Back in Mexico, Chetumal/Calderitas again, so nice.
Driving Belize north towards the Mexican border, a sign says 'North America'... Many years back in school they taught us the geographical boundaries of the continent and those used to comprise Belize and the rest. But a different distinction is being made which I have realized for a while, Central Americans and Caribbeans refuse to be part of the club of North American gorillas, Canada, Mexico and the US. All Central American and Caribbean states are small countries with a different agenda, different problems.
We are back in Mexico and re-entry is easy; going to Belize and back was a grand way to extend the validity of my car papers, now I have till the end of 2011. It pours torrents for many hours, the boys love the rain and slide around the all inundated border-post.
Chetumal and its northern outpost Calderitas; a row of dozens on the pier cheap and dirty restaurants that sell excellent ceviche (marinated spicy shrimp and squid salad), and in Belize it's been a dream to get back here, now a dream is coming true, Mexico embraces us back.
The boys play long after dark, even when just another thunderstorm breaks lose opening the skies for more torrents. After dark under the tarp where we still get a lot of spray and moist from the rains the mosquitos bite while we listen to Ranchera and the old drunk men and women. A little slide runs into the lagoon, first I have to push my boys a bit, then they go again and again down where big Mexican men await them; they enjoy the warm waters in part to escape the mosquitos, but is there anything better than swimming in the rain?
We leave Calderitas near Chetumal next morning, this is Friday the 19th of August and we go west, back west.
After our spectacular visits to Carakol and Xunantunich in Belize it is hard to find enthusiasm back. Kohunlich is the first Maya site on our way, stepping about the site the boys in their gumboots and I are forced to seek shelter for an hour of pouring and thunderbolt and lightening. Then it seems almost like a waste of time until we discover the great amazingly well preserved stone masks. Like many this Maya temple from 500 A.D. was later covered by another structure, hence the excellent state of preservation of the sculptures.
On we drive and the torrents would not stop to engulf us, we always seem to drive right through the biggest thunderstorms, many times I am obliged to stop, the pouring makes it hard to see anything. We take the turnoff to Calakmul at night, then again and I cannot find the road anymore, the pouring and lightening is all around us.
In the morning we still have 40kms to go, a clear morning. A turtle crossing the road fascinates my boys. But we see also pheasants in groups and packs of wild boas.
Classic Maya Calakmul (wiki) then is nice, is one of the states/cities that Carakol (present day Belize) was allied with to defeat Tikal (present day Guatemala) in the 6 c. Some structures overlook the jungle, like in Carakol the impressive view gives rise to a nearness to God feeling, but we are tired, have not eaten, the boys stay at the base of the pyramid, have found and study a huge grasshopper.
The road out, and then finally food for the boys and us and just before we enter another storm on road to and past Escarcega. This is the season for storms and they're violent and here to stay.
We spend night in Emiliano Zapata. There are a dozen or more towns in Mexico that carry the grandest revolutionary's name (tricked and murdered in 1919), in the presidential gallery in palacio national on the zocalo in Mexico City his life size painting hangs in prominent space in line with all the Mexican presidents from Juarez to Fox, even though Zapata never was a president, but the leader of the south, Al General, a leader in the revolution with the noble ideas of land reform.
Next day we enter the State of Chiapas and Palenque (wiki, mesoweb, cookjmex), not a particular large but grande Maya site; for two main reasons: 1. the tomb of Pakal the Great with inscriptions of amazing richness and statues and busts were found and excavated here under what was subsequently called Temple of the Inscriptions and 2. because it was in Palenque that scientists started to uncover some of the mysteries of the Maya glyphs, that once deciphered opened the mysterious history of the Maya people, put names and dates and faces to rulers, Gods, people that fought the many wars. But still we don't know why their sophisticated society collapsed? Striking to the layman are of course the similarities between ancient Egyptian and Maya cultures, to bury a ruler under a pyramid, in a decorated stone sarcophagus, subsequently seal off the entry and throw away the keys...
We have been on the road for 10 or 11 days, since Belize City..., these long hours driving are tiring, eating is irregular sometimes or reduced to 12 bananas, chips and Fanta. We saw 5 Maya sites in Belize over 3 days, then headed back to Chetumal in a day, now again 3 days in a row 3 Maya sites. The boys are exhausted to say the least. They're great boys.
