Well that was stressful… In 6 days I flew from Cancun to Brussels, Eindhoven to Munich, Munich to Eindhoven, Brussels to Cuba and Cuba to Cancun. The wedding was good fund and it was great to see everyone again, but I could really use some easy time. To make things extra fun, my flight back had the oldest plane I had flown in a very long time (I looked it up, it was build in 1989, so it’s actually older than my van). I can tell you, airplanes got much quieter; entertainment much better (this one didn’t even have shared screens); and chairs get very uncomfortable and full of holes when used for such a long time. But first things first: I needed to install my new alternator belt. This was a surprisingly easy job. After that it was time to put some more work into the broken radiator fan. Turns out what was listed on the website as a new fan was only new blades, plus it was missing a piece. So I tried to clean and fix the old one instead, but I might have only made it worse. We’ll see how that goes.
The campsite in Cancun was pretty depressing, plus my neighbor had some non-conventional religious and political ideas and really really liked to discuss them. This was fun for a bit, but kind of disturbing later on. Time to head south! The drive from Cancun past Playa del Carmen to Tulum is weird and slightly depressing. It’s hours of ridiculously big all-inclusive resorts that have their own Cirque du Soleil shows or dolphin/crocodile/monkey zoos. All advertising is in English and dollars. If only I could go back to Mexico… On my great overlanding app I had found a campsite on the beach just north of Tulum in a small bay with white beaches and blue waters. I could park my van under the palm trees 10 meters from the water. (I had to move my van a bit when I noticed I was parked underneath a coconut palm, don’t want those guys dropping on my van). One other spot was taken by an American couple doing a similar trip. We both planned to stay for only one night. Surprise, surprise… we both only left 4 days later when we ran out of food and water. We spent our days snorkeling at the reefs right at our ‘private’ beach. Sting rays, turtles, puffer fish, lobster, octopus, so many cool animals. We opened coconuts with an ax for delicious coco water and coco meat. We sat in the sun for slightly too long. We walked around the beach watching pelicans dive-bomb onto the fish in the water. One of the days we wanted to get some WiFi at the hotel 20 minute walk along the beach. They had a bar on a deck with the same awesome view we had. We wondered how much a room would cost here. Turns out they started at 550 euros per night. We only paid 5 euros per person per night. And the thing was, the hotel was fully booked for the next few weeks. We wondered whether the people next to us at the bar knew that we could enjoy the same view for 2 months for the same price as they got to stay there for one day. Anyway, we had a great time at our private beach. The only thing that could have made it better would be if it would not have rained a bit every evening so we could have made some nice campfires. After 5 days when we had ran out of food and water we decided it was time to leave again.
First stop the Tulum ruins. More Mayan ruins but this time located at the ocean. It is a beautiful setting but the ruins themselves are not that interesting. And the fact that busloads of tourists get dumped here does not make it better. I made the standard pictures at the place and headed on. The goal for that night was Lago de Bacalar. A huge lake on the Yucatan peninsula that was recommended to me by many people. I found a hostel/campsite at the lake where I met some more motorbike overlanders. The town looked like they were preparing for some events for the evening. But when I walked back later there was still nothing to do. A pretty place but no reason to stay longer.
From Bacalar it is only a short drive to Chetumal, a larger city close to the Belizian border. It was time for an oil change and a change of my diesel filter. I stood at the store struggling with my Spanish when my simple request for these two things resulted in a long list of questions. The lady then asked in perfect English if maybe I spoke some English too because that would be easier. Ha! I think it’s really time for my Spanish course.
*End maintenance time*
From Chetumal I drove in the direction of Calakmul. The famous but rarely visited Maya ruins in the jungle. They are pretty remote. First you have to drive 2-3 hours from either Chetumal or Palenque along the Guatemala border on a remote highway. From that highway it is another 60 km on a very bad road to the ruins. When I got to the beginning of that road it was too late to head to the ruins. Interestingly enough there is another set of ruins close by. The Calakmul ruins were ‘discovered’ in 1931. At the intersection of the park road and the highway there is a village just for these ruins. And in 1990 (almost 60 years later!) they discovered this other set of ruins only 5 minutes away from this village. That is how dense the jungle is around here. These ruins are called Becan and are not very big but have some very impressive reliefs plus they are so remote and so small that you won’t see anyone else. That night I spent at an “eco” lodge “campsite” nearby. The campsite part was just their parking lot and the eco part meant that they only used rain water: the toilet was a hole in the ground that you could flush with a bucket standing outside to catch rain water and the showers were tiny rooms with more buckets of suspiciously colored water rain water. The lodge also had a small jungle trail including a watchtower. The watchtower did not look very sturdy. Nails were coming loose everywhere and the ladders were missing multiple steps. But standing above the canopy of the jungle is always good. And it did not collapse when I was standing on it. That night was one of those nights when I fall asleep to the sound of howler monkeys.
The next morning I started the 60 km drive to the ruins. According to Mexican logic you had to pay entrance three times: once for the road, once for the park surrounding the ruins and once for the ruins themselves. The road down took me 2 hours: narrow, curvy and full of potholes. But you do get to see some cool turkeys and other birds. The ruins themselves were huge I spent more than two hours walking around the site. There was barely anyone around. I climbed the three highest pyramids that stick out above the jungle. I was all alone on the top except for some vultures. The site was full of wildlife: turkeys, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, vultures, some big-ass rodents and even some toucans. On my two hour drive back to the highway I saw a huge animal run by (I think it might have been a tapir) going for a nearby lake. The road was pretty wide and a bit back there was a turnout. So I tried to turn around. I did not realize the shoulder was very very soft. I was stuck once again standing perpendicular on the road… It took one Mexican, two Austrians and four Americans to push me back onto the road with all four wheels. Once I was on the main road I thought it was early enough to drive to Palenque for the night. But I hadn’t realized that with winter time the sun would set ridiculously early. So for the first time in Mexico I had to drive in the dark. Extensive military checkpoints, heavy rain and loads of construction sites did not make this drive any better. Luckily there were no robbers, drunk drivers or cows on the road and I arrived safely in Palenque.
That was enough stress driving for now and I knew that my next stretch would be stressful again. (The infamous roadblock road between Palenque and San Cristobal, as described in my last post). Time for a lazy day and time to have a chat with my Swiss VW van neighbors and my Luxembourgish/Dutch big truck neighbours.
The second attempt of the roadblock highway was successful. It still took me almost 7 hours to finish the 250km but at least there were no real roadblocks (only some ropes across the road) and the van had no heat issues. It takes so long because there are loads of trucks loaded with bricks/sand/steel/other heavy stuff driving the 2000m height difference with 30km/h. In the halfway town I did have my road blocked by a large group of people, but this was a funeral procession. The coffin was loaded in a pickup and followed by a mariachi band and half the local village. Interesting and impressive. When I finally did get to San Cristobal and back at the hostel we stayed at a few weeks ago I heard something I hadn’t heard since leaving the US: we’re fully booked for today and the rest of the weekend. Well that is a surprise. Luckily I found another hostel which also let me park indoors. And again this was a place where I planned to only stay for a bit and ended up not leaving for another 5 days. But that is a story for next time…