Today was a day full of surprises; that is the least you can say about it. When we woke up this morning the sun was shining brightly but when we left the camp site, the sky was turning very dark in front of us.
When we successfully arrived at the border crossing in Chetumal we were baffled by the supply chain activity. Checking out of Mexico was not a problem. The tourist visa was removed very quickly and we got our exit stamp 10 seconds after handing over our passports (whilst the officer was combing her hair). Getting the car out of Mexico on the other hand was another story. Firstly it seemed that the office called ‘banjercito’ was not the banjercito. At the other side of the transit zone there seemed to be another office which was able to fulfill this task. So we headed over there and after a while Patrick managed to check the vehicle out. Then we got to another building where we could check ourselves into Belize. After a few minutes queueing and the standard questions we got our stamps without any issues. Rodrigo on the other hand was more difficult to get into the country. Not because of his looks or contents but the guy checking us in seemed to be more interested in the story of the other two officers and took more than 40 minutes to fill in the documentation. Then we had to have our car decontaminated in the fumigation area but this seemed to be out of order due to a power outage. The guy gave us a receipt anyway and with this paper we headed for the check-out zone where the officer opened the backdoors, asked what was sitting on top of the car and let us drive through. The insurance probably went smoothest of all. After 2 hours we finally managed to get through.
Happy to be in Belize we drove to our first archeological site ‘Cerros‘. On the road we got our next surprises. Firstly the highway seemed to have transferred into a dusty sand road which made it very challenging to drive any harder then 20km/h. Then we came across a point where the river was blocking our path and a ferry was needed to get us to the other side. It was very close to get our car on this small platform but it was the only way to get across. Note that there was also a bus right behind us and all the cars need to reverse on the platform while the boat is moving. The ferry was powered by a 2 guys turning a big wheel and the service was free.
Once we got to Cerros, we didn’t stay there for very long. We were still accustomed to the Mexican weather and were wearing our shorts and tops. As soon as we got out of the car, the mosquitoes started attacking us. It was a non-stop fight to get rid of them. They were all over the place. On your legs, on your arms, in your ears, in your eyes, …. Marijke even swallowed one whilst trying to catch her breath from running away from them. Due to these stupid bugs we didn’t see much of the site. I think if you visit it in different circumstances it will be a beautiful site but we were just happy to get away.
More surprises on the way out. Apart from the big holes and bumps along the way, we also saw these moving leaves on the street. Looking closer they were big ants moving little pieces of leaves to their nest.
We couldn’t drive to our initially planned camp site though as the road was completely blocked by water so we had to turn around and drive to the nearest town to find a place to stay. Unfortunately we did have to drive through some big pools to just get any further. Hopefully it didn’t harm Rodrigo too much. Of the 100 or so kilometers today, only the first 5 were over asphalt…
We found a hotel in ‘Orange Walk’ and as we were hungry and heard music on the central plaza, we went into the city centre to get some food. Doing so we got spoken to by almost everyone on the street. Drunk guys were saying hi to Patrick as if they had known each other all their lives and Marijke was being hit on on different occasions. One guy even stopped his car to get her in. We’re not sure whether this is the booze talking or people are just being really really friendly to tourists. We didn’t even have to pay for our taco! The funny thing about Belize is that it is English-speaking – so it’s easy to get around and ask questions. It’s a very diverse society with people from all backgrounds. Their administration is not the most efficient and the roads are in bad condition… it’s almost like home!
You look so tired and unhappy
Bring down the government
They don’t, they don’t speak for us
I’ll take a quiet life
A handshake of carbon monoxide
No alarms and no surprises please
Last night was not so easy to fall asleep as expected. It was just too hot outside and it felt like all the warm air got trapped inside our tent. The thoughts about ice cream and cool breezes didn’t help so we just lay still and tried to control our breathing and hoped for a little air to fly through our ‘windows’ or to just fall asleep at some point in time. Around midnight we were taken by surprise by a small storm shaking the surrounding palm trees but even then we didn’t feel any breeze of air so that didn’t solve the heat issue either. When finally the alarm went off in the morning, it didn’t take us much effort to get up. The good thing was that we didn’t take long to walk to the beach to see this beautiful sunrise.
Energised by the sun we drove to ‘Tulum‘, an ancient Mayan port. We were one of the first visitors so we got front parking (which is only fair actually having to pay 70 pesos for a spot – regardless of where you are standing – and still having to walk 1km to the entrance anyway). Luckily the entrance fee didn’t match the Uxmal and Chichen Itza prices (yet) and we paid the normal 57 pesos each. The site is beautiful. It’s really special seeing this old city next to the Caribbean coast line.
