On the Zapatista trail

Oaxaca, Mexico to Tenosique, Mexico
April 18 – April 30, 2014

Escaping the asphalt

Entering the cloud

Entering the cloud

We left you guys as we were exploring the region east of Oaxaca with Centurion and Spirit, our two endurance champion horses. Our plan for the next couple of days called for a 150km detour through the indigenous Mixe mountains of the Sierra Juarez. Our prospective route included several gaps neither Google maps nor our GPS was able to fill. To soothe the Zebra nerves, tense at the thought of pulling our DRs out of unexpected cliffs, we stopped by Hierve el Agua to take a dip in its mineral pools with breathtaking views.
There we were lucky enough to meet Azael, a native from Quetzaltepec, one of the main Mixe villages, who was not only able to confirm the existence of decent trails but also recommend us to his cousin Gaspar, owner of the only hotel in town. His directions would be something we were going to hear a lot: “ask for Gaspar to anyone in town, they’ll be able to point you to his house!”
We then begun a long climb. Our GPS elevation plot showed a steep curve, 1000m, 2000m, and we found ourselves in the clouds, with the kind of visibility a Londoner would not laugh about. It was an odd thing to find ourselves sweating in the sun then shivering in the clouds within a short hour. Soon the pavement ended and we begun traversing tiny villages hanging on the mountainside where villagers would stare at us in disbelief, unsure of what was most incredible, our fierce DRs or the Zebra ponytail flailing in the wind. We eventually reached Quetzaltepec and were indeed pointed to Gaspar’s house without hesitation. We never saw Gaspar but the hotel was real: it’s called Hotel Dos Mille and for 100 pesos we were able to drop our bags in a spartan, but clean, room.

Playing Postman Pat

A very happy mountain Wolf

A very happy mountain Wolf

At sunset we took a stroll through town to hunt for some food. Instead we bumped into Hector, a very friendly minibus driver we had passed earlier. Despite our limited Spanish, we explained we were heading East through the mountains. Hector immediately informed us we would be driving through his parents’s town, he then entrusted us with a letter for his dad and invited us to share dinner at his house with his lovely wife and family. We had a wonderful evening.
Some 150kms of mountain roads were on the menu for the next day. The views were sublime, and the Wolf was in his element as we wound our way up and down the mountainsides from town to town. In the afternoon we arrived unannounced at Fausto Perez’s door. We were given a warn welcome, delicious tamales and a cup of coffee. As the day drew to a close we melted our way into Ixtepec, exhausted and thirsty. It was a far cry from the peaceful mountain towns in every way, and sticker shock drove us to opt for a room with a fan instead of coughing up for an air-conditioning. We would not repeat that mistake.

Crocs in murky waters

Did you know there were mexican crocodiles? We didn't.

Did you know there were mexican crocodiles? We didn’t.

From Ixtepec we hit the asphalt towards Tuxtla Gutiérrez, some 275km away, with the hope of camping at Cañon de Sumidero. Hundreds of windmills did not manage to make the coastal segment of Hwy 200 exciting. The turnoff to the mountains of Chiapas provided a much needed relief. Cooling off with an ice-cream, we met a friendly security guard who informed us that no camping was allowed at the Cañon. We promptly found an hotel with air con in the city.
In the morning, between two bites of Barbacoa, we met Jolman. A character with fantastic stories from the other side of the border. He suggested we explore the Canon by boat from Chiapa de Corzo. We spent the rest of the day marvelling at the 1000m high cliffs, the trees decorated with monkeys and at the impressive crocodiles that guard the waters, sadly powerless against the tons of garbage floating around them.

A short 70kms and a steep 2000m climb later, we entered San Cristobal de Las Casas, where a free night convinced us to stay at Gringo Trail favourite; Rossco Backpackers. A gaggle of loud Danish girls aside, we had a lovely time there and took full advantage of the garden to plan the Chiapas – Guatemala leg of our trip. We even indulged in the excellent Shiatsu massages of Kentaro, a reformed Tokyoite in search of Latin tranquility.

Piping hot pyramids

Trying not to melt in the heat at the Palenque ruins

Trying not to melt in the heat at the Palenque ruins

So much comfort soon threw the Wolf into severe dirt withdrawal. Oblivious to accounts of recent Zapatista road blocks, we once again aimed towards the mountains to look for some more roads that google maps has not yet discovered. We rode through Tenejapa, San Juan Cancuc and Guaquitepec to land on Hwy 199 just North of Ocosingo. The further we descended toward Palenque the higher the temperature rose and by the time we arrived we were very close to evaporating.
After a night spent cooling down in air con, we set foot for the majestic Mayan pyramids of Palenque, home, or shall I say tomb of the famous Pakal. A bit of negotiation even got us a guide for $16 instead of the initially quoted $80. The site is striking and it was provocative to hear our guide opine about why the mayan civilisation degenerated all those years ago.

Closing the Mexican chapter

After much map analysis, we had elected to cross into Guatemala at the tiny “El Ceibo” border. We theorized that our chances of surviving the administrative process required to check our bikes out of Mexico and into Guatemala would be improved if we showed up at the crack of dawn. Part of the plan called for spending our last night in beautiful Tenosique in the scalding state of Tobasco, Despite its location on the banks of the river Usumacinta, we must confess the city failed to impress us. Noticing locals fishing at the mouth of sewage pipes undoubtedly did not help. After a delicious vegetarian meal, we got our paperwork in order and found once again refugee in a blissfully cold air con room.
The green fields enlacing each curve of the road to the boarder made us feel optimistic, rightfully so as we discover El Ceibo as the custom offices were opening. The whole process went remarkably smoothly with the officials on both sides getting out of their way to help. A short hour later our wheels were treading the Guatemalan soil.

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