Posted by: lianadevine | 13 March 2008

From Atlantic to Pacific

After Merida we had about ten days to get to Huatulco on Mexico’s southwest coast, to meet Calvin’s brother Mark and family. Our first day was not a long trip, an easy drive to Campeche, the capital city of the state with the same name. But knowing we would soon be in the mountains of Chiapas, we started the day in a tire shop, having our front tires replaced. It gave us peace of mind to know we would not have to worry about a blowout in our aging tires on the narrow switchbacks ahead. Shortly after, on the dead flat Yucatan peninsula, Calvin was just commenting on the improved ride of the new tires when, to my astonishment, I saw a ridge of hills in the distance. Soon we were winding through these Campeche hills, and on arrival in the city of Campeche, noted that the city was built up into the hills, an absolute rarity in my experience. Already, I was captivated by Campeche.

We parked the bus along the malecon and went to reconnoiter possible campsites in the Thing. In the end, we parked for the night in the parking lot of the tourist information building, after the dayshift had left. But there was no hookup, so we depended on the fresh ocean breeze to break the heat. It was really hot and humid at the coast, so we gave Spike the first of several showers to cool him down. He never complains because he knows how good it feels.

Just before dusk, we walked around the old town, bounded by remnants of the stone fortress that had protected Campeche from pirates in the late 1600s. Each of the seven bastions houses a museum, so we explored the first and oldest one, the Museum of the City. We had the place to ourselves and took photos of the city skyline, the view from the turrets,View from the turret and my favourite (look in the flickr photos) of Calvin addressing his peons, with the little trough pointing down at them so he could “pee on” them.

Old Campeche, within the fortress walls, retains the landmarks of a Spanish colonial city, with the typical zocalo. Along the cobblestoned streets are city-block-sized buildings, subdivided into shops and homes, each distinguished by their chunk of colour, ranging from pastelsColourful Campeche street to more vivid tones.

The malecon was quiet all day, but came alive at night with strollers, skateboarders and couples parked on benches. During the night, a storm blew in and continued the next day, so we revised our beach destination of Isla Aguada and headed south toward Palenque. This completed our Yucatan loop, since we had stayed in Palenque in December on our way to Bacalar. However, the weather was still rainy, it was still early in the day, so we carried on to Misol-Ha, a waterfall just south of Palenque.

We’d made a short pit-stop in Palenque, where I walked through the rain to find a bank machine while Calvin changed a fuel filter on the bus. We got rained on more getting parked and settled in the lot at Misol-Ha, so we just decided to go see the falls as is, thinking we were already wet and it wouldn’t matter if we got wetter in the rain. Again, we had the place to ourselves, no doubt due to the poor weather, and the falls were swollen with rain and runoff, so quite impressive. Getting wet at Misol-Ha We followed a trail behind the falls, which was near the bottom of their 30 meter drop. Torrents of water came crashing down inches in front of us, the wind whipping the water into our faces. It was as if someone had thrown a bucket of water on us, we couldn’t see or talk for the sheer volume of water coming at us. Fun, funny, cool, cold, wet and wild…and for me, a little scary. But we were laughing as we came out, and ran into a couple from Winnipeg, dressed in rain gear. They looked at us like we were crazy people.

Soaked to the bone, we changed into long pants and sweatshirts for the first time in months, and Calvin made us some of Doña Mari’s hot chocolate while I put our soaked clothing in the spin-dryer then hung it up to finish drying. We were heading into the mountains of Chiapas – the altitude was already 1000 feet – and the temperatures at night would drop as we gained altitude.

Soon after we left Misol-Ha the next morning, getting deeper into Chiapas, we passed a sign informing us we were in Zapatista territory. Further along the way, we saw more signs and muralsWelcome to Zapatista Country of Zapatista activity, but to be fair, we also saw the usual Mexican campaign posters. The going was slow through the mountains, but the roads, though winding and steep, were in great shape. We eventually reached pine tree altitude, where Ponderosa pines predominated the formerly-tropical jungle. People in the towns we passed were wearing sweaters and jackets in the chill air, and more and more, we saw colourful traditional garments worn. Near Ocosingo we stopped at the La Cañada market, newly built and nicely laid out, that offered a wide variety of products made locally. Not only were there the richly hand-embroidered blouses and flavoured tequilas we bought, but products made from honey, cocoa, coffee and macadamia nuts all grown in the area as well as jewellery and carvings made from amber and jade found in Chiapas. We spent an enjoyable time chatting with the vendors, learning about the area’s resources and were proud to support “the sustainable improvement of indigenous communities of Chiapas” with our purchases. Indeed, we saw lots of new construction and efforts to spruce up houses and yards.

