Friday, May 27, 2011

Cozumel - A Vacation Within A Vacation

We arrived at Playa del Carmen in the early afternoon after a fairly easy day of riding expecting to hop on a ferry at 5PM and take the quick 45 minute ride to Cozumel, all of which I thought I had read online.  Unfortunately, we were wrong to think it would be that easy.  After stopping to ask a policeman on a four-wheeler who only spoke Spanish, we deciphered that we needed to go down the highway another five miles past the city and catch the "car" ferry which we quickly realized was more of a "double semi truck" ferry.  Giant semis were lined up four hours early for the 6PM ferry that took two hours (not including loading/unloading time) to get to Cozumel.  It could cost certain semis over $1000 one way to board the ship so we figured they probably had to be carrying some expensive cargo.  Luckily, it was cheaper for us and the bike to get to Cozumel than it would have been if Ty and I left the bike and took the passenger ferry.  They finally started to load everyone which took about an hour and we boarded the ship operated by Trans Caribe.  They had a couple of American movies playing throughout the ship, a snack bar and even a little play area for people who had brought their kids with them.  We headed up to the top deck to check out the views and enjoy some cool sea breezes. 

Waiting in line to get on the cargo ship.
Ty with our bike in the cargo area of the boat.

The ship pulled into a giant dock a few hours later and somehow we managed to be one of the first off the boat.   We drove down the oceanside road towards "Casa Cross," a beautiful home owned by our good friend Joanna's dad and stepmom, Jim and Dee.  When we were in New Orleans, Joanna mentioned that they owned a house in Cozumel and that they wouldn't mind if we used their place on our way through Mexico.  We were so glad that we made the trip, as Cozumel is such a beautiful spot, and are so grateful that Jim and Dee (and Joanna!) were nice enough to work everything out for our visit; it would have been quite a bit out of our budget otherwise.  I can guarantee that it will be the nicest accommodation on our trip by far and it was such a relaxing, fun getaway.  We arrived to the house to meet Kelly, an American expat who has been living in Cozumel for nine years now.  She was very laid back and friendly, exactly what I would have expected from an island gal.  After showing us the house (I'm sure she was laughing as we couldn't keep from smiling looking around our new digs for the next week!) she headed out.  I walked into one of the guest bedrooms and saw a rather large (3+ inches across) furry spider on the ground.  At first, I thought it was probably Jim playing a practical joke on whomever happened to stay in the room.  However, when it began to crawl across the floor, I howled for Ty, who came to my rescue with a container in hand.  We couldn't really squish it, Ty said, as it had actually body mass.  After the tarantula was safely contained outside we crashed into our comfy, big bed for the night. 

Our new (unwelcome) friend next to a quarter.
He was later released at the beach...

 As Cozumel was our longest trip so far, I think I will just do some highlights of the trip:

·          Getting to spend some major time at the beach.  We thought we would be taking a break from the bike for the week, but it turns out that we used it as much as always!  The most beautiful, secluded beaches are on the other side of the island (our favorite spot, Playa Bonita, was probably 25 miles from the house) so we took rides along the beach most days.  Watching the little "crab-men" build their homes on the beach could entertain us for hours, along with swimming and jumping rather large waves.
My beach bum relaxing in a hammock at our favorite spot

·         Snorkeling at Playa Corona was another big highlight.  Ty had never been so it was especially fun and we were able to see an abundance of sealife.  I bet we saw 40 different kinds of fish and a variety of beautiful plantlife as well.  We didn't even have to rent gear as Jim and Dee provided everything at the house!

·         Having a grocery store around the corner and having a kitchen with a huge fridge were both amazing things, and we utilized them the whole time.  I think we ate out twice in the week we were there.  It was nice to have a sandwich and chips like at home and it was expecially nice to save a little money!  I even got to have cereal and coffee every morning, which those who know me know I could live off of cereal and coffee.  And I made homemade guacamole!

