Should we venture up to the Yucatan Peninsula? we debated. It was distant and remote. Our days left in Mexico were numbered and already we were very close to the Guatemala border. Because we don't usually decide our next destination until a few days (or less) prior, we left this decision up in the air for a while. We enjoyed several days of relaxation at Palenque and then we knew we needed to make a move. Fortunately the Yucatan is very flat, so we knew we could maximize our travel time by doing most of it in one stretch- unlike some of the insane switch-back mountain roads we took thru the Huasteca. By nightfall, we had reached the Gulf. And if we were still in doubt, this sunset changed our minds! How we love the ocean, the sand, the seashells, and the sunset!
One experience we were really looking forward to was swimming in a cenote. A cenote is a limestone sinkhole that is filled with crystal clear freshwater. There are literally thousands of them in the Yucatan. The Mayans used them to perform sacred rites and rituals and believed that they were the gateway to the underworld. Some are open on top, but many are partially or completely covered by earth. We descended down down down into our first cenote- completely unveiled beneath the earth's surface except for a small hole, filling the cavern with light.
Into the depths of this dark, ancient cave to swim in these mythical azure pools, crystal clear and cool to the touch. Above us, several cave swallows were circling the bright opening and, although we were completely alone in this hidden, underground oasis, the woooshing sound of the birds in flight echoed hauntingly on the cave walls. There were large stalactites and other oozing, bubbling formations of limestone like a melting sand castle. Slippery black catfish wiggled to the surface to greet us. This was a very mysterious place. The depth of the water was ominously deep, and I wondered what enigmatic rites had taken place in this very pool. I felt like a mermaid swimming through the pristine turquoise waters, and though it was a refreshing respite from the humid sweat of the afternoon, the sound of every splash bounced off the cave walls and I couldn't help but feel I was disturbing something.
One of the many rewards of being in the Yucatan is being graced with diverse wildlife and abundant natural beauty all around. We were in awe of all the different animals we saw. Rio Lagartos is the main area to view flamingos but we were lucky enough to see them near Celestun as well, where we were camped on the edge of a nature preserve. Raptors are a family favorite of ours and quite plentiful throughout the peninsula, where both the common black hawk and the common gray hawk can be seen perched high in the trees overlooking open fields. The Mexican osprey species has slightly different markings than the ones we were used to seeing in the States, but these are just as striking and always entertaining to watch them fish. We also identified vast array of water birds, like herons, egrets, terns, pelicans, and many types of gulls. We are still in question as to what these funny black birds with the brilliant blue wings are, but we do know that they have a lot of personality. Hopefully we will be able to find a new birding field guide to help us identify new species in Central America. Iguanas of course can be seen everywhere- these are Joey's favorite!
Re-fueling! Hot days on the beach definitely call for a refreshing, fruity snack! On days like this, I am very grateful for our solar setup and low-wattage blender so we can take advantage of the delicious selection of fresh tropical fruits available. We have been enjoying smoothie bowls with all the fresh pineapple, mango, guava, passion fruit, bananas, and strawberries we can eat. Topped with homemade granola, almonds, pecans, raisins, and pumpkin seeds, a sprinkle of chia, and little dust of bee pollen- makes this a power-packed snack for long days in the sun. We have been making good use of our machete to crack open the coconuts that we see just about everywhere!
The beaches were quite idyllic and we were all obsessed with this delightfully cool color scheme of the bluest sapphire sea illuminated with the brightest white sand. We traveled on a heavily pot-holed dirt road to the remote end of Punta Allen, where we had delicious seafood and a tranquil night on the beach, and then we returned to Tulum to see the ruins.
Tulum was gorgeous. Undoubtedly one of the prettiest locations of any archaelogical site. It may have been crowded with tourists but we didn't mind. I actually really like the small eco-resorts that surround Tulum and Palenque in that even luxury accomodations are a lot more rustic and in balance with nature, compared to Cancun that sort of feels like Las Vegas. I would return to Tulum in a heartbeat just to see the pristine ocean views from atop the highest fort.