Still we rush them to the Palenque museum before closing with a promise of ice cream.
There is a replica chamber of Pakal's tomb, many busts, carvings and reliefs and I would like to have more time and stare in these eyes. Just my boys are short of stretching out and falling asleep.
A hotel tonight is a must, next morning we are off to Agua Azul.
The Cascades of Agua Azul.
Agua Azul comes in handy, a carrot, the occasion for the boys to swim.
Agua Azul is not far, just not so azul (blue) at this rainy time of the year, still worth a visit and we have a good last day together. Needless to say it thunder storms at night in a way we can't hear the waterfalls anymore and we camp just near them.
Agua Azul is well on route for Christina who we leave at the junction the next morning, Christina has some work to do; she is an (online) teacher now, has to prepare her course, get the upper hand as they say.
Southern Chiapas, around Lancandon, Guatemalan border.
So while C. goes on a bus to San Cristobal de las Casas, I set out alone with the boys, go the other way, back to Palenque again then south and somehow feel uncomfortable without her. I drive south and the boys sleep quietly, I think about this very, specific detour, the why and the (non)-sense it makes; it is clearly me; I wanted to drive about in this far-away jungle corner along the Guatemalan border out of nowhere from even Chiapas, not just Mexico. This is all lower grounds, down from the mountains, this is dengue and malaria invested, I'd better not fool myself. So why do I let the explorer push his way here? I am certainly uneasy about this adventure tour, I'd better be vigilant and extra cautious, put the boys under the protection of the mosquito net by sunset, timing is important, food early then to bed.
But first it is a whole day driving...
There are two Maya sites on the way, Bonampak
The other one, Yaxchilan is near, but you have to take a boat, for even more, a lot more dinero. A shame, there isn't another way to see it.
As planned we get in early, before dusk. This is Benemerito de las Americas, down right in the Guatemalan corner. We find comida economica, veggie soup and Barbacoa beef and rice, my boys eat it all, that's good, I get a second bowl for free, people are curious and nice. The boys instantly become friends with the boy of same age of the cocina economica; a tortilla machine is attached on one side, they roam the whole place.
The shop next door on the other side sells cheap beer, a green parrot sits on the pergola but is quickly lured down with some dorito-chips. Man line the shop front, many drink a full case after work, quasi on way home. Driving ones pick-up truck home dead or blind is a very Mexican thing.
Before 7, before dusk I search the quiet back streets as I was told by the restaurant people, rig up the mosquito net, wash the boys, realize that we run short of clean clothes, then they do their usual evening thing under the net, play papa, a very funny game.
I sit in front with no shirt, still sweating, have some straight shots from the Belize rum. 8 p.m. comes, all is fully dark, there are no mosquitos. Lightening between the clouds starts back and forward, the first drops, eventually Daniel and David become more quiet in the back. I join them for an amazing night, first night with a bit more room.
But I dream rolling over a pigeon, the pigeon escapes with a shriek, …
Up early, back at the cheap restaurant for breakfast and again we are being treated very generously. I think I needed these friendly people's warm, welcoming embracement.
Savanna, jungle, herders on horses, the road is long and littered with countless military controls and they don't just wave me through but search the entire van for drugs and weapons, inside, underneath and every little pocket. But eventually we make it to the Las Nubes waterfalls. The river is a wild monster after all the recent rain and my hopes that the boys could swim are dashed.
They are not selling any beer either, no guests here, the 'eco' cabanas lie a bit in shambles, what holds me here? I buy a can of limonada for the boys and we head out of the valley again.
Lago Tziscao, Lagos de Montebello, Cinco Lagos and a few more ...
Later after climbing the Sierra Madre de Chiapas Mountains again we scratch the Guatemalan border and there is Lagos de Montebello, an international lake. But the restaurant and tourist office are under water, the roofs dismantled, seems dinner still has to wait. My tough Daniel and David quickly befriend some local boys that try their luck fishing.
Around the corner is what is named Cinco Lagos, a beautiful set of turquoise small hidden lakes surrounded by conifer woods. On a parking friendly funny indigenous Maya women sell cheese and chorizo tacos and we have needed them badly by now. Yes and then they ask me a lot of questions, whether I am religious, whether we were catholics? I refrain from telling them that the boys are at least in theory half Muslims; the concept of mixed marriage and separation might be too complicated for them, where catholicism is so important and dominant.