·         There is an awesome movie theater next door to the grocery store and we were able to see two movies while we were here.  Nightlife is not huge in Cozumel, so movies are where it's at!  We saw Piratas del Caribe 4 in 3D (best 3D either of us had ever seen, nevermind that the movie wasn't amazing) and Rapidos y Furiosos sin Control 5.  Both movies were in English and subtitled in Spanish so I think we were in the small population of movie-goers who didn't have to read the subtitles!

·         Mojitos and “Iguanas” at Rasta’s on the beach…I think Ty and I will agree on this one that these were some of the best drinks we have ever had! Not to mention the atmosphere was just our style being a Reggae beach bar…We could’ve stayed forever! 
The bike in front of Rasta's

An "Iguana" and a Mojito...sooo good!

·         Meeting Darren, Tammy, Brad (all from Canada) and Chanel (from Australia) at the beach (I hope I didn’t butcher the spelling of your names too badly!) They were nice enough to invite us to dinner with them at La Choza and then treated us!  Brad had just proposed to Chanel on the beach a week earlier and Tammy and Darren (Brad’s brother) had gotten married in September.  Both couples were extremely well traveled and we really enjoyed their stories and had a lot in common with all of them.  If you guys are reading this, keep in touch, okay? 

·         Getting to relax at Jim and Dee's house and on the beautiful balcony was such a nice treat!  Thanks so much to both of you...we appreciate it so much!  And thanks also to Joanna for working everything are the best :)

One more stop in Mexico (Tulum) and then onto Belize!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Chichen Itza - Sweating to the Oldies

Our second Mayan ruins stop was Chichen Itza in Yucatan, which is considered to be among the "Seven Wonders of the Modern World." Palenque, which we visited the week before, had set the bar pretty high (See: Palenque Part Two - More gods more problems) so we were excited to see Chichen Itza, the crown jewel of Mayan ruins in Mexico. We arrived to Chichen Itza town mid-day and found the suitable, if rustic, Stardust Inn. We then proceeded to watch lousy American movies all afternoon. It was around 105 degrees, and neither of us really felt like walking down the scorching, dusty streets while tour buses coated us with diesel fumes and road grime. Apparently because of the "seven wonders" status, Chichen Itza has shown up on the international tourism radar in a big way, and the two lane main street entertains constant streams of 50 foot tour buses heading both directions for most of the daylight hours.

The funny part was, the town itself didn't have any tourist foot traffic. The buses seemed to come in from somewhere else, wait around town all day, and head back out around 6pm. I believe that the mega-destination status must have caused this, and looked to have caught the local merchants and hotel owners by surprise. The main strip was rife with funky, unique looking 1960s looking courtyard hotels, but with the now grand perception of the site outshining them, they had become just another strange, dust covered thing to take a picture of from the bus window. Somehow, though, I don't have any pictures of our hotel, or any of the others...sorry! They were really cool, though run down, and reminded me of the motels you see along the sides of old highways the outskirts of towns in the U.S. (but with palm trees)

 Though there were two tour buses in the parking lot of the "Stardust Inn", when we arrived, upon entering the courtyard it was apparent that we were the only guests in the 60 room hotel. The owner explained that the tour buses would be parked in front of the door until four, after which we were welcome to pull our bike into the lobby. I guess at four they drive back out, pick up the tourists at the ruins, and ferry them back to Merida or Cancun - never to set foot in town. The only lodging in the area which appeared to be occupied was a couple of brand new four and five star "eco-resorts" a few miles out of town, whose appearance and amenities (apparently) better suited the new class of visitor. As far as we could tell, two people worked at the Stardust: the owner who spoke English, and another guy who took care of everything else. The pool was too murky to swim in, the palm trees around it were fading fast, and, by the noises it emitted, our air conditioner seemed to be fighting for its very life. But they were all still there, and obviously doing their best to hold on. The situation presented itself most clearly when, as we were checking out, the "everything else" man was attempting to get an ancient electric pool vacuum to run. As I made trips back and forth to the bike with our tons of luggage, he rewired the plug, spliced it onto a longer cord, taped up the connections, and searched for an electrical outlet that would make it run. Once it was running the task ahead of him became painfully clear, as its 4 inch nozzle was nowhere near up to the massive task of cleaning out the horribly murky water in the 20 by 40 foot pool. Though, as we finished packing and said goodbye, he was giving it his best effort; lying on his stomach, his arms thrust shoulder-deep into the murky water, earnestly scrubbing at the algae to little avail. What else could he do?

