This summer I spent seven weeks in Southern Mexico on the GEO Maya Communities and Social Justice in Chiapas Study Abroad Program. For the most part we stayed in the beautiful city of San Cristobal de las Casas, but we also explored a lot more of the state of Chiapas. img_20160805_154246-1jb9et8-300x169Our longest excursion was an overnight trip to Palenque.

The trip one way was supposed to take about five hours but it was closer to six due to the winding roads and low speed limits, that are enforced by speedbump. After we left San Cristobal the temperature increased from about 75 degrees Fahrenheit to 90 with close to 100% humidity.  We left the mountains and drove into the rainforest, although certain parts had been cleared for farming or raising cattle. Finally, after a six-hour car ride we made it to the small city of Palenque. We stayed just outside of the city center in a nice hotel that had a pool and air conditioning. My roommate and I walked into the town to explore it a little bit and went to a pizzeria, while everyone else ate at the hotel. After dinner we all went swimming and then we went to an awful hotel karaoke bar.img_20160820_120414-15r0zqm-300x169

The next morning, we got up at eight and it was almost just as hot as when we arrived the evening before. We ate breakfast and took off toPalenque. The town Palenque is named so because it is next to an ancient Mayan city of the same name. We arrived and I bought a hat and a huge water bottle because I could tell I was going to need it. There were vendors and tourists everywhere. Our tour guide gave us our tickets, we covered ourselves in bug spray and we all went in. At the entrance to the site there is a sign informing visitors that Palenque is a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) heritage site. Basically, that meant if there was ever a war that threatens the site the UN would come in and protect it because it is an important human historical site.

After we climbed a jungle covered hill, we came to a plateau and the trees opened up allowing us to see a grass field before a giant stone edifice. We climbed inside of what is known img_20160825_115957-1hw3f57-300x169as the Temple of the Inscriptions and saw a stone sarcophagus painted red with an arsenic rich mineral. Next we headed to the Palace. The Palace has a large maze of tunnels in it, a courtyard, and a Mayan watchtower unique to Palenque. After climbing through tunnels we emerge on top of the Palace and were able to explore it. These are the only two imposing structures we explored because a majority of the site is still covered by tropical forest. Exploring this pre-Columbus American city was a once in a life time opportunity!

-Casey Smith, Summer 2016