Comitán de Domínguez (wiki) then is a great surprise, but we would not know that until next morning; when we drive in after dark, it is busy traffic on up and down steep streets and we only search for a safe and level location to park. We are up with the sun, put sweaters on, the high elevation has us shiver, then we climb down and up the colonial center with its many churches.
And then we drive out... and I have been thinking all night, shall we, should we really, or better head back, straight north? I just can't let go, ....
Enter Zapatista country.
I just can't let go, … say lets go to Las Magaritas first, and see from there. Emiliano Zapata greets as we drive by. The road is great till what is called Guadalupe Tepeyac and where the road ends is a hospital in the jungle. We have entered the autonomous indigenous territories that are governed by the group called Zapatistas or the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, EZLN, a ideologically leftwing militant group found maybe some 30 years ago, but only became visible in 1994 when their fighters over night took over important cities in Chiapas, declaring war on the mal gobierno, the Mexican state. Marcos, its leader: "We went to war in order to be heard." (wiki)
I knew the road would end somewhere, but here we are already half way through, I think...
In Guadalupe Tepeyac a guy, Raul asks for a ride, he works for the buen gobierno, the Zapatista junta in La Realidad; the next little town is this mystical La Realidad and the mountains and jungles around it, from here to there, have played a central role as meeting/convention places or hide-out for the fighters. After 1994 a military base had been installed in Guadalupe Tepeyac, its 80 families fled for years to the jungles; this area is remembered for stand-offs, scuffles, 'the war' with indigenous Maya people; the Zapatista uprising had started here.
Yes sure, I say thinking I might need a hand on the road ahead. We drive off, just it is so bad that my Spanish is still non-existent, my guy could answer many of the most burning questions. No, Raul stayed in La Realidad in 2001, he was not on the great March on Mexico City by the 'People who are the Color of the Earth', la Marcha del Color de la Tierra, when 23 commandantes including sub-commandante Marcos, the only non-indigenous, toured toured to the capital in a legendary road show. (towardfreedom)
The heat of the day is up, driving the road is technically difficult with a van that basically lacks ground clearance. It doesn't last long and I am stuck, bogged down. I put my hat on, but what do? I have been away from digging out Land Rovers far too long. Only eventually it daunts me to use the jack, the jack that I have never used before and deemed totally useless, today it would save my life several times; it is the only tool to my avail. Two hours on the spot, when some mini-bus collectivo taxi comes our way I am already done jacking and putting stones under the wheels. I am completely dirty from lying in the dust, so tired and I change my shirt, gather the boys, I know the worst is still to come.
We get to La Realidad, which is green, beautiful, quiet, I feel like an intruder, here all is community land, all is collectively organized, Marxist ideals are intrinsically Indian native ideas, they say. That is why the road has not been built yet, I puzzle.
I stop a bit on my way out and wash in a little stream near the road, I strip my shirt to the amusement of a family of Maya that comes along the path, old and young and babies, 20 or so, 3 horses, 6 dogs. I should bath in the creek they say and wash my children too. Well, I do that when the job is done, I suspect there is worse to come...
The road becomes a real struggle again, steep up again out of the valley of La Realidad. What worries most are the dark clouds towering high over the ever green Lacandon Jungle canopy. Thunder rolls already while I take a picture.
Soon later, and I better get out of here as these tracks won't be fun when wet, soon later I am stuck again, now with no help, with no moral help. 3 enormous rocks have squeezed themselves between differential and tank. No back, no forward is possible, either way I'd destroy essential parts for continuing driving. While I get my magic jack out the pouring starts and torrents of rain unload, soon this road will be a stream itself I think, but decide to wait it out for a moment.
But minutes later the collectivo-taxi from before closes in on us (all day was virtually no traffic/no aid and now...), they want to get through and out too and force me to get moving. So I have no choice, I jump in the mud, jack the van up and dig out successfully basketball sized rocks. I am completely out of breath when I wash the dirt off in the current of what was once a road. My hands grip the volant, shaking, I need to drive this road aggressively, just enough to not ruin the van, but get him through and I need to come up with the necessary adrenalin and concentration for quick decisions.