Our last stop in our beloved Mexico was Bacalar, a scenic sweetwater lagoon with endless views of where heavenly clouds and crystalline lake meet at the horizon. We stayed at the shallow end of the lagoon where Joey spent all day splashing in the lovely clear water. Our last days were a bit nostalgic as we reflected on our time in this amazing country. New friends, special places, full bellies, and memories we will recall fondly. Thank you all for following us through our adventure south of the border. Next stop, Belize!
Well it was a long journey to the devastatingly dense jungle of Palenque, with its lush looming trees and dancing shadows. We arrived after nightfall to a wonderous little campground called Maya Belle. After a full day of overland travel, we had finally arrived! The long awaited bliss of being in a highly anticipated place began to hit us and all of the days stress and tension melted away. Indeed, the energy surrounding Palenque is truly a thing to marvel at- it feels much like the energy of a vortex, where life-force shifts back into alignment and the current of joy begins to flow again, unobstructed. The chorus of tree frogs was echoing through the night and the only sound loud enough to interrupt it was the very loud and haunting sound of the illusive howler monkeys, shuffling in the branches of the canopy above our truck. We were here at last!
The most bewitching, and in my opinion, most incredible ruins in all of our travel through Mexico- Palenque stands out for many reasons. While it is a relatively small complex, the distinct style of the temples and palaces is very unique and amazingly well-preserved. And, there is so much more than what meets the eye- as it is estimated that only about 10% of the structures have been excavated. In fact, there are hundreds of other ruins surrounding Palenque hidden in the jungle, waiting to be unveiled.
We took turns climbing the temple steps and looking inside the tombs and palaces. After visiting so many ruins these past few months, we have learned that exploring these places with a toddler in tow can be a bit of a challenge. Oftentimes, one of us (parents) is attempting to steer the little monkey away from dangerous elevations or delicate (not-to-be-climbed-on) structural remains. We have discovered that giving him his own camera is a good way of engaging him in our adventures to these mysterious ruins. "Amazing" was the word of the day here at Palenque. I will cherish the memory of our 2.5 year-old Joseph running around this ancient wonderland with his little camera saying "This is A-MAZING mama!" over and again.
Many places to climb and explore with this goof-ball.
The stone carvings were pretty unbelievable- as well as the notion that the Mayan alphabet was only recently cracked, with literally hundreds of different figures. The writings tell the history of this ancient civilization and its most important leaders.
We had fun taking pictures of the iguanas and other animals perching regally atop these monuments like the reincarnated gods of days past. After several hours, the jungle heat had trapped us in its embrace, and the only thing that sounded appealing was to dive into the gorgeous swimming pool at our campground. And so it was! Another beautiful day in Mexico.
Finally we made it to Chiapas! A fascinating region of southern Mexico that we had been looking forward to discovering; a place where many different indeginous cultures continue to live their traditional style of life, where the rich displays of the folkart and textiles are produced by hand, where dozens of native languages are spoken true, and the diverse heart of Mayan culture lives on.
A river tour through Sumidero Canyon lead us to crocodiles, waterfalls, and interesting rock formations. We were able to camp at the embarcation in Chiapas de Corzo where all the boats were docked, adding to the anticipation of our upcoming boat ride. Joey was very excited- he has a deep love for all bodies of water and the vehicles that sail thru them. Yes, he has the heart of an old fisherman. And like the times before this, his excitement to be on a boat was not visible through his smile- actually he took it very seriously- as if he was combing through the memories of a past life at sea.
There was a lot of buzz around San Cristobal de las Casas. The cultural capitol of Chiapas is home to indigenous communities, some international expats, and a hub to backpackers- not to mention the home base of the Zapatista movement. The energy there was hard to describe- it was raw and radical, burdened with the heaviness of history yet also full of hope for a more progressive future, a conscious community, and a more harmonious cohesion of cultures and classes. Serendipitously, it was here that we crossed paths with many friends we had made through our earlier travels: a couple of overlanders we met in Baja and again in Nayarit, two different friends from San Pancho, and a guy we spent a few days sight-seeing with in Guanajuato. Two weeks flew by here as we shared stories and appeased our appetites for international fare with pad thai and falafal.
Old colonial architecture and churches abound from the period of Spanish rule.
The Museo del Ambar, located in a lovely old convent, displaying amber jewelry and sculptures from the Pre-Hispanic era, and offering a record of the evolutionary history of some scorpion specie, forever preserved in a sample of Mexican amber. For its therapeutic and protective properties, the native peoples have used amber for thousands of years.
