In the last Maya Rally 2012 post, we just finished up in Oaxaca eating grasshoppers, doing mezcal shots in the middle of the day and wrestling with luchadores, but to finish this rally, we needed to get on the road as quickly as possible. With 1314 km (816 miles) and 3 days left, we needed to put in some miles! We left the Overland Oasis campground bright and early the next morning with well wishes and a very important cup of coffee from our camp hosts Calvin and Leeane.
Day 6: More Driving…and Mariachis!
As the sun rose, we passed though agave fields and some incredibly windy roads as we descended from Oaxaca into the humid jungles near the coast. Today unfortunately wasn’t about getting too many points, it was all about getting the 546 km to Tuxtla Gutiérrez in the neighboring state of Chiapas so we could visit Cañón del Sumidero the next morning and possibly check off the Canyon Zipline. That was if we got to Tuxtla that night…
You see the thing we were beginning to understand about Mexico is that Google Maps might say you’ll get there in a specific amount of time, but that time is often waaaaayy off from the time it actually takes to get you there. Luckily this time Google had it correct and we pulled into Tuxtla around 4:30 that afternoon. We headed straight for a campground we read about in the Guide to Mexican Camping book only to find out it was a hotel that had very few spots where you could pull in and camp. The issue, aside from camping in a parking lot was they wouldn’t allow Bryon to set up his ground tent. It was incredibly humid in Tuxtla and sharing a rooftop tent in the heat is no bueno, it’s really not something you want to do when it’s that hot. We decided to check out a couple of other options before settling on the hotel campground. We asked the receptionist where we might be able to find mariachis. He told us about La Plaza del Mariachis only a few miles from where we were. Thinking I knew the directions, we set out to find mariachis before finding a place to sleep that night- hopefully checking off a huge challenge from the survival guide and netting us 20 points!
We searched for nearly an hour, pulling over and asking people who either looked like mariachis, or looked like they’d enjoy mariachi music where the plaza might be. We got many different answers (welcome to Mexico) taking us all over the main part of Tuxtla. FINALLY we asked the right group, three guys dressed to the nines in their finest mariachi gear; short jackets; snug-fitting pants with shiny buttons; large bow ties; ankle boots and sombreros. These guys HAD to know where the plaza was! They pointed down the street, we thanked them and headed over to the plaza to catch a mariachi band!
As we pulled up, we got flagged down by a mariachi band! I hopped out of the truck and talked to one of the band members explaining that we were in a rally and needed to get a video of us playing with a mariachi band. They were excited to help so they handed me a violin and broke into song…once they figured out I couldn’t play they took it away from me and kept signing. I quickly learned the lyrics (the best I could) and sang with them about drinking tequila and womanizing! That little bit of fun was worth 20 points!
Hanging out with the mariachis was good fun, but it was getting dark and we needed to find a place to sleep that night, so after a couple of photos, handshakes, and well wishes we headed back to the truck to drive to the other side of the city. We needed some sleep and some internet to plan out the rest of the rally so we decided to find a hotel for the night.
Day 7: The Canyon is Grand!
We woke up early the next morning knowing we needed to be at the marina of Parque Amikuu by 8:30 a.m. for a boat ride into the canyon. We arrived early and talked to the guide trying to figure out how this whole thing worked. We were told that the boat didn’t actually leave until 10:00 a.m. and that, oh, by the way, we wouldn’t be leaving the park until 4:30 that evening. Damn, that really threw a wrench into the plans we made to be in Palenque by that evening. Since we were already there we bought our tickets to the park and waited for 10:00 to arrive. Leaving promptly, we began the 13 km trip up the Rio Grijalva through the canyon. Erosion from the river carved this canyon around the same time the Grand Canyon was formed and this canyon is just as massive. The vertical walls reach as high as 1000 meters and it is an awesome sight to see the cliffs from the river. As if on cue, the wild animals began showing up as we entered deeper into the canyon; howler monkeys screeched in the trees above us, alligators slipped into the water from the banks of the river, and large predatory birds circled hundreds of meters over our heads.