I virtually race these slopes upward, slow driving would not just do it, a ruggedized G20 emerges, the gladiator takes all the beating almost un-scattered. But I have got be vigilant too, never knowing what the next curve brings, ditches or fallen down trees. Inside all gets flying again and again, "the road is a bad road" comment the boys. Every time the road is level I stop, just pause a second to get my senses back and to let the engine cool and check whether all is still working as it should.
Hmm, worst came but I had the right set of mind to confront it, is what goes through my head as the going gets eventually easier, the rains abide a bit and the valley opens up towards St. Quentin and I take a man who waited out the rains for a few last kilometers. Dusk has set as we enter St. Quentin, Zapatista autonomous community, still there is a large military base at the entrance to Laguna Miramar.
St. Quentin, a restaurant and food, carne, Mexican beans and rice; the boys love it, then they play with all the children and dogs and cats, in the back, in the yard, in the front, the rains are gone for a short while and I sit down in my van writing down a few lines, spending my last pesos on a 3 beers.
So while the boys play and I write, this Maya comes and wants to speak English, he has lived in the States, tomatoes, 4 years in Florida. Is not long ago, but really all his English is gone.
So later while I write, after washing the boys and while they play their games under the mosquito net, Mauricio from a group of drinking soldiers, mayor in the army, comes over, leans in by the window and starts a conversation or investigation, as drunk as he is I wonder the purpose?
Again later while the boys almost doze off, he comes round a second time, 'to build friendship', leans in by the window and asks for a favor: he wants that I relocate to just outside their barracks; by now he is pretty very blind and dead. His argument is that the Zapatista police, as ideologically blinded as they are, may arrest me! I ask whether that is an order? No, he says, just his wish, he then becomes an ever stranger man; insists that I disguise my knowledge of Spanish and better admit now. He rants about my security, I smile and argue that rather the army seems at risk in this part of the world (I would not want to get caught between the lines of fire, not a serious argument and I don't mention it). Then he becomes more and more aggressive, complains about my lack of respect in face of his (half undone) uniform and rank, that one day we would meet, he farts all the time while leaning in, now flexes his muscles, threatens that one day on a road block, he would see me again.
Shortly after some fellow soldiers come and convince him to join the rest of them drinking; such a frustrated man out in the frontier camp in a never ending struggle between Zapatistas, the army and the government.
No hay dinero. I have no more money, just Dollars. I ask these nice people to fix me 2 eggs for the boys and accept my 5 Dollars. What she prepares is 3x2 eggs and ham and beans and juice, she would not accept any compensation, these amazingly nice people, the nervy soldier last night, why wanted he me to leave?
Weather, is cloudy, misty, after more rain all night, I ponder what to do...
I have had this fix idea for quiet some time to see Laguna Miramar, magical jungle lake, just around here, this is another reason why we came to the Lacandon Jungle. But something tells me not to; watching the signs, the car breakdowns, the soldier, my current lack of funds, this would be a horseback trip, an amazing adventure for my boys, but it would involve paying a guide. Intruding too deep into Maya domain, the Gods may not want me there... Fact of the matter is I am dead tired, long for San Cristobal, Christina and a hotel, the boys also pizza.
Such I reach a decision and it is still a very long way, 7 hours out to Ocosingo on very bad roads with some real challenges. But thank God we have had such a filling breakfast, concentration comes easier when not hungry, the beautiful jungle and low hanging clouds tell me I made the right decision, somewhere I take 3 teachers for the remainder of the trip.
We pass community Garrucha, where Marcos is said to live, or hide, my friends explain, but nobody knows for sure.
So why did or do the Zapistas wear those 'terrorist' ski masks? "Because before they put on those masks, no one saw them, they were Indians, they were nothing, people looked right through them as if they weren't there. Only the moment they put the head covers everybody knew right away who they were and never forgot since" - John Ross.
San Cristobal de las Casas.
We enter San Cristobal de las Casas (wiki) and find Christina sick with food poisoning, we are high up, my GPS shows an elevation of 2085m, cold, wet, we wear boots and jumpers, we are not so well prepared, but the boys get their pizza(s). Because of the continuous rains there is not so much we can do, maybe out for 2 hours each day, mornings are better. I am glad to just rest, the boys keep craving for continued activity. Ok we'll be headed for the beaches then.
San Juan Chamula.
On our way out down, we run into a fiesta in San Juan Chamula, Chiapas just some 10km away, with fireworks and 1000s of local Indios watching the drunk festivities in front of the church.