4 mins

Mexican ruins on a budget

Wander Woman, Marie Javins, on the cheapest way to get to Mexico's famous ruins

Palenque (Marie Javins)

Hotel omelette, your mediocrity is exquisite in its shimmering puddle of grease and your contrasting flat browns and amarillos.

Yes, I'd just composed an ode to a bad omelette. But that seemed only part of the appropriate answer to this flat, yellow, overcooked disappointment on my plate at my Mexico City budget hotel. I put down the exact amount of pesos to cover the cost and fled the hotel restaurant for the cute coffee shop down the street.

I wasn't in the best part of town for an interesting Mexican breakfast. When I'd been at a different hotel on my previous trip to town, I'd noticed all kinds of sidewalk cooks hawking their wares in the morning. But I hadn't needed them at that hotel, because breakfast had been included and delicious. Here in the central business district, the rooms were a step up but the breakfast a long way down.

I ordered some eggs and coffee at the cute café down the block, and enjoyed my meal while a Doors CD played on a loop over a speaker. This seems like it could be annoying, but actually, it hit the spot on a sunny Mexico City morning with a brilliant blue sky peeking at me from past the glass doors to the restaurant. The day felt optimistic. I did too, oddly. I don't know if this is a byproduct of being away from the uncertainties back home all summer, or to do with me quitting sugar on the advice of a San Miguel doctor.

Feeling great is feeling great, I decided, whether it was caused by the sunshine and a cafe or by eating healthier food.

Today was the day between when I’d left my month-long stay in San Miguel de Allende and my budget-airline flight to the Palenque ruins in the south. It was also the day I was supposed to make my second attempt on Creepy Doll Island, Isla de las Munecas. I'd even pulled 1,000 pesos out of the ATM in preparation for this. I had a metro ticket and my light rail ticket. But last night, I'd given it some thought and concluded that I didn't really have time to do this today:

•  Take the metro to Taxquenas at the end of the line.

•  Take the tren ligero to Periferico. 

•  Catch a pesero to Cuemanco and find the embarcadero

•  Convince a punt guy to pole me to Isla de las Munecas and to do it there and back in three hours so I didn't go over the 1,000 pesos.

•  Sit with him for three hours making small talk. 

•  Return, find the pesero or a taxi back to the light rail. 

•  Take the light rail back to the metro. Take the metro back to town.  

Plus, I had to do a Skype interview for the Thor movie book at 11 am.

Forget it, I thought. If I see the creepy dolls some other time, great. If not, I'll collect my own and decorate the base of the Pulaski Skyway in New Jersey.

Instead, I did the interview, then walked to the Misslene, the hair salon I'd gone to on my last trip to Mexico City, made an appointment, left for the anthropology museum (realised that when people get on the metro in Mexico City during rush hour, it's uncomfortably packed), then went back to the salon for a haircut. I picked up a takeaway salad on the way back to my room.

All in all, I’d had a simple and successful day in Mexico City. But best of all, I had accepted reason and hadn’t gone chasing creepy dolls all over Xochimilco. And now I had a good reason to come back to Mexico City.

The next morning, I got up at nutty-o'clock and didn't shower. I just closed up shop and checked out of the hotel, pulling my bag through puddles in the dark to the Mexico City metro.

I had been worrying the metro might be too crowded for me to get my luggage onto a car, so I made sure to board by 6:30am. The trains were still surprisingly crowded, though not unbearably so, and I let one train go on without me. In New York, I would have barreled in, bag and all, but that's home, where I know a lot more about what’s considered acceptable.

I took Metro Line 1 to Observatorio stop, where I promptly got lost trying to find the Poniente bus terminal. It's right behind the metro but I didn't see any signs. I finally found it with the help of a vendor who spotted me looking confused and lost. I bought a ticket on the shuttle to Toluca Airport. I was flying on VivaAeroBus, a budget airline, and they fly out of Toluca, near Mexico City. When you fly budget, you sometimes pay in inconvenience.

The fare in this case was US$60, which is why I went to Toluca. Of course, it doesn't totally work that way once they get done adding in all the "options", like "Do you want your plane to have wings for the entire trip?" The fare probably ended up being about a $100, but it was still a pretty good bargain given the price of the coach for the same trip, and how long it would have taken.

I'd looked up the bus on the other end at Villahermosa Airport and learned the company ADO has a shuttle at 25 minutes past every hour, and the journey is 2.5 hours. The plane was delayed on the runway a half-hour, so when we landed at 12:12, I was reasonably sure I wasn't making the 12:25 shuttle to Palenque. That was going to mess up my plans. I wanted to go to the ruins this afternoon so I'd have tomorrow free for something else, but the ruins at Palenque close at 5pm.

The shuttle turned out to wait for the plane, so although I was first one off and my luggage showed up instantly, and I scampered to the ADO counter, it didn't matter in the end.

"That way, out there," said the woman behind the counter. She didn't ask for money, just motioned me off. Baffled, I walked around, asked some security guys who pointed me back to the counter, and eventually found an ADO shuttle bus with no driver and no apparent destination. A pair of Catalonians on holiday approached.

"Do you know where this bus goes?"

"Palenque," said one.

So we all got on and hoped he was right. The driver eventually boarded and drove us away. I wasn't sure we were going to Palenque until an hour later when I saw a sign that said "Palenque 33 KM."

Our driver was a speed demon, so we arrived in less than two hours. I checked my bag in the bus station and caught a colectivo (minibus) across the street. It took me straight to the Palenque ruins. A freelance guide rode the bus with me. Guides are pretty expensive in Palenque, something like fifty bucks.

 "Do you need a guide?"

 "No, I have no money left after spending it all." My pesos earmarked for the dolls were long gone. He laughed and wished me a good day.

On, into the ruins then.

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