Got off to a slightly late start after uploading things to the web while we had Internet, and saying goodbye to Stephen, Eric and Sabrina. We weren’t too concerned, though, as Eric had told us that one of his teachers said it was 5 hours to Palenque, and we’d be passing 300 topes. 300! That was such a high (and precise) number that Kay decided to count them.
There are more than 300 topes between San Cristobal and Palenque. We lost count at around 330 with 50 km to go. In other words, it was a LOT (2.2 per mile average). The roads were twisty leaving San Cristobal because we were leaving the mountains, and we passed through a ton of tiny towns. It was slow going, and it felt like it.
We did run across the thing that the guy we met near El Camon warned us about – kids on the road to Palenque stretching a rope across the road to create an impromptu road block. The first time, it was a knotted grass rope and we weren’t worried about it. The kids had already stopped and were swarming a combi bus, anyway, so they weren’t interested in us and let the rope down so we could pass.
The second time, it was a real, thick rope. We were behind a couple of cars, and the kids let the cars pass – and it looked like they were trying to decide whether to block us or let us pass. Kay was in front and just kept going, though, so they decided to just drop the rope. It looks like they’ll let you pass if you look like you mean business, so while the strategy may not be to “gun it” – it looks like it works to just keep riding like you have no intention of stopping. There was evidence of other thin knotted grass ropes as we continued.
Aside from that, the trip was relatively uneventful. We stopped for lunch near Ocosingo, which is the only sizable town between San Cristobal and Palenque. We kept being indecisive about where to stop, and got stuck at a restaurant on the edge of town because we’d already driven past all of the food stands and didn’t want to go back. We were the only ones there… aside from like 13 people sitting at a long table and speaking to one another with an English accent. Our Spanish may suck, but 12 of the people at the table didn’t speak Spanish at all, and you could tell that the waiter was getting frustrated by trying to take their order, etc. I felt bad for him.
Continued on our way after lunch, and got about 10 kilometers from Palenque (according to a road sign we’d passed) when we encountered a line of stopped cars. We had no idea why they’d stopped, and there weren’t any cars coming from the other direction, either, which has been the case when the road is down to one lane for construction and our lane is stopped. After a few minutes, people started getting out of the cars in front of us to walk up and see what was going on, and Kay and I pulled our bikes out of line and rode up to the front to see what was happening.
We found that a semi had driven off one of the twisty roads – it had gone too wide to the right on a left-hand twisty and had gotten off the road into the brush and small incline on the side of the road. Luckily, this was an area with only a very short incline so I don’t think the driver was hurt, but the semi couldn’t get back up onto the roadway on its own.
When we rode to the front of the line, two tow-trucks were there trying to get the semi back to the road, and traffic was blocked in both directions. Kay got off the bike to walk up and take pictures with his big fancy camera (along with all of the other gringos going to take pictures with their big, fancy cameras) and came back to report that it looked like there was a couple of feet behind the tow truck that was working on the semi, and we could probably scoot by.
He got on the bike and started it up, and I waited to see if the flagger was going to try to stop us, but he just let us ride on by. When we got to the tow truck, a police officer was standing there supervising, but he didn’t make any move to stop us. Kay scooted around at the left edge of the road, and I did, too, and we were free! Yet another case where the smaller motos could get by while the poor cars and trucks were stuck waiting for the wreck to get cleared. We stopped about half-way down the line of cars so that Kay could convey the news to the people who didn’t know why they were stopped.
We arrived in Palenque around 4:30, and proceeded to find an ATM (which we were luckily able to do almost immediately), a bathroom for me at a nearby Pemex, and surprise donut holes from a street-urchin, then headed into town to grab some meat for cooking up. It was finally going to be warm enough to camp, and Palenque has actual campgrounds, so we’d finally get to camp! We passed a carniceria, where Kay sent me in to grab half a kilo of carne for our dinner. I thought that the half a kilo was surprisingly big, but we ended up eating it all!
