Chiapas is a state of many landscapes from beach to arid lands to mountains. There are groups of indigenous peoples live here and many live in poverty. We did notice a larger police/military presence here. We know that there was been some local tribal unrest in the northern part of the state but no violence lately. Sometimes their protests will close a road for a while but it’s not supposed to be dangerous.
On our coastal drive into Chiapas from Oaxaca, there was a military checkpoint at the border. They basically just ask where you came from, where are you going and where are you coming from. Most of the time you can see that they see our security cameras on the vehicle and we have made a habit of turning them on (we have a remote start in the cab of the truck) when we see a checkpoint of any kind coming up. Only once have we been pulled over and a soldier wanted to see in the coach of Tigger (we figure he just wanted to what it looked like inside!). Often they just confirm you are a “turista”. Once a guy joked about whether we had any marijuana – not such a joke if you say “yes” we’re sure!
We were so happy we made the recommended detour to Puerto Arista. First of all, the state highways got cleaner – not as much roadside garbage as eastern Oaxaca. This town/area has a 37km stretch of what seems like endless beach; think Daytona Beach and you’ll know what we mean. It’s a very gently sloping beach with nice surf and very wide; has palm trees near the edges in the town but NO big beach resorts. There are some vehicles on the beach, lots of ATV’s and dirt bikes as well but not so many as to ruin it for walkers and swimmers. It was still rather windy here but not as bad as inland on the drive. We couldn’t imagine how hot it might have been without that wind! It hit triple digits while we were here during our stay. It still cooled off at night for sleeping, thank goodness!
We camped at Jose’s, an ex-pat Canadian who has a camping & cabana place less than two blocks from the beach with full services except Wi-Fi. This town only has cellular service and not much in the way of other services; no big shops just tiendas. We were the only campers but there were two of the cabanas occupied during our stay.
We took a spot and then walked to and on the beach and stopped for a beer at a café before heading back to actually set up camp. It is very quiet here amongst the palm grove that the campground is situated in and there’s a lagoon along the back with lots of water birds.
We decided to stay for at least two nights and Monday morning, Doug went for a long walk along the beach for nearly five hours. Fran did her sprint running, had a chill morning alone, and did some cleaning, photo editing and writing.
That afternoon we rented an ATV for three hours: 450P = about $25USD. We had a blast driving up to the north end of this looooooong beach pretty much on our own and at the north point we got off and went swimming there and again on the way back. The waves at the point come in three different directions and you walk out for ages before not being able to touch bottom. There are dunes at this end as well with pools of salt water around them. One spot reminded us of Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert; not nearly as dramatic or large, but reminiscent for sure. We hardly encountered anyone and it was so nice to have such a great beach to ourselves and not sharing it with vendors and hotels; a rarity for sure.
We finished the afternoon off watching the sun go down over the ocean enjoying a (you guessed it!) cerveza and headed back to camp for the night. It was certainly worth the detour!
We are not having great luck with cameras on this journey; if you recall, our waterproof camera died on us in Cabo Pulmo and when Doug went to the States in November, we replaced it; so far so good. Now, Fran’s Sony Cybershot is acting up; it will not focus an entire frame any more. It works in panorama mode and sometimes in the vertical position, but for the most part only the centre of the photo is clear. She has tried doing some research but the only things she came up with resetting the camera to default mode (which did nothing) or sending it in. The camera is over six years old so that hardly seems worth it so…….we are going to resort to using Doug’s small Samsung and the new waterproof one until we can order a new one next time Doug has to go to the US.
After Doug had his almost regular Tuesday morning conference call, we headed back inland on the toll road – we were advised it would be safer, faster and much less hilly. In less than two hours the temperature went from 97F at noon down to 77F but the sun continues to shine and we are now over 700m/2000 feet. The countryside is dry once again and the hills and dirt remind us of southern Utah (not quite as red) and there is even a town called San Jorge (St. George!).
We stopped for gas in Ocozocautla and for Doug to receive another call (no service in the park we were headed to) and since we had a little time we took a short walk. There was a barking dog near the pumps and attendants that let us know he was not happy with our presence and growled at us but we carried on. However, on our return to the station, Doug went to the bathroom and while Fran was walking back to the rig, the dog growled at her and then bit her left ankle ever so slightly. It was enough to draw blood and after cleaning it up, both of us walked back to the pumps to let the man know his dog had bitten her and to inquire if the dog had rabies. It was a healthy enough looking dog (SO many are not) and he assured us that: “No it didn’t”; fingers crossed.
We drove down a short dirt road around 4pm to a place called Cascadas El Aguacero; a place in a canyon with lovely waterfalls. We were able to park in the small lot for the night and we were the only ones. The family that mans the gate left soon after we arrived and it was a very quiet night. We took short walks to a couple of miradors (lookouts) and called it a day.
