Bonampak is the smaller and less visited little brother of nearby Yaxchilan and Palenque. That is the charm of the place, the lack of people. It was only about 50km by road to Bonampak from my camp at the village of Frontera Corozal, where I visited Yaxchilan.
On route I stopped at a small shop to buy a drink and rest while a small rain shower passed overhead. A group of about 6six youths arrived aged between 18-21 years old with two older males. It was very obvious to me what was going on. The two older males were suspected people smugglers and the youths had obviously recently crossed the border from Guatemala on route to USA for a better life. They were not Mexican, judging from their appearance they were from the Caribbean coast somewhere, if I was to guess I would say Honduras. Their only possessions were stored in a very small backpack.
The youths appeared anxious when they saw me. I can only guess that they thought I was an American Trump supporter or Immigration Official. I talked with the suspected people smugglers, careful not to ask too many questions. They were interested in my journey, where I was from and if I liked Trump. I’ve noticed a change in Mexican attitude towards people from USA in recent months. I don’t want to go into detail as to what that might be.
I desperately wanted to straight up ask them if they were people smugglers but my gut instinct told me not to. I’ve met many people on this trip who have illegally crossed into USA for work. Only yesterday I met two Mexican guys who worked on farms in USA. They stayed long enough to save a bit of money and learn English. They returned to Mexico and now work in tourism industry, their command of the English language has given them great employment opportunities.
Bonampak and The Lacandón People
It was midday when I arrived at the road that would take me to the ruins of Bonampak. The local indigenous people, who call themselves The Lacandón, were there to greet me and take my fee for traveling through their lands. They were dressed in their traditional long white robes. The 100 pesos (US$5) entry fee was discounted to 50 pesos as I was on a bicycle.
I inquired about Jaguars in the area as I had just cycled past a sign warning me of their presence. There were many in the area I was told, specially near the waterways. Talk to scare the dumb tourist or truth to warn them, I’m thinking it is a bit of both. I would dearly love to see a wild Jaguar.
From the toll both to the ruins was a stunning dirt road through dark enclosed jungle. I secretly wished that all the roads in this area was like this one. If there was a place where a wild Jaguar would cross the road, it would surely be here. Not the slash and burn farmland that I had been cycling through lately. I guess the toll I paid to the locals keeps them sustainably employed with little need to cut down the forest in search of wealth. I was told by several sources that there is a lot of conflict between the indigenous Lacandón, the government and ranchers who want the forest destroyed. It is a similar story for the indigenous people the world over. It appeared to me that the Lacandón live a sustainable life in balance with the natural environment.
I locked my bike at the entry gate to the ruins. The friendly entry guard offered to watch it for me. After a short chat I dodged the begging children and made my way to the ruins. I was there less than 15 minutes before an intense tropical downpour hit the area. I climbed to the famed temple that contained some restored Mayan murals. This area is a selfie free zone, as evidenced by the sign at the temple.
The murals of Bonampak were preserved where other had eroded due in part to a freak of nature. This whole area is built on a foundation of limestone. Water leaking into the temple coating the original murals with a wafer thin layer of limestone which helped preserve the murals. Sort of like the slow process that creates stalactites in caves.
Early explorers and archaeologists to the area destroyed the already fragile murals by dousing them with kerosene to bring out the colours. This weakened the murals and sped up their erosion. A project to restore and repaint them was undertaken several years ago, so the current paintings were reproductions of the originals. It is believed that paintings like this were common in almost every temple in the Mayan world. Time and the elements have done their job at eroding them.
As the site was small I didn’t linger long at Bonampak. It was getting late and I was tired. Time to find a campsite.
The friendly local Lacandón village of Lacanjá which is near the ruins have opened their doors to travelers like me. For a couple of pesos I set up my tent next to an aqua blue river, complete with a small waterfall. Not before another tropical storm engulfed the area. I sat under the cover of the restaurant eating some chicken, rice and beans until it passed. They also had some reasonably priced cabins on the river but I was running low on cash and there was no bank until I reached the next big town of Palenque. I had made a boo boo in calculating how much money I would need on this leg of the journey. Whoopsie.
The following morning I had a rather upset stomach. I had grand plans of I nice series of backroads that would lead me to the biggest town in this part of the world, Palenque. My stomach, bowels and lack of funds made for a change of plans. I rode the main road to Palenque, stopping only for some emergency toilet breaks. So ends a great 9 day ride from San Cristobal de las casas to Palenque. Only a very small amount of adventure cyclists attempt this route. For anybody in the area, consider this route, it is rad. For now it will be some rest, relaxation and visit to the world famous Mayan ruins of Palenque.