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Monday, 6 September 2010

Agua Azul y Misol Ha

The whole time I was travelling through Chiapas I was in awe of the scenery. It is well known for being one of the country's most attractive areas of outstanding natural beauty, and the reason for this is the abundance of wilderness engulfed by a constant carpet of greens and turquoises which are a reflection of the rich fertile ground. Lakes (like the Lakes of Montebello, which unfortunately, I didn't have time to go and see, but I hope to go and visit soon) and rivers are everywhere: the climate is tropical and the rains that help to keep these lands fertile also create some spectacular water features. There are many waterfalls; many of which are easily accessible thanks to local co-operative groups which have created roads, pathways and trails leading into the jungles where some of these natural wonders are hidden away.

There were so many different things that I wanted to see , but we decided on visiting two of the better known waterfalls that exist in Chiapas, on the way to the ancient Mayan Ruins in Palenque.

First of all we made our way to Cataratas de Agua Azul (Spanish for "Blue-water Falls") which is located about 69kms away from Palenque on the road that leads to San Cristobal de las Casas, which is where we had just come from.

Rain plays an important part in the many spectacular water attractions – the thundering cascades of Agua Azul and the 35m jungle waterfall of Misol-Ha. June until October is the rainy season here, so it had been raining quite a lot of the time before we made the trip to Chiapas. One of the effects of this is that due to the high volume of rain these areas lose part of their beauty as the water gets murky, though the power of the waterfalls is magnified. So although Agua Azul is famous for its turquoise and blue water, when we arrived it was full of sediment from the heavy rains, which left it very brown looking. The local people told us that our timing was unfortunate, because normally the river is a series of crystalline clear turquoise pools. The exquisite blue color of the water is caused by calcium carbonate and magnesium hydroxide, which are leached from the surrounding limestone. When light travels through this mineral laden water, the entire color spectrum, with the exception of blue, is absorbed. The light bounces off the bottom of the river and reflects back as a rich shade of turquoise.Nonetheless, the waterfall and the surrounding jungle are stunningly beautiful.

We arrived at Agua Azul on a bus, which dropped us off at the bottom of the the mountain top, from where the river descends. There is a trail which winds its way up the hillside along side the river. From the waterfall, you can see far off into the distance, into miles and mile of untouched lush green jungle. The bottom part of the river is lined with local indigenous people selling various different things , food, clothes and souvenirs to the passing tourists, but as you scale your way on up, the river winds its way back into the uninhabited jungle. Swimming is permitted in certain pools along the river. Other areas have signs which warn against it due to strong currents and the fact that many of the pools are suprisingly deep.

We moved on from Agua Azul to Misol Ha (meaning "Streaming Water") which is located in the Ejido San Miguel, Municipality of Salto de Agua,on the way to the ruins in Palenque. The falls are managed by a local cooperative composed of local residents and farmers, so around the area there are some services such as toilets a few places to eat and some lodging in rustic cabins. The river falls off the edge of a 120 foot cliff into a deep pool surrounded by lush vegetation. The water at the foot of the waterfall is 45 feet deep. I have never seen a waterfall of that scale before and it is truly spectacular. The mist from the water crashing into the pool below fills the air, and whether you swim in the water or not you get absolutely soaked. It was so refreshing considering how hot it was when we went, the sun was splitting the sky all day.

When we arrived we followed a small walkway which takes you behind the curtain of water created by the waterfall and into the caves behind. The air is filled with the mist of fall and the roar of the water tumbling down into the pool below. Misol Ha, like Agua Azul, is buried deep into the forests of rainforest in the Chiapas highlands. The surrounding view is breathtaking.

After taking in Misol Ha and its surroundings, we boarded the bus again to make our way towards the place which I had been anticipating most in the whole of my trip to Chiapas, the ancient Mayan ruins of Palenque.............

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