Luckily the teams we were traveling with had the Church’s book to camping in Mexico, which has proved it’s weight in gold on several occasions. Conveniently there happened to be a nice little campground two miles from the pyramid which was cheap, clean, and close enough to the pyramid for an early morning rise to beat the crowds.
Matt and Isabel pulled in a close 45 minutes after us due to some GPS gremlins leading them astray earlier in the day. Wrong turns aside, they still managed to make the group a phenomenal chicken mole dinner!
Day 5- Teotihuacan to Oaxaca
Matt and I both stepped out into the cool morning air simultaneously. With a quick grunt at each other we acknowledged how incredibly cold it was. The temperature had dropped into the upper 30’s that night, but it somehow went unnoticed until morning. Slowly the other sleepy campers emerged from their tents and got breakfast going and the chores of packing up underway. Sarah and I finally feel that we have an advantage over some of the overlanders with our truck’s simplicity. What takes others hours to pack up and reorganize is accomplished by the simple shutting of our tailgate.
Teotihuacan is what remains of an ancient Aztec village, once the home of approximately 125,000 people, estimated to have been built around 100BC. It is thought to have been one of the controlling cities of the world during it’s time.
We were the first on the scene besides a couple of locals selling trinkets and souvenirs. As we walked into the gates, the sun was just peaking over the edge of the first pyramid. There were several hot air balloons filling the sky and gracefully soaring over the ruins in silence. What made this peaceful village so interesting in the early morning chill was the techno music blaring away. Yup that’s right, there just so happened to be a rave on the outskirts of the village which made for a truly unique experience.
Unfortunately, we only had a few hours to walk around as we had a long haul to Oaxaca. So after gorging on a medley of different tamales, we were once again back on the road. The three of us stuck together for this long stretch of highway. Truck led the pack for most of the day sustaining an average speed of around 80mph through the mountain passes. The sun was setting before our destination yet once again but luckily we had a place to stay for the night. We caught wind of a couple, originally from Canada, who were opening a small campsite dubbed the name Overland Oasis. It is designed for those driving the Pan-Am or road tripping in general and they graciously extended an invitation to all teams of the Maya Rally.
Day 6- Oaxaca
There were two major things we needed to accomplish while in Oaxaca, tour a mezcal factory and eat foods… weird foods. One of the guys who helped organize the rally in Guanajuato was sponsored by Scorpion Mezcal, and conveniently they were located right in Oaxaca, perfect! We piled six people and the dog into our truck and headed out for the day. Rolling through the shady little neighborhood trying to locate the distillery, it was not an obvious operation. We stopped to ask locals where it was, yet no one knew. A store owner suggested that we go ask the drunk guy who was passed out on the sidewalk…a little cliche but it worked. As luck would have it he was leaning against the gates of the very distillery we were looking for.
Doug French, the owner of Scorpion Mezcal, came to greet us and give us a tour. We walked through the stages from agave growing in the field, to the distillation and aging process to tasting some varietals that have not yet left the plant for production. Doug lined up seven different varieties to sample from smooth and clean to eye twitching and chest hair growing. Now I don’t know much about mezcal, but I do know that seven shots for breakfast will get your Oaxacan day kicked off right!
After our mezcal medley, we hit the streets in search of some foods required for the rally. On the list for the day was: Huitlacoche (fungus that grows on corn), Chapulines (grasshoppers), Tacos de Tripas (tacos made with the stomach lining of a cow), and anything else out of the ordinary. We found them all! The food in Oaxaca is amazing, the markets are bustling and the heat is intense. All in all we had a great time with great friends!
Day 7- Oaxaca to Villahermosa
Google maps said seven hours to Palenque… no sweat. At this point driving ten hour days is like a stroll to the grocery store. Sarah and I were the first to hit the streets that morning. When it comes to driving days we prefer to get up with the sun and be in camp early enough to make a bite to eat and take a shower before bed. The first section, from Oaxaca to Tuxtepic, was a total roller coaster. We sea-sawed our way up to 10,000’ and back down to sea level over the course of a 100 miles. The road was so twisty that Sarah, Brady and I were all car sick. I didn’t know that it was even possible to make yourself car sick when you are the driver! Although we cursed the roller coaster road, it did treat us to an incredible stretch of cloud forest that, if not for the rally, we would have never seen.
