Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performace. – Also, prevents sleeping at a Pemex – so maybe there are 8 p’s
Thanks Sandy for that little acronym. Too bad we didn’t really think we needed to plan, at least not any further than the city or town we planned to stop. So far, aside from one Pemex stop, we haven’t had any issues finding lodging or RV parks. Usually we just went towards “centro” and everything fell in to place. No such luck for us the next week or so after Oaxaca City.
Leaving Oaxaca, we used the WiFi from Overlander Oasis and had an idea of where to go… Sorta…. Kinda… ok we just had a city name and that was it. Tehuantepec. The isthmus of Tehuantepec is influenced heavily by indigenous cultures. The people are considered to be welcoming and good-natured (and have lots and lots of parties – all of this according to LP). So far in Mexico, most of the people we encountered would be considered such… so we weren’t expecting anything new.
The road from Oaxaca was windy and more mountainous, but wider, and not as scary, as western Oaxaca. Also, there was a fair amount of colorful leaves happening – reminded me a little of the Hudson Valley in the fall, but not as dramatic.
We stopped a few kilometers outside of town for some Mezcal. It seemed like every 100 yards there was another distillery. By distillery I mean a thatch roof building, with maybe just a back wall, a wheel and mash area for the horses, a place to but the liquor being distilled, and some barrels for aging around the place. Looks about as legit as a moonshine stand. The place we stopped had Mezcal in 3 sizes. 1 liter (in Bacardi bottles) 3 liter, and 5 liter (in something that looks like it’s meant for gasoline). We had a taste and decided on the one liter. It was good, but holy crap was it strong.
Also, we stopped at the Yagul ruins. The price was 42 pesos each, but the site was completely empty so we could explore. It was small, but had a nice overlook and some burial sites underground for viewing. Overall, we always like ruins better when we can climb all over them, and there were very few restrictions here.
Mike looking for bodies
Some of the original red walls are still red! most are yellowed now.
Second biggest ball court in Mexico – Chichen Itza (the biggest) makes this look tiny!
After that we arrived in Tehuantepec around 5 pm… and the road through town was closed. AGAIN?! This time, we got better (ok, more understandable) information from a cab driver. The road would open at 6pm. Sweet. We decided to wait and check out town before deciding on other lodging. The only other options were the “passion” hotels. These hotels are common… and outside just about every decent sized town. They rent rooms by the hour (hmmmmmm I wonder why?). Now, these are not hooker hotels, they are for (usually) married couples, who want some time away from the other members of their household for some privacy. If everyone lived with their in-laws (and other extended family members) these would be common everywhere. Most don’t allow dogs, but some do, and have secure (they lock the front gates and each room has a “garage” for added privacy) so its still a good option when there is nowhere else to go.
When the road opened, we drove through the square (zocalo) and were actually surprised. It seemed like the entire town was there. There was volley ball, dance classes, zumba, a produce market, street food vendors, and just people everywhere! It looked like so much fun! There are a few hotels 2 blocks away from the zocalo, but to our disappointment, there were no rooms available. Even if there were, I have my doubts they would have accepted dogs.
Statue outside Tehuantepec
We ended up at the Pemex in town. We were sitting outside the Jeep, poring over our maps and Lonely Planet book when a gentleman from across the street comes over and speaks to us. Our problems in little towns like this is we speak very little Spanish (compared to the size of the vocabulary – still enough to get by usually), and this gentleman (along with just about everyone else) spoke no English. So, my basic understanding was: Where we were staying (outside the Pemex) wasn’t that safe, there are “landrones” which means thieves (thanks to spanishdictionary.com for their app which does not require data or WiFi for most words) nearby and we should move and park near his house. He tells us to think about it and he points to where he lives and says we are “amigos” and he wants to help us. He genuinely seems like a nice guy, but our American/tourist internal fear monster says to talk to eachother about it. We decide… it’s literally 150 feet away, under lights, and the guy was seriously just a nice guy, so why not take his word for it?
We moved in front of his house, were greeted with coffee and pastries (Nescafe and sweet bread roll thingies but still delicious, appreciated and unexpected) and the man (I believe his name was Samuel but it could have been something close to that) tells us he and his wife are both teachers in town. He teaches secondaria (high school) and his wife teaches nursery school. He sleeps the entire night on his gated porch in a hammock keeping guard with his rifle. A few times during the night I woke, but I think it was probably the best night’s sleep I got in the car.
Samuel’s place – the corner with the wrought-iron surround is the porch where he slept.
