Sometimes plans change and sometimes they dissolve into an acidic concoction of exhaustion and confusion with a smidgeon of fear. That’s what happened on October 17. We had a leisurely morning, our last in San Cristobal, walking los calles, snapping some final photos and chatting with Roberto. It was after 11:00 by the time we packed up and waved adiós. Thinking that we had only a 4-hour drive Google time which equates to 6-hour actual time, we expected a 5:00 PM Palenque arrival.
We never made it to Palenque.
An hour into our trip on route 199, the only direct route to Palenque from San Cristóbal, the route where one may hear warnings about unstable villages and is told to never drive at night, that route was blocked by a group of local villagers with sticks. I think the sticks were for show or for walking mountain paths or something of the sort. For a couple of kilometers we saw dozens of people walking in the middle of this highway – all in the same direction. Little did we know they were heading toward a sort of rebellious festival, a civilian road blockade.
They were protesting the government reforms for the maestras (teachers) who have been on strike for three months. This was their methodology for taking back power and essentially screwing the rest of us along the way. With a line of trucks ahead of us, stopped, we turned around and headed back to San Cristóbal unsure of what to do next. Enthusiastic, they waved us on and offered to sell us sodas for our travels.
It’s now 1:30 and we had two options: 1) try a small and unpredictable road that would take us back to 199 only further north and ideally away from all road blockades or 2) try a massive detour way west and north then east and south, basically a giant unclosed square reducing our chances of making it to Palenque. But this idea seemed safer, so off we went. I had the great idea to take a short cut and possibly save us some time on our new route. We ended up in a village, Zinacantan, where all the women were dressed in what appeared to be the precise same skirt and cape, which is called a tzute. This same garment, the tzute, is also worn as a sun hat. Some women wore it as a cape, some as a sun hat and some wore it both as a sun hat and cape. Despite the fact Mayan clothing style for women is fairly consistent throughout the state of Chiapas, the colors differ from village to village. It’s like school colors for villagers. In the village of Zincantan, their main color was purple. It fascinates me to see the women dressed alike. While this detour was all beautiful and fun, the road through Zinacantan came to an abrupt stop after a winding mountainous pass. We had to turn around. Another 30 minutes lost. But we did get to see a young boy around the age of 8 driving a fully loaded pickup up a steep pass. He was standing against the seat so he could reach the peddle and still see out the broken windshield.
Our not-so short shortcut to Zincantan
Still, hopeful, we carried on. By the second army checkpoint at about 2:30, we were acutely aware that the 30 mph on this mountainous road was not going to get us to our destination. Palenque was off the radar. Now, we were aiming for a large city, Villahermosa. Wherever we stopped was our new plan.
The long drive..
Took us through mountainous and jungle terrain. We saw bright blue skies and misty mountainsides. We encountered fog and rain and isolated country. We saw people carrying heavy loads of wood, goats, bulls, horses, donkeys, and sadly many dogs wandering alone or dead along the roadside. We saw hillsides covered in corn, roadside churches, and much welcomed welcome signs.
According to the map (a real map in a real map book not google maps), we had a good 50 miles ahead of us that was straight. After what was then 4 hours of winding mountainous road and a constant suppression of what might have been projectile puke, a straight road would have been like the best Christmas present ever. We waited and drove and waited and drove. No straight road. Army check just before entering the state of Tabasco.
The fourth and final army checkpoint came after we drove through the city of Villahermosa looking for a place to stay (stopping at 4-5 different motels with no luck because of a no dog policy). We were told there was a hotel near the airport. It was now very dark nearly 10:30 PM and brilliant flashes of lightning were arriving on top of crashing thunder. Topes and cones with reflectors blocked the normal passage on this road, so we had to pull off and come to a full stop. Only seeing the silhouette of an automatic weapon and not the person holding it is enough to make one (me) clench. Immediately relief came when I saw his army uniform. They asked us where we were going and said, “adelante”. This word, becoming more familiar, comforting, brings me joy. While the literal translation is “forward” in this context it means, go on or move on. We did, but in the wrong direction, so we had to turn around and fortunately were able to turn left just before having to pass by their post again. It was now becoming very difficult to see and not just because of exhausted eyes but because the night was being crowded out by a storm.
