Today is the seventeenth day of September. We can almost see Belize from our last camping spot in Mexico. Our life on the road is nearing three months. It’s clear to us now that this journey down to Patagonia is going to take longer than we expected. Crossing the border in Tijuana, it was hard to estimate not just the geographical scale, but also the impresive variety of nature and culture. From butterflies to tarantulas, the Serpent Goddess to Guadalupe, sushi to barbacoa, fireworks to protests, this has truly been a long journey.
Lara, Joe, Alper, Julia, David, Mike, Terry, Paula, Renan, Danny, Paul, Anna, Serkan, Gladys, Jen, Sam, Calvin, Leanne, Scott, Holger, Janine, Martin, Nicole, Bradley, Lauren, Mike, Glen, Kathy, Simones, Fernando, Marshall, Heather, Christian, Denise, Blanca, Christine, James, Gerome, Sophie, Eva, Lise, Kerri and Evan… All of these names will always bring great moments alive in our memories.
The last leg of our Mexico route was the Yucatan Peninsula. Once part of the Atlantic ocean floor, this flat piece of calcite landmass is teeming with underground caves and waterholes called cenotes. What makes it even more interesting is the Mayan incorporation of these cenotes and caves into their culture of the underworld. Being home to some of the most significant Mayan sites such as Palenque, Uxmal and Chichen Itza, the Yucatan peninsula also has a strong sense of heritage and territory.
Our entry into the Yucatan was through the state of Chiapas. The Zapatista in Chiapas almost have an autonomous control of their land. “Here, the people rule, and government obeys!”
This handmade sign reads: “The governance has strictly forbidden weapon and drug trafficking, usage of drugs, illegal deforestation and destruction of nature. Zapata lives, struggle continues. EZLN. You are in Zapatista territory! Here, the people rule, and government obeys!”
The interesting change in control even effects passerbys such as ourselves. We were quite surprised by the absence of government toll roads until we discoverd a new form of toll collection.
The beautiful drive took us through a magical landscape with the vegetation around us slowly transitioning from pine trees to palm trees. We stayed entertained by encountering numerous creative ways of toll collections on a non toll-road. Kids would hold up strings across the road and ask for a few pesos. Sometimes they weren’t even strings but blades of grass tied together. Others stopped us to collect donations for the church holding a holy figure into our face. Then a big group of men on the side of the road collected money to support a mud removal project since the street was covered. Honestly it looked more like they were dragging the mud onto the street – another creative way to charge toll? Nevertheless, the five hour road cost us maybe about 70 pesos (about 6 USD) in generous involuntary donations – far less than the official toll roads usually cost, and much more entertaining.
Palenque is a steaming-hot, humid and tropical site. What a change to the cold mountains just one night ago!
Traveling always offers its surprises and challenges. So much to our distress we found our bed soaking wet from the semi-hurricane we escaped in San Cristobal, and we had to spend a day fixing the situation with the help of our “biggest fan”.
Erdem trying to dry his butt near the fireplace after being completely soaked on a cold night in San Cristobal de las Casas.
Five hours later we’re trying to dry our bed in the sweltering heat of the jungle.
The other challenge was Erdem’s “only” pair of shoes, which got deformed from the heat of the fire. Luckily we MacGyvered-our way out of it by heating up a rock on the stove and hammering it into the shoe so the hard plastic ripples would smoothen back out.
Life is more enjoyable when you can walk in your shoes and sleep in your bed.
Imagine being woken up by this sound before dawn. If we did not know what they were, we would have packed up and left the campground immediately. A few days later we got to meet these creatures in person.
Palenque was by far our favourite archeological site in Mexico because of its relation with nature and accessibility of ruins.
Mask of the “Red Queen”, one of the female rulers of the Mayan city now called Palenque.
The restoration efforts were continuing in the off-season.
This lady was repainting the wall murals trying to avoid any personal interpretation. Honestly, it was hard to see what the original looked like.
Erdem trying out the Mayan rubber ball game with an imaginary ball.
Back at the campsite, we finally got to meet these loud creatures waking us up early in the mornings. They aren’t nearly as intimidating as the sounds they make. In fact there’s something cute about them with their pink balls hanging out like that.
With about two ant colonies infesting our truck, we continued north into Campeche. The whole town is under construction in efforts to make it a touristic attraction. It almost looks unreal.
There is an abundance of VW busses around this area. They seem to fit well with the vintage theme going on here. Maybe the municipality should restore these as well.
A train appears out of nowhere and rides over the grass where the tracks are not even visible. In Mexican traffic, you should even watch out for trains.
It was surprisingly difficult to find a place to camp in Campeche. The only decent ground is the oldest one in town. About half a century ago, Anita and her American husband started this RV site on the forested hills overlooking Campeche. Now at 94, Anita still keeps the memory of her husband and decades of travellers visiting them. One day after our arrival, the French family in their RV and a Canadian couple in their van showed up. At that point we had no idea that 10 days of convoy travelling were ahead of us.
Pollo Pibil, a mayan delicacy was cooked in preparation of the upcoming town celebration.
Anita normally doesn’t walk beyond her porch where she talks to her favourite chicken Rossie. But she wanted to walk out to the garden to see us all off. It must have reminded her of the crowded days.
Staying hydrated in the scorching humid heat takes a lot of water.