For dinners in the past few months we often have a sort of veggie taco; we buy wheat tortillas, warm them up and fill them with veggies, cheese and sometimes a protein like shrimp or fish or ham; quick, cheap, easy and healthy. This, of course, is accompanied by a cerveza or a glass of vino and we tend to have fresh fruit for dessert.
Tuesday morning, we hiked down into the canyon, on the 724 concrete steps no less, and followed the shallow river down to the falls. The canyon walls are sheer and full of holes made by missing chunks of rock, with lots of cacti and buzzards. It is quite fascinating actually to watch them glide on the wind currents.
The El Aguacero is quite lovely, like veils of water over several cliffs and rocks.
This is the dry season so during the wet season there must be many, many more falls. We strolled around the area, wandered in the river and then made our way back to the top. It was a nice spot to spend a night and a morning – we saw many types of birds that morning including green parrots!
We drove the hour and half back through Ocozocautla to the larger city of Tuxtla-Gutierrez; there’s not much here for tourists but we decided it was time for a break from Tigger and fast Wi-Fi would be nice. The day was overcast and not so warm and the air in this city is rather smoggy. Doug got us a free night (from his points) at the Sleep Inn and we got there by lunchtime; basically spent the afternoon downloading, working and uploading. The hotel itself was pretty new, the staff was great and the room was very nice, clean and had HOT water. The concierge, Santiago, was most helpful and gave us ideas for our route going forward in Chiapas. He spoke Spanish, French and English. Sad to see how many Mexicans go to the US to learn English, become fluent but end up in jobs where they are not utilized fully. We met a woman at a gas station that spoke fluent perfect English after spending three years in Wyoming and she was a convenience store attendant. That nice waiter we met in San Augustin – same thing; he lived in Minnesota for ten years and was now a waiter.
Thursday we headed about an hour east to San Cristobal de las Casa – a well preserved colonial town which had just received the Pope three days earlier. The “tourist part” of town, Historic El Centro, is well preserved, clean and nice to walk in with lots of shops, cafes and pedestrian streets.
Beginning our walk into town, we noticed a laundry place across the street from our campground that was very cheap so even though we did not quite have the usual two full bags of laundry, we thought we’d take advantage and get the one bag done as well as our sheets and towels. Cost 60 pesos – less than $3 for the whole shebang!
We enjoyed a stroll through the real part of the town and it’s a typical Mexican city that most tourists don’t go through. We walked through some markets, bought a few items and some treats at a bakery. We were headed to the Mayan Medicine Musuem which was described as a must see but we were not so impressed. It’s small, dark and all in Spanish. There is an English booklet you take use to walk around with but there is only one and we were the third English couple in the place so our turn did not come during our short time there.
We walked to the Zocalo and enjoyed a beer on the square before walking around some more in the touristier El Centro district. Here buildings are well preserved Spanish colonial, streets are clean and well maintained cobble and there are lots of shops and restaurants. The day was rather overcast, a few minor sprinkles and it’s definitely cooler up here at 2200M/7200’. The campground here is older but secure and although the advertised Wi-Fi did not work well we’d gotten our fill the day before so we were all good.
Side note: some of the many local things you see on the streets in Mexican towns/villages are trucks selling: fruit, clean water and LPG tanks. There are little tiendas everywhere, small grocery stores, lots and lots of cell phone stores, shoe shiners in the town squares, lots of pharmacies and many times a family has a little “comedor” where you can get a cheap meal. There is never a shortage of vendors selling treats, bread, candy, ice cream, cut up fruit, juice and more.
Friday morning dawned quite overcast but the sun did keep trying to appear. We pulled out of the campground around noon after Doug had a work call and we picked up the rest of our laundry; she actually donated three extra towels to us but we were honest and returned them. She seemed a bit confused that they were not ours, but someone is missing three towels; I just hoped we were not missing something else that was ours! J
As we pulled out of the city onto the highway north, we encountered a couple of young European hitchhikers looking for a ride north so we picked them up; they were headed as far as we hoped to go today, so they lucked out. They were Violet and Ken from France backpacking through Mexico on towards Costa Rica by May. They spoke limited English but they appreciated the ride.
It took us about four hours to drive under 200km due to the windy mountain roads and the endless number of topes. Doug had read that this was the most “toped” road in the country and remembered that after we hit about a hundred! It just went on and on and on. It was overkill for most of them and others were just there so that vendors could try and sell you something from the road as you slowed up to go over them. As mentioned earlier, poverty is quite obvious in this part of Mexico and they try and sell you anything, quite insistently at times. After you say “no gracias” and begin to drive away after clearing the tope, sometimes they bang on the side of the truck, continuing to try and sell you black bananas or trinkets etc. Along the road itself; if there hadn’t been a tope for a km or so, you come upon a section of road that had buckled or caved in. It was quite annoying. The poor French couple in the back of Tigger! Boy they sure got one bouncy ride.
