The following images are from the Spring 2013 Destination Freedom Brand Boot Camp which took place March, April and May of 2013 in Cancun, Mexico. We took three members through the program and mentored them while they built their brands and websites. In mid-March we had a week-long adventure tour with Snail Adventures as a team-building exercise and to give the students a much-needed break from the Spanish and brand building classes five days a week. Don’t forget to check out the first leg of the journey from Cancun to Merida.
After a good night’s sleep at our hotel in Merida, it was time to head out on the next leg of the journey. Cris and I got up first thing, went out for breakfast, came back to the hotel and then grabbed our bags and headed out the door to the bus station where we proceeded to wait in line for our ADO bus to Palenque.
It’s a bit of a haul from Merida to Palenque, and there’s really not much to do on a bus other than sleep, watch whatever movie is on, or just enjoy the scenery. Some of us were more excited than others about the long bus ride ahead, but speaking from my own personal experiences on plenty of long hauls around the world, my preference is to just sack out and sleep.
We were headed to a place called El Panchan, which is on the outskirts of Palenque bordering the ruins and archaeological zone of Palenque, one of the most famous Maya ruins in all of Mexico.
El Panchan is a combination of eco-hostel and restaurant set in the middle of the jungles of Palenque. It’s standard fare for backpackers; no AC, no Internet in the rooms and plenty of heat and humidity, although the nights cool down sufficiently to be comfortable, but the trade-off is the atmosphere.
First of all, there’s wildlife everywhere. The first thing you hear every single morning at around 5:30 are the howler monkeys going about their morning routine, and if you peek your head out the window you can often see them climbing around the trees. We happened to catch a glimpse of one of them on the afternoon that we arrived, along with a little lizard that reminded me of the velociraptors in Jurassic Park.
The restaurant was probably one of the best aspects of El Panchan. It’s called Don Muchos and it is famous across Mexico, for a good reason. Without a doubt some of the best food I’ve ever eaten in the country, and the prices were absolutely ridiculous in terms of affordability. Portions were excellent, and every evening there is a live band along with a fire show afterwards.
The pizzas in particular are to-die-for. Wood-fired, all sorts of ingredients to choose from, and they are enormous. The first night, though, I had a filet mignon drenched in a Roquefort cheese sauce that was simply mouthwatering. Candlelight and flash photos don’t do the food justice!
However, El Panchan was the least of the reasons we came to Palenque. We arrived in the late afternoon, enjoyed a good night’s dinner, and then got up early the next morning for a high-energy breakfast before heading out into the jungles for a morning walk through the underbrush.
It was a pretty intense hike, climbing up and down hills, splashing through streams, ducking down into a couple of caves and getting pictures of bats, eating termites (this first pic is Dave and Sabina trying some out; check out the video to see them eating them, as well as myself), listening to our guide tell us about the history, climbing the vines and playing Tarzan (see the video at the bottom), and generally enjoying a pleasant morning walk. The humidity was intense, even though it wasn’t that hot, but by the time we emerged from the jungle on the back side of the ruins, we were all drenched.
Once we entered the archaeological ruins of Palenque, the real adventure began. This was without a doubt one of my most anticipated moments of the trip, and it was something I had been wanting to see for several years but had never yet made the time to explore.
Cris grew up just an hour down the road from Palenque, so she had already been to the ruins several times growing up as a child, so for her it wasn’t a new experience. For me, however, and the rest of our Destination Freedom group, it was an adventure of a lifetime.
One of the interesting aspects of the trip was the fact that 2013 is likely the last year that the Mexican government will allow tourists to climb the palace ruins. Similar to how the main pyramid Chichen Itza has been closed off for some time now, it is expected that by the end of 2013 or early in 2014 the main palace will be closed off to the public.
Needless to say, we took plenty of photos and I recorded several hours’ worth of footage (the video at the end of this post only shows some of the primary moments; the rest will be coming out in the documentary in 2014) to make sure we got the most out of our time there.
Highlight moment: the picture below is known as the Tourist Tree, or the Gringo Tree. Why? Because it’s always red and peeling
The ruins themselves took several hours to go through, and on top of the couple of hours we spent in the jungle in the morning after breakfast, made for a fairly intense outing. We only saw about 70% of the ruins, because by the time we finished up we had already been at it for around five hours, and between the humidity and the sun we were absolutely wiped out. Even so, it was definitely one of those experiences that stays with you for a lifetime…but it wasn’t the last moment of the trip.
Stay tuned for the next episode as the group heads out from Palenque and visits Misol Ha, Agua Azul and make our way to San Cristobal de las Casas in the mountains of Chiapas. Don’t forget to check out the video below!