Finally the time came, and we bid farewell to Mexico City headed to the northern region of Veracruz (the state, not the city) to a small town called Papantla.
The only problem we had was this.
It’s only a 4-5 hour journey and even to try and make this an overnight bus ride (the latest bus is at 22:30) was going to be difficult.
By attempt it we did, so around 3:30 in the morning we pulled into the small Papantla bus station with the sky pitch black and the dawn some hours away!
There were few options, so we found a wooden bench each, and lay down for a few hours sleep.
As the Sun rose, so did we, off in search of the hotel we’d booked earlier (Papantla didn’t seem flushed with options) and after rounding a bend or two we found it pretty quickly.
Fortunately for us their ‘reception’ was open.
Unfortunately for us, they didn’t appear to have our booking and tried to charge us double the online fee!
We eventually sorted a room closer to the agreed price (although we never got a room with air-con as originally promised), dumped our packs and began to search out some breakfast and also the ‘Tajin Hotel’ as it is from behind this hotel that apparently the colectivos to El Tajin start their journey.
A quick breakast of sweet pastries in the towns main plaza before we found the correct colectivo, and we were on our way.
On the way out of town we suddenly found ourselves shrouded in mist, but rather than be disappointing, I began to think how cool (mysterious or mystical) the ruins might look!
The colectivo drops you off right at the main entrance (it has a big arched entrance making it difficult to miss), and after a short 10 minute walk, we were at the main entrance ready to check the place out.
There was nobody else about, and thankfully that mist we’d driven through earlier was still hanging about, if much thinner.
Had we been any later, we probably would have had blue skies overhead, as it certainly wasn’t long before the Sun was poking through and the place began to get pretty steamy.
What has long distinguished El Tajin from other ruins is its unique ‘Niche Pyramids’ and it was immediately on entering the grounds proper that we spied the first, and not long after that we saw the second, probably the most famous location within the whole site.
It was great to wander around unmolested by urchins hawking their wares, in fact the few we’d sighted on arrival were only setting up as we strolled on by.
The layout of the ruins was very open, making it easy to wander around, the beautifully manicured lawns certainly helped as well and the fact that unlike Teotihuacan or Xochicalco, the majority of this place was off limits to climbing, all combined to mean that we didn’t actually need all that long to take it all in.
Towards the back of the site there was a slight change in the terrain, with a lightly wooded area as well as a small rise which housed a few more temples.
It also offered us the best viewing location from which to take in the site.
The deeper we explored, the more apparent the reason for the ban on climbing, as some of the ancient structures really did look quite rickety.
At the rear of one pyramid we found a team hard at work, but whether they were archaeologists or merely maintenance crew, it was too difficult to tell.
There was one section of temple definitely restored/recreated, with its brightly coloured section sitting in direct contrast to the weathered stone that surrounded it.
In truth, neither of us really liked, nor saw the point of it.
It certainly paled in comparison to some of the actual (original) carvings that remained, their detail and sharpness despite their age, very striking.
The serenity of the site was eventually broken by the at first the only lightly irritating sound of a humming motor. Eventually revealed as a ride on lawnmower, the closer it got, its echo bounced off the towering ruins shattering what little remained of the peace.
We took this as a sign to depart, our final minutes spent taking in the sites ball courts.
Approaching the entrance, we realised it wasn’t a moment too soon, as a raucous school group arrived, ready to unleash their enthusiasm on the impressive El Tajin.
* Collectivos to ‘El Tajin’ run from the street (16 de Septembre) just behind the hotel and cost $15.00 pesos for the 10-15 minute trip.
* Rather than wait for the bus, we were able to share a taxi with other locals waiting at the bus stop for $15.00 pesos per person getting us back to Papantla much faster!