Making my way into Mexico, my first port of call was the Mayan ruins at Palenque. My experience here was somewhat different from my day at Tikal in Guatemala. I pitched my tent at a super cheap little place in the jungle next to the ruins. The city of Palenque itself has good tacos. That’s about it. So we made for El Panchain, a cosy village next to the entrance to the park. Once again… toilet woes. Anyway, the Germans Tina and Roman and I had a plan: we were going to walk to the ruins at 05:00 and watch the sunset from the main palace. Simple plan, really. We had heard it was perfectly possible to do so in Tikal so we assumed that we could do so here, too.
We awoke at 04:00, again with the early starts, and started on the trail at 04:30 in the total darkness. It was about an hours walk to the entrance. However, we were stopped on the way by two police officers. One had a massive shotgun and a dirty moustache, the other had a silly cap, bad skin and a fancy mobile phone. We explained that we wished to get into the park and they explained that we would need to pay a “special entry fee”.
“Hnnmmm…. mille pesos”, the fat man said, stroking his chin. Thus began the haggling. We should have expected this, but luckily I have enough Spanish to say that it’s not just, we don’t want to pay too much, the ruins are very special, you’re very kind for letting us in and all sorts of schmoozy phrases to get us in without paying exorbitantly.
“But we are students, we don’t have much money” explained Roman the banker in terrible Spanish – he’s been using that excuse for about eight years now, ever since he was a student. However, being a banker, a German banker no less, the natural urge towards frugality lives strong within him.
Fat man with moustache was a terrible negotiator. We haggled in Spanish, throwing out a bunch of arguments. He sort of wandered about, just shaking his head. We tried for about 100 pesos each. No success. We raised it to 150 pesos, just under €8. The arsehole with the phone’s haggling technique consisted of looking busy on the phone and doing the shooing motion with his hand.
“If you don’t pay the special entrance fee, you don’t get in”, he would say and we would refuse. He would then try to shoo him. We said it wasn’t just.
We paid 200 pesos in the end – about the same as the entrance fee to Tikal. Not bad considering. We made swift progress towards the ruins.
Then we were caught by another guard, this time an actual employee of the ruins not a police officer. He also demanded a bribe to let us in. We tried to explain that we’d actually paid 300 pesos each to the police and that he said it was all inclusive. This guy was having none of it and demanded: “…hhmmmmm…. mille pesos.”
After a similar process of offer and rejection, we gave him a ten euro note, told him it was worth 500 pesos (actually worth 180) and a fifty peso note. He refused at first, but then we said: “..and fifty pesos!” and then he somehow accepted. He made us swear promises of silence, which we did. We also swore promises of silence to the police officers and had broken that promise to this guy about ten minutes later. Considering the amount of bribing and lying going on, I don’t know how he expected us to keep that promise of silence.
It was starting to get light so we made our in quickly to the ruins and hid among the palace, our fraud adding that extra layer of adrenaline to the illegal nature of what we were doing. The guard attempted to find us a further three times before he actually did. So we sat and watched the cloudy sunrise and were somewhat disappointed by it all. When the guard found us, he came up to us. He seemed a little scared and panicky. He could obviously lose his job if were found and he was found out, but he seemed a little rattled. Scrawled on his hand were some calculations – he had found out the conversion rate. He was not happy either, giving out to us for lying. We refused to leave, not after paying some 250 pesos for entry. He gave us half an hour as an ultimatum.
We got two hours of beautiful silence in the Mayan ruins, the sunlight shining beautifully low in the sky, illuminating the ruins in a way not available to the general public before we were kicked out at 08:15 (by some fat lady who muttered something about insulting the Mexican people by not paying entry). We kept our word and told nothing of the guard.
The ruins were much the same an experience as Tikal, even though we didn’t quite get to enjoy a full thirteen hours of them. I shan’t share my thoughts on the matter again, but know that it was quite wonderful sneaking into Palenque in the morning light. Unfortunately, I won’t have the pictures of this trip until Roman gets back home in two weeks, so here’s one I got off a Dutch girl in San Cristobal who was there at the same time as us. More on her later!