We left the state of Oaxaca this week and moved on to Chiapas. Our first stop was the city of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, a stop chosen for no other reason than because it was the only place with a campground (that we knew of) on a long 400 km stretch of road. After about 8 hours driving, we pulled in to the campground in question only to see that our “campsite“ was a stall in a hotel parking lot. However, it was already dusk and, after the long drive, we were too tired to look further. We did find a silver lining, though; the stay provided us with an excellent WiFi connection (becoming a serious rarity) and were able to chat to our families and catch up on some internet research.
The next day we moved to San Cristobal de las Casas and into a nice little campsite called Rancho San Nicolas. It even came with a couple of play mates for Chester.
We took a day to catch up on some maintenance on the truck and camper; we dismantled the door and semi-repaired the lock (at least Kristel no longer needs to climb over the console to let me in); installed a new stereo (long drives with no tunes were definitely a challenge for me and Kristel claims I need the music to calm me as negotiate the roads, topes, and traffic); gave the camper a good cleaning; and did some shopping.
The next day we went on a boat ride through the Cañon del Sumidero. Our guide had a keen eye for spotting wildlife. In addition to numerous birds, we saw several crocodiles and a monkey just off shore. We also passed by a waterfall formation known as “Árbol de Navidad“ that really did look like a Christmas tree! But most impressive were the views. I could try to describe them but couldn’t do them justice so I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
San Cristobal is high in the mountains and the climate is quite different. Although it rains regularly at this time of the year, it rarely lasts very long. The temperature has been in the low to mid 20s (˚C) during the day and even dips to the low teens at night. For us, this has been a welcome relief, making for very comfortable sleeping.
We decided to move on to Palenque for a couple of days to see the sites. The drive was strenuous and it took nearly six hours to cover the 218 kilometers. The road had all the usual hazards of mountain driving plus a couple of extras. There were a lot of gravel trucks and these were generally very old, under powered, overloaded and in poor state of repair (no taillights are common, as is a steady billow of black smoke). Vendor tactics were another challenge. By now, we have become accustomed to vendors, many quite young, selling things – drinks, bananas, snacks, trinkets- at every little village we pass through. Just to make sure you slow down to see their wares, these areas are typically riddled with “topes“- large speed bumps that, if ignored, would reak havoc on your suspension. These also help to ensure that covering any distance in a reasonable time is nearly impossible. However, the vendors on the road to Palenque threw in a new twist. Where there was no convenient tope to slow traffic (or sometimes in addition to a tope), the vendors would raise a rope waist high across the road to stop you. These were often children probably no older than 9 or 10 and I found it unnerving. You don’t want to injure anyone but it is infuriating when the only straight stretch of road where one could hope to gain a little speed, especially at the start of a steep climb, is blocked. I found a sharp horn blast could occasionally cause the rope to drop before you had come to a full stop, but because the kids are often standing right on the road, you are forced to slow anyway. As a reward to some girls who did not use the rope, we stopped and bought some baby bananas that were delicious and sustained us on the long drive.
The campsite at Palenque was a pleasant surprise. Despite mediocre reviews we found it beautiful. Set amidst tropical jungle, the grounds were lush and the pool looked inviting. We thought we might stay a few days and chill out.
The next day we headed to the Palenque ruins. We decided to walk as it was only a couple of kilometers, but despite a reasonably early start around 9:00 am, the heat was exhausting when combined with the extremely high jungle humidity. It reached over 40˚C that day and I am sure the humidity was around 90%. My clothes were soaked by the time we got there. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the ruins. Palenque was built by Mayans between 200 BC and 800AD and is among the best preserved pre-Hispanic sites in Mexico, mainly because they were covered in thick jungle vegetation until recent excavations. Although not as grandiose as Teotihuacán, nor as neatly laid out as Monte Alban, the jungle setting and completeness give it a special feeling. After touring the ruins we visited the museum and lingered a while just to enjoy the air conditioning. The heat rivalled the hottest days we had experienced on Baja and the humidity just made things worse. The least bit of exertion left one dripping wet.
By the time were returned to camp we were ready for a cooling dip in the pool. The quick cool shower before entering was heavenly, but as we hit the pool we realized the water was bathtub warm at least. Although it was some relief it was not quite what we had hoped for. Our only accomplishment for the afternoon was a new Canada flag sharpied to the back door of the camper (we are finding ourselves quite pleased with this new medium). That night we both had trouble sleeping in the heat as the overnight temperature did not drop below 30˚C and the humidity was oppressive.
At 5:00 am, I awoke to a strange sound. I nudged Kristel and we headed outside for a listen. The howler monkeys we read about had started their nightly chorus and their calls were haunting and enchanting. It was fascinating to hear the calls of the group near our camp being answered by calls from other groups in the distance. Many of the other campers were also up and listening. It reminded me of nights in Canada listening to the coyotes howl.
Although we had planned to just relax the next day we both concluded that the heat would not allow us to enjoy it. We decided to head back towards San Cristobal and stop at a couple of waterfalls along the way. The first stop was Misol-Ha where we were treated to a 35 m high waterfall that you could walk behind.
The next stop was Agua Azul. These cascades of turquoise water were simply incredible. We hiked the trail towards the source and by the time we reached the top of the falls, the heat had taken its toll and the water was looking irresistible. We had left our swimsuits at the truck and couldn`t stand the thought of walking all the way back to get them. I emptied my pockets, removed my shirt and waded in. The water was deliciously cool and refreshing. I swam a bit while Kristel tended to Chester on the beach. As soon as I got out, Kristel decided it was her turn and headed in (she opted to leave her shirt on but lost her pants). We both enjoyed the dip that we actually heard some of the locals describing as cold.
After a quick wardrobe change back at the camper, we headed to San Cristobal. It was a convenient (and comfortably cool) base and we also had hopes of retrieving Chester`s bed. We realized that we had accidently left it behind when we packed up for Palenque and hoped that it might still be at the campground. Shortly after we arrived, Kristel inquired about it with one of the attendants. Unfortunately, they hadn`t expected to see us again and had given the bed to some other campers. Apparently a group had come in while we were gone and their dog had taken a shine to the bed. Somewhere out there another dog is enjoying Chester`s bed and Chester seems a little confused. He has taken to lying in my beach chair and I suspect will continue to do so until I find him some sort of replacement (or perhaps a replacement for me)… which I guess is only fair. Chester wasn`t really impressed with the bed when we started out, but it had gradually become his favorite napping spot. I think the mesh really helps him stay cool when it’s hot and keeps him off the ground when it’s cool.