A Memorable Encounter: Palenque, Mexico

Rainbow Gathering

The Rainbow Gathering in Palenque, Mexico

After travelling through Mexico for a month, I felt I’d experienced a good dose of everything; life in the big city – Mexico City – which happens to be the most populated in Latin America, the vast array of beaches along the Pacific Coast, tripe tacos, lethal shots of Mezcal and lavish celebrations on the night the world was supposed to end- thankfully it never did, for my most memorable encounter was yet to come.

Playa Carrizalillo

One of the beautiful beaches along the Pacific coast

I had decided to visit the jungle town of Palenque, for I’d heard great things, including talk of a Rainbow Gathering that was taking place. Quite what this was at that stage I didn’t know, but I decided to ask about it when I arrived at the train station and the next thing I knew, I was sitting on a combi with a bunch of scruffy-looking hippies who were heading to the same place. After an hour, we arrived in a beautiful remote setting with no cars, no buildings and no sound, or at least not until we made our way into the heart of the jungle, where I suddenly found myself gazing out over hundreds of half-naked people who were all either singing, playing instruments, dancing around a large fire or resting peacefully on blankets. That was my first taste of the Rainbow Gathering, what was to come was a whole other experience.

Rainbow Gathering Palenque

Aboard the Rainbow combi

After spending the first night on the ground with nothing to cover me, I woke up to find people bathing naked in the river and couldn’t resist the urge to join them. It was at that very moment that I suddenly understood why so many people had made the trek here; it was a place you could feel liberated, where you could do whatever you wanted and nobody would bat an eyelid. I soon got into the singing and dancing, the walking around naked at all hours of day and night and even the chanting, which was to create a ‘positive energy’ around food and drink. The most impressive part was how well this community functioned with such basic tools for survival, for they had managed to create a kitchen, where hordes of volunteers would help prepare meals for everyone, a theatre and, undoubtedly the most inventive, an ‘earth-pipe’ which enabled you to smoke marijuana through the ground. Absolute genius. You were never short of anything you needed at the Rainbow Gathering either, for they had a trading circle and a system whereby you simply had to shout what you wanted followed by the word ‘connection’ and within minutes, that item would be brought to you. It amazed me, and I still don’t understand how it worked, but it worked every time.

Rainbow Gathering dinner

Dinner & doobs

After a few days, I was hairy, smelly and had started to acquire dreadlocks, but I’d never felt happier in my life. Returning to the ‘real world’ was a shock to the system and even now I find myself longing to be back in the middle of nowhere with those crazy hippies.

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A Million Butterflies

Monarch Butterflies

Standing amongst the butterflies

Between the months of October and March, the Canadian Monarch Butterfly makes the lengthy journey from east of the Rocky Mountains to Zitácuaro in Mexico, where it spends the winter in forests of pine.

Monarch Butterflies

The beautiful Monarch Butterfly

It’s by no means a straightforward journey for anyone who wants to witness this incredible natural process either, which I discovered when I began to make my way there from Mexico City; it involved one bus to the town of Zitácuaro, followed by a colectivo up to the mountains, a taxi ride and finally a two-hour uphill trek in the stifling heat. However, I can safely say that it was worth every minute, for when I did finally arrive at the top with my travelling partner, Rory, and our lovely old Mexican tour guide, I was absolutely blown away by what I saw. Every inch of the sky was filled with these magnificent black and orange winged creatures, which darted back and forth in the air in an attempt to find a tree to rest on that wasn’t already entirely occupied by other butterflies.

Butterflies Zitacuaro

A butterfly-filled tree

Our tour guide walked away at this point to let us enjoy the moment in peace and as Rory wandered off to explore the forest, I simply sat on a rock enjoying this splendid vision and listening to the soft, delicate fluttering of wings.

Tour guide Zitacuaro

Our lovely tour guide