So, the ruins. The ruins were a series of grand buildings which, because of the falling deaths of two tourists, you were not allowed to touch, let alone climb. On the dusty, flat ground in between them you could sweat profusely and buy all manner of Chinese jewelry, knick-knacks and tee-shirts. At the grand ball court we met a tour group from Mexico City, and their guide, who spoke English, invited me to play the traditional ball game with them. He asked me if I spoke English, and when I said I did, everyone chuckled and he explained the entire game in Spanish. Then, while “playing”, he continued his comedy routine by repeatedly yelling "gringo!" at me to the delight of his fans. We then stood relatively near a few pyramids and took photos inadvertently featuring a number of random tourists and knick knack sales people.(Who, we had been told in Merida, were not really even Mayan, let alone Artisans)

Jill and some new friends

The fate of the local businesses is quite sad, and having been to Palenque we understood what was being lost. In becoming world famous Chichen Itza seems to have sacrificed the charm of places like the Stardust Inn. As massive as the ruins were, there is more to a destination than its monuments.
Go to Palenque. 

To be fair, the night "light show" did give us an opportunity to take some neat photos, but was only in Spanish with no translation available.  
$10 photo op!

Post that! - Power outage in Merida

I'm writing this as it happens, though it will be posted later. 

Merida, Mexico, May 13 2011.
Ok, so it's 11pm, and we're posting blogs in the courtyard of our lovely hostel, because we're the sort of people who do that sort of thing. Yes, we found the hostel online and, yes, it had great reviews. Anyway, we're the only ones up, and right at 11 everything goes dark, so we figure the management is letting us know that it's time to call it a night. Oh, wait, the internet is gone, and it's dark next door too...Mexican power outage! Call it a hunch, but I don't think that a power outage here will be handled as promptly as one at home. It was 105 degrees today. As a cheapskate, the first thing I think is, no A/C, so maybe we can get the $4 we paid for A/C back. Our room is pretty roasty, so I open the window and when the giant, unbelievably loud diesel trucks go by, they send a cool, diesel infused breeze through our room. So that's a plus. And, with the noise, we'll be awake to enjoy each passing truck! The dogs and roosters of the neighborhood are locked in a timeless struggle, so we can't really blame either party for their incessant noisemaking, though it seems appropriate to point out that at 11pm the roosters are getting an unfair lead on dawn. I'm never sure what the yelling is about, but I've found that is often the beauty of not knowing the local language. Once you learn it, the desperation becomes a little too personal, and the late night arguments are both annoying and depressing - which just won't do at $24 a night. Post that on our lonely planet.

Fidel, the Wonder Dog of Merida

After our stay in secluded, monkey-ridden Palenque (although we never saw them we know those sneaky rascals were out there!) we wanted to change it up and head for the city.  We decided that we would stay in Campeche for a night and continue on to Merida for two nights.  Later, we wished we had stayed longer in Campeche and spent less time in Merida; Campeche was smaller, cooler (temperature-wise) and much more our scene.  Quite a bit of Spanish influence could be seen throughout the city and a giant stone wall surrounding everything still exists along with eight attached guard towers, built after the citizens of Campeche (circa 1600’s) were attacked by a particularly violent crew of pirates.  
The wall surrounding the city with the church steeples in the background
 We pulled into the city after what seemed to be the hardest day of riding (although I know it wasn't Ty's after driving from Reynosa to Veracruz) and, hot and exhausted, decided to stay in the first place we saw with internet, a/c and cheap accommodations.  Turns out it was a perfectly nice place and was located in the best part of town (right next to the town square.)  The owner let us park the bike in the lobby of the hotel; it was quite a feat to get it in but we were very grateful to not have to leave it on the street.  We had spent most of the day stopped in 100+ degree heat on dusty highways while construction crews meandered across the road in their trucks and bored cops stopped traffic to inquire where each driver was headed and we were ready to relax a bit.  After not eating all day, we decided to scarf down some unrecognizable Chinese food from a buffet next door to the hotel.  It wasn’t great but we couldn’t have cared less.

