After experiencing this trip at this time of year, I encourage
you to take this trip at this time of year when the weather in the
United States is the coldest it will be all year, and the temperature
on this trip will average 70 degrees, with little variation in the evenings!
The hotel lobbys and restaurants in the jungles of Palenque
have no walls, as is true for Hawaii, as you know, so this area is always
warm or hot. Beware of traveling here in the summer months...very
hot at the Palenque Mayan ruins, but the jungle bungalows are air-conditioned
for great sleeping, and the train is air-conditioned for great travel.
Rest assured, however, if you take an S & S Tour to any destination,
Sue only schedules her trips in the best weather for the region.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Yucatan peninsula
lived its own "gold fever" with the industry of the henequen
(sisal) fiber ('binder twine' to an old farmboy like me). Hundreds
of kilometers of rails were built among the lush vegitation of the Mayan
jungle to link the wealthy sisal haciendas with their plantations and
with the prosperous cities of Merida and Campeche.
Without the draw of the Mayan ruins, however, this train
could not make ends meet. However, with both the draw of this
luxury train and the sites that can be seen within a short walk or
bus ride from the train, the owner is encouraged by its ridership.
Add to this economical equation the fact that the Mexican cities
at both ends of this train's route are served by international airlines.
Finally, add in the fact that there is no passenger service on
this route, and very little freight travel, it makes for a unique and
pleasureable journey for the train traveler.
Day 1-Travel by air to Villahermosa
and the Hotel
Cencali. For specifics on my air travel, see How I
above. On the flight to Mexico City, I filled out two
cards for entering Mexico. (1) Customs Declaration, and (2) Migratory
form for Foreign Tourists. It requires your passport number.
One portion of one which needs to kept with your passport and brought
back through US Customs.
This United flight had the best airplane food I've had in
years with a choice of pasta or chicken for lunch.
I read a copy of "Budget Travel" on the plane and noticed
that a new feature of the magazine will be "Reader Report." To
introduce this future column, Editor Erik Torkells says, "One of the
most fulfilling parts of travel is telling people about what you found,"
and inviting readers to report their great finds in hotels, restaurants,
or quirky shops, or a photograph with 500 words. You may want to
send in a report, as I plan to do, to firstname.lastname@example.org, or click
"Get your story in BT magazine" at BudgetTravel.msnbc.com.
The United flight to Mexico was uneventful, thankfully, with
the movie, "Under the Tuscan Sun." I had a 2-hour layover and
the flight to Villahermosa was to leave at 7:30 pm, so it was dark when
I entered the Mexicana A319-3. I was struck by how much brighter
this plane was than the same plane under United ownership. It had
white ceiling and sides and was well lighted. Karen (stewardess)
said it was a new plane. Blue and green decor with white "Mexicana"
I had been the only guy in the entire Mexico City airport
with a Hawaiian shirt. There were many suits and dark colors and plain
colored shirts. I surmised that the other fellow with Bermuda
shorts and two straw hats was from the states as well. (It turned
out he was a great guy on our tour.). All seat packet materials
were in Spanish (of course), but I found a listing of hotels with pictures
and was pleased to see a pool picture takes at dusk of the Cencali hotel
where I would stay in Villahermosa. The material at least had page
numbers in English ;), as well as the hotel room numbers later on the trip.
I had an asile seat and NO ONE between me and the window...two
free seats! Twenty-five degrees C. in Villahermosa/74 degrees
F. at 8:45 p.m.
Another credit point is given to United for having headset
plugs so I could hear the movie and music. Mexicana had no such
Mexicana Airlines had "meals" on the ticket, but it turned
out to be no more than soft drinks (with ice if you requested it) and
JAPANESE peanuts. They tasted much the same as Jimmy Carter's
version, but had smooth edible shells. .7 oz. of peanuts isn't
much of a supper!
After passing through Mexico City, I read that the airport
was a 'Free Internet hotspot!' (I tried it on the way back home,
and could get no signal in the airport as advertised) You can check
for free hotspots (if you have a wireless card in your laptop) by going
to movilspot.com or hotspotlist.com for International locations.
A van driver met me and two others on this tour, and took
us to the hotel. There we met Sue Stilwell, got our room assignments,
and met for dinner in the hotel restaurant.