up. Tom
just nodded knowingly with a smirk on his face.
Luckily we all had lots to talk about, comparing notes about
what we'd seen in Mexico, and talking about what we missed
most from home. The young German fellow said he missed
his wiener schnitzel terribly, and we all missed our favorite dark
beers from home. Travel is wonderful, but homesickness for
familiar things steals over you once in a while.
Eventually the driver hailed a van labeled "San Cristóbal" and payed
for five tickets out of his own pocket so our companions could get to
their promised destination. That van was already full, so I can only
imagine what everyone thought when five extra people and their
luggage were piled into and on top of it for five hours of travel on
twisty, miserable roads filled with speed bumps. Tom said he'd just
catch a cheap combi van to the Palenque ruins on his own the next
day. No problema!
We could have easily stayed in Palenque another week, but
disturbing news from family in the US began to take on a more and
more urgent tone, and we decided it was best to begin our trek out
of the jungle just in case we needed to fly back soon. In the bus
station I saw a poster for a huge Spring Equinox celebration at the
Palenque ruins. Oh my! We were leaving the Mayan world on the
eve of the equinox! You can't do that!! Oh well.
The distance from Palenque to Puerto
Chiapas where Groovy was waiting for
us is only 550 miles, but it is two long
days of bus travel. We decided to
break it up by stopping in Comitán, a
colonial city we had glimpsed from the
bus window on our way to San
Cristóbal and that had perked our
After spending several weeks plunk in
the middle of the touristy Gringo Trail,
surrounded by fellow travelers from
foreign countries, it was a delightful
change to walk the streets of Comitán.
It has all the colonial charm of other similar towns, but has
not been singled out for tourism development in the same
way. Everyone on the streets was a local, or at least
Mexican, and all the happenings around town were put on
by the locals for the locals.
It is a hilly town, with a multitude of church spires piercing the sky. The
Santo Domingo cathedral is the oldest, dating to the late 16th century,
some 50 years or so after Comitán was conquered by the Spanish.
Santo Domingo sits on the edge of the Zócalo, or town square, and while
we wandered among the beautiful shade trees and colorful flowers in the
late afternoon, we listened to the priest giving a sermon to his flock,
broadcast over speakers on the outside of the church.
The Zócalo is the heart of the town, and people hang out in the park doing all the fun
things that parks are made for: relaxing, people watching, selling stuff, buying stuff,
and, of course, enjoying each other's company in a romantic setting.
While wandering around I
looked up to see a huge
poster advertising -- a
celebration of the Spring
Equinox at the local
Mayan ruins of Tenem
Puente! That afternoon!!
We quickly jumped into a
local combi van and
headed out to the ruins a
few miles away. This was
a hugely popular event
and the van was stuffed
to overflowing with
people. It was full body
contact on all sides for
bare limb, thigh,
elbow, etc., was
against those of fellow
passengers on each side.
We all breathed each
other's breath, except
those lucky enough to be
near an open window.
Dads stacked their kids
on their laps, oldest ones
on the bottom and
toddlers on top.
We learned that the
Mayan city of Tenem
Puente was at its peak
between 600 and 900
AD, although it was
occupied until 1200 AD.
It wasn't discovered by
archaeologists until 1925.
Unfortunately, when we
got there the ruins had
been closed off for the
celebration, so we saw
just the first building which stood opposite a hill of
staircases so common to Mayan sites. Those stairs make
perfect stadium seating, and as they quickly filled with
hundreds of people I got a chill thinking of
how the ancient Mayans had probably sat
there just like we were now for their own
gatherings over a thousand years ago.
Suddenly a trumpet sounded and some
figures appeared on the building. The men
wore enormous feather headdresses and
scrambled over the ruin. An announcer
had talked for a while about the
performance before it began, but I couldn't
quite catch all the details. The performance
depicted a battle, a killing, and some rituals
related to the death of the victim. I think I
had expected something mystical involving
the alignment of the setting sun and the
buildings and some fascinating connection
to the Mayan calendar. But this dance and music celebration had its own special
magic, especially as I scanned the crowd and realized that more than a few among
them may have had ancestors that lived inside these ruined walls when they were first built.
We took the overnight bus
to Tapachula that night, and returned to our sailboat Groovy in
the morning. The boat, the marina and the world of cruising
suddenly seemed very foreign in those early dawn hours. The
Tehuantepec had quieted down for a few days and boats
were arriving from Huatulco at the marina hourly. As we
caught the dock lines for the incoming boats our groggy minds
were still far away, filled with the vibrant images of the jungle.
Soon, however, we would be immersed in reality and thrust
back into modern American life on a long road that eventually
led to northeastern Arizona.
Find Palenque and Comitán on Mexico Maps.