When we left the site a lot of tourist buses were arriving and people were lining up in a non-stop stream. We then headed to a smaller site nearby called ‘Muyil‘. On this site you can also see ancient Maya ruins, the longest inhabited along the Yucatan peninsula, this time in a forest setting. The buildings have not been excavated that much so it immediately gave a different feeling.
We must have prayed to the rain god too much overnight as what started as a sunny tropical day soon turned into a tropical rainy day, completely flooding the streets of Chetumal. Rodrigo was put to the test to see if he could also remain stable on slippery ground. So far we managed to arrive safe and sound at our camp location. When we arrived there the grass was all soggy and we had to take a detour to the toilets.
Today we are sleeping at the coast side again. This time we can feel a little breeze. Maybe it’s because we are parked parallel or maybe the heavy rain earlier today helped to wash away the tropical heat. Let’s hope we have more air tonight.
At least we have no monkey sounds today although the sound of frogs all singing at the same time can be heard as well as the sound of coconuts falling from the trees. We went for dinner at the restaurant down the street and ordered ‘camaron a la diabla’ and ‘cocktail de camaron’. There was a a karaoke at the restaurant, as somebody was celebrating his birthday. Not before long we were invited to give our best performance… they put ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon on and put the microphone in our hands. Given the big success that we had, we gave a bonus performance of a Mexican song called ‘Cielito Lindo’ and left the restaurant under loud applause. Not a bad good-bye from Mexico, as tomorrow we are heading to our alphabetical successor Belize!
Time goes by so fast
You’ve got to have a dream
To just hold on
There are 7 ancient wonders of the world, defined by the old Greek. But since these fellows were limited to the Mediterranean Sea and didn’t know any of the other fabulous historic buildings in the rest of the world, the voters from our time defined 7 new wonders. For those of you who are interested this is the full list of all seven:
- Great Wall of China
- Colosseum in Rome
- Petra in Jordan
- Machu Pichu in Peru
- Christ the Redeemer in Rio
- Taj Mahal in India
- Chichen Itza in Mexico
Today we went to see one of them, ‘Chichen Itza‘. The city was built back in the pre-classic period by the Mayas and lasted until the Spanish conquistadores came to America and destroyed most of its wealth and inhabitants. It still looks impressive though. When you enter the archeological site you can see the big temple of Kukulcan. All around this centre piece other buildings can be found such as a ball game court yard (yep, they were real fans of this game), temples dedicated to Quetzalquatl – the feathered serpent, god of life and death – or Chaac – the one with the funny nose, god of the rain – an astronomical observatory, a nunnery, a marketplace, a temple covered with skulls, a palace surrounded by many columns, two cenotes (large sinkholes) and a lot of tourist stands with authentic artisan craft works.
There are also these guys standing outside. Pretty impressive! I think one is dressed as a hunter, another as a priest and another one as a warrior.
When we wanted to go and visit our next stop of the day, Coba, we couldn’t enter anymore as the site was closing. In search for a nearby place to camp, we headed towards Tulum. There we found the perfect spot near the Caribbean Sea on the beach. It’s been a while since we saw such clear water and white sand. It truly feels like heaven on earth.
Let’s hope the night will be cool and calm. We will set our alarm clock tonight (for the first time since we started this journey) to see the sunrise and be the first ones to arrive in Tulum.
And when you smile the world is brighter
You touch my hand and I’m a king
Your kiss to me is worth a fortune
Your love for me is everything
After a short night camping in the central square of Noyaxche, we were woken up by the sound of tractors lining up to fill their water tanks next to Rodrigo. It did not take long before we were fully awake and, after getting dressed (between the car doors), we headed to ‘Edzna‘, our first visit of the day.
When we arrived, we were the first ones there. It’s always nice to explore a site with nobody else around! Although Edzna is not the biggest or most beautiful or most innovative, we were quite impressed with the plaza, the main temple, the ball court and the size of the iguanas!
You can consider this post as the “extras” when you buy the DVD… a unique behind-the-scenes look at Keep Calm & Drive South – celebrating 10.000 kilometers on the road. We are now even officially registered at ‘Drive The Americas‘ (check our profile!). So here’s an overview of what you didn’t see.
1. It’s not easy to stay awake after a 10 hour flight, a taxi ride and a long walk carrying all your bags…
2. There are no pirates in Canada…
3. When in Seattle, act like a Seatlleite…
4. You have to hang on to something when you’re not steady on your feet around Mount St Helens!
5. Death Valley, it really is that hot!
6. Animals on the road – an endless source of entertainment in Mexico!
7. 100% faith in Mexican engineers!