After a shower and a little a/c time, we decided to take a walk down the boardwalk for sunset.  It was nice to see the ocean again and the sidewalk was lined with other people out running, roller blading or just taking in the views.  I think I finally have the Mexican timeline down.  Everyone wakes up around 10AM, has breakfast and accomplishes whatever they can until about 2PM, when everyone disappears until evening (I think that most people take a little siesta because of the heat.)  Then, everyone ventures back out once it has cooled down and hangs out until about 11PM (besides the partiers, of course, who will keep going well into the morning hours.)  Even little kids are out playing late at night which might be unusual at home but is very common here.  We made our way back into the main square (where a beautiful, old church was lit up for the evening) and had to grab some limon ice cream after seeing so many people eating it down by the water.  We went on an unsuccessful quest to find an open beer store, but weren’t completely disappointed as we got to see quite a bit of the city, including several of the towers and the university.

The view of the city from the boardwalk

After an air conditioned night's sleep (which felt so good after Palenque) we made a fairly quick ride up to Merida.  I had made reservations at a highly recommended hostel (Casa Chalia) and was so glad that I did as it turned out to be one of the highlight hostels of our trip.  The proprietors, Rosalinda (from Merida) and Jan (from Belgium), were two of the nicest and most knowledgeable people we have met so far.  They are a married couple who have been running their hostel for about two years.   When they inherited Rosalinda's family home in Merida they left Belgium and decided to run a hostel completely on their own; they have never had any hired help.  Did I mention that they cook and serve and delicious breakfast every morning?  As much as we enjoyed Rosalinda and Jan's company (who, if you were so inclined, you could speak to in English, Spanish, German, French or Dutch fluently...) there was one other little guy whose company we enjoyed the most; his name is Fidel and he is a miniature grey poodle (and one of the funniest/rascaliest dogs Ty or I had ever been around!)  Fidel was living the high life at his palace in Merida and had new people to play with every day...and believe me, he could play for hours. Every morning at breakfast we would spend a solid hour or two throwing him his ball and he would never get sick of it.  He, along with his owners, were definitely the best part of our trip to Merida.  
My new soulmate

Rosalinda, Jan and their baby
Our cute watermelon room at Casa Chalia

 For the right person, Merida would be a lot of fun.  Unfortunately, when we were there it was extremely hot (100+ degrees both days) and very, VERY crowded...not the best combination.  We did, however, find a restaurant (with the help of Jan) that served the best food either of us had had so far and was air conditioned!  The owner of Las Vigas was a nice guy from Pittsburgh and we enjoyed talking to him.  We also made a visit to the second story McDonalds, located right above the craziest market in Merida, for lunch one day.  We watched the flocks of people walking in every direction down below and for some reason it reminded Ty and I both of the second story McDonalds we visited in Shinjuku, Tokyo.

Second story McDonald's view of Merida

We said goodbye to Jan, Rosalinda and Fidel after a healthy breakfast of fruit, eggs, bread, coffee and tea and headed out for Chichen Itza, the most famous of the Mayan Ruins of Mexico and one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World.                 

