December 30, 2006 GMT
Campeche, Uxmal and Mérida
This is a typical group of gawkers, checking out the beemer. Notice no attention is on the suzuki...
6/12/06 - We gratefully left the humid environs of Palenque and rode north on highway 186. We wanted to leave Palenque, the ruins are nice, but the rainy, humid, muddy jungle was not fun to live in and the bikes did not like the conditions either.
That morning I took Oliver, a backpacker from Germany, to go see the "cascadas" at Misol-Ha 20km south of Palenque. The weather was misty and cloudy, so we didnīt stay long. Took photos and left. The water was a dirty, uninviting brown from all the rain in the past 3 days. Normally, itīs supposed to be a great spot to go swimming.
The rain put a downer on our moods for sure. We had rain in San Cristobal, Palenque and now our ride north to Campeche. We stopped along the way, when it started pouring, to put on our raingear. Some of the passing cars had their fun with us and honked as they passed.
We left the jungle and the land turned into open famr land. We passed through small towns, slowing down for their "topes". I hit one unmarkes tope too hard and my top case came flying off. Luckily there was no one behind me, just a group of school kids waiting for a bus, they all laughed at the fancy gringo. We passed at least 4 small caravans of bikers and runners carrying torches and relics, wearing virgin of Guadelupe t-shirts. I stopped to take a photo of one runner and Nick got pissed off that I was being rude, so he kept going.
I took the photo, got back on the bike, caught up with him and then blew passed him, a bit out of anger. I then did 90-100 mph for the next 30 miles or so, letting off some steam. I wasnīt in a good mood; the rain, cold and eventually the mud from all the road construction was starting to get to me. I saw a billboard for a BK in 60 KM and for the next hour I convinced myself I wanted a taste of home. The Bk was in Escarcingo, a small non-descript town 70 Km south of Campeche. I was surprised to see it in such a small town. I was embarassed to enter, but it was only the second time I contributed to the Americanization of Mexico. The first being the Starbucks I hit up in Aculpoco after 3 straight weeks of Nescafé.
We made it to Campeche by 6pm, riding the last 20Km in the dark, slamming into a few unannounced f-ing "topes". We took the "libre" road and Iīm starting to learn that itīs worth the $2 to be on good roads, especially at night.
Campeche is an old, colonial town surrounded, partially, by the crumbling "buluartes" that protected its rich citizens from pirates. When the Spanish first arrived, this city quickly became a rich trading town due to its convienent deep water port. The pirate theme is everywhere. We stayed at the Hostal de Piratas - full of old artifacts like cannons, treasure chests and old beer mugs. I noticed right away the difference between life inside and outside the buluartes. It seems the walls are still protecting the rich people. Although instead of defending against pirates, now its divides rich and poor. There are no beggars on the streets here, thereīs police literally on every corner.
Hostal de Pirata has a great free breakfast that consisted of huevos, frijoles, jugo and cafe.
And thereīs very friendly staff, Gladis and Gerardo.
Here are some photos of the city, including some of its famous sunsets along the malécon.
This sweet old lady lives right next to Piratas and she loves all the youthful travellers that walk by her window all year round. We had a lovely conversation and she gave me a big hug and kiss and told me she would pray for my safety along my journey.
Here we are about to leave, headed for the ruinas of Uxmal.
We left the state of Campeche and entered the state of Yucatán. Here the archway commerates the friendship between the two states.
The ruinas at Uxmal had lots of iguanas. Every ruins we go to has a unique characteristic, iguanas are unique to Uxmal.Whereas Palenque was a mossy grey due to the wet jungle, Uxmalīs stones have a pink hue because itīs set amid dryer forests. To tell you the truth though, theyīre all starting to seem the same.
This guy is a tourguide at Uxmal and he loves the New England Patriots! He watches on them on Sky TV every sunday. He knew Belicheck is a defensive genuis, he knew Tom Brady hurt his arm in the last game and he was looking forward to this Sundayīs game against the Jaguars. I couldnīt believe it.
