Driving 'The Beast' through North-America
Tropical warm and cold
by Isabelle Demaeght, february 23rd, 2022
Near the bungalow park I find another Maya site (Takalik Abaj). The site is only a part of a city of which the largest part is private property, since before the site was discovered. On the parking lot a guide offers himself spontaneously (as a volunteer). He is well informed and enthusiastic. Sacrificial ceremonies are held, which we witness: a carefully arranged color pattern of herbs, flowers and wood is burned on circular concrete slabs (the 2000+ year old sacrificial sites, right next to them, are no longer allowed to be used). The participants preferred not to be photographed: one of them embraced a stone that to her is "Mother Earth." Excavations are still in full swing and will continue for years.
On our way to Mexico we make a stop at the (extinct) volcano Chicabal. The crater is a lake; around it we see Mayan rituals led by the priests. Because of its spiritual value, bathing in the lagoon is not allowed. People leave flower arrangements on the waterfront after a ceremony. It is a place of silence and tranquility. We take a walk around the lake. The short breaks around the lake invite meditation.
I find along the Panamericana (the road connecting Alaska and Chile) a reserve for Quetzales, the national bird of Guatemala. A Quetzal is very beautiful because of its coloration and we haven't seen one in the last few weeks. We arrive after closing time and although we are allowed to camp in front of the entrance it doesn't feel very comfortable and we look for an alternative. At our first candidate, where we go to with police escort, we don't get to camp. The chief of police calls friend Manuel and so we end up with the same escort on a lonely, higher ground in a piece of jungle owned by Manuel.
When I am getting ready to shower in the morning, Fransisco and Nancy pass by with their 4 dogs. I ask them if they would like to join us for breakfast. They immediately accept. Later Fransisco's brother joins us, it becomes fun, our supplies steadily diminish, even our special, aged Gualtemalteque rum is requested (at 9:30 in the morning) by Nancy. Later Manuel and his 10 year old daughter Sofia 'visit' to take us through their vast domain.
Our supplies are depleted so we descend for lunch (a fifteen minute walk back to the Panamericana). Again, everyone asks for a selfie with us. Would celebrities feel this way? We buy soda and chips in advance because Sofia wants to visit with some friends this afternoon : )
The border crossing with Mexico goes reasonably smoothly although the border town itself gives a chaotic impression.
We drive for several days to get to San Christobal de las Casas. The road is in a bad condition and the journey is slow because there are many speed bumps which make smooth traffic impossible. Moreover, local residents tell us that we must have a place to stay well before sunset in order not to be bothered by robbers. The (pandemic) poverty makes some hopeless and criminal.
San Christobal, the cultural capital of the state of Chiapas is located at an altitude of 2200 meters and therefore has a fresh climate. It is a popular place. The historic downtown is (again) a copy of a Spanish city. We walk through it diagonally, make a stop at a French bakery for delicious croissants (and yes, they taste good on the eighty-third day of travel) and finally end up at the local market for our groceries. We hang out here for a few days, but when the daytime temperature remains around 14 degrees, it becomes less pleasant we leave for Puerto Arista on the coast: 35°C during the day. Our route is one of highs and lows. Of warm and cool temperatures.
So, by chance, on Valentine's Day, we end up in Cañon del Sumidero National Park. The heart of this is the canyon that has been dug out by the river Grijalva for 1000 meters in the last million years. The canyon is 15 kilometers long and provides unforgettable images during a boat trip, but the biggest surprise is when we get into the park by car just before closing time to view the river from above. It makes for breathtaking images. (Next time, I'd arrange for a private boat: our tourist attraction allowed time for Instagram photos of every person on board. I think we lost sight of some of the lush fauna and flora).
Valentine's Day is celebrated exuberantly as well in Mexico. Vendors are everywhere with red-heart balloons or other love gadgets. It is a small search for a place in a restaurant.
Het is een traject van verrassende kampplaatsen en steeds nieuwe ontmoetingen. Op onze kampplaats aan de kust probeert Adriaan een die-hard Canadese anti-vaxer en een jonge Nederlander te overtuigen van de noodzaak van vaccins. Ik meng me niet in die discussies omdat ze zo weinig veranderen. Ik heb in de Ardennen in april 2020 veertig patiënten (van 120 bewoners) zien sterven en voor anti-vaxers die deze ziekte ontkennen heb ik geen tijd.
Our next stop is high altitude Oaxaca where we end up in a real RV park. (An RV is a Recreational Vehicle, think: mobile home, but of American size. Such a park offers three connections: electricity, running water and sewer for the movable houses.) The site is completely filled with Overlanders, most of whom have been on the road a lot longer than we have. (One German has been here for a year; we call him "the principal.")
I will remember Oaxaca permanently for its beautiful colorful houses, its delicious food but also the mixture of Mexican people who are currently engaged in a political protest. They look tired and discouraged.
Adriaan tinkers with the Beast for another day, I ride a borrowed bike to town for chicken, call the boys and finish my episode. Tomorrow we continue...