Palenque Part 2: More Gods, More Problems

After a relaxing day at Misol Ha and Aqua Azul falls, we headed into the Palenque Archeological Park for the main event. As Jill previously explained, the schedules all run a little later here, so when we arrived at around 9:30 we were probably within the first 25 visitors of the day. The layout of the park wastes no time in revealing the gradeur of the ruins; the entrance path runs directly into the main plaza and the first things you see are Pakal's tomb and the palace complex. In my opinion Pakal's tomb was the most impressive structure on the site, and its classic Mayan pyramid construction is just what people are thinking of when they think "Mayan ruins." Unfortunately, because of preservation concerns, Pakal's tomb is also the only struture on the site which is not open to the public, so we were not able to experience what has to be a spectacular view from the top.
The view from Jill's favorite temple
 Fortunately, just to the right of Pakal's tomb is a large hill with a number of ruined temples, all of which visitors are free to climb. This group has the highest elevation on the site, and is crowded in by jungle on three sides, with the fouth offering an amazing view of Pakal's tomb and the palace complex from above. This group also contained Jill's favorite temple, which was a more modest structure with three arched doorways on the facade. It was built into the hillside, and looked as though it could tumble down or be overtaken by the jungle at any time.
Jill at her favorite temple
I think the most 'magical' thing about Palenque was the landscape, and the way the overgrowth and steep, hilly terrain hid some huge structures from view until you were right next to them. Every time it looked like we were at the back of the excavated area, we would discover a path leading further into the jungle. Sometimes they would open onto large plazas and temples, or sometimes on to modest stone homes and beautiful natural pools and waterfalls. Seeing the vast ruins one small area at at time gave the impression of actually discovering them, and made each small site more personal and comprehensible. It's hard to know what these areas would have looked like when they were in use, but it's easy to imagine thousands of people living happily among the trees. 'Commuting' back and forth to the main plaza; making their way up and down the winding hillside trails, between the crystal clear pools and falls, accompanied by the constant din of life in the scattered patches of sunlight below the jungle canopy.

On a Mayan's morning commute, up the hill
On a Mayan's evening commute, down the hill.
But, over on the main plaza there were all of the sacrifices, decapitations and bloodletting rituals, so I guess that would be something to keep in mind before moving. Unfortunately we didn't have a guide in Palenque, as most were charging between $50 and $100 for a three hour tour, and as we're not technically on vacation, we felt that was a bit out of our price range. (These types of decisions are going to be tough to balance, as we don't have the money to do whatever we want, but we don't want to travel all this way and not do anything. More on that some other time.) 

Anyway, it would have been nice to have a guide, as we both felt that we didn't get the full story on the sacrifices and rituals for which all of these magnificent temples were built. My impression was that the Mayans worshipped myriad gods, all of which were pretty demanding when it came to lodging and (human) sustenance. If you weren't being sacrificed locally, you might still have the opportunity to be captured and sacrificed in a neighboring city, so, to prevent that, you should probably keep your gods happy... which means... offering them more sacrifices. Not a good loop to get caught up in, but by the looks of the many carvings of war captives in the palace, it was not an uncommon way to go out. There is actually a plaza within the palace built for the specific purpose of presenting captives to the king. It features carved images of captives from all of the surrounding cities, so maybe when you were captured you could feel at home? Just kidding, it's so later they can kick it and reminisce about that time when they captured and sacrificed you!
The plaza for the presentation of captives

More gods, more problems, it seems. 

We spent all morning and most of the afternoon wandering up, down and through Palenque, much of the time nearly alone. Something like 95% of the site is still un-excavated, and often when you reach the end of a trail you can see that the buildings continue as vine covered mounds as far as you can see...

Common homes taken over by trees, with more un-excavated behind

Friday, May 13, 2011

Answer my phone? Girl, I live in the jungle! Palenque Part 1

So now for another blog written during our jungle-stay in Palenque, Mexico.  Our new friend Margarita (who rented us our room for our stay here) put it best.  She said a girl arrived to her front door and said "Margarita! Why have you not been answering your phone?!  I must have called fifteen times!" to which Margarita flippantly replied, "Answer my phone, girl?  I live in the jungle!"
The walkway to our jungle abode.

So, as to how we got here...we rode the motorcycle from Veracruz to Coatzacoalcos (one of the hardest cities to pronounce so far) and as soon as we rolled up, we came upon a familiar site.  Our hotel, which was very clean, simple and had a great breakfast buffet, overlooked huge sand dunes and...a Sears.  And not only was there a Sears, but there was an Applebees too! And a mall.   Looking out the window, we could have easily been back in the USA.  We relaxed and ate pizza in the food court in the mall next door, when we realized a difference between the US and here...people were looking at us like we were aliens.  People do not hold back with the is kinda funny at first, but can get old pretty fast.  There are definitely exceptions though.  The men who give Ty the thumbs up, fist pump or macho man sign never get old.  Neither do the kids who smile and wave like crazy when we drive by.  That kind of attention we never get tired of.  The blank stares though...