Looking forward to the next 10.000!
At night we heard a scary sound coming from the jungle. It sounded like bear growls but according to Patrick the noise came from monkeys. There is a type here called the ‘howler monkey‘ which is known for throwing their poo at you… Hopefully we won’t come across any of those. As we were awake quite early and close to the ‘Palenque‘ site, we decided to go for an early visit. Palenque was built by the Mayan civilisation in the 100 BC. It’s mostly famous for its tomb and the temple of death.
To both our surprise, the site was huge though! There is not only the famous tomb temple to see. Also a temple of the sun, a huge palace, more temples, court yards with houses and even a ball court can still be spotted. For the fans there is even a waterfall which brings some cool air as well as these beautiful butterflies and plants.
The site visit doesn’t end where it started so we had to walk our way back to Rodrigo, a good 1.5km, up a very steep hill. By the time we arrived we were both soaking wet (not caused by any rain or waterfall) and didn’t bother discussing the price over a 1 litre bottle of water so paid a full 20 pesos to set our water levels straight. When our body temperature was back to normal and our brain could think again we headed to ‘Edzna‘, another archaeological site a good 5 hour drive away from Palenque. From the car we could spot the Mexican Gulf for a moment and we also found out how melons grow.
Tonight we are camping free style near the Edzna site. Our camping spot is in a small town in the middle of nowhere, close to a church, school (with super clean toilets), basket ball field, kids play ground and music kiosk. There are also goats walking around freely and we can hear music from a nearby house. If it would cool down a little bit more, it would be the perfect camping spot. 🙂
Get down, get down
Get it, jungle boogie
Get up then you get down, jungle boogie
When we woke up this morning, we had a small unpleasant surprise: Patrick noticed that the left front tire was more flat than the others. Yesterday we asked the gas station if they could pump up all tires to the normal pressure but it seems that one of the valves was not closed properly causing the tire to lose air all day and night. At least we didn’t puncture it but it did give us a different start of the day than what we planned for. 🙂 Luckily we had Justin in the car so we could fix the problem.
We then headed into town to find a local ‘volcanizador’ where we could have Rodrigo all fixed up again. With all tires back on full pressure we started our jungle drive to the ‘Cascadas de Agua Azul’ near Palenque. Along the way we also learnt that you shouldn’t ask directions from a group of male adults hanging beside the road (they will most likely be drunk and you won’t understand a word they’re saying) and that you have to watch out for the vicious little girls trying to sell you stuff from the road (they might jump in front of your car if they have to and will not move unless you drive into them or honk very loudly).
Arriving at the Agua Azul we were completely bamboozled by the entrance rates. We each got two tickets and had to pay more than what was marked on the board but as there was a police officer on the spot confirming the rates offered to us, we didn’t dare to discuss any further. It still seemed strange though but supposedly that’s what happens if you don’t speak enough Spanish. At least the waterfalls were quite impressive to make it worth the trouble although they weren’t very ‘azul’ today.The raining season must have turned the river to a more natural colour.
We also discovered banana trees and found out that they grow with this weird flower hanging in the middle.
After seeing the falls and feeling all hot and sweaty from the tropical climate outside, we headed further south to campground ‘Maya Bell’. We heard a lot of good stories about this place but we have to say that we are not overwhelmed with awesomeness. The people are friendly to help you but the toilets don’t look very clean, there is dirt all over the floor and there are no toilet seats, and the pool is starting to get rusty. It has definitely seen better times.
So after this crazy day we will get into our tent for a tropical night and try to catch some sleep. Hopefully there will be no surprises tomorrow morning. 🙂
Pump up the jam, pump it up
While your feet are stomping
And the jam is pumping
Look ahead the crowd is jumping
Yesterday night we fell asleep listening to the cries of a local Mexican singer looking for love. This morning we woke up listening to people spitting on the street and/or couhhing their lungs out (I hope that’s all that came out). When we opened our eyes we also saw that it was raining. We didn’t need to do any sightseeing so we didn’t mind the little drizzle. We prepared for today’s destination: ‘San Cristobal de las Casas‘, a decent 5 hour drive from Salina Cruz.
Along the road we saw many beautiful mountains and animals. We also came across a windmill park which was huge!! It was fun to see that the forests start to get really thick and tropical. With the low hanging clouds, heavy rain and grouping birds it gave the ride quite a mystic feeling.
