Time for some drama
The second week that Tessa and Egbert joined me had a decent dose of drama. The van had some issues making a 30 minute drive up a mountain take 3 hours; we encountered the first roadblocks (with armed/masked guys); and to finish it nicely I got into my first car accident. But in between all that drama there was plenty of time for fun.
Last post we were in Tuxtla. We had noticed that my front tires were pretty badly worn down (again!). Somehow the alignment wasn’t done properly in Alaska and I had been to stubborn to notice it on time. Now the only solution was two new tires. So Egbert and I went to find a good tire place while Tessa went for another run. We found a very modern tire center 5 minutes away from our hotel that could give the van a nice new set of tires and do some alignment magic. With the van maintenance done it was time for some sightseeing. Half an hour out of Tuxtla is the Canyon de Sumidero. The canyon is 13km long and has cliffs up to 1km high. We took a speedboat tour through the canyon stopping for a crocodiles, vultures, waterfalls and caves. From the canyon it’s supposed to be only a half an hour drive to San Cristobal. I say supposed because the road goes from 500m to 2400m. When we started the road one of the radiator fans was still working, quite soon neither did. This meant stopping every 5 minutes for 20 minutes to let the van cool down. During the stops I had some time to see if I could engineer the shit out of this problem. Eventually I managed to get one of the fans running by short-circuiting a temperature sensor. This did mean that the fan was always on, also if the engine was not running. So when we arrived in San Cristobal after 3 hours I did have to remove my bypass to prevent the battery from dying. We drove up to a very pretty hostel near the city center that let us park the van in the courtyard. The courtyard was exactly as big as my van so people had to climb around it to get to their rooms, but nobody really seemed to care. While in San Cristobal I also wanted to meet up with Joel who lives here for about a year to work on reforestation in the communities around San Cristobal. Joel joined us for dinner at the hostel for a good dinner (with green chorizo) and afterwards we went for drinks in town.
The next day in San Cristobal I spend the whole morning fixing the fans while Tessa and Egbert went to explore the city. I pulled the fans out and cleaned them thoroughly and also put some effort in the temperature sensor contacts. In the end I got both fans to run again. Only question would be whether the sensor was working too. But if not I could always bypass it again. So for the afternoon I joined Tessa and Egbert in town. For that evening Joel had invited us to come over for dinner at his guest family. We brought some dulces for desert. The food was some very tasty local food! Jummy!
After San Cristobal it was time to head down towards the Yucatan peninsula, more precisely the ruins at Palenque. The road between San Cristobal and Palenque is infamous for its bad quality, the enormous amount of speed bumps and the high likelihood of road blocks. But the views are supposed to be great and there had not been many problems with roadblocks lately. Well, we had missed the fact that today was exactly so many years after Columbus discovered America so prime time for the local rebels to put up some road blocks. About one third down the way to Palenque we saw a queue of cars. Men and women with handkerchiefs in front of their faces and machetes in their hands had put nail mats on the road. Every car was stopped while they lean into the windows. They gave everyone a pamphlet and asked for a donation for their cause. But since we were obviously tourists, we would not get away that easy. We had to pay before they would remove the mats. They asked for a ridiculous 300 pesos. The “I only have 150 pesos”-trick got it down to half which is still way too much. But I had read some stories about travelers getting their tires stabbed so I just wanted to leave. A bit further down the road was roadblock number two: two women pulling a rope across the road to try and force you to stop. They probably only want to sell you stuff, but I had read the solution to this one. Just keep driving slowly, they’ll drop the rope. Worked like a charm. Now we were getting closer to the waterfalls just before Palenque. Another queue of cars but this was way way longer. Turns out the locals were mad at the government and decided to completely block the road starting at 8 in the morning until either the government gave up or otherwise sunset. We had lunch in the van and waited an hour to see if it would be opened up. I wasn’t, plus people told us the same would happen tomorrow. We didn’t want to wait and drive in the dark so we turned around and drove all the way back to San Cristobal and from there to Tuxtla to the same hotel we were three nights ago. Luckily in the meantime the guys with the nail mats had disappeared. Driving into Tuxtla it was already dark, to make stuff extra fun we got stuck behind a parade/protest. So we had to do some creative back-road detouring to get to our hotel. The tiny bit of good news of the day: both of the fans were now running straight from the temperature sensor.
