I woke up at 3:30am in San Cristobal de las Casas. It was raining. I was hungover. I sleepily packed up my backpack and stumbled out of my hotel room to meet the tour group, silently cursing the early hour. Because of demonstrations by the Zapatists in the mountains, we needed to leave at 4am in order to make good time towards Palenque before the activists began blocking the roads.
These types of political demonstrations that close main roadways are common in Chiapas, Carlos told us, as the Zapatists protest the Mexican government’s infringement on indigenous rights in the region. Last March, a tourist bus was even fired upon on these roads, but he told us it was more likely people trying to discredit the Zapatists, perhaps even acting on behalf of the government itself.
Whatever the case, I wasn’t feeling thrilled about our early morning, rainy, winding journey through the mountains. The first four hours or so were almost unbearable – the van hurled through the rain at top speed, making hairpin turn after hairpin turn, flinging us around and making it impossible to sleep. As someone who doesn’t get motion sickness, even I was feeling queasy. We had to make several stops so one girl in our group could puke. No one was happy.
The only thing spurring us on was the promise of two stops, both at waterfalls where we could enjoy a swim. Rain be damned! We were anxious to get off the bus and have some adventure.
Our first stop was one I’d been looking forward to since I first Googled all the highlights my tour included. Have you ever heard of the Cascadas de Aguas Azules? The name means “blue waters waterfall.” Watch this video. Effing gorgeous water, tier after tier of falls and swimming areas to cool off in. Amazing!
But this was the Cascadas de Aguas Azules when we arrived.
The rains had let up, but they had wreaked havoc on the water quality. It was definitely not blue…..more like a muddy brown. The higher we climbed, the browner the falls got, and because of the heavy rain, some of the trails and viewing platforms were even flooded.
I’m sure these falls are absolutely epic when it’s clear outside. I’ve seen that video, I know it’s possible! It just kinda looked more like the flash floods you see on the local news than, you know, paradise. We were just unlucky. And grumpy from our horrific 4am bus ride. But alas, we had another waterfall to get to, so after half-heartedly exploring the Cascadas de Aguas Marrones we loaded back on the van and headed to our next stop – Misol Ha Waterfall.
The rain was mostly done at this point, but the heavy clouds still lingered and we weren’t feeling hopeful, but as soon as we jumped out of the van and heard the thundering sound of the falls, we were intrigued. Following the path, suddenly the trees parted and we were treated with the massive, roaring Misol-Ha Waterfall with a huge, empty pool at the base of it.
About 8 of us in the group changed excitedly and charged into the water. It may have been muddy water, but it was deep enough for a nice dip, as long as you didn’t let the heavy current sweep you away.
It wasn’t until afterwards when we saw a picture of what the falls normally look like that we finally felt grateful for the rain. Swimming and relaxing underneath the powerful rushing water was so energizing, and we all promptly forgot about the early wake up and bus ride from hell. All we could do was marvel at the power of nature and the ability for places like this to take our breath away, despite our uncomfortable journey to get there.
Relaxing on a rock under the falls, I suddenly realized it was Monday morning. A lot of the people I know back in the states would be just arriving at work, settling into another week of sitting in an office. They may have had more sleep than I did the night before, and they probably hadn’t struggled to keep down their breakfast on a winding mountain road for several hours before the sun even rose.
But they also weren’t sitting underneath a gorgeous waterfall, feeling the mist dance across their face and feeling so incredibly alive.
I felt grateful for my circumstances, but mostly I felt really proud of myself. Proud that I made the decision to do something completely unconventional and travel the world for an extended period of time. Proud that I saved my money and took action towards the life of adventure I’ve been dreaming of since I was a kid. Proud that I’m doing all I can to find a way to make it permanent.
Proud that I’m not settling for anything less than an extraordinary life.
I hope that whoever you are, wherever you’re reading this, you can say the same. Or at least, I hope you’re taking steps towards whatever it is that is calling you away from the same boring routine that life can so easily drag you into.
I hope you too have moments when you look around and realize that you’re spending your Monday morning doing exactly what you want to be doing.
Adventure: Visiting Cascadas de Aguas Azules and Misol-Ha Waterfall
Where: Both sites are located in Chiapas, the southernmost state in Mexico. Aguas Azules is about an hour and a half from Palenque, and Misol-Ha is within half an hour from the town.
Getting There: We went with a tour group that our leader negotiated transport with from San Cristóbal de las Casas, and ending in Palenque. This trip is best done as a day trip from Palenque however as coming from the south, it is very possible to run into Zapatist political demonstrations that could block the roads. Lonely Planet has great info about how to get to both sites on your own.
Cost: It was 40 pesos ($2.50 US) to enter the Cascadas de Aguas Azules and 30 pesos ($1.85 USD) to enter Misol-Ha.
- – I’m tired of telling everyone to get there early. That is the moral of every travel story. But seriously, get there early for both sites and avoid the crowds.
- – Maaaaaybe don’t visit Aguas Azules after it rains……it’s not quite as picturesque.
- – Swimming at Misol-Ha was great, but the current was quite strong. I wouldn’t recommend jumping in unless you’re a strong swimmer. I held on to one of the submerged ropes they supplied most of the time.
- – At Misol-Ha, head up the path behind the falls, which takes you under the thundering water (or trickling I guess if it’s the dry season). It offers another perspective of the pool below.
- – Take some Dramamine if you’re traveling from San Cristóbal to Palenque. Just do it.