I went for a walk by myself today in the afternoon. I was looking for a place to sit and write in my journal and maybe get to a computer to update the blog. I passed Plaza Municipal and entered a very pedestrianized part of the city. People were everywhere, scurrying in all directions. I entered a saloon on a corner with its typical, swinging doors and entered another world. Inside were all men, drinking beer, tequilas, soda. I ordered a bottle of Superior, it came with a "limon" and "sal", chips, refried beans, a bean dip, pickled cucumbers and picante potatoe squares. All for the price of one beer. The place was a mess, 4 people were working the bar. Men shouted for "caguamas" (big litro bottles-called "ballenas" in Baja) and "cambio" for their pesos-so they could play some old, country music on the jukebox. A dirty cat quietly sat on a shelf, with the box of "limones" and cleaned its self. A drunk man cleaned the dishes, slamming the plates into the sink and violently opening the faucet. A father and son worked the cash register and a man, I was told, who had worked here for 23 years, sober for 10, laughed with everyone. The men stared at me at first, Iīm sure I was the only tourist who had ever entered this place. But after a while, I blended in. Old men with moustaches sat alone at the bar. There was a wet cutting board with fresh lemons to be cut, 3 cans of Raid sat on the wall next to dusty soda bottles. A fat, loud man was talking about the faucet he had in his hands, and the men would laugh. I heard "quarente aņos" amid his slurred Spanish. He gave the oily piece of metal to a young man behind the bar and motioned for him to leave the bar with it (apparenty to go buy a new one). I gave the thumbs up to a young guy with a white Red Sox jersey. The dirty white cat continued cleaning itself on the shelf, oblivious to the commotion of the bar. I unfortunately noticed the bartenders slamming the uneaten appetizers back into their serving containers. I had 2 beers, I didnīt want to seem unmacho, paid the 18 pesos and left through the swinging doors back into the crowded streets of Mérida. I walked by a clothing store, crowded with only women, and it made me think of the juxtaposition of the two sexes.
Here are some photos of Mérida. Itīs more real than Campeche, with crowded buses, dirty squares and crumbling walls.
I met these funny guys and had some beers with them. From left to right are Manuel -a "pintor", Felipe - a "joyero" of gold and Astro -a world-travelling, French speaking playboy. These guys were real characters and we had fun talking from our different viewpoints on life. Iīm glad I met them too because Astro had a former girlfriend who owned a hotel in Tulum and he wrote a note in my journal that I showed her when we got there and we got a sweet discount because of it.
Nick and I stayed at Nomadas hostal on calle 62, where they had free salsa lesson every tuesday and thursday and free "trova" (traditional solo guitar folk music of the area) every night. Flor, a sweet, dimpled girl is the receptionist.
Posted by Christian Burrows at 05:15 PM
December 28, 2006 GMT
Ruinas @ Palenque
Nick and I left San Cristobal that day at 4pm thinking it would only take a couple hours to ride 250KM. We were wrong, it took more like 4-5 hours, so we spent the last two in complete darkness and dense fog on the windey, rock strewn road in the not-so-tourist-friendly Chiapas. First we stopped to gas up in San Cristobal just before the old colonial city turned into dense forest. In this photo you can see the forest in the background. I took the photo for my buddy VW bus-loving friend Renier...you can see a California-license plated bus on the left.
Hereīs some photos as we entered the beautifuly green, pine-tree forests of the Zapatista stronghold state of Chiapas.
We wanted to take photos of the beautiful people, but theyīre already pissed off enough, that we decided it might not be a great idea. The photos donīt do the scenery justice, I need a wide angle camera to capture the beauty that my eyes were seeing.
At one point I stopped to take photos, just as the sun was setting. Nick went ahead and I told him I would catch up. Well I got stuck behind a big tour bus for the next 10 miles in a twisty section of mountain. I was right on his butt, trying to pass on every turn, without success. Finally I got my chance when the bus slowed down for a "tope," just as I passed there on the side of the road, re-securing his ridiculous amount of crap to his bike, was Nick. I had spent so much time trying to pass this guy that I couldnīt immediately pull over and stop for Nick. I flipped open the helmet and yelled something like "Fuck Nick, donīt stop!!" I kept going. Then it got dark and foggy. I was by myself in a scarey part of the world. I passed a homemade sign in someoneīs yard that said something to the effect "bienviendos a territoria Zapatista". I was a little frightened. The fog was so thick you couldnīt see the road or the sheer cliff off to itsīside. Luckily there were two cars in front of me to follow. Just like when I got off the ferry in Mexico I was following tailights. I was cursing Nick in my helmet. I had let myself break my own rule #1, Donīt Ride At Night! because Nick wanted to try to push it. This would be the first a few nights where we rode at night, each time we would be retaught the reasons not to ride at night. I was beginning to think it might be a bad idea to have a riding partner. I want to be able to blame myself for mistakes.