The next morning we planned to ride to Villahermosa, but were making good time, so we continued all the way on to Palenque (which we never would have even known about if it wouldn't have been for our friend Ryan...Thanks for the great tip, amigo! :) )

As we pulled through the town of Palenque, it looked pretty similar to many of the other small towns we have gone through.  There were a few hotels along the road and we thought about stopping, but instead decided to continue on down the road to see if there was anything closer to the Mayan Ruins located just outside of the city.  As we drove farther into the jungle hillside, we ran into the entrance gate to the ruins which happened to be right next to the "town" of El Panchan, the traveler's hub of Palenque.  We pulled in and found Margarita and Ed's cabanas, an amazing little gem of a hostel in the middle of the jungle about 50 meters from the entrance to the ruins.  It would be easy to miss, as the entire "town" is accessed by a one lane dirt road which, at first glance, appears to go nowhere. About a hundred yards up, though, it opens up into a unique permanent encampment, for lack of a better term. The sounds we heard as we got off the bike were almost deafening...every kind of bird, bug, and even monkeys (although we never spotted one...) surrounded us in the trees above, and certifiable jungle hippies were all around.  Our first shot, "Jungle Palace" looked like quite a scene, but definitely not ours.  Birds, bats bongos and beetles blaring, we settled into one of Margarita's bright and cheerful rooms in her home - as far from the bongos as possible- and followed her upstairs for a chat.  She told us she had owned this place for 14 years, and though her husband had passed away, she was happy meeting the constant stream of visitors to her jungle abode.  She invited us to have dinner with her at Don Muchos, a restaurant serving delicious local fare situated right next door to our hostel (where Margarita eats every night!)  Over a candlelit dinner and real Mexican margaritas, we enjoyed her stories while a band played jungle-themed music with a Mexicana twist late into the night.

The next morning, Ty mentioned a couple of waterfalls he saw on the map that were nearby.  We decided to head out on the bike and check them out.  They were a little farther away than we had originally thought, but were well worth the effort (not to mention the drive was fantastic!).  We arrived to the closer of the two, Misol-ha, to find it basically empty.  It was a very dramatic 35 meter drop, although it looked even higher than that, and a walkway had been built so that visitors could walk all the way around and underneath it.  We came up to a cave after reaching the end where a man was renting flashlights for 10 Pesos in order to see the hidden waterfall inside.  We went in, and it was pretty, although it was pretty dark and difficult to see.  There were bats hanging on the ceiling and they looked bothered by our flashlights, so we headed back outside for a swim.  The water was quite cold, but you got used to it almost immediately.  Other visitors had begun to arrive, and we struck up a conversation with two German guys that were taking professional photos of the waterfall.  They were on motorcyles too, and were headed up to Alaska.  They had recently gone though Central/South America on their bikes, so they offered up some very helpful travel tips, especially concerning crossing the Darien Gap.  They were also headed for Agua Azul Falls, our next waterfall stop, and asked us if we wanted to ride along with them. 
The view from inside the cave.
Misol-ha Falls
 The ride to Agua Azul was absolutely beautiful; winding roads through the jungle with rivers and trees and wildlife all around.  There were also giant fires that the farmers had set in their fields, which gave the sky an eerie glow.  But the drive had nothing on what we were about to see.  Agua Azul was an absolute paradise.  The falls start way up in the hills and cascade down into soft limestone terraced pools until the water reaches the river below.  The water is bright blue and is in stark contrast to the vibrant green jungle surrounding the falls.  Right as we entered, some women were selling fresh cut mango slices, which we couldn't pass up...and there are no words for how good they were!  Afterwards, we walked up to the top, which was quite a ways up, and stopped to swim for awhile in one of the natural pools.  I really do think we could have stayed forever, but it was late afternoon and we had a long drive back to Palenque.  We made a quick stop at the grocery store for $1 ham and cheese tortas (sandwiches) and made our way back into the jungle.

The best mango either of us has EVER had!

These pictures don't even do this place beautiful!
Mayan Ruins in Palenque blog to follow soon...