The fat pyramid of the Magician in Uxmal.
These Iguanas are dominating most of the Yucatan sites. Some of the large ones have quite an intimidating presence.
Erdem helped Eva hide a seashell in the altar of the pyramid so that she can find it when she returns 20 years later.
The Dauphin family is a great example of adventurous parenthood. Liz here on the backpack is two years old. Eva is not in the picture because she’s probably somewhere playing with the iguanas or making a necklace for them. We kept travelling with them towards the Atlantic visiting caves and swimming in cenotes all the way. Ten days felt like ten weeks with so many experiences every day.
Entering Grutas Loltun, a cave with mayan artifacts.
The Dauphins have shared our trust in the GPS and followed it into uncharted potholes. These three holes were so deep that we mistakenly thought they were the famous Tres Cenotes.
In order to get to the actual three cenotes hidden in the jungle, we took a horse carriage on rails. This must be a very unique mode of transportation particular to Yucatan due to the flat, wet land with dense vegetation.
Sarah felt like Alice in Wonderland crawling inside this hole under the tree. Most entrances to the cenotes are covered with trees from seeds growing towards the sunshine after falling in.
We had to do some caving in order to get to the water in this one.
The stalactites make a nice tune when tapped.
Sarah’s bikini had fallen off of the rail cart on our way to the second cenote. This is us having found it.
This blurry photograph does not do justice to the beauty of this amazing cenote.
Enjoying the giant ceiling view away from other swimmers…
This is the highest dive Erdem has ever done. Into the underworld… It took him so long to hit the water surface, he was able to ponder upon the effect of the impact on the way and remembered to guard his private parts mid fall.
Eva thanks the horse for carrying all of us on the rail, in her unique way. We’re glad she’s not giving it a French Kiss…
This is what Erdem found in the toilet bowl he had used the previous night. He doesn’t remember eating anything like this…
Reunited with Kerri and Evan we convoyed to several more cenotes.
Another cenote near Homun.
And another one in Sotuta. This one was found by the owner of the house above it while digging a hole for the toilet. Apparently, his life had changed after coming across a treasure like this.
Driving through Yucatan feels like being an ant walking through grass. The whole peninsula is so densely vegetated, it would be impossible to find your way without the roads. Any path made with a machete would probably disappear in a matter of weeks.
The famous pyramid of Chichen Itza. (Also known among western tourists as Chicken Pizza) This is one of the most well preserved/restored sites in close proximity to vacation destinations like Cancun. Therefore, it’s always full of tourists. It was just as interesting to watch them being herded by tour guides as the site itself.
The origins of Tic-Tac-Toe apparently goes back to ancient Maya. This must have been a legendary win they had to carve in stone…
Sarah trying to photo-bomb the pyramid shot.
This cenote is what the people of Chichen Itza used. We heard that there are more than a hundred child skeletons found inside.
Vendors hunting tourists along the roads between attractions. Interestingly most of them sell pretty much the same goods resourced probably from the same manufacturers.
Our last cenote visit was the one in Soytun. This was the largest one.
Sarah enjoying the rain falling through the hole.
Evan and Kerri seemed to have some sort of an accident each time they left the group. The first one was in Campeche when Kerri got hit by a car driving onto the sidewalk. Luckily, she did not hit her head. She only had some bruises and neck problems but it shook them pretty hard. Within two days of this incident, in Vallodolid, they were cornered by a Corona truck turning recklessly into their van. We met them in town to cheer them up a bit and help finding a mechanic shop. Somehow, things seem to work better travelling in a group. We stuck together for the rest of Yucatan.
Our first morning on the white Carribean beach near Tulum. Staying a few days at the beachside to rest, also meant that we had to do some repairs on the water damaged roof/bed of our truck.
We all joined our culinary efforts every night for several days of feasting. Which also meant a feast for the local mosquitos.
Eva’s favourite playmates were Erdem and Evan throughout the journey. Having some difficulty with the pronunciation of Turkish and Canadian names, she conveniently resorted to calling them ‘One’ and ‘Two’. Erdem made a ballpoint tattoo on her arm to commemorate the friendship.
If undisturbed, Sarah can live like this for the rest of her life until she dries out under the sun or gets hit by a lightning.
We are getting used to living with the constant threat of a hurricane looming above us, always watching the skies and smelling the air for signs of rain. Heaven turns into hell in a matter of minutes here.
We discovered this mother turtle preparing to lay her eggs on the beach at night. She was indeed in great labor trying to dig a deep hole with her hind flippers.
Some of the other nests were already hatched and the birds were having a feast on the babies that couldn’t make it in time before the sunrise. Sarah realised that one of them was still alive so she helped it find its way to the ocean. Somewhere in the Atlantic, a turtle owes its life to an Austrian girl.
Traveling through Mexico has been a great pleasure. It was very different from the stereotypical image of the guy with sombrero sitting under a cactus. The country is much more tropical, full of culture, unbelievably beautiful with extremely friendly people. After all the heartfelt warnings against visiting this country we received in the US, we’re happy to announce that the most dangerous things we’ve come across were coconuts, mosquitos, bedbugs, a tarantula in the toilet and the admittedly crazy traffic. We had 0 problems with the police, but lots of wonderful memories! We’re moving on to Belize with a bit of sadness in our hearts, knowing that Mexico has still so much more to offer.