When we arrived at our campground ‘Rancho de San Nicolas’ it was still raining and as there are only so many things you can do inside a car whilst it’s raining outside we decided to go and visit the centre of the town in our rain coats.
Luckily we didn’t need them for very long as it cleared for a moment when we got into the city centre. At the grand plaza we learned that a sticker in Mexico is called a ‘estampa’ and that wrist bands woven by the locals only cost 3 pesos each. So we each got one reflecting the Mexican colours. Fitting in with the locals (not really but you know … the feeling counts), we ended up in a local taco bar where we got the most delicious hamburger and Patrick ordered beef tacos and got a whole collection of sauces and decorations along with them.
Feeling full and satisfied we ordered a taxi back to our campground (it had started to rain again plus it was getting dark and we’ve been warned for snakes in the area). When we arrived safe and sound we lifted ourselves into the tent where we could hear the rain tapping on our roof. It’s probably the most famous singer in town these days :).
Oh, listen to the falling rain
Pitter pater, pitter pater
Oh, oh, oh, listen to the falling rain
Pitter pater, pitter pater
Although it only looks like a short drive on the map, it took us most of the day to get from Oaxaca to Salina Cruz. It also surprised the local police officer when he stopped us by the road in El Jule and asked us where we were coming from and going to but with our basic Spanish we managed to explain him that we were just 2 people crossing Mexico with a roof top tent and he let us continue. We started with breakfast & picking up our laundry and then we headed to ‘Mitla‘ to see the small archeological site.
Mitla was founded and settled by the Zapotec and, whereas ‘Monte Alban’ is on the hilltops, it is located on the valley floor. The construction began around 850 AD. Parts of the city have been destroyed and a church was built instead. However, the temples that are still remaining are quite spectacular as they are mostly intact and you can see the stones fit very tightly without any mortar. The entrance to the tombs was very small and very hot!
We had a nice ice-cream (made of leche!!) to cool down and wandered around the artisans market in town.
After Mitla we hit the road again to Salina Cruz. We drove through the hills of the ‘Isthmus of Tehuacan‘, which is the shortest distance between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean. Prior to the Panama Canal, it was a major shipping route.
No camping tonight as we are staying the the ‘Hostal Emilia’ – for about the same price as camping. Once we were checked in, we went into town for some grocery shoppings and learned that you cannot buy one lime in Mexico. Four limes cost 1 peso (0,06 euro)… avocados on the other hand seem to be much more expensive having to pay 40 pesos (2 euro) for 3 pieces (I think the guy ripped us off here…).
Alright stop, collaborate and listen
Ice is back with a brand new invention
Something grabs a hold of my tightly
Flow like a harpoon daily and nightly
Driving out of Puebla, today we headed to Oaxaca. To give you an idea, you can buy the following items on the road in Mexico as you are lining up for traffic lights, accidents, road works or police checks.
- Tortillas (of course!)
- Tacos (with special sauces)
- Cookies (for the sugar rush)
- Newspapers (for off-line information junkies)
- Nuts and crisps (always a popular item!)
- Water, coke or any other drink (for after your salty snacks)
- Toilet paper (clever!)
- Anti-stress ball (for dealing with Mexican traffic)
- Obleas (not sure what this is, looks like a purse)
- Mobile phone holder (useful!)
- Model airplanes (not so useful!)
- Model of covered wagon (not quite sure about this)
We drove past the ‘Pico de Orizaba‘, which is 5,636m tall and the highest mountain in Mexico. We couldn’t get a good picture of it from the highway unfortunately. The route took us through desert landscapes and we resorted again to playing word games to keep ourselves entertained.
The target of today was the ‘Monte Alban‘ site, just outside of Oaxaca. The site is located on a hill and provides great views over the city and surrounding mountains.
Monte Alban is one of the earliest cities and they sure picked a nice site to start from. They built themselves a ball court to play their favourite ball game (where the loser gets decapitated – no joke), a palace with private doors that block the view from outside and a number of temples around a large plaza.
At the end of our visit it started raining and we headed to our campsite for tonight in Santa Maria del Tule, home of a very big tree aptly named ‘El Arbol del Tule‘. This tree apparently has the biggest trunk in the world (9,38m). As there was a fair in town, we had a fried banana from a local food stand.
Tonight we are sleeping in a little oasis with warm water, clean toilet with seat and very nice people! If you are ever around, make sure to stay at the ‘Overlander Oasis‘!
People ask me why I never
Find a place to settle down (down down)
But I never wanted all those things
People need to justify their life (life life)