We rode through lush mountain scenery for approximately five hours until we reached Palenque. Its a good thing that shopping isn’t practical on our trip, because Palenque is a really cute town with many shoe stores. More importantly though, Palenque is an ancient Maya site. Its ruins date back to 226 BC, to its fall around 1123 AD. After its decline, it was absorbed into the jungle but has been excavated and restored and is now a famous archaeological site. It is estimated that less than 10% of the total area of the city is explored, leaving more than a thousand structures still covered by jungle.
After stopping for some tacos, we rode away from the town until we found a campsite. It was a nice affordable place to camp that offered hot showers and a really nice restaurant that served alcohol and had live music. El Panchan was only a few kilometers short of the Palenque ruins. It was an interesting place with its blend of hippies, people on holidays, backpackers and Rastas. The experience was further enhanced by its jungle setting, with the sound of howler monkeys frequently heard from the high canopy. I thought they sounded much more like a cheetah would, than a monkey.
We woke up early the next morning and hung out at the ruins for most of the day, enjoying the beautiful setting of towering trees that surround the site. There is a peaceful calm that envelops you as you walk around exploring the jungle trails that lead to other smaller plazas and temples, and to the travertine cascades that carry water down the mountain during the rainy season. After spending most of the day at the ruins, we stopped at a museum and then went into town to walk around and grab a bite to eat. We purchased a few beers to go and on our way back to the bike we were stopped by a shop owner offering us free samples of liquor. Cappuccino Agave Liquor is delicious but instead of buying a bottle, Rocky purchased some crickets. Yes, crickets. Apparently, they are a popular snack. I’m not sure exactly how they are prepared but they were dead, dry and covered in chili and lime seasoning, of course.
Once we got back to El Panchan, we sat at an outdoor table towards the back of the restaurant. Rocky immediately tried to convince me to eat some crickets, but I’m not the type to like bugs. He then attempted a different approach and tried feeding me beer. I eventually gave in and decided to eat a bug, but as hard as I tried, I couldn’t convince myself to do it. Eww, the thought of chewing little legs repulsed me. Especially when I imagined any of it stuck between my teeth. Uhgg, it’s creepy body crunching in my mouth, there was no way I could bring myself to eat a bug. And then it happened. Maybe it was the beer or maybe it was because I was ashamed of being such a chicken shit, but I ate a bug. Just one, but I did it.
It was a beautiful night and we decided to take a walk down the farm road. There were a few more campsites and rentals about 400 meters away and we decided to go venture and see if we could find our new friend Jelmar. We met him earlier that afternoon while we were at the ruins. He was visiting from the Netherlands and told us he was staying at a really cool place. We also heard that if we walked down the road at night, a Mexican would jump out of the bush and offer to sell us magic mushrooms. There were trees and bush on either side of the road. It was dark out but the bright moon created a stunning silver effect on the sky above us. Suddenly, a man came out from out of the bush and said, “mushrooms, mushrooms?”. Before we could say “yes please” or “how much?” A car came down the road and the man with the ‘shrooms got paranoid, disappear, and never returned. We continued our walk and stopped to check out the live entertainment up the road. We stayed for a moment, peeked for our friend Jelmar but didn’t see him. We walked our way back to El Panchan and enjoyed a few more Coronas’s before bed.
We left Palenque the next morning and rode through patches of rain. For the second time during this trip, a bird flew into Rocky as we were riding. Is that common to any other riders? We left the state of Chiapas and went on our way to Merida, in the state of Yucatán. It was a really pretty city and the weather was much dryer than it had been in the humid jungle. After eating some tacos, we searched for a place to camp and found a large grassy area by the highway. We thought it was the perfect place and we felt like we were well hidden but the police noticed us and stopped to question what we doing their. They were really polite and didn’t mind us staying, they just asked that we leave with any trash we created.
When we woke up the next morning, we went for breakfast at McDonald’s, more so for the internet than the food. Jimmy and Charleigh from San Cristobal had sent us a message saying they were at a small town nearby but we weren’t able to properly coordinate to meet. Instead, Rocky and I continued on the road to Chichen Itza ruins. It is one of the largest Maya cities, but the entrance fee was out of our budget, so we opted for tacos. Unsure of where to go next, we thought about sleeping at a church yard but drove to Tulum, in the State of Quintana Roo, instead. It was night and we always try to avoid driving at night but we had the highway to ourselves and it was new and freshly paved. I consider it one of my favorite times on the road. It was a long, smooth, relaxing ride. The air was warm, the moon was large and millions of stars were shining through the blackness of the sky.