We stayed at the Hilton near the airport in Villahermosa, which is ridiculously expensive especially for this travel budget, but we were left with no other choice other than sleeping in the car. Not a viable option. And too weary to continue the search for a dog-friendly hotel, we weren’t going to leave Stella in the car in the heat and with a storm approaching. What a welcomed relief were the air-conditioned room and those TWO beds, aye dios mio. It was like we stepped into heaven after a long visit to purgatory and every comfort we needed at that moment greeted us: safety, water, a dreamy bed to rest our weary bodies, a toilet, cool air, and sleep. And the TV with movies helped too. Still buzzing from 11 hours on the road, we were up until 1:00 watching a movie of which I have zero recollection. We slept until 10:00 the next morning.
Thanks be to the Gods and Goddesses for my wonderful husband. While we had some harrowing moments like foggy roads in the pitch dark of night on the edge of mountains in the rain, I had total confidence in his ability to get us safely to our destination. And thank goodness that I lost my driver’s license so now I have a temporary excuse for not driving.
We never made it to Palenque or any Mayan ruins for that matter. Admittedly, I was and am still slightly disappointed. Seeing Palenque with its impressive Mayan ruins along with the Howler Monkeys and Toucans and any other rainforest critter was high on my list of anticipated experiences for this journey. But it’s a minor disappointment compared to death.
Drive to Catemaco
Our anniversary. We spent the morning taking our time and luxuriating at the fancy lodging. Hanging outside with our morning coffee, we met a group of young people attending a conferenciaat the hotel. They stayed and chatted with us for a while. I loved their enthusiasm and friendliness, their joie de vivre. We’ve since become facebook friends with a few of them. I think Facebook is the pen pal of the 21st century.
We hit the road again at 1:00 not experiencing anything in Villahermosa but the road and the lovely hotel by the airport. Villahermosa is big but seemingly mild city – especially during the day. I can’t claim Villahermosa upholds its Spanish name, but I’m also not one to judge given the little time spent there. Truly believing we had just a 4-hour drive to our next destination because we were out of the mountains and on a fast, flat road, we, once again, had to stand corrected. Still recovering from the storms or simply dealing with roads that needed repair, we found ourselves in long lines of traffic waiting for road repair people to let us pass. Or worse yet, potholes from hell. Scott was starting to see images of frogs and elephants in the pothole shapes. It was like when you see animals in clouds only he saw them in potholes.
Our next destination part of our plan on the fly, was Catemaco in the state of Veracruz, a town known for its brujas y brujos – witches and warlocks. With a simple malecón along Lake Catemaco (they call it a laguna but its over 9.5 miles long), Catemaco was just about the perfect stop to make towards our next destination Ciudad de Veracruz. Considered to be part of the Reserva de la Biosfera Los Tuxtlas and referred as part of the Los Tuxtlas region, Catemaco with a population of 28,000 is surrounded by rainforest and volcanic mountains.
We arrived to Catemaco about 8:00, found our lodging at the end of the malecón, Hotel Posada Koniapan (Av. Revolución y Malecón Col. Lindavista), unpacked our stuff and headed to the malecón for a walk and some food. Our anniversary dinner consisted of Modelo beer, totopos, guacamole and very spicy salsa. It was delectable.
The next morning we awoke, backs a little sore (super hard beds) but rested enough to carry on. We were thankful to find such a lovely setting and a place that allowed Stella despite the fact they are not a dog hotel – all of that for $40.00 US. We visited the beautiful gardens of our hotel, said good-bye to Norma (owner), and headed to the jungle to visit a shaman.
Reserva Ecológica Nanciyaga aka Parque Ecologico Educacional is only 7km from Catemaco in a town called Nanciyaga. Nanciyaga’s claim to fame is being the most northerly path of tropical rain forest of the entire earth, and Medicine Man and Apocalypse Now were filmed here. It’s also in Los Tuxtlas, which were once home to The Olmecs, an ancient Mesoamerican civilization. The Olmecs preceded the Mayans.
Soon past the Parque entrance we found ourselves on a bumpy, muddy, rocky road. Blue Morphos floated by. I was very happy. Is it possible I’ll see monkeys too?!
One can only go into the park with a guide for 60 pesos. Scott and Stella hung back since there is a strict no dogs allowed rule. My guide, Omar, spoke not a lick of English, so I had to concentrate very hard simultaneously on what he was saying and where we were walking. We hiked around for over 40 minutes looking at various plants and trees and insects. Before entering the Shaman Shack (she was in a little house with a sea shells curtain), I drank mineral water from a small creek. I know. Risky. But it felt right at the time. And so far my gut flora and fauna are doing fine.
