Driving 'The Beast' through North-America
by Isabelle Demaeght, december 30th, 2021
In 2 days we drive the 1250 kilometers north to the United States. The road is monotonous. We see vast, desolate landscapes along both sides of the 'autopista' with cacti as the main vegetation. A few meters to the left of the busy, new toll road is a 'libre' that is less maintained. The route is smoother than the guidebook (whom we met in Mexico City) told us.
At the border Adriaan arranges the (long-awaited) documents. Because of the Corona I have to stay outside. I see cars arrive and leave again after about fifteen minutes. Adriaan needs more time, because our Belgian registration certificate says: "Ce certificat d'immatriculation n'est pas une preuve de propriété du vehicule" (which means: this certificate is no proof of owenership). And indeed, there is one person at this Mexican border who reads French and takes it very seriously. In a few hours Adriaan convinces them with a lot of explanation and some documents from his computer.
We get the air conditioning fixed (it gets 30 degrees Celcius - about 86 Fahrenheit here every day) and drive back south. Towards the sea. A man in the restaurant where we have lunch, the first one we ask for a place to sleep, talks about danger, drug cartels, and advises to stop if someone makes you stop, even if they don't wear a uniform (it is probably a cartel member, but they never target tourists). Despite "the dangers," we manage to camp our first night on a farmer's property. Our first wild camping spot. And that tastes like more.
We arrive at the ocean and happen to find a place on the beach. With the permission of the police, we put up our tent and plan to stay for three nights. An idyllic spot. We are only startled by noisy young people who leave their garbage behind after their nightly binge. There is garbage everywhere. (The signs along the roads, urging you to take your trash with you are clearly not understood.) The second morning, a naval officer arrives, especially for us, with a form stating that a storm is anticipated that same evening and night. It would be cold-front number 14 this winter. We leave and look for a hotel. We found a poor hotel full of drivers of used American cars, destined for Guatemala.
We continue to drive south. I have an inkling to go and stay in the mountains (a 'reservato ecologico'). A donkey doesn't bump into the same stone twice but me .... (more than three times). We come from the sea and the park is at 3,400 meters (11,000 feet) altitude: very cold. And I get a case of altitude sickness, just like the previous times in the Andes.
We do make a stop in Xalapa the next day to visit the a very nice archaeological museum. We learn a bit about the pre-history of the Mexicans, which started 2000 years before Christ.
Just before we arrive in Veracruz a drive belt of The Beast breaks, derailing a second one. We crawl into a hotel where I recover quickly from the altitude sickness and where Adriaan can do what is necessary to repair the car (and have it cleaned, for the first time in two years). In the harbor of Veracruz we see a lot of Ro-Ro ships arriving (Roll-on, roll-off: for vehicles, like the ship that brought us).
There are also a lot of Mexican tourists to be seen here. The huge gap between rich and poor is especially noticeable in tourist places like this. The (poorer) people who live off the (richer) tourists make very long days. Towards sunset we are, also as tourists, sitting on a terrace, and witness a man who takes the battery out of his old car, brings it to his stall where he has been standing all day, connects the battery to the LED lights, his wife takes over the stall and he goes to sleep in the car. The police come a little later to check the parking permits, but skip the sleeping man's car. The (huge) car of the tourists behind it gets a good inspection....
We notice that there are mostly carbohydrates and sugars on offer here. Most women here seem to have a BMI far above 30.
400 kilometers further south we find a another quiet beach spot. We see fishermen diligently pulling their vast driftnets onto the beach. I go and have a look, and a bit later Adriaan follows. The fishermen have a hard time pulling in their nets, Adriaan helps them, and gets a floundering sea pike (Robalo) as a reward. On Christmas Eve we make ceviche from the fish rinsed with seawater, and use the second half to fry a fillet. A delicious meal with only the murmur of the sea in the background. Our food supply is thus saved and we decide to stay an extra day.
Our potable water in the tank is almost gone; this is Adriaan's opportunity to repair the broken tap. So when I go to rinse the vegetable bowl in the sea, a mother with her two daughters are waiting for me. Giggling and blushing she asks me to take her and her daughter's picture. I laugh, it seems they have never seen a white person up close before.
In the afternoon, we take a short walk and find a food stall with the mother and daughters again. Grandmother Silvia welcomes us. They are still putting up plenty of Christmas decorations for tonight's party. Silvia invites us but the noise that is already spreading makes us decline.
Christmas Day we pay her a visit in the afternoon to have dinner (our supplies ran out). Everyone seems drunk. The empty bottles on the table in front of us prove it and Sylvia's son, Andrès, blabbers while drinking from a bottle of Johnny Walker. We get some more fresh shrimp.
But after that, everything is gone. We don't have a drop of water left and a daily wash with seawater makes your skin very dry. We drive to Ciudad del Carmen, do some shopping, fill the water tank for the first time with filtered water from a machine that 'everyone' here uses for their drinking water. Tap water is not potable here...
Ciudad del Carmen is situated on a huge lagoon. Off the coast you can see mostly oil rigs, but from the lagoons they extract copious amounts of seafood. We find a specialized family restaurant where the first night we eat a "coctel" of shrimp, fried shrimp and fried fish. The second time it's shrimp, oysters, prawns, squid and ... shrimp. Did I mention that I love to eat shrimp?
The last two days of 2021 we end up in a small inland village at a hostel annex campsite. Everything here is well maintained by our hostess Mica. It's gratifying to be in a quiet, clean place for a while.
Her brother Guillermo, who lives a little further down the road, is an artist and guide of a nearby Maya site in the jungle. He takes us to the site and there is something magical about being there alone. With twinkling eyes he suggests that we climb the highest temple (32m) to enjoy the sunset there. (At the foot of the temple there is a sign that advises against climbing.) We can look around us and enjoy the sunset from the top and we get back on the ground. A guard catches us during the descent. We just give him some money" says Guillermo "In Mexico you can solve anything if you give a little money".
Since we have a reasonable internet connection here we will stay until 2022. Sometime early next year we will end up in Guatemala because repairs need to be done to The Beast but yes, that is next year :)