Catching up in Veracruz

Veracruz central plaza from our balcony at the Hotel Colonial

We got to Veracruz, where Jill had reserved a palatial room in the Hotel Colonial. Marble floors, 10 foot ceilings, monogramed pillows and a balcony overlooking the main square. I was ready to have dinner and call it a night, but as usual, Chip had other plans. We had a great meal at the hotel restaurant, drank some beers and headed out to a local bar/night club. Chip practiced his dancing skills with some local ladies, and Jill and I relaxed and took it all in. The bar system in the club was unlike any I've seen anywhere in the world - you come in and sit down, and a server comes and takes your order. There is no bar to approach, only servers can get your drinks. We ordered our drinks, and when he brought them over the server would not take payment. I started to wonder how they can let everyone in the place run a tab, and when we paid and went to leave I understood. Our receipt from the server was our ticket out; the bouncers who let us in without even checking our ID were only there to keep people from leaving without a ticket from their server.
Another balcony view, she's calling it a night.
The next morning the road was calling Chip onward, so we bid him a fond farewell and promised to meet up again when he is returning to Texas from Panama. (We've stayed in contact and he is making good progress.)
Contrary to what I had imagined (while lying in bed in a heavily guarded hotel) JIll had not been on the beach in Veracruz, so we headed for Boca del Rio to correct that. Our room was great...last time it was renovated - circa 1970. We learned something important checking in - If you walk in and ask the price of a room, and then say that you found it cheaper online, two things will happen:

1. They will tell you that they can't match it, because they can't.
2. They will hate you for booking the same room online (in their lobby, using their WiFi), so if they haven't burned holes in you with their eyes before you complete the online registration they will give you the worst room available. Oh, and kiss the "free ensuite upgrade" goodbye, because the ensuite they tried to sell you five minutes ago is mysteriously no longer available.

Not our hotel, just sort of funny. I guess they somehow built the garage around that tree, as it went up through a hole in the second level.
So, lesson learned. We weren't there much, so it didn't really matter anyway. Around dusk we took a lovely two mile walk down the beach, and promptly hailed a cab home, because the neighborhood looked pretty scary. Just kidding! it was a really lovely area and there were happy people going for walks and eating ice cream everywhere. (really) The sentence should actually read "and promptly hailed a cab home, as the tap water from brushing my teeth caught up with me." (sorry)

Restaurant guide, modern ruins and fresh mangos - Tampico to Veracruz

Hello again! Sorry about the dead air, but we've been in the jungle near Palenque for a few days with no internet - or air conditioning. Or fridge. So I'm writing this post in the jungle in the hopes of publishing it next time we have internet. Did I mention the bugs? I'll give a bug play by play as I type so you can share the jungle experience. Anyway, I guess the last post was about my experiences riding from Reynosa to Tampico with Chip, so I've got a lot to catch up on, as that was a week ago.

(A tiny ant just went down inside the keyboard, and I'm not really sure what should be done about it.)

The next day we woke up in Tampico at about 9am and got out on the road pretty fast. Mileage-wise we had about as far to go as we did the previous day, and we didn't know if there would be any more security checkpoints slowing us down. Luckily there weren't, but everything else you can possibly imagine did slow us down.  We stopped to have an early lunch as we were heading out of town, so we found a suitable roadside restaurant and pulled in. How do you define "suitable" in an unpaved row of dingy shacks with garage doors?  I'm glad you asked, because I asked Chip the same thing. Chip's guide to Mexican roadside food:

1. These mini-restaurants occur in rows along the side of the road, so find the busiest one and you'll find the best price to quality relationship in the area. Even if it's full of serial killers (everyone has giant machetes?) you know that it's a better all around deal than that uppity wooden chair place next door.  Which leads to point number two:
 2. They must have plastic chairs. Plastic chairs show that the prices will be reasonable, and that the food is good enough to bring people in on it's own merits.
Ok, so we pull up to a nice looking shack with a 55 gallon-barrell-chicken grill crackling, and with the dining room almost entirely occupied by a lovely three-generational family with a relavitly low per-capita machete rate. The proprietors had painted the chicken grill to match the building, which was a nice touch - but they had us at the plastic chairs.

