Monday, May 02, 2005

MEXICO, DAYS 29-30: Jungle waterfalls at Agua Azul, Misol-Ha and Agua Clara

Within an hour of Palenque we found some absolutely sublime natural swimming holes, all of them surrounded by tropical jungle, and several of them at the base of magnificent waterfalls. All 3 of the ones we visited have varying degrees of tourist infrastructure developing around them, including admission fees, restaurants, and in some cases camping and/or cabañas for spending the night.

The first one we came to was Misol-Ha, a single impressive waterfall cascading into a deep, wide pool, surrounded by tall cliffs. This picturesque spot was used as a movie set for the classic Schwarzenegger film “Predator”, according to our guide book. Our swim here in the cool water was extremely refreshing after spending the first half of the hot, muggy day climbing around the ruins at Palenque. Eventually a tour-bus arrived and a couple dozen older German-speaking tourists descended upon us. Since the scenic area was rather small and now rather crowded, we decided to hit the road.

The beautiful waterfall and swimming hole at Misol-Ha; this was also used as a set in the movie "Predator"

The swimming hole, as seen from behind the waterfall at Misol-Ha

Rob swims under the Misol-Ha waterfall

Carley at Misol-Ha

Our next stop was Agua Clara (clear water), a mostly undeveloped and tranquil stretch of the Río Shumulhá characterized by stunningly clear, turquoise water. While there were no waterfalls here, we enjoyed the fantastic scenery and the beautiful swimming areas, as well as walking across the rickety suspension-style footbridge that seemed like something right out of an Indiana Jones movie. The only tourist amenities here were a campground and a restaurant. Upon arrival we were told by one of the workers that the restaurant would be open until 6:00. Yet when we showed up to eat around 5:00, the same worker said “Well, the restaurant IS open but there’s no food today.” Turned out there was no food, only a very limited supply of room-temperature beverages. Carley considered asking the man if he was Nicaraguan since this reminded her of her two years there. Fijate que no hay… Nevertheless, with its complete lack of any other tourists, we decided Agua Clara was the spot for a good night’s sleep in the tent. No howler monkeys kept us awake at night here, but the din from the local version of crickets was ear-piercing and almost deafening for a few hours.

Agua Clara, with the suspension bridge in the background

The view of Agua Clara from the suspension bridge

Crossing the rickety suspension bridge at Agua Clara

The next morning we made our final stop of interest in Mexico, at the spectacular series of waterfalls and pools at Agua Azul (blue water). Wow! This place is really a natural wonder, with jaw-dropping scenery everywhere you look. A popular tourist attraction, the site includes accommodations as well as several dozen comedores (eateries) all up and down the path beside the river. Notwithstanding the large number of tourists, Rob’s favorite swimming hole of all was here, right at the base of one large waterfall and at the top of another smaller cascade. Truly inspiring!

Our favorite swimming hole in Mexico, at Agua Azul

A swimming hole at Agua Azul

A swimming hole at Agua Azul

Looking downstream from the top of the falls at Agua Azul

Sometimes the Mexicans would be better off not trying to translate into English! (at Agua Azul)

After a morning of hiking and swimming at Agua Azul, it was time to head for the Guatemalan border. It was certainly tempting to extend our stay in Mexico; all we would have needed to do is call the Mexican car insurance agency (and dig a little deeper into our savings, of course). However, it was reassuring to know that our favorite regions of Mexico would be so close to our future home in Guatemala. After spending the night in the large town of Comitán (not unpleasant at all, but nothing to write home about) we arrived at the border around lunchtime on April 20.