The dense and winding markets are full of hand-made and hand-dyed textiles, from rebozos used in childbirth and for baby-carrying, to warm wool blankets and shawls, to small toy animals and decorative hearts and pom-poms, to bright-colored clothing with floral embroidery and strands of sparkly threads.
One day, I had an opportunity to visit a birth center in San Cristobal. Being a big advocate of midwifery, I am always curious to understand birthing practices around the world. I was able to make a small donation which I hope will help a woman and baby in Chiapas to have access to quality midwifery care.
We have now entered the cacao-growing region of Mexico! To celebrate, we visited the Museo de Cacao and indulged in some superfood decadence.
Street art ranging in style from the mystical to the political, protesting or celebrating the ins and outs of life in San Cristobal and beyond.
Then, one day, we set off for our next destination: to see the ruins of Palenque. About 2.5 hours into our drive, we discovered that the road was closed due to Zapatista blockages. We were warned that this happens reguarly and could encounter as many as four or five blockades at which we would have to wait and pay money to pass. However, after talking to some of the other drivers, we learned that the road had been shut down for five days already and would not re-open for several more. We were encouarged to camp on the side of the road until the road opened (four days) and buy food from the village kids. A bit sketchy! And just another example of the political and social tensions at play. Disappointed, and not wanting to camp there overnight, we turned around and drove back to San Cristobal to re-map our route. Unfortunately, the only other road would require an additional 500 km detour to reach Palenque. We didn't want to take any unnecessary risks- or undermine the delicate consciousness of cultural sensitivity, so back to San Cristobal it was!
A very long drive awaited us as we snaked back toward Tuxtla and through the mountains leading to Palenque- the ancient temples of the Maya jungle- and a place worthy of all the extra miles and also deserving of its very own post! Stay tuned...
A Sunday afternoon in the Zocalo of Oaxaca city. A place where “everyone is an artist.” The trees are blossoming in bright pinks, violets, and yellows. There is stimulation for all of the senses; a colorful palate of textures and movement in every direction for the eyes, the smell of handmade tortillas yeilding a single puff of steam before being flipped, the sound of a marching band whose footsteps and drum beats resonate as one. There are vendors selling fruit on sticks, fresh squeezed juices, and sticky bars made from honey and various nut and seed combinations. Inflatable childrens pull-toys of neon animals with little wheels, yoyo's, and vials of soapy liquid about to take flight as bubbles. Street performers juggling. The sound of a loudspaker chanting in Espanol with a following of people wearing T-shirts of the mugshots of four men. Across the street, tables of artesenal goods from textiles to wooden bowls to handmade instruments, gives way to the market, an indoor wonderland of narrow pathways offering flower bouquets, bright colored baskets, baked goods, fresh fruit, cheeses, and more.
Joey got a new drum! We tasted crickets (chile and lime for a crunchy, protien-rich snack) and did a mezcal tasting. We got to look in aquariums with baby bunnies and hamsters, geckos and snakes. Then discovered a favorite new street food: mango on a stick with tejin and valentina.
Mole was not as ubiquitous as we had hoped. After a couple strikes, we found the good stuff in a small town just outside of Oaxaca city where we had a delicious and memorable meal: mole verde and mole negra, and an order of quesadillas fritas for Jose.
Very unique hand-carved tile at the archaelogical site of Mitla. Unlike anything we have seen throughout Mexico.
You will find many artesenal mezcal distilleries surrounding Mitla. This one uses an enormous horse-drawn pestle and mortar to process the mezcal in a traditional fashion.
A beautiful drive through the mountains led us to Heirve el Agua, a unique geological feature of a "petrified" waterfall and two large mineral spring-fed infinity pools. The natural rock formations form a cascade where water once flowed down the cliffside.
Sunset in the pines of San Jose del Pacifico, the remote mushroom town of Maria Sabina. High in the biosphere you will see your breath at night and maybe more if the psychedilics are in season.
We bathed in the tide pools of this rugged, hidden beach, Bahia de Tambo.
And saw some pretty birds in Playa Bamba on the Gulf of Tehuantepec.