We got there, eventually Nick caught up with me, and I grymbled something to him through my helmet like "I told you we shouldnīt have left so late".
We stayed at a place called "El Panchon", a hippie refuge in the dense, wet jungle right next to the ruins of Palenque. We were recommended this place by fellow travellers at the hostel in San Cristobal. Maybe with sunny weather it would be a nice place to stay, but this is when the rains started (and didnīt stop for weeks) and our stay there was miserable. Everything got wet from the humidity, even the pages of our books and journals. There were huge roaches and ants all throughout our cabana. El Panchon is owned by 5 different hippies, each with their respective hippie dumps. The whole complex is connected by unlit pathways that cross streams with little wooden bridges. Iīm sure on sunny days the place must be charming, but under constant rain, you curse yourself the whole time. We arrived at night and spent the next sweaty hour or so trying to find the correct hippie to pay for the room. Finally we were told to go to Don Muchos restaurant where we would find the lady to pay. We finally found the outdoor restaurant and when we arrived, bags in hand, no one waved us over to begin our check-in process. We asked at the bar. They nodded to the corner where an un ultra-cool, nose-pierced girl sat smoking a cigarette. We had passed her on the way into the bar and Iīm sure she heard us ask for the check-in receptionist. She made us feel so uncool and stupid for not knowing the disorganized hippie system. She could have waved us over, but instead she let us flounder around with our bags, sweat pouring down our faces. I was already to leave before I had even put my bags down.
Hereīs some shots of the hippie-commune known as El Panchon.
We stayed in a private room with a bathroom, but we were told to stay at the "Jungle Village", an outdoor palapa-style house with places to hang your hammaca. Both of us decided that would not be fun in this rain.
The next morning we headed out for the ruins of Palenque. This was my first encounter with the ancient ruins of the mundo Maya. I had heard about the monkeys and the mist-enshrouded temples, but I didnīt comprehend why it was so cool until I actually saw it. We woke up early, like my mom and tourbook say, to catch the monkeys howling and the mist. The howler monkeys and toucans make the experience. You can really imagine what it must have been like to be a Mayan King standing on top of one of the templos.
Hereīs a link to an audio file of the monkeys I made from my digital audio recorder:)
(If this audio-thing works, Iīm going to start putting more sounds on this blog! so cool. Ok, I know Iīm not being as descriptive as I was when I started this blog, but Iīm so far behind that I want to catch up to my present whereabouts so I can have more vivid memories of what Iīm writing about.)
Hereīs some photos of awesome Palenque. Itīs unbelievable to think they built this 2000 years ago without metal tools, pack animals to carry the stones or the invention of the wheel! And supposedly there are hundreds more ruins hidden under the dense jungle canopy all over the Maya world in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, yet to excavated. Amazing! It makes one want to be an archeologist, or would that be anthropologist?....
When we left Palenque after a long afternoon, the salida brings you by the beautiful waterfalls. You can picture the Mayas going there to cool off or fetch some drinking water. We all though that should have been the entrance, not the exit. The exit puts you a mile away from the entrance, where we parked the bikes. So we caught a "colectivo" back to the parking lot. In the photo is Isabelle, a French girl, who we knew from San Cristobal and again saw at Palenque. (This would turn out to be a common occurence in the next few cities - running into people we knew from San Cristobal).
And of course there was a crowd of men gawking at my motorcycle when we returned. I am beginning to feel bad for Nick. Every time we go somewhere and leave the bikes, we return to find people all around my bike, while his is all alone, ignored. They all ask me the same questions. "How fast does it go?" "How much does it cost?" "How big is the engine?" "How much does it weigh?"...I try to deflect the attention towards Nick and his bike, but the people want none of it.
