Yucatan & Chiapas Road Trip – Part 1.
The very first road trip I took in Mexico from my home in Playa Del Carmen was to Chiapas, South Mexico!
My girlfriend at the time (later to be my wife) set off on a week´s travel to Palenque initially. We had planned to drive the journey without pre-reserving any hotels en-route. Really because we didn´t know each day how far we would travel by car.
We also had not decided on the amount of time we would spend in each place we stopped, which really made the whole journey all that more interesting. By not having a set plan, we could relax in the knowledge we could always find a cheap hotel during our drive.
Has this was my first trip in Mexico at the time, and my girlfriend being Mexican, I trusted her instincts. Again, it makes the trip more intriguing not knowing what to expect on arrival at the end of the day´s drive.
Due to our late departure from Riviera Maya, we drove South down to the town of Chetumal for our first night stop. The town itself is on the border of Mexico & Belize and is the main port for travelers from Chetumal by ferry to San Pedro, Belize. You will need to board another ferry for onward journey to Belize City as there is no direct route!
We checked into a budget hotel for the evening and took a nice stroll around town to find a decent place to eat. The one good thing about any Mexican town, you will always find decent places to eat, plus, they are not too expensive too.
After a good meal and a decent night sleep, we were ready to “break the back” of a long drive across land to Palenque, Chiapas. We knew the drive would be around 5 hours, and the roads are all typical country roads (no duel carriageways). The journey itself was very pleasant, due to the fact we had clear blue skies and not much traffic to contend with.
The road was one of the main arterial routes for the delivery trucks & fuel tankers for Riviera Maya & Cancun. We had to slow down on a few occasions to overtake them!
As mentioned, this is my first real taste of Mexico, passing through all the little towns & villages. All the houses are very colorfully painted, and along the roadside there was always somebody selling something.
There was pineapples or melons, coconut drinks or whole, nuts of every description, and always located at the many sleeping policemen (Topes) leading into, half way in, and the exit of every town & village. You had to slow down at them, otherwise you would lose the bottom of your car. This was also a reason why the journey´s takes so long to drive! Every now and again the concentration would wander, and for sure you would awake with a bump after driving over one of the “Topes” a little too fast.
One thing I did notice, the Mexicans are very resourceful when it comes to earning a few Pesos to survive. Every so often there would be little shops (tiendas) selling souvenir items, or more practical things like furniture. All of them either carved or sculptured from the trees or resources of the Mexican Rainforest.
Beds, Tables & Chairs, Wardrobes & Cupboards, Rocking Chairs, oh, and Dream Catchers! In fact anything that can be made from the natural resources have been handcrafted. All carved or woked by skilled carpenters, and every town seemed to possess them! You could see the craftsmanship that had gone into producing these pieces, and relatively priced considering a similar item in high street would be somewhere in the region of quadruple the price.
Our first stop was for petrol & a rest break in a large industrial town called Escarcega. This town was wall to wall full of trucks, as it was the main stopping point (and truck stops) for all routes from the North into Quintana Roo & the Yucatan Peninsula.
A hint of sentiment come flooding back of my days & nights spent in similar surroundings. It didn´t take long to snap out of that trance, and we settled down to a decent lunch in a local restaurant. You could tell you was in a “trucking environment”, because the size of the lunch we ordered looked like it could feed a whole family. Both of us tried, and struggled, but finally admitted defeat on finishing our plates. The price of all this was never going to stretch our budget either. I was starting to enjoy this trip more & more!
Eventually we arrived into Palenque, and we drove around for a little while for a hotel that looked decent from the outside. We both decided on one we liked and got ourselves checked in. Nothing too fancy in the room, a small fridge, an old floor mounted air conditioning unit, and a T.V bracketed to the wall, but the power shower was a blessing. Well for $60.00 USD a night we where not getting the Sheraton!
The hotel was not too far from Palenque Archaeological Site, and close to the town centre where we could enjoy some of the local nightlife. We where a little tired from the journey, but we fought it and had a walk around the town square or plaza (Zocalo). I seem to remember there was some form of festival taking place at the time, and the whole atmosphere was spectacular. Music & dancing, with people young & old, all dressed in typical costumes of the region. A totally new experience for me!
When we awoke we made our way down for breakfast and during our morning coffee we made our plans for the day. Now I had been to Tulum, Coba, Chichen Itza many times, and we decided we would spend the day at Palenque site, and another night in the hotel.
Visiting the other sites for the first time really impressed me, but entering Palenque really fascinated me. The shear size and construction of the site was everything you had envisaged from the internet and books people had written.
The fact there was hardly any people at the site when we arrived, and there was a mist over the whole area, it made the experience all that more “eerie”. We explored every inch of the site, and probably spent at least 4 hours just taking in the architecture, the ambiance of the place, and the views where amazing once the sun had warmed the mist away.
I think my camera went into overdrive from the point of entering the site to the time we left. Batteries drained, sim cards maxed out, time to get them uploaded and ready for the next adventure!
Next stop, San Cristobal de las Casas!