Wednesday, 1 June 2022

Mayan Empires, Lakes and Cascades

With the new shower all fixed and working perfectly we ventured east and into our third state called Chiapas. 

The climate was definitely changing. 

Some of the roads here are famous for illegal road blocks and robberies. With Pat's expert research we avoided most of the known locations, but some we simply had to run the gauntlet. Luckily so far we haven't experienced such an event.

After a quick overnight stop in the car park of Puerto Chiapas by Isla Cahuare, we took a boat trip on the Rio Grijalva into the Parc Nacional Canon Del Sumidero.






The pretty, and very popular, town of San Cristobel de las Casas is famous for many reasons. Its Culture, Its Cuisine and its Churches to name but a few. Unfortunately, it is most famous for stomach upsets and diarrhea. 

Collectively the town must produce thousands of gallons of the stuff every day. 

I am not sure as to the reasons why this is the case, but I suspect it's probably that the general water supply is in some way contaminated. It's very hard to avoid if you eat out. Armed with this prior knowledge we made the decision that we wouldn't be eating out here. This lasted about a day and we found ourselves eating in several restaurants. On a recommendation, we tried a vegan restaurant. This was the one that caught us out. Don't think I will do Vegan again.

Gravity soon becomes your arch enemy in San Cristobel de las Casas. 

Despite this, we still managed to visit a few of the local places of interest.

The Caves at el Arcotete just outside the town were amazing.






Throughout all of our travels, we have visited many Churches, Temples, and places of worship. However, The Church of San Juan de Chamula is probably in the top three for us.

From the outside, it is quite unremarkable and very similar to the hundreds of other churches in the region. However, once inside you have to just stand there with your mouth open.  This church is where Indigenous beliefs and Christianity fuse. 

Despite there being many Christian effigies, crosses, and paintings etc, the personal praying was very different from your traditional Christian style and was heavily influenced by ancient Mayan cultures including the Tzotzil, Tzeltal, and Mame people. This means that additional deities such as the Sun and the Moon are included in the enthusiastic and ritualistic chanting and praying that can be seen in every part of the Church. 

The floor of the church is covered with straw and pine needles. Thousands of candles are everywhere and the smell of Incense is overpowering. Everywhere people are chanting, mainly in Mayan. Shamans are on hand to bless anything you feel might need a blessing, for a modest fee of course. 

The sacrificing of animals such as Chickens etc is common during ceremonies. I am quite glad we didn't see this. 




Casas Na Bolom ( House of the Jaguar ) is a beautiful home and now museum dedicated to the lives and works of two prominent immigrants who lived and worked in the area from the early 1
Danish born Archeologist Frans Blom and his Swiss wife Gertrude ( Trudi ) Duby Blom dedicated their lives to studying, documenting and photographing the lives of the  Lacandon people who were the only Maya civilization that wasn't conquered or converted to Christianity by the Spanish.
Frans Blom was one of the first foreign archeologists to excavate Palenque which is a Mayan city about 150 km east of San Cristobel de las Casas. 
The couple dedicated their entire lives to the protection of the Lacandon and the preservation of the Chiapas rainforest. 
Their home is now a museum and library and study centre of their works and the lives of the Laccandon 





We try to spend some time camping away from others and camp sites. The ability to do this varies greatly from country to country and even region to region. The Cascades at El Corralito in Chiapas  were a welcome break after the vibrant town of San Cristobel de las Casas. A little slice of heaven.




Historically Mexico has been dominated by two main indigenous cultures. The Aztecs in the north and the Mayans in the South. There has, and still is, many other groups but these are the main ones. Within these groups, there are hundreds of subcultures such as the Zapotecs and the Tzeltales.
 
Although Spanish is the national language of Mexico there are an additional 62 Indigenous languages that are also spoken.  Fusion of these cultures and languages is common. 

The southern region is littered with amazing remains of the Maya culture and many have been made available to the public. 

The Tzeltal city of Tonina was built in approximately 500 BC and occupied until the 10th century AD, near Ocosingo in the state of Chiapas, is a great example. Its 75 meter high pyramid was the centre of an enormous empire that stretched as far south as what is now known as Guatemala. Although the empire would be described as mainly civilized and educated it did engage in several wars with neighboring empires such as Palenque. The lower level of the ruins has a large sports area where a ball game was often played either for fun or to settle disputes between factions. The only thing was that the balls used were actually the heads of prisoners or slaves. 







Agua Azul is deep in the jungle region of Chiapas and was a great place to relax after experiencing the thousands of steps in Tonina. 









Calakmul is one of the largest Mayan cities. It is situated 6km into the lowland jungle area in the state of Campeche. as the crow flies it is only about 35km from the border with Guatemala. 

The windy road through the forest to it was filled with surprises including seeing this beautiful wild Ocellated Turkey. 


Sadly we made this journey just a few minutes too late as the car in front of us had to stop to let a Jaguar cross the road.






A short walk into the jungle in the evening enabled us to witness the nightly display of approximately 4 million bats leaving a cave.

Strangely this reminded me of the violent stomach upset I had a few days before in San Cristobel.



The 42 km long lake at Bacalar, near the border with Belize, gave us a few days to unwind before our final push into the state of Quintana Roo and the busy city of Cancun 








Hasta Luego


Sunday, 1 May 2022

Oaxaca State... Its pretty nice here

Sorry, its been a few weeks since my last post.

We are still in the Mexican State of Oaxaca.  Coming from such a small country like the UK it's hard to get your head around the size of countries like Mexico. For example, Oaxaca , which is one of 32 states, is 4 times bigger than Wales and the same size as Portugal. 

So far we have only been in 2 states, Veracruz and Oaxaca. We are coming to the conclusion that getting around the remaining 30 States might take a few years. 