Posted by Christian Burrows at 09:10 PM
December 21, 2006 GMT
San Cristobal and Palenque
Iīm glad fate brought Nick and me together because I was planning on spending the night in Tuxla, which seemed to be an urban town with not much happening. San Cristobal is up and over the mountains from Tuxla. Itīs setting provides for beautiful views of the cloud-enshrouded, Mayan villages encircling this old Spanish colonial town. The air is clean and brisk and I needed to break out the long sleeve shirt for the first time since Nevada. The quiet cobblestone streets are wonderful for exploring and the daily market in front of the pink-facade Templo de
Santo Domingo was my first experience with the beautiful Chamulan people. Mostly women and children (some as young as 7 or 8), in their conservative, colorful dress, sell textiles, hammacas, Zapatista gear, leather crafts and delicacies like hot rice milk. They are have strikingly beautiful faces and it would be a photographer's dream to sit and snap photos all day here, but photos are considered taboo because a lot of Chamulans believe they steal their souls. Most of the photos I got were sneaky- from behind or Nick and I would pose like we were taking photos of eachother-but point the camera in their direction clandestinely. Here's a few.
We stayed at the very quaint Backpacker's Hostel on Real de Mexicanas (just a small walk to the zocalo), for 50 pesos each, with it's large wooden, renaissance doors and nice outdoor courtyard for mingling with the international crowd of young travellers.
After a long night of partying at the hostel (there was a great mixture of dutchies, frenchies, germans, quebecois, mexicans, brits and swedes staying there and we all got along great), Nick and I made the 10km ride to the tiny, Tzotzile village of San Juan Chamula just north of the city. We had promised to bring some new-found friends the night before, so we each had a riding partner. Michelle, from Holland, rode with me and I got to practice a "klein bietje nederlands". Christine, from Canada, rode with Nick and I presume they discussed all things Canadian eh. The road left town, we followed a "colectivo" (private, cheap transportation, usually VW buses with as many people that will fit), up the slow climb out of town. I had no idea what to expect.
The verdant, rolling hills outside of San Cristobal are dotted with modest farms, where Tzotzile families grow corn, tomatoes, limes, beans and potatoes (to name a few) on little plots. Chickens pluck away in the same yard that children are playing, sometimes the chickens are the object of the fun.
San Juan Chamula is a real indigenous town. The market they hold in the town's center is the attraction and tourism is a side thought. As you make the right turn into town, one of the first things you notice is the simple graveyard which lies in front of a very old church. The crosses are painted either white (died young), black (died old) or blue (died powerful or very respected). Sheep graze on the green, untouched hills in the background.
We parked the bikes in the tourist "estacionamento" lot and we were immediately swarmed by children wanting to watch our bikes while we walked into town.
The market, in the tiny town's main square, is a bustling place where salted raw meat, colorful vegetables and fruit, bread, baskets full of beans, dried peppers, plastic toys from China, fireworks, artesan crafts and "ropas tipicas" (goat-fur vests, turquoise Cowboy hats, colorful animal adorned blouses, etc.) are sold. Around the fringes were the typical taco vendors, women with the steaming baskets of hot tomales and "pan dulce" and coffee (nescafe and hot water) and juice stands. The Tzotziles are such pretty people, especially the children. Women wear black wool ankle length skirts and usually bright blouses with ornate designs of butterflies, iguanas, flowers or gods, sometimes accompanied by warm wool shawls. Men wear goat-fur jackets and white, baggy pants with a colorful belt. The men in white fur coats who carried long wooden sticks were the police I learned. The men in black wool and orange belts were the "administrators". This was interesting because you get the feeling they don't really consider themselves Mexican, they govern themselves in their old ways while a Mexican "municipal" building overlooks their market. There were two charred government pick-ups without wheels or anything of value left on them amidst the market. Each person I asked told me they didn't know the story behind them. I asked if they really didn't know the story or they just didn't want to tell me the story and both times I received a sly smile and a laugh.
