At Palenque we pulled into the Mayabell campsite near the ruins and stayed for a few days. Everyone has a different idea of what the perfect campsite is; for someone with a huge American RV they’d be looking for hard standing sites so that they can use their levelling jacks, pull-through sites that you don’t need to reverse into, a 50 amp power supply to run the two air-conditioners and the washing machine, a sewage connection, etc. Mayabell has none of these things, but for us, it is near perfect; they do a reduced rate (about £7 per night) if you don’t need water or electricity connection, they have some decent sized trees to keep the sun off the truck, they have a good restaurant and well stocked bar on-site, all the pitches are on grass, the site is surrounded by virgin rainforest, and they have an amazing array of wildlife wandering through the site. If the swimming pool had been working we would probably have never left.
Every area of rainforest in Mexico entices you with claims that you’ll hear the exotic call of howler monkeys. For someone who hasn’t heard them I guess this is a tempting proposition; lying in bed at night with the soothing sound of monkeys calling to each other through the forest. We heard them almost immediately on arriving at Mayabell and I knew straight away that there would be nothing romantic or exciting about them after a few hours. I suppose the name should give you a clue, but the sound made by howler monkeys is pretty hideous, kind of like the sound of a rusty plough being dragged across a concrete floor, but at extreme volume. The enormity of the noise that comes from these small animals is astonishing. The only other animal noise I’ve heard which comes close the awfulness of a howler monkey is the sound of a fox engaged in coitus.
At other places in Mexico you see people with huge camera lenses and binoculars viewing the monkeys from afar; but at the Mayabell they just swing on through the campsite, completely nonchalant to the humans gawking at them from a few meters below. You are more in danger of having half chewed leaves or faeces falling on you, than you are of missing them. If I hadn’t had such a great chance to watch and photograph them, I would have resented them for waking me up throughout the night, but after watching them eating and playing in the trees for a few hours I couldn’t help but like them.
Most of our time in Palenque was spent relaxing at the campsite, reading, watching the monkeys, playing with Boris, and chatting with other guests, but we did of course make time to visit the nearby ruins. It’s easy to get a little numb in Mexico to the beauty and significance of their archaeological sites; there are ruins everywhere and many are astonishing, but even having visited a fair number before reaching Palenque, it still seemed remarkable. The setting for the ruins is fantastic, in a steep area of dense rainforest, with areas which are completely restored, partly restored, and completely untouched. Palenque gives you a little bit of the excitement that the people who rediscovered it must have felt as it rose out of the jungle at them after days of hacking their way through with machetes. Out of all the archaeological sites that we visited before and after Palenque, it would still be the one I recommend most to visitors to Mexico.