Next day more driving. In order to get past the last 60 km from the roadblock to Palenque we had to detour 600km. Just outside of Tuxtla we had to take a toll road. We first passed a military checkpoint that just waved us through. 50 meters further, we could still see the military guys , the toll gate had been taken over by more masked armed people. They manually moved the beam up and down to let cars through. Surprisingly enough they still charged the same price as what was on the signs and they even gave change. Weird, but whatever… After a long day of driving we finally arrived at a campsite/cabanas near the entrance of the Palenque ruins with a great swimming pool and in the evening the howler monkeys started yelling in the trees above my van. A great way to fall asleep.
We headed to Palenque ruins right when they opened at 8. We were almost the only people there (except for of course the guys mowing the grass, like in Monte Alban). The Palenque ruins are located in the middle of the jungle which means cool animals and waterfalls. The early morning also got some nice clouds hanging between the ruins. Just when we left the ruins the tour buses started coming in so it was a good time to leave. The goal for today was Campeche, a colonial city at the gulf of Mexico. A long long drive. But again we found a hostel that let us park inside and in the evening there was loads of stuff to do in town with live music.
Campeche was enough fun to explore some morning. But soon it got too hot and too humid so we hopped back in the van to head to Merida. Merida is again a colonial city but way bigger, more crowded and less pretty than Campeche. We confused some Dutch people at the hostel with the Dutch plates on the van.
The next morning we woke up early to go to Chichen Itza before it gets too crowded. I didn’t sleep that well, the sun was very low. To make things better my GPS decided to send us through some back streets which resulted in a hundred stupid stop signs. At the so manyth stop sign there was a car coming but with the low sun I hadn’t seen that he was driving way too fast. 9 out of 10 times this would have ended in some honking and yelling, but this was the one time. BOOM! We were already almost past the intersection when he hit my left rear bumper. Luckily nobody got hurt. The van (now nicknamed The Tank) had little damage, the bumper was loose, but I could easily hook this back. He hit me right on the power socket which surprisingly wasn’t broken and the van was only slightly dented. His car looked much worse. Obviously it was technically my fault since I had a stop sign. Luckily I had Egbert in my van who actually does speak Spanish. The guy was quite reasonable. He named a price that he thought his buddy could get the van fixed for. When a crowd started forming around the accident, I happily paid the guy and we left again.
So we arrived at Chichen Itza ruins a bit later than planned, so it was already getting a bit busy. The ruins are very nice, but compared to the ones we saw before they were very crowded, had loads of terrible souvenir stalls, it was hot and you weren’t even allowed to climb the ruins anymore. After the ruins we drove to Valladolid. Tessa had found a hotel with hot tubs on the roof terrace for the price of a hostel. We didn’t see any reason not to stay there. While we were sitting on the roof we heard a lot of music coming by. Looking down we saw a procession come by where kids dressed in white were carrying paper pig heads. That evening we had our last dinner together with traditional Maya food and my first fancy beers of Mexico (so good after only drinking lager).
Tessa and Egbert were going to spend their last days (after I would fly home for another wedding) at Isla Holbox. I would drop them off at the ferry and then continue to Cancun. The toll road from Valladolid to the exit for Holbox was interesting. It was a 90km drive and the exit we took was actually the first exit on that road. No wonder nobody drives it when you can’t get off it. We had lunch together, said goodbye and I started driving alone again. Within the first two minutes of driving by myself the Christmas lights on my dashboard switched on. Alternator not working… I stopped the van and had a look. No wonder the alternator is not working, my alternator belt has disappeared. Luckily on this specific version of the van (and only this version) you can keep driving without an alternator belt. Plan: drive without stopping to Cancun. Order a new belt to the Netherlands (already had to get some other parts anyway) and fix it once I get back. So I continued my way to Cancun and found a campsite that allowed me to store my van for a week. The next day I went to the airport and flew back to Europe for the second time in one month.
A big big thanks to Tessa and Egbert for joining me for a weeks on my trip. Thanks for all the fun; enjoying the view from the van while not having to worry about potholes was great! And thanks to Joel for showing us around in San Cristobal and inviting us over for dinner at your guest family.