The highlight of the day was entering their colorful church that prominently stands at the end of the square. It was amazing to see such active worshiping. The floor was covered with pine needles and burning candles. Worshipers, on their knees, carefully unpacked their paraphanelia: thin candles, bottles of coca-cola or beer, chocolate, breads or whatever gift they could find for the gods. The candles would be stuck to the floor using hot wax and then lined up in three or four rows, each of about 10 candles. The flickering of candlelight was everywhere, on the floor, on the walls, in front of the 20 or so glass-enclosed deity boxes. There's a Christ box, but the Virgin of Guadelupe and San Juan Bautista are more revered and take up the center wall. Worshipers chant to themselves, some have chickens rubbed on them, some drink the coca-cola or beer to usurp evil spirits. At one point a man carried a 20 foot tall pine branch through the church forcing people to stand clear. The air is thick with the sweet smell of burning "copal" and sage. Women prepare the copal in pots and waft the smoke around the idols. I wish I had photos to share, but it's strictly forbidden. But I did find of photo that some jerk took and posted on the internet.
Here's a link http://www.ontheroadin.com/miscellasneouspictures/San%20Juan%20Chamula%20church.jpg
Leaving the hostel in San Cristobal, I realized something. Up to this point, I had thought of this trip as mine, I was the author of my journal and what I saw and heard were subjects in my story. As Nick and I packed our bikes outside the hostel a bunch of hostelers came out to take photos of us- some of which might end up in their own blogs or journals. I then realized that I was just as much a part of other's experiences as they were part of mine. We rode away, into the sunset, like two cowboys riding out of town. It was 4 pm, a little late to be getting on the road for 250 KM ride, but we though we could make it to Palenque before sundown.
Posted by Christian Burrows at 11:44 PM
December 10, 2006 GMT
skippig to puerto escondido
ok, i messed up with the photos; i filled my memory card and transferred the photos to an online site. but now i canīt work with them easily to put them on the blog. so iīm going to skip a few days: the neat little town of Barra de Navidad, Aculpoco (which i really liked), the state of colima and michoancan (small secluded pacific beach towns),
Puerto Escondido is anything but "escondido". Itīs very discovered actually with itīs many hotels and hostels and private homes being built along the beach. Itīs really two towns, the real Puerto- to the north and inland -and the tourist Puerto - to the south and along the beach. Itīs a surferīs paradise with itīs huge waves at Zicatela beach.
I stayed at Cabaņas Edda, a neat, cheap place where you could rent a private room with a bathroom, a bed with shared bathrooms or space to hang your "hammaca". This would be the beginning of a hammaca world I was about to enter; it seems every place I stay now has hammaca to lounge on. I was getting farther away from the hustle-bustle influence of capitalism and entering a slower world.
Hereīs a photo of my nice, open air room with mosquito-netted bed.
Like most small places I stay I park my bike right next to my room.
Edda is a sunhat -wearing, sweet, old lady with blond hair and blue eyes who walks around her comlex by the beach, taking very small, quick strides. Her parents emmigrated from Germany, but she speaks only spanish. She was happy to learn what Lonely Planet had to say about her place when I translated it for her.
Puerto Escondido also has jaw-dropping sunsets.
I stayed there two nights because I arrived late the first day after a 7 hour day of riding from Aculpoco, I also had to do some laundry.
But I didnīt leave with that great of an impression of Puerto Escondido. One reason was the shits I got from eating a nasty "pollo sopa" (that included everything from the bird- feet with nails and all, feather-dotted skin, bones and gizzard) from the colorful Mercada Benito Juaréz. The soup smelled like a dirty chicken coup. So I had to resort to taking the dookie pills I was prescribed before leaving the States. Another reason was the surfer, "Iīm way too-cool-for-school", cold shoulder you get from all the super-cool, accesorized, tattoed, nose-ring wearing Americans that think they discovered the "escondido" playa bro.
I left in the morning with the intention of reaching Tuxla-Gutierrez. It was steaming hot. I wore my white, gringo looking tank-top that I had bought the day before in Puerto because I had nothing else to wear because all my clothes were at the "lavanderia". I passed right by Zipotelaīs (different that Zicatela) nude beach 50km south of Puerto, I wanted to make good time that day.