I had been to Tulum years before, and I was really excited to return. I remembered it having very small eco-hotels, some didn’t even provide electricity or hot water. I remember tents randomly placed throughout the beach and everything was closed after 10pm. I remembered Tulum was was very calm, peaceful and beautiful. We arrived just before 11pm and rode for a very long time before finding a spot to camp. Far past all the resorts, most of the area was secluded and we found a great place. The next morning, we were approached and asked to leave the private property. It didn’t matter, we rarely ever camped at the same location more than once. We packed up our belongings after a quick dip in the ocean, and rode towards the town. Tulum was looking much, much busier than when I had visited, years before.
We were enjoying a cup of coffee while sitting out on the patio of a bakery that offered WiFi. A guy approached us and introduced himself as Sean. Him and his girlfriend Blossom were visiting from Australia and were also traveling two up on a motorcycle. He suggested we camp by them and go for dinner together. It was really exciting to meet another couple sharing a very similar experience. A few hours later, we rode until we found the sign for public beach access and pulled into a long sandy driveway that lead into the beach. To the right of the path was Santa Fe restaurant/campsite, it’s property line was marked by a roped fence. We parked the bike and as we walked around to find Sean and Blossom, we were immediately approached by a Santa Fe employee asking if we were looking to camp. We told them that we were looking for our friends but we would be looking to camp on Federal Land instead. They asked why we wouldn’t camp on their property and we explained that since we wouldn’t be using any of their facilities it would make more sense for us to camp for free somewhere else. After they insisted that it was illegal for us to camp on Federal Land, they told us that by staying on their property we were protected by their 24 hour security. Their aggressive sales pitch was dishonest and annoying to say the least, we said no thank you and walked away.
Outside of the fenced Santa Fe property, we found a place to pitch our tent. It was located on Federal Land and nestled in the shade of a few palm trees. We found Sean and Blossom, their tent was approximately 30 meters away on the opposite side of the roped fence. We placed our gear, boots and a few other belongings into a couple of PAC Safes (aircraft cable mesh), and left them locked up in the tent as we rode out to dinner. It was delicious! After we ate, we rode back to the beach and walked up and down the coast getting to know each other. It was really interesting how much we shared in common with Sean and Blossom. Although they had traveled to many other continents before our trip began, our journey from Western Canada to Tulum had been very similar. I’m surprised that we didn’t meet sooner.
Sean was very intelligent, creative and adventurous, much like Rocky. They shared the same kind of thoughts and even the same camera and video camera. Their birthdays were only a few days apart. Blossom reminded me of myself. She was easy going, low maintenance, passionate about life, and we had even worked in the same profession. Her birthday was a few days before mine. Blossom met Sean when she was really young but began dating him a few years ago. Rocky and I had met at a very young age but we began dating a few years ago. Weird.
After grabbing a few coconuts we walked to their tent and just as we were standing there, one of the employees shone his flashlights in our faces and began swearing at us, demanding that we get off of the property. Apparently, they were very mad that we didn’t camp on their site, but were there visiting our friends. It was already past midnight, we weren’t about to camp somewhere else for the night and I couldn’t justify paying to move all of our things on to their property. Especially after all the attitude. So, we remained where we were and we would camp somewhere else along the shore the following night.
We woke up the next morning and Rocky immediately noticed a gash cut through our tent. There is an obvious chance that it could be anybody but I don’t think I’d be too crazy to assume that the hot headed Santa Fe rent-a-cop had something to do with it. Moments later, we noticed that the PAC Safes that locked much of our belongings, was tampered with. The thief had found one of our tools and tried to cut through the metal mesh. They failed miserably. The tool got stuck to the mesh as they tried cutting it. They weren’t able to steal our things but I then realized that the cut in the tent was how they were able to steal my purse.
The thought of a thief stealing my belongings while watching me sleep creeped me out. Although Rocky and I were keeping our cool, my blood began boiling and I burst into tears. My I.D. (luckily not my passport), my camera with all my pictures, my iPhone with my expense list and journal, all the keepsakes and my birth control was in my purse. I carried all my physical memories in that purse and some creep stole it while watching me sleep. I became a hot mess thinking about it all and, before I could say another word, Rocky jumped up and ran over to the Santa Fe property. I chased after him but I was too late. He picked up a picnic table, slammed it down and left with a few choice words.
Minutes later, the police showed up. They explained to Rocky that, although it was likely we knew who the thief was, we couldn’t prove it. Because of this, Rocky shouldn’t have flipped their table over, and he would be going to jail for the night. I was left alone to pack everything up and wait for a tow truck to take me along with the motorcycle to bail him out. As emotional as I felt, I still couldn’t help but laugh at the thought of Rocky in a Mexican jail.
