35. 3-15-13: Chiapas – Relics

Miramar

Laguna Miramar is one of those rare places in the world which has not yet been raped by man. It lies in the middle of the jungle, and though there are villages on its farther shores, there is no road that leads to it, so people coming to and from their home have to hike 6km, then row for a few hours. And just to make sure no one is too enticed to come, the hike is over unsteady farm land, with almost no signs at all that tell you where to go. And as a further precaution, the road that leads to the nearest village connected to the rest of the world, Emiliano Zapata, is mostly sand and dirt, which requires a good off-road vehicle, or a bit of craziness, to traverse. Georgia and I being accustomed to the difficulties of being in the middle of nowhere made it just fine, if a little tired from the riding and hiking, and wet from the constant rain.

Though I had to hide under a tree once or twice while the rain was particularly heavy, and my back was in pain from carrying my gear and food in a duffel rather than back pack, I put the 6km behind me in a matter of a few hours. It was almost dark by the time I arrived to the lightning and storm-cloud framed sunset. I smoked a joint which made the water look like it was vibrating, and watched the rain drops dance on the crystal clear lake, as the rolling thunder, the hum of insects and growl of howler monkeys, became my lullaby.

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There were no mosquitoes, and the previous day’s rain dropped the temperature mercifully. I sat in the perfectly clean and warm waters of Miramar for hours on end – never hot, never cold. The sounds were incredible! Howler monkeys sounded like roaring dinosaurs, some birds like car alarms or mechanized pumps, while others sang like a choir of bells. The rain came and went again, and the lake returned to its perfect stillness, with the evening brought forth the sounds of animals theretofore asleep. It was a peace I wanted to hold on to, but as always there was something beckoning me to ride forth – in that instance it was my quickly expiring visa. I thought I would have finished Mexico within a month, but at that point was left with only 12 days on my 6 month visa.

After another day of sharing food and rocking in hammocks with some locals, I began the sweaty trek back to my steed. More lightly laden I made it in only a couple of hours, reluctantly put on my gear, and began the arduous ride back to civilization.

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Palenque

The jungle kept changing as I rode along, as did the dresses and dialects. No matter where I went it was the women who donned traditional clothing. As the men attempt to be worldly, it is the women who more often speak their native dialects. It’s often hard to tell from which part of Mexico a man comes, but with a woman it is much clearer. Even within the state of Chiapas, the dialects and dress changed, sometimes as often as village to village. The villages of women and children walking up dusty inclines with huge bundles of wood on their heads, could always be identified by the patterns in their skirts.

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The sun and air were very hot which made for a lugubrious day of riding. The road remained dirt for a couple of hours, but thankfully stretched enough so that I could put Georgia into third gear every once in a while. I often had to pass little 15 seater vans – the only official form of public transportation. As a rule in Mexico, if it’s a 15 seater van, you can be sure there will be at least 25-30 people in it, which may or may not include people on the roof. In truth every type of vehicle is used for transport: cars, vans, small trucks, dump trucks, tractors, scooters… and each one will carry at least twice the normal capacity, with a good amount hanging-on precariously off the vehicle.

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Eventually the pavement returned, and with it the joy of finding 4th and 5th gear. As per the usual I chased the sun into my little camp at the foot of the ruins at Palenque, and the following day I entered some of the most beautiful ruins I had yet seen. Set right in the middle of jungle, in the first hills which come out of the gulf coast plain, Palenque is one of the crown jewels of the Mayan empire. The architecture here is quite different from the rest of Mexico. Mexicas, Zapotecas and Toltecas have much more in common with each other than with the Mayans, and even an untrained eye like my own could tell. The whole site is quite impressive, not the least because everything that was built was done so without the assistance of the wheel or metal. I wish I could have seen these relics as they stood gleaming in bright reds and yellows against the deep green of the jungle in the back, and the brilliant blue of the uninterrupted sky of the plains in front. What a shame there are not many color drawings from the days of the conquest – only descriptions of how things were. In lieu of drawings, I walked around the entire site (no easy task in the jungle heat). I Took a bath and had a drink in the brook which ran alongside the upper part of the ruins, then went to the lower part which are set even deeper in the jungle and have two rivers running along the sides, with waterfalls, and snakes, and iguanas and butterflies…

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After 4 exhausting hours I walked another 30 minutes to my tent, which had by then been sitting in the sun all day. Everything inside was so hot I could barely touch it, the soap almost melted completely. I’m amazed I hadn’t lost everything on my computer – because it burned me like a skillet out of the oven. Apparently jungle sun is no joke. I had to bring everything into the shade to cool before packing it away.

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Campeche

The ride to Campeche is one I would like to forget. Besides Georgia’s misfiring, which made the ride all the longer and painful (clogged carb), the road was flat, straight, with a scorched monotonous landscape on either side. At one point it got so hot that riding did not cool the air around me, instead it became hotter, like riding into a hair drier, or sitting in a sauna. What should have taken 2 hours instead took 5 as I had to constantly stop to drink, or retire to the few and far between gas stations with A/C. But as always, my stops brought me in touch with wonderful people. I met Victor, Jesus, and Daniel at a random stop on the road to Campeche near the gulf coast. It was a little shack serving fresh seafood, and the three truckers invited me to join them. We talked and laughed for a good hour, and then they bought my dinner! Just like that! I didn’t even get the chance to argue the point. It was not the first time that random kindness has been shown me by way of conversation and the fact that I am traveling alone, but that made this occasion no less special or memorable.

After a night’s rest in Campeche at a yoga center, I continued on the long dusty road to Merida, and a reunion with Ida. I was down to just over a week on my visa and could hardly bear the thought of leaving this magical land called Mexico.

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34. 3-10-13: Chiapas - Zapatista Land
36. 3-21-13: End of the Line

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