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Women’s & Children’s Health Camp: Excursion Day to Palenque! Chiapas, Mexico March 17th, 2017

The sun rises earlier here than back in the States, however, we were already awake and in the van while it was still dark. Although we were not too awake, everyone was looking forward to our final full day in Chiapas; our excursion day to Palenque Mayan ruins!

The Mexican state of Chiapas has so much natural beauty to explore and is one of the prettiest states, but we had to vote on which excursion we wanted to see the most. With very little debate, we all agreed that the trip to see the waterfalls and the ancient Mayan ruins would be the most worthy, despite the 5 hours it would take to get there--one way! We were forewarned about the length of time and the uncertainty about the smoothness of the roads, and it was certainly confirmed that sleeping in a van going down winding, speed-bump ridden roads truly was not much of a viable option. After a few hours, we stopped at a tourist-y roadside restaurant for breakfast, although most of us were too nauseas to actually eat. However, it was refreshing to be out of the van and recenter ourselves. We used the rest of our ride to admire the scenery that Chiapas had to offer and we tried to get to know each other more than we already did (which was not possible after the week).

It was a dazzling and sunny morning now. Our first destination was Las Cascadas de Agua Azul, and by then we were all ready to get out and be free. The ride was worth it. After noticing how much hotter and tropical it was compared to San Cristobal, we walked a few steps and there we saw the loveliest soft turquoise water. We were astounded by the beauty of the many little waterfalls. The water really was as vivid and distinct as it was claimed. The weather was perfect; the sun felt good on our skin, the breeze was gentle, and the turquoise waterfalls sparkled in the sun. Our camp director, David, let us know how long we were going to stay and let us split up into small groups to explore at our leisure. After our hard work, it was time to vacation!

We were greeted by locals selling us coconuts, ripe bananas, and lots of other food. Little children rushed up to us with big eyes, begging us to buy cacao, plantain chips, and pancake bread in little baggies. All of us, in our own little groups, began following the path upwards to see different levels of the waterfalls and its surrounding nature. Some of us went to some semi-isolated pools in the upper waterfall area and waded around, which was at first cold, but refreshing. The others just took their time walking along the path and stopping at stands to look at colorful handicraft, trinkets made of jade, jewelry and more. Some others enjoyed all the fresh fruit stands as they leisurely walked upwards, trying whole ripe mangoes on a stick, chilled coconuts with a straw, and watermelon sliced in front of us and put in a cup. Our time in this peaceful retreat was over before we realized it, and we headed back to our meeting spot.

After another 40-minute ride, we were at Misol Há, our next destination. We ordered at El Restaurante Misol Há, and while our food was getting cooked, we went to go see the waterfall only a couple hundred feet away. It was huge; more than 100 feet tall, with water crashing into the pool below. We took a few photos and proceeded to walk through a path behind the waterfall. Words cannot describe the beauty of it all. It was magical. To see what glorious beauty surround us is a part of this volunteering experience. Not only does this expand our horizons of how we see the world around us in terms of poverty, human rights, and justice, we are also able to witness the magical beauty of nature and our world.

We came back to the outdoor restaurant to the covered food waiting for us. We quickly finished so we could head to the final and main part of our trip: the legendary Mayan Ruins of Palenque. We felt that this was the best part of the trip. The local staff kindly arranged us an English-speaking tour guide, so not only were we looking at the beautiful architecture that was left by the Mayans, but also learning about the history and culture behind it. We were especially lucky that day, because the temple of the Red Queen’s Chamber was open for visitors and we were allowed to go inside and peek at her coffin. Her coffin was still red inside from the naturally red poison the Mayans had painted her body in to protect her from trespassers. It was mind-boggling to see the Mayans' brilliant minds and advances in science with our own eyes and to actually see the ancient evidence.

We walked around and our last climb was up the Temple of the Cross. It was exhausting, but once we got to the top the view was remarkable. We could see all the other temples. We learned that there were hundreds of temples and buildings beyond what our eyes could see because they were all underneath the thick, vast jungle, but x-ray cameras detected them. It was amazing to imagine this abandoned, powerful empire, swallowed up thousands of years later by the jungle. After a few more photos, it was time to go. Palenque park was closing, and although we were sad about it, when we got to the van, we realized exactly how tired we were. The trip back to the hotel was long. We practically ran out of the van and went straight to bed to be ready to enjoy our last morning in the charming, centuries-old town of San Cristóbal de las Casas.

"When we first arrived at the Agua Azul, I was shocked that water could be so beautiful. It was honestly the most beautiful body of water I have ever seen. The Mayan ruins at Palenque were also equally astounding. I was really grateful to have a tour guide that could provide us with the history behind each temple and the common beliefs of the Mayan people that existed hundreds of centuries ago. Although it was a workout to reach the tip of all those temples, it was an experience that was well worth it." - Kristal Okeke, Student Team Member | Humanity First - Texas Chapter

"The excursion day was really fun. The waterfalls were very beautiful and the weather was perfect. I enjoyed going to Palenque and learning about the history. The tour guy was very knowledgeable and it was very interesting to see how the the Mayan lived and the things they believed in. The Architecture was done really well and it was fun to walk like a snake on the steps." - Sania Razzak, Student Team Member | Humanity First - Texas Chapter​​

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