Our altimeter got a workout as it registered the ups and downs through the mountains – up to 8400 feet at times, then dropping into valley towns – but the bus did us proud and though feeling the altitude, could still pull 4th gear when we needed it, and the jake brakes held well on the downhills. We cruised into San Cristobal de las Casas about 2:30 that afternoon.
We had emailed our friends Graham and Luisa in advance of our arrival, and they stopped by our campground on one of their trips to town. We followed them out to their ranch in the hills above San Cristobal, where we had a tour of the grounds, herded their sheep then had a simple and delicious lunch of beef tacos. Lunch at the Ranch Luisa sent me home with the leftovers, in exchange for the muffins I’d given them earlier. Yes, it was cool enough in San Cristobal to bake in the bus – we appreciated having the extra heat of the oven.

Another day we explored San Cristobal, looking for the alternate RV park Graham had mentioned. We got lost, but in trying to get our bearings, discovered we were at the Museum of Mayan Medicine we had visited and enjoyed eight years before. We stopped in, not to tour it again, but to see if they had any traditional remedy for my bochornos. The men at the ticket counter and in the farmacia did not know what that was, but when I explained my hot-flash symptoms, the pharmacist sold me some drops and the ticket agent had me write it all out in Spanish and English so they could update their bilingual ailments and remedies sign.

Making our way back to the zocalo, we walked through the handicraft market spread out over the steps and grounds of the city’s main church. Indigenous women, in the traditional dress that indicates the area they were from, sat among their wares, quietly embroidering while tourists looked over the finished products for sale. We approached Andrea, a petite woman with a pretty smile, who politely and proudly informed us about the Marco doll we bought from her. Andrea and her Marco doll I had asked if it were bad luck to have such a doll in the house, a miniature of Commander Marco of the Zapatistas. She patiently explained that he was the hero of the indigenous people, fighting for their rights as equals, encouraging women to vote and children to become educated. She pointed out that the market itself was a protest of the government-sponsored craft cooperative housed in the back of the church, because of the unfair profit margin exploiting the women’s handiwork. I was impressed with this well-spoken young lady, and happy to support her and her family in this small way. And we couldn’t help but notice how the entire inside of the church was gilded while right outside, poor barefoot Indian women sold their creative efforts for pennies.
The Tourist Strip in San Cristobal is a far cry from the 5th Avenue of Playa del Carmen, an indication of the kind of tourist that makes their way to the cultural rather than capital-based areas of Mexico. But one young enterprising fellow we met was Armando, who sat with his bathroom scale on one of San Cristobal’s side streets. For a peso (about 10 cents CDN), Calvin stepped up to get weighed. Armando offered to hold Calvin’s sunglasses, but did not lighten my load when I stepped on the scale. As I got off, I noticed the scale zeroed at 40 kg, but I do believe I was weighed accurately. Instead of Calvin’s sunglasses and watch, which Armando clearly coveted, we tipped him an extra peso, and took a picture of him for posterity.Cool Dude

As we made preparations to leave San Cristobal we were charmed by a little cutie who had been running amok in the campground in the last few days, entertaining himself and his little brother while their parents tended to daily chores. One morning Calvin found him on top of his family’s minivan, tying his feet to the luggage rack.Finn will not be left behind! Finn was curious about Spike, but quite shy, declining my offer to take Spike for a walk with a dimple-filled smile. We invited this friendly German family over to see the bus, then Finn proudly showed us his home-on-wheels. He was quite concerned that we had forgotten to take the Thing with us as the bus pulled away, until he saw we were only moving over to the sewer dump. Then he cheerily waved goodbye once we had hooked up, calling out “Adios” in a perfect Spanish accent.

The drive to Chiapa de CorzoOur drive that day to Chiapa de Corzo was only about 70 km on the map but took longer than the expected hour because of the highs and lows through the mountains. This route was the most scenic, from 8500 feet down to 2500 feet, and so convoluted that the kitchen furniture soon lost its footing and slid around the floor, giving Spike a start.The kitchen has moved… At the lower altitude, we were back in the tropics, but the vegetation was desert rather than jungle. And it was hot, man.

Friendly cabbies gave us a city map and suggested it would be safe enough to leave our bus parked at the side of the road near the 24 hour Pemex gas station. We showered Spike and left him to guard the bus while we scouted out a possible campsite. We found the zocalo, crowned with a beautiful brick fountainThe fountain in Chiapa de Corzo, a clean, airy market, and the boat launches for the tours of the Sumidero Canyon. But no campground, so we moved the bus to a shady spot along the main road for the night.

We decided to tour the Sumidero Canyon early the next morning, but it wasn’t until a full load showed up that we left. Along our three-hour tour were wonderful vistas of steep canyon walls, up to 1000 meters high, and the Grijalva River was calm and peaceful as we whizzed along. At the far end, we saw the dam that controls waterflow through the canyon, and stopped for a short break at a restaurant in the town that was built along the new lake’s shore. I got to flyLeanne “flies” the Rio Grijalva on the way home – a shorter trip because we did not stop to see the sights of interest again.

We took the Thing to nearby Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of Chiapas, to scout out the campground there, but found it was too small for our bus to enter or park. Further along the highway was the little town of Berriozábal, where we got out to explore on foot. In the market there, we bought a sisu, an unfamiliar vegetable that looked like a corncob with coarse brown hair. The vendor was peeling the hair off them to sell, and assured us they tasted wonderful when sliced and fried with some tomato and onion in a little oil. We decided it must be an acquired taste.