Great success!
 (Insect update -"Oh, look at the size of the ant crawling up my leg - great, it flies too!")

As we're pulling up there are guys in the next shop over sneakily eyeing our bikes. (Everyone eyes our bikes, as our loaded down 1000cc is quite a sight in the land of 125cc bikes.) One character, though, gave me a bad vibe. It wasn't the earring, or the Tennessee waterfall flowing down his back - it was the way he looked and pretended he wasn't looking. As we ate he started making concentric circles around the bikes, but always acted like he was looking somewhere else. I figure if he was on the level he would just walk up and have a look like everyone else. So finally he got close enough to set off the alarm, and then proceeded to act like he didn't hear it and casually walked away.

(A spider big enough to turn the light off is walking out of the bathroom.)

The vibe was pretty uncomfortable, and we were done with our delicious shrimp soup, so we figured it was time to move on. The next eight hours were

(There's a bee flying around the light. I slap it with a shoe and it's stunned, so I pick it up and toss it out the door. As I toss it out, a mosquito the size of a bee flies in.)

punctuated by small towns every two to three miles. For 200 miles. My only guess is that a guy lived in a town, got sick of all of the trash and stuff, and moved out of town. Then, one day, he said "It's just a little too far to walk to town, I'm starting my own town. Then a guy moved out of that town. Etc, etc. Probably the most wonderful aspect of these towns is the "topes." Topes are speedbumps designed to keep people from going 80mph through town, and they're only there because people would absolutely go 80mph through town. Most places they don't even post speed limits because no one cares. You go as fast as your vehicle will go, and top speeds range from 7mph to about 100 - on the same pot-holed, two lane road. Back to the topes. These are serious speed bumps - some of them tall enough to scrape the bottom of the bike - and there's no way to speed over them. Every two or three miles, everything on the road slows down to a 3mph crawl over series of topes. Good thing I'm wearing a black jacket and it's 100 degrees, or I would have more energy to be conerned with the massive amounts of diesel smoke and road dust I'm inhaling! Aside from providing great carcenogen exposure, topes also provide a chance for locals to try to sell you everything you can think of. Some make sense, like coconuts full of coconut milk, or pineapples full of frozen pineapple juice, while others border on the ludicrous - I would swear that a guy tried to sell me a tiny mechanical pony that walks around a pole on a lead - but maybe that's just the fumes talking.

(There's an unidentified black insect at the end of the bed, but it's not moving right now.)

200 miles of towns 2-3 miles apart with tope-enforced speed limits of 3mph. Six to ten topes per town, 1-4 salespeople per tope. It was quaint for about 15 minutes, but by hour two Interstate 70 sounded pretty good.

(Jill is proofreading this, and a spider walks down the wall toward her head. I tell her, she apologizes to him, and quickly dispatches him.)

That's probably enough complaining about the ride, it still beat working and stuff, sorry.

(I just looked over at Jill, who is sweating profusely while lying in bed (under our clothesline) at 10pm, and she had a bug strolling across her cheek. This is starting to look like a UNICEF commercial.)

About an hour from Veracruz we were ridng along a great, winding road that followed the coastline, and there was an amazing beach about 100ft off of the road. We stopped to take pictures, and there was some sort of abandoned hotel between the road and the beach, so I decided to have a look around. It had been abandoned so long that only the concrete was left, and every empty shell of a room had a wonderful veiw of a completely empty beach.

View from the top of the abandoned hotel

This sort of property would be worth millions most places, and I really don't know why it was abandoned. While we were walking around taking pictures an old Ford truck came up the hill with steam rolling out from under the hood. It was loaded to the top with fresh mangos, and was barely able to make it up the hill. They parked next to us, popped the hood and started adding water to the radiator. Neither the driver or passenger seemed alarmed, they were actually chatting and seemed to be in good spirits, so I figure that this must be a normal part of the trip for them. While the engine was cooling off the driver brought us a fresh mango, and stood with us eating it and admiring the view for a minute. With a smile he was off, and so were we.
Mango Truck