Written January 4, 2016
It seems forever since I posted here. Sorry if anyone is wondering what happened to us. Where have we been, and what have we seen since the last blog post? When I last wrote, we were on Zipolite Beach on the south shore of Mexico, and I was recovering from a cold. At the end of ten days, we left the warm sands and headed east along the coast of the Pacific, spending a night in a gritty town called Juchitan. Moods the next morning were soured when Jalene discovered one of her custom-made earplugs missing, and no amount of searching turned it up. Resorting to foam plugs, she donned her helmet and we headed east. Soon we were in an area forested with wind generators, and a strong crosswind was picking up. Before long the wind was blowing across the road in the neighborhood of 75 mph, probably gusting higher. The trucks coming the other way acted as temporary windbreaks that made it even harder to deal with. This lasted about 30 miles, I’m guessing. The bikes were sometimes leaned over toward the centerline hard enough to scrub the tires as we fought to stay on the road. The best speed seemed to be around 25 mph, letting us maneuver at a speed to stay not just in the lane, but on the road at all. Twice, we came upon semi-trucks that had been blown over and lay across the whole road, and to stop we had to put the sidestands down then pull down hard on that side to keep the bike from blowing over. If either one of us had gone down (both of us nearly did several times) it would have been impossible to successfully right the bike again. Rolling along at slow speed was the safest option, and thankfully we were able to do that until we got out of it. I’ve been riding for about 50 years now, and that was by far the strongest sustained crosswind I’ve ever had to deal with – flat-out scary. Jalene did great, and I’m pretty confident now that she’ll be okay in Patagonia.
That night found us in San Cristobal, where we took a break and spent two nights. A beautiful city, we once again ran into a parade which we enjoyed immensely. It was made up of flatbed trucks, with each one carrying a depiction of one station of the cross – you know, the 3 wise men, the birth, the miracles, the flogging, the crucifixion, etc. The last truck then had Santa Claus with presents and Christmas carols, which seemed a bit jarring and crassly commercial after the very serious “floats” preceding. There is no purity in the world anymore. In between trucks were hundreds of people all dressed up like Halloween, dancing and having a great time. Jalene and I have learned to just go with it and join in the fun.
After that we turned the bikes north toward Palenque, and the huge Mayan ruins site. The road north through Ocosingo has a reputation as one where the locals (aka revolutionaries, Zapatistas) often blockade the roads and demand money, and we found them. The issue is the government mistreatment of the local native Mayan folk. The technique used is to take a board, drive hundreds of nails through it, then lay it down across the road, one in each lane, with the points up. Traffic backs up horribly. If they get what they want, they drag the spiked board out of your way, let you go, and then slide it back. At the first one we ran into, they had traffic backed up about a half mile. Policia, we noticed, were allowed to pass right through (but they did nothing!). We rode up the margin to the head of the line, and the guy asked me for 10 pesos. I said no. He said 10 pesos. I said 10 for both bikes. Okay. A coin went into the bucket and we were through. At the second roadblock we encountered, we rode right up to the front, then glued our front tires to the back of a huge tour bus they had to let through, and so got away for free. Later that day at Palenque, we ran our friend and fellow traveler Claudia, whom we had met in Oaxaca. She is German, and drives a righteous Toyota Land Cruiser diesel wagon that has a pop-up camper top, a serious overland vehicle. They demanded 100 pesos of her, but she refused, finally parting with just 10 and getting through.
We found a campground at Palenque, but the ground was still extremely soggy from drenching weather the previous days. We took a little casita there instead of pitching the tent, then rode the bikes helmetless and in shorts and t-shirts the two kilometers up to the ruins. It felt scandalous and terrific. The Palenque Mayan ruins are a site with over 500 identified structures, but only a couple of dozen have been fully excavated. We were offered a tour but blanched at the price, and went off to fend for ourselves among the excellent interpretive signage. This is a site worth visiting! We were agog at the huge structures, and the details that were still visible etched into the stones. An especially interesting building was one that they had restored on one side, and left completely untouched on the other. A lovely pyramid with artful stonework here, but around the corner it’s just a hillside covered with trees. Ground penetrating radar has helped to reveal hundreds of structures in recent years, indicating a city of vast proportions, with intricate waterworks coming down off the hillsides above. Apparently, Mayan water managers really knew their stuff, and the city had running water everywhere.