Our last Blog post ended at the Pacific coast town of Zipolite, which was an eye opening experience.  Heading slightly north we found ourselves at the very small coastal village of Ventanilla. The community here rely on tourists who come to see their sea turtle hatcheries and Crocodile infested Mangroves.

Every night Patrols comb the beaches looking for either the huge Pacific Green Turtles or the smaller Dolfino Turtle. 

I was lucky enough to join one of the patrols. Their aim is to protect the turtles themselves from being killed for their meat and shells and to also collect the eggs and hatch them out in a much safer, well protected, sanctuary.  Turtle meat and eggs are a well desired delicacy in the restaurants of Mexico.

After a few hours of patrolling, we came across a huge, 150 kg,   Pacific green turtle and stayed with her until near daybreak whilst she hauled herself up the beach, dug a huge hole in the sand, and layed about 70 eggs and buried them before returning to the ocean. We then retrieved the eggs and delivered them safely to the hatchery. It was a real privilege to witness.

We were only able to use a red light to see the event as white light can disturb the Turtles and cause them distress.



Just a few hundred meters inland from the coast was the large freshwater Mangrove lagoon. This wetland was home to a huge number of birds and reptiles including large crocodiles. Ironically the tour guide with only one arm insisted it was safe to go there.






The busy town of Puerto Escondido wasn't really our thing. It was a Mecca for young hippy types trying to find themselves and surfers. It did, however, give us a great opportunity to meet up for lunch with some well known Adventure Motorcyclists, Spencer Conway, Cathy Nel and Elpeth Beard. All of whom have completed amazing journeys, circumnavigating the globe. Spencer was telling us about his incredible ongoing plans to get his motorcycle through the mountains and jungles of the Darien Gap. 



Laguna Manialtepec is a 15 km long brackish water that kisses the Pacific Ocean, mixing seawater and freshwater during occasional high tides . This is also home to fantastic birdlife including Ospreys, Black Hawks and more Crocodiles.  It is, however, more famous for its Bioluminescence which is caused by a specific Algae that exists in the water.  A night time boat ride and a swim in the pitch black was a slightly scary experience but it was fun to see your movements illuminated.  Swimming in the dark in the middle of a Crocodile infested lake, and lighting yourself up now sounds a bit stupid   We didn't get any pictures of this so I stole this image from the web.


The Crocodile proof inflatable Kayak came out and we spent a few great days enjoying this lake. 






The Pacific was a great place to spend some time. Although Brilliant for surfing the sea was often a little too rough for swimming. One place that offered calmer seas was San Agustin. Here we met up again with our old friends Sigrids Sigrid and Peter.





The sea here was much calmer and relaxing.

Whilst here Pat took the opportunity to take part in a full weekend online seminar for overland travel called the Armchair Adventure Festival. It was great fun and highly recommended.  


Like most people these days I spend a few hours a week browsing interesting media on Youtube. For a couple of years I have been an admirer of a French Duo who play the Cellos, aptly called 2 Cellos 
Whilst staying on the beach we spent some time chatting to a really nice French guy. It wasn't until after he had left that I realised that he was in fact 50% of this very successful act.

Whilst at the coast we realised that our shower tray, Which I made 10 years ago, was feeling a little spongy. An exploratory look ended in it being removed as it was suffering from rot. 
 


I decided to have a new one manufactured in Stainless Steel. This meant back to the bigger city of Oaxaca to find a fabricator. After a day of buzzing around the city on my scooter, I eventually found a guy whose work looked good. He was tasked with  the job . However, I have since learned that when a Mexican business says " Yeah 2 weeks no problema " this is in fact a very conservative estimation . So 4 weeks later our shower arrived. Luckily he had done a great job and it fitted carefully.






Life in a Big Overland Camper keeps you busy. There is always a list of jobs to do. I actually have three lists. " Jobs I need to do, "  " Jobs I should do but probably won't ever get round to doing  " and " Jobs have no intention of ever doing. 

Whilst waiting for the shower we set about the jobs list and by the time it arrived I had actually got halfway through the "Jobs I have no intention of ever doing list " so our waiting time wasn't completely wasted.
We even caught up on some long overdue medical checkups and dental work.

We also took time out to celebrate  Pat's 60th Birthday. lots of Food drinking and cake with our great friends Peter and Sigrid. 



Back in 2019 we left our truck in Peru and returned to the UK for a few months, because you need a Holiday from your holiday.  During this time we flew Portugal and hired a camper van for 2 weeks, because you need a holiday from your Holiday from your holiday.
During this trip, we met a couple from Liechtenstein called Denise and Alex.  Forward fast 4 years and they only turned up on the site we were on. What a small world.

We spent some great days with these guys including a day out to some local attractios . 

Not far from Oaxaca city is the tourist site of Hierve El Agua or Petrified waterfalls. An interesting geological feature with far too many steps to make it suitable for humans. 







After this we visited a Traditional family Mezcal distillery .
Mescal is a very popular, locally produced spirit that is created from the hearts of Agave plants that you see growing everywhere. 
The process included cutting all the leaves of 7 year old plants. Cooking them for several days in a big fire pit. Crushing the baked hearts to extract the juice and pulp then distilling the residue to make 85% pure clear Mezcal.
The beauty about Mezcal is that it appears to be able to be mixed with just about anything . Pat liked the rasberry variety. Our friends enjoyed a special brew that might of had a bit of Marijuana in it. You can even get it blended with Viagra. Apparently, this is very useful if you get really drunk. 
It stops you rolling out of bed .










After all the samples and a slow sobering up lunch break, handmade we visited the small town of Teotitlan which is famous for making handmade rugs using only natural dies and materials. 







Nights on Site were always fun with lots of games with the 4 Amigos.   Denise, Alex, Cate and Kurt.