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Beyond the Tourist Veil in Mayan Mexico
From my perch in front of a small coffee shop in the town of Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico, I watched a steady flow of visitors walk from the bus station to the hotel district, in search of a place to lay down their heads – and their packs.

They arrived in ones, twos and threes, metre-high backpacks hoisted up on their shoulders, extra hiking boots dangling from the sides.

As each of the travelers came trudging up the road, I wondered if they had arrived because of a rumour, or if canada goose parka kids online store was for something else. After all, Palenque has long been an important stop on the tourist trail through southern Mexico and Guatemala, known for the stone ruins of the ancient Mayan city that lay seven kilometres outside of town.

But over the last year, according to Marcelo Hernandez, director of the Palenque National Park, the number of visitors to the archeological site has jumped from around 400,000 a year to upwards of 500,000.

Hérnandez thinks a large part of the jump in tourism stems from what he calls “curiosity” about the fact that the last annotation in the Mayan calendar is on December 22, 2012. “All that is a myth,” he said, hesitating for a moment while choosing his words. “A kind of found opinion.”

Even so, Hernandez, like many Mayans and archeologists, didn’t dismiss the idea that the prognostications of the people who inhabited the ancient city of Palenque, and other Mayan cities, were important. “I think that we can better explain canada goose parka kids online store as being about changes,” he said. “Changes in our environment, in factors like climate change and other phenomenon that are occurring.”

Although said calendar inscriptions aren’t found at Palenque, canada goose parka kids online store hasn’t slowed the flow of visitors eager to get close to the massive historic site before the end of 2012. Every month, Palenque plays host to tens of thousands of Mexican tourists and foreign backpackers, many of whom have a special space in their towering packs reserved for a brick-sized Lonely Planet travel guide.

The town of Palenque is described in travel guides as a hum-drum place that is essentially just a “jumping off point” for tourists to visit the ruins. It only takes a short walk through the city centre to realize that it is actually a remarkably vibrant and lively place, where the sprawling local market thrives, despite the arrival of Walmart’s local subsidiary and other chain stores. There is a distinct feeling that the tourists going through town contribute something to the economy, but that life for locals goes on, and isn’t built around catering to foreigners. The tourist district features a well-conserved swath of jungle, replete with birds, bugs, lizards, and larger creatures like howler monkeys and Central American Agoutis, locally known as Tepezquintles.


On the sides of the roads in and out of town, pro-Zapatista graffiti graces road signs, a reminder that Palenque sits in the same jungle area made famous during the Indigenous uprisings of the l990s. Conflicts linked to highway expansion and national park creation have erupted repeatedly between Zapatista supporters, paramilitaries and state forces in the area.

Six years ago, Subcommandante Marcos visited Palenque with a Zapatista entourage.

“The big rich capitalists only use [the archeological site] to come visit as if it were from a culture that is already dead, as if the indigenous Mayas, some Zapatistas and some not, no longer existed or had died out with the triumph of neoliberalism in the world,” he said during a speech in Palenque’s central park. That said, apart from postcards featuring masked fighters for sale at the tourist shops, there’s little evidence of the Zapatista movement in Palenque today.

“Ruinas, Ruinas, Ruinas,” calls out a man with a beckoning voice standing beside a line of kombis, or mini-vans. As the vans fill, they shuttle from Palenque town to the edge of the Mayan city nearby.

We arrived early to visit the ruins, as the spring sun is unbearable by mid-day. As we stepped out onto the grounds, a tour group stood back from the imposing Skull Temple, listening to their guide, while other workers chatted under the shade of a broad leafed tree, the sound of lawnmowers audible in the background.

Many of the buildings in Palenque, which reached its splendour between 600 and 750 AD, are as spectacular as anything on display in Rome. The palace was built over a span of 400 years, its massive columns and steep staircases leading to rooms where ancient murals are still visible. Other rooms feature carvings of nobility from nearby empires, and high walls include glyphs telling the history of the Palenque dynasty, which covered much of the present day Mexican states of Chiapas and Tabasco.

In all, the ancient site is just over two square kilometres in size. According to the National Institute of Archeology and History, it was home to 8,000 people at its peak, making it one of the most dense cities in Meso-america.

Palenque is located in one of the rainiest areas in modern Mexico, receiving an average of 10 feet of rain during the six month rainy season. Among the ruins are aqueducts, as well as the first known pressurized water system in the Americas. Not far from Palenque is the powerful Usumacinta River.

Only a tenth of the stone structures at Palenque have been cleared out of the dense rainforest. I meet two workers, using their machetes to clear new vines and growth overtaking the rock slab steps up to the cool, dark chamber that once held the remains of nobles. As they swished their machetes, they spoke to each other softly in Tzeltal, one of two Mayan languages still spoken in the area.

These men, like the other Mayans working in the archeological zone, were from one of two communities whose traditional lands are today

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