After Mexico City we entered the regions of Peubla and Chiapas known for their many volcanic lines, lush jungle, Mayan ruins and great culture. We have been fortunate enough to continue meeting kind and endearing locals and travelers from all walks of life, some really helping reverse the awful western stereotype. If only more people would be willing to travel down, off the resorts and open their mind to really experiencing the true Mexico maybe it would start to diminish the grigo paranoia.
Unexpected encounters in Iztaccíhuatl-Popocatépetl National Park
For instance the Mexico police force truly gets a bad wrap. Not to say it is not always deserved because we ran into our own issues which will be explained in our next post about ‘the unwritten rules of driving in Mexico’. But like any stereotype it doesn’t apply to everyone. When we left the city hopping to Itza-popo national park we arrived at the visiters center later than intended(didnt expect the road to climb to +3500m altitude). There is a permanent police force stationed here at the mountain, which surprised us, but then again isn’t that shocking as there are constantly armed police everywhere you turn, having a big presence throughout the country. I was a little nervous he would turn us away from camping in the parking lot but the men we very kind, helpful and welcoming. We chatted for a bit, they gave us tips for the following day, and after us asking a few times they finally gave in to accepting a beer.
The following day as we were taking a break from hiking a group of armed officers came flying up the mountain. They were very friendly too asking us to take their group picture then getting one with us in it as well. (We thought it was great at the time but later, as more came walking past us, we discovered they were part of a search and rescue team for a man at the top in need, so stopping for a short photo shoot might actually not have been the best move).
The mountain itself is a dormant volcano which resides right beside an active volcano. If you are lucky, like the people we met on the trail who started hiking at 2am, you will see a puff of smoke come out of the top. The altitude is quite shocking to your body however. Although we were sleeping above 3000m the night before and progressively driving upwards that week, hiking to 4600m really takes a toll on your body, and we didn’t even make it up all the way. Altitude sickness occurs when there is less oxygen in the air at the higher levels and it causes your body reactant in all sorts of ways. Some which are common that we faced were light headedness, dizzy and little woosie. We started a little to late in the day to hike all the way to the top, plus 5km was unexpectedly really taxing and strongly affecting us, so we sat and enjoyed the views up and down the fog lines of the volcano and valleys.
On our drive down we followed our typically trusty iOverlander app (everyone should download this for easily finding free and good camping sites in the Americas) to a pull off in the woods to camp for the night. In failure to find it we were met by workers way back in the bush giving us rightfully so very strange looks. Although they didn’t understand we didn’t want to camp at the tourist campground they tried their best the help direct us there. Well we don’t know Spanish (however we are trying to learn) so when they said cartellas with their accent it sounded a hell of a lot like the cartel, aka the Mexico drug lords. So we took their advice very seriously and got the hell out of dodge. Well as we reflected on it later, we realized we had mistaken the word for ‘poster’ in Spanish. Ah. Now we could rest peacefully and appreciate what the workers were trying to help us with.
The Southern Push
We had a couple rainy days infront of us we couldn’t do much with so we decided to make a long drive out of it and relax for longer further south. Just outside of our destination of San Cristobal de las Cases we took a boat tour through the beautiful Cañón de Sumidero. We squeezed (more like Frederik with his long legs) onto a boat with 18 other people and took off down the river. Naturally the tour was in Spanish and no one on the boat spoke English besides us, but it didn’t matter. We could infer from what he was saying that yes there were some huge crocodiles basking in the sun beside us, monkeys in the trees, birds bomb driving in the water and waterfalls streaming out the cracks of the canyon walls. It really was beautiful and a wonderful boat ride besides two big factors for us.
1. I have mixed feelings about what we came across in those waters, but I’ll explain myself as to why. As we rounded a bend the boat slowed down and we were met with a huge pile of trash floating on top of the water. We were absolutely disgusted. When you hear about the trash island in the ocean you can recognize how atroshis it is but you don’t have a true connection to it. However when you see something like this first hand it makes a huge impression on you and questioning your life habits as well as the human race’s. Our mixed emotions stem as well from not understanding why someone has not come along and cleaned this up yet, as it is like a trash island. But also wondering maybe if the locals leave it there to really show those on the tour the damage they are doing if they are not careful about their wasteful habits.
2. The people infront of us on the boat were absolutely hammered. At first it was funny, they meant no harm offering us beer too and making jokes in Spanish (mostly at our expense). Well as the ride went on the jokes were not appreciated any more and they were getting very annoying and clearly we were not having a good time. But not a single other person in the boat, including the driver, asked them to stop. Instead they kept harassing us and everyone laughed or those who didn’t looked away as we were clearly getting upset. We would not tolerate this if we were is everyone else’s shoes so we were greatly offended that no one cares to do the same for us as we would in the reverse if the situation. They kept calling us Americans and we knew were is stemed from but in our eyes it was still unacceptable behaviour from those drinks and sober. However that has been our one encounter thus far which has been unpleasant (besides the fact that Frederik hates it when people in the street don’t wave back to him).
My Casa is your Casa in San Cristobal de las Casas
We are now in San Cristobal de las Cases staying with a very welcoming family we happened to stumble upon on their doorstep the night when we arrived. Their property looked like a campground, which we confused it with the sign across the road, but they let us park in their big driveway and stay for 2 nights anyways after offering them some money.
Well we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. The man and his family were extremely nice, letting us borrow their electric tools, giving us fresh fruit off their trees as well as local and homemade tequila cocktails and some of their dinner. He even came out in full costume as we tried to decipher his explanations of their traditional holidays. We might not have shared sandwiches but tequila was not such a bad substitute. It really was such a great experience and we hope that this kind won’t be the last.
In town we had a couple from California who noticed our California license plates follow us to the grocery store parking lot just to say Hi! When they found out we were not fellow Americans they were still just as welcoming and eager to provide any information and tips we might need as they are doing the same trip as us expect at a much slower laid back pace, already have spent 2 months in this city, staring out from Lake Tahoe this past May (we are so envious!).
We called them locals as they directed us to the best coffee shop, restaurants, through the giant maze of a market to a hole in the wall hairdresser sotuated beside a stand of dead chickens for Frederik, they helped us buy gas for our stove we have been looking for for a month! It is truly special to find such kind, like minded people, it really makes the trip. Although sometimes we wish we were going slower as well, to really take in a place and make it feel like home and overland for a stretch with another group, we are enjoying our pace and making the most of what we have with economic limitations.
The Ruins didn’t ruin our last couple days in Mexico
Frederik has finally accepted the name I have been trying to give him for almost two month now, Frederico. And in response I have been deemed to have the name “Woops”. So Frederico and “Woops” set out to Tonina to check out ancient Mayan ruins. Camping close by we woke up in the morning and had the whole ruins to ourselves to explore, not another tourist insight . These ones provided a special experience because there were nearly no limitations as to where you could go except the top two pyramids which didn’t looking in great condition. No ropes no signs saying no it was amazing. There were many in contact murals, tunnels, tombs and homes.
We ended our day off with a stop at Azul Agua waterfalls. We are hitting Mexico at the end if it’s rainy season so the huge cascading waterfalls were not their usual bright crystal blue with enticing pools to swim in but we did anyways and it was amazingly refreshing to cool off in the sticky jungle climate.
After some work at a local garage we are now off and headed for the Guatemala boarder and we couldn’t be more excited to see what’s in store. We are spending the day and night relaxing in our new hammock beside the river at Lagos de Colon, smashing crepes as per usual ready for the next stage of our adventure.