Once the mountain stretch ended in Tuxtepic, the pace picked up and we were back up to highway speeds. It seemed like our timing might be on par with GoogleMaps, which is pretty unusual for Mexico, and then whammo! Traffic came to a dead hault, with no movement what so ever. Apparently the toll workers were on strike and they would block off the highways only letting a handful of cars pass at a time. Normally traffic will clear up with time so we decided to stick it out. After a quick stop we teamed back up with Matt and Isabel and settled in for the night from hell. Traffic moved roughly 100 ft every 20 minutes, so as you can imagine we were bored. It was at the point where you are so bored you can’t help but sleep, but traffic is moving too often to actually fall asleep. I was hunched over the center console on and off sleeping with a Coca Cola in hand. Our windows had to be open because the heat was so intense but there were so many people walking around the highways that we felt vulnerable sleeping with the windows open. The train of silent vehicles and big rigs went on for as far as the eye can see. Locals took advantage of the event by selling food and drinks up and down the highway. It was by far the worst traffic I have ever seen, and this is coming from someone who would commute from Maine to Boston on a daily basis! Sarah and I sat in traffic that day from 5pm until 2am where we pulled into a gas station to sleep for a few hours. The total distance moved in that time was 3 miles.
Day 8- Villahermosa to Francisco Escarcega
Awoken by the sound of big rigs firing up around us we knew traffic must have finally cleared up. Sarah, Matt, Isabel and I grabbed some coffee from the Pemex and hit the road again. Flying along at 65mph felt great… until the traffic struck again! WTF, don’t these people sleep? Luckily we only sat in it for 2 hours that morning because the monster within me was scratching at my skin and looking for a way out!
We pulled into Palenque right around noon time; the hot jungle air was humid and the sun was set on blowtorch. The lush green grass and jungle trees were a nice treat to the arid desert that we had been in for so long. We had heard through the grapevine that there was a Rainbow Gathering in town which explained the abundance of deadlock and pachouli toting hippies. There were points awarded to team members who attended the gathering and made a trade with a post apocalyptic roll player. Unfortunately…or fortunately, we would not be attending this time, I have attended in the past but the timing was not proper for us on this gathering.
Palenque was truly amazing. Every time we visit a ruin I try to imagine living in these villages pre-civilization, when horses were the means of transportation and modern conveniences did not exist. Building these structures without power tools or heavy equipment is a feat that could not be accomplished in today’s world with today’s people.
The group decided to push on farther into the afternoon as it would cut the following day’s drive down to four hours. Pulling into the town of Francisco Escarcega we spotted a nice little hotel to crash at for the evening, unfortunately they only had one room available. Matt and Isabel were nice enough to offer to get the room and let us use the shower while we boondocked in the parking lot. That evening we split a round of humbre (cow udder) tacos for dinner and chased them down with a few celebratory beers.
Day 9- Francisco Escarcega to Bacalar
Four hours to the “end of the world” party! We arrived in Bacalar late afternoon with a top speed of 95mph chasing Matt’s WRX. A few teams were already on site soaking their driving aches away in the lagoon. Sarah, Brady and I followed suit and jumped it. Bacalar is a gorgeous and tranquil town located on a freshwater lagoon and has not yet been overrun with expats like many similar towns. One thing we found intriguing about Bacalar is the peculiar number of pizza places and farmacias. It’s the perfect place to cure your Vicodin and pepperoni cravings.
That evening all teams, besides a select few who dropped out of the rally, congregated for dinner, drinks and a dance party with a piñata. Several teams put together slideshows of their experiences and the winners were announced! It ‘s still up for debate who actually won the rally but it was not us I will just leave it at that for now. We had an excellent time and met some lifelong friends in the process. We also caught word of a possible Inca rally next year in South America…oh the possibilities!
Author: The Long Way South
Nate and Sarah were born and raised in the small town Saco, Maine, USA. We attended college in Boston, MA where we caught the traveling bug and have been addicted ever since. After our brief stint with the corporate world we decided, never again! The Long Way South is our website for our Pan-American journey, and the porthole for a life full of travel.