We arrived at the Parque Turistico called Cascadas Agua Azul. There was a huge bus lot that we’d read you could camp overnight in free. We pulled in to meet seven other rigs parked there; turns out they were a caravan group led by a fellow named Dan and his wife Liz, who run BajaAmigos – a caravan company that does rv caravans on the Baja. They had invited six couples to tour mainland Mexico with them. Four couples were from BC and two were from Kansas. They kindly invited us to join them for dinner at a restaurant there and it was a fun group of fourteen. The choices for dinner were fresh fish from the river or chicken with meals running 90-100 pesos: around $5USD.
We went for a walk before dinner through the gauntlet of vendor stalls at the falls and enjoyed these magnificent “blue waterfalls”. They go on quite a ways down the river. We took the 30 minute walk along the river taking in all the various falls and the turquoise colour of the water along with calcified rocks and trees. After doing this walk and seeing what the locals do in the river (wash clothes, dishes, dump stuff), we opted not to try a dip in the swimming ponds. The water here is a lovely turquoise and they look incredible in the sunlight; a truly hidden Mexican gem.
We have just discovered that we have a bit of a propane leak so we’ll have to have that looked at this weekend. Doug spent some time looking for it himself and cleaned up the regulator but it still smells at times, more than it should. He thinks the regulator is not venting properly so it over-vents.
We took another short stroll along the falls Saturday morning before pulling out and then continued north to the next water fall: Misola Ha – this is the third set of falls we’ve seen in a week and they are all beautiful in their own right. This was the tallest falls and it has a path way where you can walk behind the falls (they don’t freeze like Niagara Falls tho J!). This section of Highway 199 after Agua Azul had way fewer topes – a reason to celebrate. We have also had no issues on this road with protests of fake roadblocks. We had heard stories and were prepared for long delays. We did encounter a few instances of children holding a rope across the road in the hopes of stopping you and selling you something.
We stopped at a propane place in Palenque (our next port of call) to have our problem looked at but it turned out that it being Saturday, the mechanic was out on a call and they close at two today, so he’ll be back first thing Monday. By lunch we were at the campground near the ruins and settled in for a quiet afternoon – it was too hot to tour the ruins today. We just turn off the propane until we need it to cook.
Doug has learned he is needed in New Jersey so he’s booked a flight out of Cancun for Feb 29th. Fran has found a campground with all the perks just outside Cancun (inland) and we’ll head that direction a little faster than planned but we’ll back track a bit when Doug gets back. (this means we can get a new camera – yeah!)
For the afternoon, Doug did some work while Fran enjoyed the pool here, reading and then chatting with a young couple from Toronto and then we both had hot showers – a rarity at Mexican campgrounds – the water is either cold or what they like to call “normal” which means solar heated and it’s hit and miss how warm it actually is depending on how much sun the day brought.
There are many Canadians here at the campground in Palenque, two couples from Ontario, three from Quebec (including the couple we met in Zipolite: Lucy & Daniel and the couple we met in Huatulco: Christine & Mark) as well as the French couple we met in Agua Azul (Monette & Jack). We had a nice happy hour chatting altogether and then we joined Christine and Mark for dinner at a restaurant called Don Mucho’s just outside the park’s gate. We couldn’t find a cab to take us there so we walked the km or so and then ended up walking back to as it was a pleasant full moon evening. They had a nice ambience with music and lights and the pizza was excellent!
Sunday morning we walked the half kilometer down the road to the Palenque Mayan Ruins site. Palenque was at its prime between 4th and 7th centuries AD and was a power center for the area of Mexico that is now the states of Chiapas and Tabasco. We checked out the museum which we felt was very well done and then wandered the site entering through the back entrance. This area is very jungle like and that sure helped keep this area moist and green but also provided much wanted shade as we walked around. There were sections of these ruins overgrown with trees and this reminded us of Angor Wot in Cambodia but the trees are nowhere as large. The site is well taken care with a good number of ruins still in the jungle setting they were found in and not restored but enough has been uncovered to appreciate them. There was a huge central palace with a tower which is very unusual for Mayan cities. We spent a pleasant 90 minutes or so checking out the areas, temples, climbing stairs and walking paths. As we have seen a few sets of ruins and know we are going to see more, we don’t want to “ruin ourselves out”!
We spent an enjoyable afternoon reading, swimming and happy hour with our neighbours, Christine and Mark and the family from Quebec parked next to them. The others from last night left today. While at the pool in the afternoon we could hear the howler monkeys nearby but they did not make an appearance until the next morning when we woke up. We went outside and saw them in the nearby trees and below is a video of their ruckus: