Central America | Guatemala | Peten | Flores – Last day in Mexico
I have finally made it into another country. I really enjoyed cycling Mexico especially in the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas. There is an abundance to see and do in those states and a great deal of time can be consumed attempting to indulge in it all. It is difficult to choose what to include and what to miss. The itinerary I chose turned out great. Let me bring you up to date.
While in Tuxtla I visited the zoo. I had read a lot about this zoo and was excited to go see it for myself. In attempting to find the bus to get there I was told the zoo was closed. Disappointed I returned to my hotel where I seemed to have reminded the staff of this little fact, they had told me about the zoo also and directed me to the bus stop. I went out for coffee and when I returned they were happy to inform me that the zoo was in fact opened. I asked a taxi driver, he thought the zoo was closed; I asked the driver of a collectivo driver who disagreed and thought the zoo to be open. I felt like a ping-pong ball.
I decided I would go anyway and discovered they were both right. The zoo was undergoing a maintenance program but sections were left open. I had a nice guided tour of the zoo, somewhat short in time and depth but what I saw was great. They had howler monkeys which make the most unusual and unsettling noises, crocodiles, turtles, a couple of baby leopards, a couple of black panthers and lots of tropical birds.
My favorite of the entire zoo was the Toucan. The colors
on this bird are so brilliant and defined it doesnt look real. Most animals shown in photos lose something in real life. The resolution of the colors on this bird make it looks hand painted. The colors dont fade or blend into one another, they simply have their boundary where the color stops and another color begins like countries on a map. And the large beak must make keeping its head up an incredible chore.
This thing is huge, much bigger than its actual head. There were other beautifully colored birds like the Quetzel and Macaw but my favorite by far was the Toucan.
I also went on a river cruise up the Caqon del Sumidero. The 2-hour boat ride takes you 35kms up river to a dam. The walls of the canyon rise steeply up out of the water reaching 2000 meters in some areas disappearing into the clouds. Bits of vegetation and daring trees managed to cover some of the rising walls while other sections were barren. I was surprised at the amount of vegetation that did cling to life there in such harsh conditions.
Along the river we saw monkeys doing what monkeys do up in the trees, a crocodile relaxing on the rivers edge and plenty of birds.
I left Tuxtla for San Cristobal and had 10kms of easy road to warm up on before reaching the big climb I had read about in my guidebook. I followed the signs past Chiapa de Corzo and found myself entering an autopista, a toll highway. I was a little skeptical about this. I wasnt sure what the grade of the road would be or how far it extended before the next town etc. It turned out to be a great road to cycle. New pavement, consistent grade which may or may not suit a cyclist, and a huge shoulder. Yes you read correctly, a shoulder! They do exist in Mexico. And there was little traffic, it was really quite peaceful.
So up I rode for over 20kms up this new highway that clung to the side of the mountain increasing the area of the valley below while decreasing its resolution. At one point I stopped for a break. The sun was shining, it was a warm peaceful morning and I had a great vantage of the valley below. I was happy to cheat some of the mountains work with this new highway.
But then it ended and I was forced to join the masses with a penalty. Where the new highway ended a very steep section of land still buffered the top. To get to the top was a series of switch backs which forced me out of my saddle and into my granny gear several times for a couple of kilometers. I didnt mind though, if this was all the fuss big deal. Standing on my pedals I breached the top where not only did I see before me a stretch of flat compassionate road but a clearing off to the side to take a breather. After a quick break and bite I was off once again. The road didnt take me far before it began rising again.
It continued to rise for another 30kms passing through the bottoms of clouds where it became very chilly. I passed through small native villages and lots of farmed land, which I was surprised to see so high up. It was very special to see the native peoples dressed in traje. They werent posing for pictures or performing customary rituals, they were hard at work. Men women and children of all ages were busy hauling huge bundles of wood, which was either balanced or slung from their heads. Others were busy out in the cornfields. These cornfields covered vast expanses of very steep hillside. Like so much of the work in Mexico cultivation in this region is all done by hand and looking at the steepness of these hills I could well imagine that each piece of this corn was highly valued.
Seeing this way of life absolutely humbled me as I pushed and pulled on my pedals to slowly move my 50 pound load uphill. I could abandon my volunteer adventure at any point and buy my way out of there. These folks wake up every day and go about their lives without the simplest of relief.
A couple of the villages I passed through were beautiful quaint spots. One village was nestled into what I can only describe as a microvalley at an altitude of 2200 meters. At its center was a small lake about which the town was built. I also had the opportunity to see pottery and fabrics made in some of the villages.
After some 50kms of climbing the road began to descend and revealed San Cristobal which sits at an altitude of 2,750 meters if my guide is correct. It is a cool place. No, I mean it is a really cool place. During the day it might reach 18 degrees, no guarantees, but if the clouds expose enough sun throughout the day it will cause the mercury to climb to those withering heights. At night it drops of course and that causes some pretty peculiar sights. I went into a somewhat fancy restaurant/bar one night for an after dinner drink. Everyone in this place had big winter coats on; even the staff had big coats on over there black and whites. It was quite a sight.
My plan from San Cristobal was to carry on to Comitan and then into Guatemala, a two-day ride. After another struggle however I decided I did not want to miss the Mayan ruins of Palenque nor did I want to take a ‘bus tour’ there. So off to Palenque I set. On my way there I camped at a place called Agua Azul. A beautiful little place with a series of waterfalls that drops from pool to pool eventually disappearing into the jungle. The water is an incredible blue green. I set up camp at the edge of the water. The rushing water easily put me to sleep.
The ruins of Palenque are fascinating. The ancient city itself is nestled in the jungle. This area receives more rainfall than any other region in Mexico. When it was abandoned the city was quickly overgrown with trees and vegetation, which caused it to disappear both to eye and memory. Recovery of the city began some 50 years ago and to date only 35 of the 500 buildings have, as my guide called it, ‘been cleaned’.
The city covers some 2 square kilometers and demonstrates a very sophisticated culture.
The palace has a meeting or convention room, a meditation room, steam room and have course many bedrooms and eating areas. An aqueduct brings water into the palace, which also has toilets.
Some sections of some of the buildings have been reconstructed but there are plenty of untouched remains to wonder at. The buildings were at one point painted red, vermilion. There are still signs of the paint as well as remnants of paintings and some very intact hieroglyphics and carvings of incredible intricacy.
The museum also houses a large collection of items which are in fantastic shape considering there age. A lot of offerings from uncovered tombs are displayed in the museum as well. One of the tombs is open for viewing. From inside the tomb you can see secret passageways.
I was very intrigued with the ruins of Palenque and now I am just 60kms from the ruins of Tikal. Today I am enjoying a leisurely day on the small island/town of Flores and tomorrow I am going to a small place called San Jose on the other side of the lake to live with a local family and improve my Spanish.
Getting here was a story in itself which will have to wait until another day or some of you will never get back to work. Gazoo.
Next Destination: School
Weather: Perfect, sunny, 28 degrees, little humidity
Flat Tires: 4
Mule Races: 1