Returning to Chiapa de Corzo, we drove some backstreets in this hilly town and encountered a parade of sorts: some clowns, people carrying flower arrangements and piñatas, musicians and children.Follow the parade That reminded Calvin that he wanted to find out where to get the fireworks we’d heard through the nights here, so we asked at a store near where the bus was parked. The fellow told us to go to a house a few blocks away, and when we arrived, there was a party going on in the street. Clowns, people with flower arrangements, musicians and lots of kids. After a few inquiries, Freddy and his wife Margarita climbed into the back of the Thing and directed us to another house. For 75 pesos, we got a dozen huge bottle rockets, and Calvin was so ecstatic, he had to set one off as soon as night fell. Spike was not impressed. The party? Celebrating San Gregorio It was to celebrate San Gregorio, as we later saw the partygoers parading to the church carrying an image of San Gregorio along with the flowers and piñatas.

Tuxtla no longer being an option, we moved further down the road to Ocozocoautla and set up at the orphanage where we had flown and donated our kite eight years before. There had been some nice changes at Hogar Infantil in the meantime, including four new cement pads with full hookup. I was excited about the possibility of doing laundry until we realized there was no water available, their pila had not been filled in the dry season. So we relaxed and looked at maps to plan our route after Huatulco, then took a drive to town to reconnoiter and find Internet. We were quite disappointed not to find any internet access, and a few people actually directed us out of town to find any. This turned out to be a wild goose chase, because after about 10 km without seeing a town of any size, then taking a side road to a waterfall we never reached, we turned back and raced the fading daylight back to camp. Ocozocoautla’s internet cafes and El Aguacero waterfall will remain mysteries.

With two days until Mark’s arrival in Huatulco, we opted to move on to Tehuantepec, and leave the last big drive through mountains for the morning. The drive to Tehuantepec was mostly downhill, though slow and winding, allowing me the opportunity to examine the mango trees we passed. The fruit looked ripe and ready, dangling on its stems out of reach, like a carrot on a stick. I looked forward to parking under the mango trees at Santa Teresa, as we had seen mangoes since Chiapa de Corzo.

When passing through the narrowest part of Mexico, where the wind blows fiercely from Atlantic to Pacific, we noticed a wind farmWind farm near La Ventosa had been built near La Ventosa. A little further along, by the junction with the highway that crosses the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, we saw evidence of the wind’s activity: all the garbage in the world had collected on the fences and trees along the road.

Soon after, we were set up under the mango trees, but I was disappointed that the fruit was not ripe here. I took Spike out for a walkSpike checks out the mangoes around the grounds and saw the campground owner’s little son coming over for a visit, with a bag of 6 ripe mangoes for me. So I was happy again, parked under the mango trees, enjoying a diet Coke and a doradita. We reconnoitered in town, finding lots of internet here, and the vegetation and weather definitely more tropical. Later, we watched a caravan roll into the park, the same group that had been in Merida. We recognized our friends who had catsat for Spike, so had a nice catch-up visit with the Ritchie family while the no-see’ums chewed us to bits. That evening, the caravaners enjoyed a catered meal; we went to bed early to the sounds of their live marimba music.

Our wakeup call was not so pleasant: the RV genset next door roused us into action and we were on the road just after 6AM. But the cooler early morning air was just what we needed: past Salina Cruz we saw the Pacific Ocean, The road to Huatulcobut soon left the coast again, turning inland, winding and climbing through the mountains. We remembered driving this stretch eight years ago, in the dark, over potholes and past wandering donkeys. Now the road is repaved and in good shape, with a few nice views of the ocean, but mostly of dry hills and valleys.

To our surprise and good fortune, our RV park in Huatulco was only 600 meters from the resort that Mark and family are staying in. We reconnoitered the nearby town, La Crucecita, stocked up on beer, and prepared to greet the family when they arrived later that afternoon.



  1. Hi Guys
    Sounds like your having a good time – we wish we were still there to greet you. Unfortunately some people still have to work – but not for much longer. (June 30) We still have to see Chiapas and east – hopefully this coming winter.
    We enjoyed Huatulco and could have stayed much longer. We certainly got a rude awakening coming north and crossing into snowy Alberta.

  2. March 16/08 Cal & Leanne

    It has been a month since our visit and I see by the website that your life is still in a constant change – some planned and some not. It was encouraging to see the bus held up on the Huatalco journey. The home town visitors kept your life interesting for a while and we certainly appreciated our “day out” with you. The last visitors to the Mayan Xcalacoco resort. The rest of our luxury vacation was most enjoyable.
    I’ve caught up on your travel ramblings. Enjoyable reading. Keep us informed. It feels like spring here now so thoughts of the Mexican sun will be shelved for several months. Soon the Monarch butterflies will be ours again.

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