10 days around Yucatan, Quintana Roo and Chiapas

Trip Start Jan 25, 2007
Trip End Jun 30, 2007

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Flag of Mexico  ,
Thursday, February 8, 2007

Hi everyone
I've just had a whirlwind tour around the southernmost provinces of Mexico covering over 2500kms in a tiny Hyundai. I left the fleshpots of Cancun behind intending on my first day to visit Valladolid, swim in an undergound cenote (there are no rivers in the Yucatan, all water is provided by underground rivers, and pools called cenotes), see the important Mayan city of Chichen Itza, and drive on to Merida (one of the very first cities founded by the Spanish in the early 1500s) for the night.
Apart from leaving close to midday it was a bit ambitious of me. So I stormed down the toll road (I was going to take the old highway but took the wrong entrance) at 120kmh (as fast as the car would go and shaking a lot - the car that is, not me), and reached Valladolid late afternoon. Driving into Valladolid (on empty, and badly needing petrol as the car had been on empty the last 70kms) it felt like hundreds of years had dropped away, and time had slowed down by several hundred per cent and I felt like yelling out "hi Pancho" to every man I saw. Fortunately I restrained myself, found a petrol station (gasolinera), and decided I needed a cool swim as it was so hot and humid (this is their winter!), so drove 10 minutes to the cenote Dzitnup, which was a lovely experience. You walk along the arid scrubby bush for a bit then the sign points to a small hole going down into the bowels of the earth, go down this tunnel around 15 metres, then find an underground swimming pool with lots of stalactites and plants hanging from the ceiling way above. The water was a beautiful temperature so stayed down there for an hour or so, before returning to Valladolid for my first night.
Next day went to Chichen Itza, a major Mayan city. It is just mind-boggling to think of the effort required in quarrying, transporting, and cutting & carving the amount of rock in a Mayan city. Just have a look at the photos - the Mayans must have been fit and very sure-footed, as the steps are often higher than they are deep. The other overwhelming impression is the amount of human sacrifices - there's a sacrificial platform at Chichen Itza and virtually every rock has a skull carved into it. There's a large sportsground and apparently the losers were sacrified also - gives a bit of an edge to the word loser.
Will not bore you with detailed descriptions of where I went as there are lots of photos, but if you look at a map of the Yucatan peninsula I drove across the north to Merida, turned south to Campeche on the Gulf of Mexico, drove through the state of Tabasco (stopping at the city of Emiliano Zapata - lots of sombrero stores), then started into the highlands, stopping at Palenque (another Mayan City, but set in the jungle), waterfalls for a swim, then reached St Cristobal that late that night. This day was a massive drive, although only about 400kms the last 200 was mountainous and took 5 hours, especially as it was very foggy and there are people and dogs walking along the road, even in the remotest areas.
What added spice to the journey are the topes (speed bumps). These are really designed to break your car's spirit and are often in unlikely places (at least to me). There's nothing like hitting a hard concrete tope at 50kmh, although the vibradores were fun, as they just gave your body a vigorous shaking up, and often shook my gearhift out of gear. One little experience is that I was driving in the cold, dark fog through this town with badly rutted roads when a man signed me to stop. Thinking I was driving the wrong way up a one-way street I pulled over, he opened the door, muttered a few words, then taking my puzzled expression for a yes, hopped in plus 3 women in the back. If you thought I was having troubles with the topes by myself, with the extra weight the car started scraping, even when I went over gently. The women in the back kept banging their heads on the roof so soon I had the whole car on the lookout and yelling out tope loudly when they saw one. I've got to say they were much better at spotting them than this gringo. You've got to imagine extremely windy, narrow road (no verges), pitch dark, thick fog, and people dressed in dark clothes just walking or standing by the road - very easy to hit.
Anyhow, arriving in San Cristobal was beautiful - 2100 metres above sea level, clean air, lovely architecture and colouring, etc.
After a couple of nights I dropped down to Chetumal on the Caribbean, saw the ruins at Tulum on the coast, then drove back to Cancun.
Oh, I forgot to tell you that on my second day out, feeling pretty pleased to how I was handling driving in Mexico, I let my concentration slip for a second on a curb, ran off the road (roads here don't have any shoulders, my wheels just dropped off the road around 9" then I wrestled the car back. A km or so up the road the traffic was stopped, and it looked like we were going to be there a long time. I noticed my front tire had sustained damage and was flat, so I started changing the tyre. Just when I had raised the car ready to take the tyre off the traffic started moving so here I am in the middle of the narrow road with cars and trucks zooming by - by the way it was extremely hot and humid and it took ages to jack up the car as I could only do a half-turn of the jack at a time.
One last thing is I gave myself a bruise on the forehead bumping into a stalactite when I dived between 2 caves in a cenote. Fortunately no blood, just a little stun. Well at least I'll be one of the few people in the world who can say they nearly got knocked out by a stalactite while diving in an Mayan undergound pool.
Flew from Cancun to Santiago in Chile (via Miami), where I spent a couple of nights (and wallet was lost or stolen). Didn't get to see the Andes as smog is so bad (8th worst in the world), then took bus to Mendoza in Argentina (7 hours for 240km trip). Passed by Aconcagua, 6900 metres and tallest mountain in the Americas. Ok, that's it for now.

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jamesdouglas on

Fantastic post Everard!

I had no idea you had such a talent for writing. The idea of the speedhumps breaking the spirit of your car was magnificent.

I am glad you have seen so many fantastic places - the ruins, San Cristobal and Palenque all rate with me as great destinations.

I am amazed at your guts of driving around in that part of the world

I hope you love south America! Arriba! Arriba!

Gingo Jim

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