When I arrived at the station I was given two choices. I could either let Rocky spend the night locked up or I could bail him out for 1701 pesos. Such a random amount. I told the cops that I was just robbed and asking me for money was an insult. I took 400 pesos from my pocket and told them it was all I had. I had more in my pocket but I wasn’t about to tell them that. Besides, they immediately accepted the 400 pesos (under $30) and Rocky was released. I knew I should have offered less.
It was 3pm by the time we left the tiny cop shop. We were exhausted but still able to laugh about it all. I will always feel deeply saddened by the loss of so many memories stolen but every time I remember the incident, I can’t help but giggle at the thought of Rocky spending some hard time in a Mexican jail. OK, OK, it was more like a small celled drunk tank but still funny. Rocky is definitely not the jail type.
After grabbing a bite to eat, we found a place with WiFi and used Skype to cancel the credit card. We then found a real police station and filed a theft report. It was getting late so we decided to find a place to camp near where we had stayed the first night. This time, we rode a bit further and slept closer to the shore. It definitely wasn’t my most comfortable night. I was obviously still a bit shook and had a hard time sleeping. Early the next morning, we swam for a bit but didn’t stay long because the beach was filthy with litter. It was sad to see so much plastic polluting the shore.
We had bumped into Sean and Blossom and they recommended we stay at a Hostel named Mama’s Home. After all we had gone through, we decided it would be nice to treat ourselves to a hot shower and a comfy bed. Mamas home was awesome. It was filled with travelers, and it was nice to find out that mama was a Canadian who once lived not far from us, back home.
Early the next morning, Blossom and Sean showed up and we followed them to a Cenote. A Cenote is a deep water-filled sinkhole in limestone that is created when the roof of an underground cavern collapses. As it gets filled by rain, it creates a natural pool with underground tunnels. Sean and Blossom love snorkeling and they brought their own equipment. The water was so clear that I didn’t mind just swimming but Blossom insisted I try her snorkel and I was glad she did. It was absolutely stunning to stare into the water and see an amazing cave like system. It was another world down there. I was shocked. The day went well but our luck had been testing us. Rocky jumped in the water with our helmet camera but didn’t realize we had the wrong housing on it until it filled with water. The camera broke and the memory card got damaged. We lost all of our previously recorded videos. After leaving the Cenote, we all made plans to meet up for dinner and drinks later. It was a great time. We met a few people, and shared many laughs. I really liked Sean and Blossom, and as we left the bar that night, I knew we were going to miss them, but I imagined we would see them again throughout our travels.
Back at the hostel, we received an email from Orlando, whom we stayed with in Ciudad Victoria. He told us before that he would be visiting Tulum, so he emailed to tell us he had arrive and wanted to see us before we left. We met him for lunch the next day and we were really happy to see our friend again. It was a short visit, we were on our way out of Tulum, and Orlando was spending some vacation time with a very lovely lady friend.
We were back on the road and I was happy to be leaving Tulum. I had contacted a girl named Maria on couchsurfing.org, who lived with her mother, Isidra, and brother, Juan, in the town of Chetumal, also in the state of Quintana Roo. When we arrived in Chetumal, we had a very difficult time finding Maria’s house. The house numbers in Mexico have no particular sequence, they are randomly chosen as each house was built. Luckily, we asked a postal carrier for directions and she offered to help. Unluckily, she couldn’t find it either. She didn’t give up on us though, we followed behind her scooter and she eventually brought us to Maria’s house.
Maria and her family were amazing. They had accepted four other couch-surfers at the same time and provided us all with comfortable accommodations. We met Kim and Siro from Korea, Stav from Israel and the Canadian Robin, whom we had met in San Cristobal. It was Stav’s birthday and Maria and her family had bought him a cake. It was nice to celebrate an intimate occasion with strangers. There was never a dull moment at Maria’s. Even when we woke up in the morning and relaxed for most the day, there were so many great personalities joined together. I decided to make dinner that night and, once we all finished eating, Robin had a piñata filled with goodies. We all went outside, took a few swings and also lit some fire crackers. It was a fantastic night.
We were up the next morning to the sound of the cello. Maria was practicing for her performance at a charity event we were all invited to attend. Isidra was a nurse at the children’s cancer ward and Maria offered to play the cello for all the guests. It was a beautiful moment. There were many kids, lots of food, a few Pinedas, many nurses, doctors and guests. Isidra was recognized for her hard work and dedication. I enjoyed seeing her in her element around many children that adored her. She is a true nurturer, a wonderful lady.
