Posted by: lianadevine | 23 December 2007

If it’s Saturday, this must be Bacalar

Anyone who knows me will know how anal I can be about time. In the three months since we left home, our schedule has been revised more times than I could count, sometimes with good reason, others way beyond my control, dammit! But with Christmas rapidly approaching, we needed to make a beeline for Bacalar, where the mysteries of the posadas awaited.

This called for three rather long days of driving. Our trips recently have been short, while we visited several cities within close proximity – as you will have seen by the map in the sidebar. While Spike enjoys the quick trips with new places to explore at the end, we weren’t sure how he would adjust to the longer days of travel. What a trouper! He’s happy to park himself on his mesh-panelled pet carrier which sits next to Calvin’s stickshift. Only occasionally he’ll get up on my lap to watch the world pass by, sometimes he’ll nap on the couch. We usually plan a rest stop partway through for all of us to stretch our legs, take a bathroom break or grab a bite.

We had hoped to show Spike the ocean on our way from Xalapa along the Gulf of Mexico to Catemaco, but by the time we got “coasty” it was raining. I braved the light drizzle to buy fresh shrimp at the side of the road; what a great feast that made for dinner! We were at the campground we had been to before, right on Lake Catemaco, where the birds “flocked and squawked” all night long. Evening at Lake CatemacoCalvin and I had barely parked there when a fellow camper, who we noticed had Alberta plates, came up to ask if we were the bus he’d met parked in the Yucatan three years ago. No, it wasn’t us, but it was friends of ours from home who have a bus like ours and have been on extensive tours of Mexico as well. Then we walked the malecon, where several boat drivers offered to take us on a tour of the lake, rumoured to have an island where monkeys dive in the water for bananas. Catemaco is also infamous for its witches, though we saw nothing of that.

Up early when the noisy garbage truck parked right in front of us, and on the road – a pretty climb through sunlit jungle as we followed around the lake. We’d decided to take the toll roads, time being the more precious commodity, and found a new autopista around Acayucan, where the nasty crossing of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec starts. We were heading east instead of south though, through the flat land of Tabasco, where there had been lots of flooding. The whole country has been involved in fundraisers for flood victims in both Tabasco and Chiapas. We were hoping the roads would be passable, and so they were. The worst we saw was in Villahermosa where they had been building a dike against the floodwatersStemming the Tide in Villahermosa and we had to detour around some washouts that were being restored. We continued on to Chiapas and took the sidetrip to Palenque to stay in a familiar campground, the Mayabell, right next to the ruins.

Spike was anxious to get out of the bus after 7 hours, and the grass at the Mayabell proved pretty tasty. We walked over to the pool, which we recalled as being somewhat rustic (read: natural and sloughlike) but had been vastly improved (read: useable). It was hot and muggy so we went for a dip and it felt great.Calvin Takes a Dive After showering and changing, we ventured into Palenque town for a tour of the square. We found a Kindergarten Christmas Pageant just starting, so watched a bit of it, recalling pageants past of our nieces and nephews. Only this was surreal in that it was outdoors and the birds were again flocking and squawking overhead the whole time, “White Christmas” playing in the background.Christmas Pageant in Palenque Soon after we got back to our campground, the live music started in the restaurant, so we went over to listen. It was a nice relaxing wind-down to a long day, and we congratulated ourselves for not having gotten lost once.

In the middle of the night, we were awakened by the sound of howler monkeys in the trees near our camp. We had warned Spike about these, knowing how he’d reacted to coyote howl, but he didn’t blink an ear at these. Their eerie, airy growl still scares the bejeezuz out of me!

It’s pretty much a straight shot east once you’re back on the main highway from Palenque. Not much elevation as you enter the Yucatan Peninsula, which is limestone base covered in dense jungle. From Escarcega east we started to see evidence of Hurricane Dean’s destruction last August: torn roofs, new roofs, twisted and fallen trees. The Maya ruins at Ixpujil, some of which we saw from the highway, still stood, as they have for centuries.

But nothing prepared us for the changed scenery as we approached Bacalar. The landmarks I knew so well were laid bare, treeless, exposed. It was unrecognizable and left me in speechless awe. The Laguna de Bacalar, normally hidden from view until you approach its shores, now displayed its multitonal waters to all who passed by on the highway. Few trees shielded the fort in the centre of town, the park altered for ages.

My excitement at arriving in Bacalar was dulled by the devastation, until we rounded the cornerArriving in Bacalar and there at the gate was Don Alfonso, waving us in. Trees and roofs can be replaced; people cannot. Our adopted Mexican family greeted us with the open arms they have offered us often over the past ten years.

Juan and NaDene had been busy clearing spots for us to park, no mean feat with fast-growing tropical weeds amid fallen trees. After some discussion, we decided to park the bus where we had seven years ago, in Socorro’s vacant lot next to Doña Mari’s outdoor kitchen. It didn’t take long before Calvin had us completely set up, including cable and internet, outdoor kitchen and welding shop. Don Alfonso set about cutting back the weeds with his machete so I could hang up my laundry and not worry about hidden snakes. Spike was anxious to check out his new neighbourhood, and was quickly overwhelmed by many new four-legged buddies. Melissa soon attached herself to my side, showing me every little thing that was new since I visited in June.

It seemed we had picked up right where we had left off…and on schedule. I couldn’t have been happier.



  1. Hola, L, C, and S!

    How wonderful that you made it to Bacalar before Christmas—and in time for the last night of Las Posadas!

    See this YouTube link:

    I have good memories of Las Posadas. I first learned about it when I lived in Dallas, Texas years ago (I left Dallas in 1977!). I have a story about one of the songs, Ándale, Chucha, but I’ll tell it another time.

    I especially like the music (when it’s sung well) of En el nombre del cielo, os pido posada.

    How wonderful, too, that despite all the post-storm devastation you encountered, Don Alfonso, Doña Mari, and the rest of your adopted family were waiting with open arms—and how fitting that you were able to say, “It seemed we had picked up right where we had left off . . . .”

    Why am I not surprised that Calvin set up, in short order, cable and internet, an outdoor kitchen, and a welding shop next to the house bus? Don’ be no grass growin’ under you feets, Calvin!

    Enjoy the beauties of Las Posadas and Christmas Day with your Mexican family—¡y reciban muchos fuertes abrazos desde Phoenix!


    P.S. Did you see my Webheads Holiday greeting? If not, here it is:

  2. So what exactly are las posadas anyway?

    And…how did you make it snow on your blog??? I love it! I guess it will be the only snow you see for a long time! 🙂

    Nina, my take on Las Posadas is that it’s a custom that is not followed so much nowadays, or at least not in this part of the country. Socorro explained that after Hurricane Dean, fewer people were able or willing to put as much fuss into the whole Christmas Season, focussing more on the necessities, like a roof over their heads and clean drinking water. Another Mexican woman told me that often work unions hold Christmas parties for employees, and these events have taken the place of posadas. This is more or less what Socorro and I attended – her staff Christmas party. See the photostory in the post “Christmas Comes to Mexico” for more detail on this tradition.

    As for the snow, that’s WordPress’s doing, not mine, and only until January 2. It’s fun, though, isn’t it?…..Leanne

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