Then we headed off to our campground – Maya Bell Campground, which Kay found in his book on Mexican campgrounds. The book promised that howler monkeys would “serenade” us in our sleep. Instead, we got a loud, but good, band and New Years Eve celebration serenading us to sleep. The campground actually did a big thing for it (it’s also a hotel, and a restaurant, with fairly nice facilities) and everyone who was staying there seemed to be celebrating.
When we pulled in earlier, we were told to just go find a spot and someone would be around to collect our money. We rode off to the camping spots and saw a couple of motorcycles kitted out for adventure riding next to a tent! Of course we parked next to them, and started chatting as we took off our gear and started prepping the site. It turns out that they were Frank and Simone from Germany (www.krad-vagabunden.de ) , and they’re in the middle of an around-the-world trip that started in Alaska.
We had a nice initial round of chatter, and then started setting up our tent and I started getting the food ready. It’s the first time we’ve actually used the cutting board and knife at a campsite (only 25 days into the trip!) and I found that it actually worked quite well for me to put the cutting board on the SW-Motech Top Case Alu-Rack and cut there. It’s almost the perfect height, and it’s a decently flat surface. I cut up the carne into little bite-size pieces and proceeded to fry them in our little pan over our little stove while Kay loaded everything into our tent and got it all nice.
The carne cooked up deliciously (kay: OMG NOM) with just a little salt and pepper – it had a really nice flavor for such a simple preparation. Unfortunately, toward the end of cooking the carne, the stove started sputtering a bit and died. We put more gas into it, thinking it was just low on gas, and that seemed to fix the problem immediately. We started the water for the box of macaroni we’ve been carrying around since we left Texas, but before the water came to a boil, the stove sputtered and died. I re-lit it, and it worked for a few minutes, but then it sputtered and died. And died. And died. By this point, I was getting annoyed and asked Kay to take over.
Whilst we were futzing with the stove, Frank came over to say that they were cooking, also, and would like it if we’d like to join them to eat when we were done cooking. We said we’d like that, and Kay decided to dump the macaroni into the steaming water while we continued to futz with the stove, thinking that warm water should cook it, albeit slower, until we could get the water boiling. Unfortunately, the stove just kept dying, no matter what we tried, so the water just stayed warm – it never actually boiled. Eventually we tasted the pasta to see how far it had to cook, and discovered what happens if you cook pasta at too low of a heat… it turns into unappetizing, starchy pieces that turn to a gross paste when you eat them.
Before throwing it out entirely, we decided to add the cheese just to see if it would be able to salvage the gooey macaroni paste. Cheese made it slightly better, and we took our macaroni-pastey-cheese-glue and delicious carne chunks over to where Frank, Simone and another German biker they’d met (Ingolf?) were just about to start eating their dinner.
We had a really good time hanging out with them over dinner, and then chatting afterwards. We talked about riding, and traveling, and info they’d gleaned about Mexico, and routes for the rest of the trip – all of the things you’d expect adventure riders to chat about in the middle of a trip. They were welcoming, and I really enjoyed chatting with them. We hung out until close to 10PM, when we finally bowed out to wash our dishes, and I was positively drooping. We were doing dishes and getting stuff ready for bed when Frank brought us over some stickers that had a link to his website. Very cool. We’ll have to clean some of the dust and grime off our panniers so we can stick them.
I felt bad about it, but I was completely wiped by 10:15PM on New Years Eve. There was no chance I’d make it staying awake until midnight, and we planned to get up at 6AM so we could shower and be at Palenque when they opened at 8. Staying awake just wasn’t an option.
The campground was celebrating quite loudly – there was music, and people chatting loudly and all of the stuff you’d expect at a normal New Years Eve party. And I managed to pass out and sleep right through it, I was that tired. I did wake up as they were counting down – I heard “Ocho, Siete, Seis, Cinco, Cuatro, Tres, Dos, Uno…” and general celebration. I had the vague thought that I should roll over and kiss Kay, since it was new years, but I never actually woke up enough to do it. I fell back asleep to fireworks and I’m sure they continued to party for hours afterwards but I slept through it.
Kay’s note: it was great meeting Frank and Simone. Compared to them I feel like an utter newb when it comes to adventure riding (which I totally am). They have been all over Europe, and western Asia I think and have the perfect attitude for this type of journey.