We finally arrived at the eco-park 45 minutes later and set out to accomplish our task of doing the Canyon Zipline, a 300 meter (984 foot) zipline that cruises across the canyon at a height of 15 meters (50 feet)! We got prepared by stepping into harnesses, buckling in and having the staff check our rigs for safety, we were handed a zipline trolley (basically a metal cage that held metal wheels that go on the zipline) and something they called el freno. Now I know the word freno, which means “brake”, but this little contraption didn’t look like a brake, it looked like a piece of wood with a bit of webbing screwed onto it. THIS WAS MY BRAKE? WTF? I hoped that it would do the trick and we hiked for about ten minutes to get the beginning of the zipline and I got to go first. It was my first time ziplining and it was awesome to be 50 feet in the air over crocodile infested waters while cruising at about 30-40 miles per hour! I hadn’t attempted to use el freno yet and when I did, it actually worked pretty well. I still came into the platform a little hot and bashed my shin on the metal stand. At the end, I waited for Bryon to finish and welcomed him to the other side with an obligatory fist bump! With that completed, we checked off Cañón del Sumidero from our survival guide and netted 15 points for the visit and 20 extra points for the zipline, 35 points!
For good measure we also did the Mega Zipline, a multi-station zipline that sent us from the top of the park all the way to the bottom in a series of four ziplines. With that done, it was now 12:00 p.m. and we needed to get out of there if we had any hope of getting to Palenque that night. We were already pushing it on time and we’d be arriving after dark- on a road that the U.S. State Department ranks as a “dangerous road” GULP. We talked to the manager at the park and he had a solution for us, another water taxi was there and he getting ready to leave. If we paid the taxi driver 100 pesos, he’d take us out of the canyon right then and there. No waiting around! SCORE! We put on our flotation devices and got out of there as quickly as possible!
Arriving back at the truck around 2:00 p.m. we started our drive to Palenque. The first hour and a half to San Cristobal de las Casas was pretty easy and we thought we’d have no issue getting where we wanted to be by that evening. According to Google Maps the whole road was supposed to take 4 hours and 19 minutes, so once we hit San Cristobal, we should have only had a few hours of driving left. Here’s one of those situations where Google Maps is just plain WRONG and after reading a few people’s blogs, it seems no one has ever done the road from San Cristobal to Palenque in less than six hours. SIX. FREAKIN’. HOURS.
And the reason it takes six hours or longer? Its a narrow, two-lane road with precipitous drop offs, missing pavement, it goes zig-zagging up and down mountainsides, through villages full of anti-government insurgents, and a road itself that hates you…full of suspension-annihilating topes- estimated to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 277 of these torture devices. This road is a bad on a good day, but when you’re running out of daylight with nowhere to stop for the night and no fuel stations, this road is your worst nightmare! Three hours into our twisty torment, with the last light fading in the west, we wondered if we should just pull over on a side road and sleep for the night…and that’s when we found our Guardian Taxi, a taxi driver that knew the road like the back of his hand, he knew every turn, tope, bump, dip, village, hill climb, and descent. He used his emergency flashers when necessary to warn us that he was slowing down in a village. We followed him for hours on his way down the mountain toward Palenque and as a result we traveled 15-20 miles per hour faster than we would have if we were on the road alone…and as soon as he was there, he turned around and headed back up the hill. I wanted to follow him and give him some money, but he was gone in a cloud of dust and red taillights bouncing over topes. We realized that he had basically dropped us off at the doorstep of Palenque, a mere 7 km outside the city!
We pulled into Palenque a little before 9:00 p.m. and immediately found our campground. We set up camp and Bryon and I went to go talk to the owner of a kayak rental shop on the property. Gabriel told us about kayaking in the area and we told him about the Maya Rally. He was excited to hear about it and when we told him we needed to visit the Rainbow Gathering and asked him if he knew where it was, he was more than willing to direct us to kilometer marker 32 and the dirt road that led to the gathering. We’d have to wait until the next morning, but we had a lead on 15 points! We also asked him if he knew where we could finish our fishing challenge and he pointed outside to the river that flowed by the campground. “Do you guys have flashlights?” he asked. Since we were carrying our massive LED Lenser X21R and our LED Lenser H14R Headlamps, we were pretty sure we had the light situation covered! Gabriel took us out back, grabbed a broken paddle, and handed me half. We walked down to the river and he told us about the devilfish, an invasive species that is killing off local fish in the area. Gabriel had a…unique…fishing method, he told us to shine the light in the bottom of the river, find a devilfish and whack it with the paddle. I tried it and got one on my first try! With that done we scored a quick 20 points and hit the restaurant for dinner and beers- happy that the fishing challenge was quick and easy!
Tomorrow would be about visiting the Rainbow Gathering and trading something of ours for whatever they had to offer. Hopefully it wouldn’t be laced with hongos. We crashed out for the night and got some decent sleep.
Next up: Hippies, Mayan Ruins, and you guessed it…more driving!
Two day total: 75 points! Rally total: 410 points!