Yesterday I headed for the Lagunas de Montebello National Park on the Guatemala border. The park is filled with pristine lakes which reflect either deep blue, turquoise, blue/green or sapphire when under sunny skies. Six miles from my destination, the horizon becomes a gray sheet without definition. Great. My first rain of the trip. I pull into the guard station of the National Park under a light drizzle, pay my entrance fee and move on. Some lakes can be seen from asphalt overlooks but others are accessible only through hiking or via dirt roads. With the steady rain, some of these roads had morphed to a morass of mud slurry best left to 4×4 vehicles. I did take my chances on two less swampy access points and my reward was a face full of mist and wet camera lenses. Without sunshine, most of the lakes look simply like any other lake.
Wet and cold, any idea of camping under the stars tonight was dashed. Dingy ramshackle businesses strung along the side of the road offer less than enthusiastic dining and shelter. But here’s one that looks promising. Square red brick columns supporting horizontal white fence boards line a gravel driveway leading to the Hotel Ensueño . Neat tidy rooms are spaced around a restaurant / bar. Internet too. That’s everything I need. Sold.
Once settled in, I walked into the dark restaurant at 7:00 and got them to switch on the lights. After reviewing the menu, I ordered a bowl of Consome de camarones. This consommé was more bisque than broth, processed smooth then loaded with whole shrimp – heads and all. And what a soup! Reddish brown in color the stock was briny with hints of tomato, onion and guajillo chili. When Moses went to the summit he not only returned with the 10 Commandments, he had this recipe in his back pocket. Incredible.
Since my room has a fireplace, I got a load of wood and had one of the staff start me a fire. With my feet up on a table and enjoying a cold beer while listening to the crackling flames the damp chill was soon removed from my bones. Crawling under the sheets of my king-sized bed I heard for the first time… absolutely nothing. Silence. No yapping dogs. No roosters. No trucks bounding over speed bumps. No auto repair yard. No terawatt automotive sound systems. Bliss.
Today I’m heading for Palenqua, my first Mayan ruins of this trip. Under partly cloudy skies temperatures in the upper 70s and calm winds, it’s a perfect day for riding.
Chiapas is truly beautiful. Natural wonders abound. Thick forest, raging rivers, lakes, caves, and waterfalls are plentiful. Mountainous with dense impenetrable jungle, there are spectacular views around every bend. Home to a camera-shy, poor indigenous people, they’re dressed in colorful traditional garb. All males over the age of 16 seem to carry a weapon, either a machete or a long pike. Groups of people are seen working the fields by hand with large hoes. Supply laden burros, led by their masters, walk the shoulders. Cattle graze in a sea of grass.
Chiapas may be the most beautiful Mexican state but it’s definitely the poorest. This is most evident from the lack of taxis. In other rural areas of Mexico most people can’t afford cars, so they take taxis to and from market. Here they walk. Also, for the first time, a makeshift roadblock was established by two women selling items along the shoulder. A thin rope with triangular flags was pulled taut to block my way. Once stopped they approach and I simply say “No gracias.” But then it turns into a toll / beg routine. Since one was breast feeding her infant, I handed her 5 pesos for the show.
The pavement today is Mexico 199 north and every skill ever learned as a motorcyclist is put to full use. While visually stunning and filled with winding, hilly sections that rival the best motorcycle roads I’ve ridden, this is a highway were complacency will get you killed. For the most part, it’s a sad decrepit road in serious need of repair: rock slides, washouts, pothole infested gravel, and sections where a lane has simply collapsed and is gone. Foliage grows to the edge of the pavement and tight right sweepers has the mirror nearly grazing leaves. It took me six hours to travel 170 miles at the end of which my clutch hand was worn out and I was mentally exhausted.
I’m at the El Panchan cabañas tonight. My palapa room is a domed concrete two story silo with a mass of dry palm fronds attached to the roof like a cheap toupee. The first floor has the toilet and shower and a rusted iron spiral staircase leads to the second level with a sink, bed and a few tables. My mattress may have been used by WW-I American doughboys as blast protection in the trenches. Or maybe it was used by Deep Purple as sound deadening material while recording Smoke on the Water. Screens abound: there are no glass windows. The screens themselves have small tears and rips here and there, stuffed with wadded toilet paper to keep unwanted guests out. The ceiling fan has five settings but no matter which is selected, it’s the same speed – fast!
I had dinner at the on-site restaurant, Don Muchos and ordered tortellini with pesto. Jesus. The pasta was boiled to a gelatinous goo and the pesto was… I’m not sure. I think it was made with that powdered Kraft Parmesan cheese crap as it had the consistency of grainy soured milk. I muscled about 35% down my throat and tapped out. And there’s some cacophony percussion mess emanating from the bar. With all screens, I have no choice but to enjoy. It’s past midnight and this chopstick in the ears has been going on and off since I got here. Lord have Mercy!
It may sound like I hate this place but I really don’t. The price is $15.15 and it’s literally at the entrance to the ruins I’ll be visiting in the morning. And the enshrouding jungle is amazing. Feels like Robinson Caruso.