At Bahia de Huatulco, their manicured, palm-lined streets beckoned me to turn off highway 200 and discover this isolated bubble of modernity and elite Mexican world. There were billboards selling water front properties and the perfect lifestyle. Banks were on every corner, modern Pemex gas stations and beautiful, outdoor cafés. Such a contrast to the simple, dirt road villages with modest, dirt floor, one-room houses with with tin roofs and chickens, pigs and donkeys in the yards. There were no roaming chickens to be seen here.
I noticed a sparkling GS at the Pemex, a nice 1150 with a black and yellow tank. I turned around to introduce myself. As I pulled up I felt a sense of embarassment with my white tank-top and sunburnt skin. Oscar was fully decked out in protective gear, his bike was immaculate and I got the feeling he sized me up and concluded I was some "ugly american". He told me he was going to Tuxla today and he had 2 friends with beemers too, but they were leaving later that day. I didnīt get the invitation I was expecting to ride with him.
I told him I would find some breakfast and hope to run into his friends. I circled town, couldnīt find the BMWs and decided to go back to 200 and catch up wth Oscar.
I raced through the twisties, twice coming upon rolled-over trucks in ditches off the side of the road. One was a huge semi, with its diesel leaking out of itīs immense tank. Mexicans, passing, had stopped and raced over with whatever containers they had to collect the quickly emptying reserve. The "policia" and "bombeiros" had arrived, but they were permitting this distribution.
I stopped at a Pemex and asked for "Premium, lleno", but they only had Magna time. Two young boys were playing in the parking lot, catching bugs. The younger one said something to me that included the word "moto" but I couldnīt discerne what they were saying. I asked them if they were speaking Spanish and they shyed away. I believe this was my first encounter with indigenous languages here. I was entering Maya civilization.
After gasing up again outside of Tehuantepic, in an aptly-named pueblo "La Ventosa", I embarked off for Tuxla. The wind was powerful, reminding me of 5 days I spent in the plains of South Dakota because the wind was so strong I couldnīt ride the bike. I was riding almost at a 45 degree angle, my wheels occasionaly slipping a few feet in one direction, but my heavy bike held up strong.
I came across a semi that had blown over and there were many other trucks parked along the road (apparenty deciding to stop instead of risking it). It was here I saw a chopper-style bike, with lots of gear strapped to the rear, on its side in the ditch next to the road. I scanned the surrounding area for its rder and found him and another rider huddled next to eachother behind a mound of dirt. Upon closer inspection I noticed the other bike was the black and yellow BMW, it was Oscar! I came to find out Oscar had stopped to help this guy out-he had his bike blown right out from underneath him by the strong gust. Nicolas had come from Quebec, his trip taking 5 months to get to this point. The first 4 spent in the US learning Englsh. The wind was blowing so hard you could lean face forward into the wind and not fall down.
The two of them could not manage to get the bike out of the ditch and were waiting for help. Me! We dragged the bike back onto the road, inspected it for any damage and decided to keep going. We had a plan; each one of us would get close behind abig truck to help block the fierce winds. This plan quickly fizzled when the trucks we were following either decided to stop or exited the highway. The BMWs were much more steady than Nickīs Suzuki 800. I decided to be Nickīs shield and we rode side-by-side in one lane for the next 20 Kms until a mountain range blocked out the wind. We survived and we were on our way together as a group. Pumping fists, giving thumbs-up and taking photos of eachother while riding, we were having fun as a gang. The three norte-americanos: a Canadian, an American and a Mexican. Bonded by our fraternity of motorcycling.
At gas stops and vista points we quickly got to know eachother. Oscar lived in Tuxla and he had plans to start a business in McAllen, Texas. What "biz" I never found out. He was older with a family. His business must have been something lucrative, because his new bikeīs not cheap, especially buying it in Mexico with their luxury taxes.
Nick is 26 and is on his way to Australia. He plans to ride Mexico and Central America and then hopes to find a sailing boat from Panama City to the land down-under, help out as a crew member and put the bike on board. He also plans to stay one month in Guatamala to study Spanish.
We left Oscar in Tuxla and Nick and I continued on to the wonderful town of San Cristobal de Las Casas, set amid low-lying clouds high in the mountains above the industrial city of Tuxla-Gutierrez. I had found a "compadre de motocicleta".
Posted by Christian Burrows at 06:39 PM
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