After Palenque, we headed to the northeast and the Yucatan Peninsula. The ground quickly flattened out, and we dropped to just a few meters above sea level, and we were never higher than about 15 meters for the next week. We began to see monkey bridges over the highway. They are made by erecting a pair of “telephone poles” on either side of the road, then stringing ropes between them, and stretching net between the ropes, creating a sort of high suspension bridge over the pavement. There are five or six ropes leading up from the ground to the tops of the poles on either side, making it easy for monkeys but extremely difficult for any predators.
It was coming on Christmas, and so Jalene found us a place in Tikul, just south of the city of Merida, where we could relax a few days and take a Christmas break with good wifi for FaceTime. Christmas was a very quiet day for us. We connected with families, catching up on the latest news back home. All seems well, which is always a relief. Maybe even more so for them.
After our Christmas break, we headed up to check out the northern shoreline of the Yucatan, and see if the flamingos there really are pink. And guess what – they are! They look just like the plastic ones that were in our neighbors yard when we were kids (they were so exotic). After a while the road turned to sand, and rather than get ourselves stuck and in trouble with the tide, we turned around and headed back inland to pavement. That night found us in Tizimin, where we found a fabulous and cheap hotel, and got to see another parade, although this one was over in about three minutes. Still, they had those huge rockets, which makes any festival great (for me, at least). The rockets are sticks about 3 feet long, with a rocket tube about two inches in diameter and 8 inches long. They just hold it upright loosely and light it. Goes up a variable height, occasionally not at all, and gives a hugely satisfying boom. They set them off at all hours, and for any or no occasion, which I just love.
The next day we turned southeast and headed for the Caribbean shore. Our route took us through Tulum, which we had visited in 2007. Although I recognized the town, I was glad of our GPS to confirm it, because Tulum has noticeably grown in the scant 8 years since. It’s bigger and busier, but the same flavor still seems to be there. I did recognize a few restaurants we’d eaten at. Time moves on, so did we.
We ate our lunch through a downpour a little further along, finally pulling into Bacalar. We checked out the Green Monkey campground and hostel, but it turned out to be too crowded, and we didn’t want to find out how all those people were going to share two toilets the next morning. So we looked around and found a wet but comfortable campground a little further north that had simple food and a slight high spot for the tent. Turns out that high spot was crucial, as it poured buckets again that evening after we turned in. We heard others arriving back at the campground, and loud consternation over flooded tents and sleeping bags. Time to put the earplugs in.
We packed up our wet things and went to check out Mahahual, which we’d heard some good things about. We found a place called Blue Kay, and they let us pitch the tent for really cheap, plus they had laundry service, showers, a restaurant, the works. New Years Eve was that night, so we signed up for their big party event, too. Seeing as how Jay and I never make it past about 9 or 9:30, we might have thought that one through a little better. The dinner served was outstanding, but then we had to soldier on another two hours until midnight, where some really bad (like, undrinkable) wine and champagne was poured for everyone. We toasted, and then got the hell out of there and climbed into the tent. Next day we rose early and went for another swim in the Caribbean, then watched the town explode as the three cruise ships that docked during the night disgorged boatloads of people to spend the day in town. By about 6 that evening, the boat people were all magically gone, and we had a very quiet town again, which led to discovering where the locals ate. Jalene had excellent crepes, while I found the busiest taqueria.
Finally it was time to leave sleepy Mahahual and head back west to rejoin our route south to Guatemala. The rain started as we finished packing that morning, and we had a soggy first hour until we got to Chetumal, where it dried out but stayed cloudy. We gassed up, as we had been told there was no fuel available on the trip across the Yucatan to Escarcega where we would spend the night. Turns out that information was garbage, there is gas at several points along the way. Actually, at no point anywhere in Mexico were we ever far from a fuel station. Pemex stations are very frequent and usually have a convenience store attached. The day improved as we rode along, and by the time we got to the hotel in Ecscarcega, it was full sun and hot. I took the opportunity to spread out the tent and camping gear to completely dry. Dinner was tacos de pastor at our favorite-tacos-so-far taqueria next door, where they mince pineapple into the taco, and the pork is tender and very moist. You can watch the lady behind the counter make the tortillas as they are needed, and so when you get your food it is steaming hot, much too hot to pick up!
Here I shall stop, as our story takes a sharp twist tomorrow. Stay tuned to find out how our adventurers fared when we rejoin them by the empty roadside, west of Escarcega.