I didn’t know what to expect meeting the Shaman except I thought this person would be a man. I was greeted inside this shadowy Shaman shack by a beautiful woman of about 60 or so years. Her dark skin contrasted beautifully against her white dress. She wore an indigenous headband. The skies outside were darkening. I could feel the impending storm and hoped she would cleanse me before it struck. She took some special water (I call it special because it came out of a fancy container) and made a circle on the ground. My first thought brought me back to an exercise I used to do with coaching and training clients (an exercise that a former guide taught me) where they drew an imaginary circle – for strength or protection, etc. And now I get my own special circle. I enthusiastically stepped in my special circle and awaited the next instruction. It was to take off my sun glasses.
I surreptitiously filmed this experience but because you can only see our legs and hear her burping, this film will go in my archives.
For 12 awesome minutes the lovely Shaman (I was too awe struck to get her name) smoked me out with copal incense, brushed a handful of special herbs over my body before holding them against my head, spoke in a mesmerizing voice (so soft and rapid that it nearly lulled me to sleep), blessed me in the name of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, did a strange burping thing that sounded like she was channeling everything toxic from me into herself and then spitting it back out, and asked the Gods to bring me harmony and health and love. A couple times she asked me to spit in the same place as she. At the end she held my face and asked if I was tired or sad. I had been a little of both that morning – tired from long days on the road and sad because it would have been my mother-in-law’s 83rdbirthday.
Just moments after she did her final talk-burp-spit a roaring crack of thunder entered our quiet space. As I found my way back to the car the storm hit, and I heard the distant and eerie cry of Howler Monkeys.
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This is Mexico Post #29
To see Mexico Post #1, Me and My Trimalleolar go to Mexico with my Husband and our Pooch, click this here.
To see Mexico Post #2, Dos Americanos y Su Perro en Mexico, click this here.
To see Mexico Post #3, Felix Ano Nuevo 2013, click here.
To see Mexico Post #4, Ballenas, Ballenas Hermosas, click here.
To see Mexico Post #5, Una Visita Morelia, click here.
To see Mexico Post #6, Mariposas Monarcas!, click here.
To see Mexico Post #7, Los Pueblos de Patzcuaro, Paracho, y Tzintzuntzan, click here.
To see Mexico Post #8, La pintoresca ciudad de San Miguel de Allende, click here.
To see Mexico Post #9, Guanajuato, Guanajuato, click here.
To see Mexico Post #10, Back to Sayulita and Jaime Visits!, click here.
To see Mexico Post #11, Semana Santa y Semana Pasqua, click here.
To see Mexico Post #12, Semana de Animales, click here.
To see Mexico Post #13, Semana de Amigos y Amigas, click here.
To see Mexico Post #14, Frida y Diego, click here.
To see Mexico Post #15, Adiós Sayulita, click here.
To see Mexico Post #16, Living and Grinning in San Miguel de Allende, click here.
To see Mexico Post #17, Puddle Jumping in San Miguel de Allende, click here.
To see Mexico Post #18, Guanajuato International Film Festival, click here.
To see Mexico Post #19, Ciudad de Mexico/Mexico City: Colonia Condesa, Colonia Coyoacán, y La Casa Azul, click here.
To see Mexico Post #20, Ciudad de Mexico/Mexico City: Chapultapec y Centro Historico, click here.
To see Mexico Post #21, Ciudad de Mexico/Mexico City: Museo Nacional de Antropologia y Templo Mayor, click here.
To see Mexico Post #22, Living the Dream in San Miguel de Allende, click here.
To see Mexico Post #23, Viva la Independencia! click here.
To see Mexico Post #24, Adios San Miguel, click here.
To see Mexico Post #25, Valle de Bravo y Teploztlán, click here.
To see Mexico Post #26, Ciudad de Oaxaca, click here.
To see Mexico Post #27, On the road from Oaxaca to Chiapas: 50 Shades of Green, click here.
To see Mexico Post #28, San Cristóbal de las Casas, click here.
To see Mexico Post #29, The Almost Halloween Edition: Dark Mountains, Foggy Cliffs, Witches, Jungles and Shamans, click here.
To see Mexico Post #30, Veracruz, Tampico y Estados Unidos, click here.