02.16.2003-02.26.2003       Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico to Frontera Corazul, Mexico
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Riding through Chiapas was a departure from the rest of the Mexico in that nearly each day brought me to a natural or cultural attraction. After Tuxtla it was a short ride to Chiapa del Corzo, departure point for boat rides through Sumidero Canyon. A relaxing afternoon on the water was the perfect way to rest up before the next day’s ride. Most days I measure my progress throughout the day by the distance I’ve covered. But there are some days when elevation gain is a more appropriate measure of progress. The day I rode to San Cristobel was one of those days. Not only did San Cristobel sit at an elevation over a mile above my starting elevation but the approach into town was on a descent. I set out early in an attempt to climb out of the lowlands before the intense heat set in. By the afternoon I was into the highlands of Mayan villages. Although the villages were no prettier than others I’d passed through the occupants certainly were more colorful. And unexpectedly friendly. This was in stark contrast to my experiences in San Cristobel. Chiapas was the first state in Mexico where proper coffee was readily available so I decided treat myself to some of Chiapa’s best after my tough ride. I settled in at the café in the plaza just as the plaza’s marimba band was starting up for the evening. I was soon assaulted by a group of Mayan children trying to sell their trinkets or simply demanding money. They would not be dismissed. I was determined to finish my coffee and feared ridding myself of their presence would require a level of rudeness I might later regret. I gave in to their demands and purchased the cheapest item available, a Commandante Marcos keychain. My experience had taught me that my favorite pastime of lounging in the plaza would not be an option in San Cristobel.

From San Cristobel I headed towards the Mayan ruins at Palenque. The route would take me from pine forests to the jungle but this was little comfort to my legs, which still had to endure a healthy dose of climbing. The first day brought me to the town of Ocosingo. One of the attractions of Ocosingo is the nearby Rancho Esmeralda, supposedly the nicest place to stay in Chiapas. I’d read on the internet some weeks earlier that there’d been a disturbance there between the Zapatistas and the gringo owners. Although there still was a nice sign indicating the turn-off to the ranch I thought it best to stay in town. When I arrived in the town plaza I received some strange looks, especially from the Indigenous people. This was not the reception I had become accustomed to and at that moment I realized there was not a single other tourist about. I quickly found a room and afterwards went to an internet café to check the Ranch’s web site. There I found a warning telling travelers to stay away from the ranch and the Ocosingo area in general. I also found a State Department travel advisory for the area. Apparently there had been other incidents in the area. I thought then that perhaps my Commande Marcos keychain might be of some use, that if I displayed it prominently somewhere it might serve as an amulet of sorts. Then I thought not. On the road to Agua Azul the next day the only hostile encounters I had were with children. On the climbs I was easy prey for them and they often ran along side me demanding money. I always refused these demands and several times the solicitor(s) launched a few rocks in my direction to show their displeasure. I was therefore very happy when I arrived at Agua Azul, a collection of turquoise falls and pools. After a few dips in the refreshing pools I was feeling much better. That night I had the pleasure of sharing a tent shelter with two other Pan-American travelers--Marty and Joe from Australia. They were traveling by motorcycle and had started their journey in the Far North as well so we had many experiences to share. The next natural attraction were the falls of Miso-Ha, which made for a nice mid-ride break en route to Palenque. I arrived in Palenque eager to notch up my first Mayan ruins visit of the trip. A Sunday visit meant free admission but the promise of thick crowds. We went early and made the rounds through the impressive plazas. Climbs up several temples provided nice vantage points of the ruins and surrounding countryside.

From Palenque I embarked on my last proper ride in Mexico, the long ride to Bonamapak along the Frontier Highway. For the first time in weeks I found myself riding on a gently rolling highway with very little traffic. It was the perfect wind-down to nearly four months of travel in Mexico and gave me a chance to reflect back on my experiences there. I hadn’t expected to spend four months in Mexico but its size and its significance as the first Latin American country of the trip justified it. I had known little about the country before my travels but through my interactions with the people and numerous visits to museums, historical sites and archeological sites a fairly coherent picture had emerged. After I arrived at the turn-off for Bonampak I chose the closest campground. The owner led me to the tent shelter, where I found a single backpacker. I’ve poked fun at RVers earlier in these pages and now it’s time for me to direct my scorn at travelers at the other end of the spectrum. They are a sub-group of backpackers whom one usually encounters in places where one can sling a hammock or pitch a tent for a few bucks a night. Mostly twenty-somethings, they tend to have a “holier than thou” attitude and carry on as if they own the place. The backpacker at Bonampak was one such traveler. Our tent shelter was rather small so I felt obligated to extend some civilities. The problem was the state of Chiapas wasn’t big enough for this girl’s attitude, let alone our small tent shelter. Those of you who know me know that I’m not the loud, in-your-face type of person with whom one might hate to share space. But obviously my neighbor thought otherwise as she did her best to stay clear of me. True, she was probably expecting a peaceful night to herself before my arrival. I had invaded her physical space and then invaded mental space with my stupid questions. I was tempted to tell her that if it were solitude she were after she might try traveling by bicycle for a bit.

The next morning I set off on the pleasant five mile ride through jungle to the ruins at Bonampak. I arrived at the ruins well before the tourist vans and therefore was able to enjoy the area to myself for some time. The buildings were nothing special but the paintings were the best I’d seen at the few Mayan ruins I’d visited. At the entrance to the park I had noticed some people walking around in white gowns that resembled hospital smocks. I have had the opportunity to spend some time in this type of clothing and wondered why anyone would voluntarily wear such attire. The clothing combined with the stunned looks I received from these people made me feel like I was in an open-air insane asylum. Then I remembered that this was the traditional dress of the Lacandonians, the last inhabitants of the Lacandon Jungle. When the jungle had been declared a bioshphere they had been resettled in several settlements outside of the park. After Bonampak I visited the largest of these settlements, Lacanja Chayasab, and have to admit it was the most bizarre scenes of the trip. Later that day I broke camp and completed the short ride to Frontera Corazul. I had planned to spend my last night in Mexico there and catch a boat to Bethel, Guatemala the next morning. However, after I arrived at the river bank I was approached by a boat driver. He was taking a tour group to Guatemala in a matter of minutes and had extra space for me and my bike. The price was right so I quickly paid a visit to the Mexican immigration office and loaded my gear on to the boat. Seconds later I was on my way to Guatemala.
DistanceElevation GainFlat Tires
Leg327 mi/526 km23510 ft/7713 m1
Trip9513 mi/15309 km97 mi/156 km6
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