We left early the next day, crossing back across the mountains again, this time towards Veracruz. Our route since leaving Acapulco has been such a cluster f*ck I’m amazed we made it anywhere. We planned to go to a town called Catemaco. The town is on a lake, and doesn’t take that long to get to. It’s actually pretty decent sized and picturesque – also famous for its “witchcraft”. There are fortune tellers and card readers everywhere (must speak Spanish if you want a reading)! When we arrived it was like the welcome committee came out. So many smiles and waves from the locals, we felt a little like celebrities – we stand out just a tad. Lonely Planet mentions camping at Ecobiosfera about 10 or so kilometers outside town, closer to the coast. It’s actually really easy to find (HUGE signs), even though the road was a bit bumpy.
The road is so infrequently traveled it is covered in grass
Please note: It’s for sale. There may not be an Ecobiosfera in the future.
In the book, camping is priced at 100 pesos, but isn’t specific, so we figure it could be as much as 200 (per person prices are not uncommon). When we arrived there were a bunch of cars on the overlook point, but I didn’t see anyone. I buzzed the buzzer. No answer. I walked around… down the path, saw something that looked like bungalows behind a fence and a kind of communal area… still no one. I’m about to give up and go back to some bungalows we saw further back when a woman appears on a patio and says she is on the phone with the owner. Success! After some phone calls, a little waiting, and finding the lower road to get to the camp area, we finally get in and it’s super nice. Not only that, but we have it entirely to ourselves. The place was fenced so we let the dogs roam free. They were in heaven, especially after spending a night in the car, and the two days on Oaxaca we couldn’t really let them out much. The camp site was gated (picket fence type, no lock), cold showers, big sinks for washing, clothes line, no WiFi, and only a few outlets worked. The parking was out front, but there were so few people, and they all seemed really nice, we weren’t worried.
Some shots from the overlook above the camp area
Fruit anyone? Tangerines here, there was also an orange tree and papaya trees.
The area around Catemaco is the farthest north rainforest in the world (or something like that, according to lonely planet) and while it did not rain, it was very very wet. We were very glad to have tarped the top of our canopy tent, otherwise we would have woken with all our stuff and ourselves drenched from the amount of condensation. The company, Ecobiosfera, offers nearly 20 different tours, including horseback riding, waterfalls, repelling, etc. but we didn’t do any. The guides don’t speak English and we didn’t want to pay for half the information. The small town we were in, Dos Amates, had a few small stores and that’s it. When unpacking for the night a woman walked by selling tamales for 5 pesos each. I think we’ve been getting ripped off everywhere paying 10 for everything being sold on the road, but it’s really not that much. The best 5 pesos I’ve ever spent. Tamales are different everywhere in Mexico, and I definitely prefer the corn husk ones with lots and lots of spices.
Some shots around Dos Amates
Ecobiosfera also had some pretty active wildlife. We saw toucans and these brightly colored birds with yellow and black and kind of looked like bandits (not idea the name but they looked/sounded cool) and a few of the green parrots. Supposedly there are monkeys around too but we didn’t see any.
We spent only two nights there, since we weren’t planning to do any tours, and we REALLY needed to find some wifi (Telcel stick did not work here). Afterwards, with no service to help us plan, we hit the road hoping to make it to anywhere cool. We set our sights for Ciudad del Carmen about a 7-8 hour dive away. On the way, in Tabasco, we spotted Off Belay Americas! We follow them on Instagram (you can too, @offbelayamericas) and its kind of crazy to run into people like that on the road in such a huge place. When we got to the city, it was nice looking, but the hotels didn’t accept dogs where we asked, and we didn’t see any signs for RV parks. Campeche was our real goal, and it was only another 2 hours away, so we decided to give it a try, and do a bit of night-time driving for the first time (aside from some city driving in PV).
Campeche was lovely, and the historic town looked awesome at night. We tried a few hotels, and the only luck we had was at Hotel Nicte-Ha where they wanted us to book the most expensive room (690 pesos – only about $58 but still out of our price range, especially when we wanted to stay a few days) so the dogs could stay on the balcony. Not happening. So… after a few more attempts we ended up at yet another Pemex. It was late (nearly 11pm), and even if we could have found an RV park it would have been locked up already. A futile attempt at using our Telcel stick (I swear that thing works but never when I REALLY need it to) prompted us to pack it in in the morning, instead of searching again for lodging and head to Merida instead. So, we missed the whole Gulf coast because we drove at night, and then we slept at a Pemex, and then the bathrooms at said Pemex were the grossest ever. Thanks to this we are now much better planners (doesn’t mean there are never any wrenches thrown in there) and so far, things have gone much much smoother. Heading to Belize in a few days… Stay tuned for Mexico’s budget and our last week in Mexico!
Or we’ll sic Peanut on you!