Later that evening, we joined Maria, Stav and Robin for a tour of the town while the Korean’s went grocery shopping and prepared us a meal. We hopped in a bus and began our walk towards the ocean shortly after. I’m not sure if Maria was being serious because she is the funny type but she had us buy a head of lettuce we had to carry for a while. Once we arrived at the water, she told us to feed the Sea Lions. The trouble was, there were no Sea Lions. Also, people were staring at us like we were weird. With the lettuce gone and not one sea lion in sight, we took a walk through a museum and a few other places before returning back for dinner. Kim and Siro had prepared a delicious Korean soup. It was spicy and full of seafood. We all gathered for dinner and were very grateful to be served after a long day.
The next day was dedicated to relaxing, laundry and dealing with the credit card situation. We were having troubles figuring out where to have a new credit card shipped because we were never at an address long enough to receive it. Stav prepared a Jewish dinner and Robin helped him. It was mouthwatering. Latkes are officially one of my favorite foods.
Later that night I mentioned that I needed to get rid of a joint we still had, before crossing the Mexican border. Stav and Rocky knew how we should do that. We decided to take a walk around the block, Maria lived in a very quiet neighborhood. The three of us stepped outside and once we turned the corner, I lit up the joint. We smoked, coughed and smoked some more. As we walked past a park, I took a drag and through my peripheral vision I saw a figure quickly move to their feet. As the ember on the joint glowed bright on my lips, I exhaled, butted the joint, stuck it in a cigarette pack, stuffed it down the front of my pants and sucked in my gut. We were being yelled at and a Federal Police officer was now in my face. He was screaming at me in Spanish, asking where the marijuana was. I stared him straight in the eyes and told him I hadn’t a clue what he was talking about. Rocky nor Stav had any clue what had happened to the joint either. They appeared to be just as confused as the officer, as he shun his flashlight across the ground and found nothing there. For at least a minute , I was in a staring contest with the cop. I am a horrible liar but I was so scared for my life that I won the contest by telling the officer that he was wrong and we were walking away. And, so we did. Once we got far enough I told the boys what had happened, how I had to stuff it down my pants. What a buzz kill.
Staying with Maria, Isidra and Juan, meeting Stav, Siro, Kim and seeing Robin again was a great finale to a fantastic voyage through Mexico. When i think of Mexico, I remember the different smells as we rode through. Either the strong scent of laundry detergent filled the air, the smell of wood burning in a pit or of food being cooked on the sidewalk. I will always remember the food! Mostly, I will always remember truly experiencing some of the best times of my life. We met the greatest people, rode through incredible scenery and learned about a beautiful culture I would be proud to call home. I love Mexico!
Nearing Palenque, the land flattened out as we descended the mountainous region of Chiapas.
We met Jelmar at the ruins of Palenque. He is from The Netherlands, and was backpacking across Mexico and Guatemala.
Paula at the ruins of Palenque (another model pose)
Leaving Palenque, we took the back route through the forest and found this waterfall, hidden amongst the trees.
After driving from Merida, Paula and I arrived at the beaches of Tulum after the sun went down. We rode down a long, coastal dirt road and found a spot to camp under the moonlight.
Sean and Blossom, an Australian couple also riding two-up, invited Paula and I to a cenote to do some snorkeling.
Paula In The Cenote
Blossom (she certainly has) & Paula in the cenote.
After taking this photo of Paula cooling off in the cenote, I zoomed in on the picture and noticed…
…a beautiful, blue dragonfly perched on her face. Paula didn’t even notice it.
The cenote was home to thousands of dragonflies.
Siro and Kim, an engaged couple from South Korea, arrived at Maria’s shortly after Paula and I. They had travelled all over Canada, the U.S. and Mexico by car.
Robin (the backpacker from Canada whom we met in San Cristobal) and Stav (a backpacker from Israel) arrived at Maria’s shortly after Siro and Kim. It was Stav’s birthday and, to celebrate, we all strung up a Piñata.
From left to right: Kim (the Korean Samurai), Santa (at the mercy of Maria’s mother), Maria’s mother, Isidra, (having way too much fun), Stav (the fearless Israeli soldier), Robin (the wide-eyed photographer), Paula (…) and Siro (not even a flinch)
We took the bus into downtown Chetumal to feed the illusive sea lions and visit the Mayan Cultural Museum. From left to right: Stav (Israel), Robin (Canada), Maria (Mexico), a random woman on the bus, and Paula
Maria explained some of the history on display at the museum.
This mural was displayed on the ceiling of the museum. I wished I had brought my wide-angle lens so that I could capture the entire thing.
After breaking open the Piñata, we set off some fire crackers in the street.
Firecrackers In The Street
It was a wonderful memory in Chetumal thanks to our host, Maria, her family, and our fellow travelers, whom I am sure we will one day meet again.