Can you even believe the title? We couldn’t really, but despite 18 months here we weren’t quite there yet.
We had heard that it might be possible to enter Belize, just the day before we were about to leave Bacalar. Unfortunately, we weren’t really set up for that border. We had ordered Lee’s replacement phone to the town near the Guatemalan border, and we didn’t have the paperwork in place for the cats. Belize was known to be pricey and we decided all in all it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if we missed it.
We had to kill a week until Lee’s phone arrived, so we planned to visit a highlight we had missed the first time around in Chiapas. It was well over ten hours away with little to choose from in terms of overnight stops. The last point of interest was Homiguero Ruins, around two hours from Bacalar. We spent our first night without people, in the jungle again with monkeys all around us.
The ruins themselves were definitely worth the stop, we were the only people to enter the site, which runs on donations only. While not large, it was well maintained and it was nice to have the place to ourselves.
In order to avoid spending a night in a petrol station with the cats locked in, we spent the next three days driving for several hours between the only good spots. The GPS on my phone hasn’t really worked for sometime, and I have no offline maps. We operated on a vague approximation of the route to get us to the cascades in Agua Blanca, the final in-between point before our final destination. So far, so good.
From here, it was supposed to be a 2h45 drive to Vulcan Chichonal. This striking volcano has an emerald green pool in its crater than you can hike up to and swim in. It looked amazing. The perfect way to round off our time in Mexico.
Naturally, the time frame for the route was completely wrong. Fortunately we had left early, as the minute we hit the main road there were road blocks. They weren’t happy that our visas and passports weren’t stamped, a problem we had encountered the day before. We shrugged our shoulders and showed proof we had paid. The irony of all this is that we did have genuine visas, which they had apparently forgotten to stamp on the border. Another five minutes down the road we were stopped again. This time by a less friendly group. One stood at the window clutching his automatic rifle and eyeballing us. The other was on the phone waving around our bad visas. We waited. I got the distinct impression the guy with the gun was trying to eavesdrop on our conversation to find out where we were clearly hiding all our illicit drugs. Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t speak any English which made that part significantly harder. We also had no drugs. Another man demanded to know where we had stayed the night before and we told him. He then informed us in a slightly threatening way that he was going to go there and check we weren’t lying, which he was most welcome to do. Eventually and rather begrudgingly let us go and we continued on.
We hadn’t spent much time in Tabasco and I don’t see any reason to change that. The state was swarming with police, but we didn’t get stopped again. The roads were also pretty questionable and so far we had reached 3 hours of driving before even reaching the final village. We left the beaten track at Ixtacomitan, and drove onwards down some pretty beaten up roads to the village of Chapultenango. Here we parked up to let Ruby cool down before attempting the last section, deciding we would wander around the village. It is not an exaggeration to say that every person we passed, stared. Despite the fact this was the final village close to a major tourist attraction, they looked at us like we had several more limbs or heads than we should have. These weren’t the friendly stares either. We are used to those. Normally a smile and a wave and suddenly all is fine. I smiled at these people and they frowned back.
“Let’s go.” I muttered to Lee. “This is really uncomfortable….”
Our stroll around the village turned into a brief circuit, and ten minutes later we were back in the van driving off.
We located the track out of the town, which just looked like something that would probably end of stopping in a field somewhere. In fairness, that’s just what it does, but you can drive a good half an hour down it first to reach the parking for the volcano. We paid for our camping and decided to wait until morning to hike up. For one, it was very busy. You wouldn’t think it looking at the access road but the park had several minibuses in it, full to the brim. We were also tired, it had taken 4.5 hours to get here.
In the morning, we set off for the hike on a far quieter day. The walk starts off easy enough, crossing a small stream and winding gently through fields of cattle.
Then you hit a large river bed and walk up this a little way before ascending out the other side. The only tell tale sign that this is a popular walk is that the path is etched deep into the hillside. At some points well over a foot deep into the ground.
Gradually you climb higher, the views improve and all you can see is a lush green rolling landscape around. There wasn’t another person in sight.
The final section is when it becomes tougher. The incline increases noticeably and so had the temperature by this point. We stopped off regularly in the shade to catch our breath and cool down. We had nearly drunk all the water already.
As ever when climbing summits, you always think you are nearly there, only to crest that ridge and be face with another. At last it did seem like this was the final climb, we braced ourselves for a great view that we would inevitably get…
We were not disappointed.
Below us the crater opened up, a giant hole in the summit full of impossibly green water. I had been looking forward to a nice swim to cool off after this incredibly sweaty excursion, but the smells wafting up from the crater did not entice us down to it. We enjoyed our well earnt lunch with a fantastic view.
It is possible to descend to the lake, but it is a nearly vertical scramble and we decided that considering we didn’t want to go in the water there was little to be gained. The views from up here were good enough for me.
After catching a good rest, we made our way back. It had taken us 2.5 hours to get there and it only took half of that to return, it being basically down hill all the way. The heat and the humidity are what turn this hike from easy to moderate. We were both glad to see the Ruby come into view before collapsing in the restaurant and dranking two litres of lemonade, followed by a cold shower.
As is typical for the time of year, that night it rained. Lightning thundered down around us and we sat inside enjoying being dry. Not wanting to face another long drive after the hike we had paid for another night in advance. In fact it transpired we had paid for a lot more than that, we had been charged nearly double. I explained this to the quite pleasant guy in the restaurant earlier and he had promised to look into it for us.
Our evening wound to an end and despite the fact the rain was lashing down on the pop top we decided to have an early night. We wanted to drive before it got too hot the following day. Some of the roads out might be a challenge on our slightly underpowered engine.
Aimee stared out of the pop top windows into the storm as Lee lay in bed. I reached over to give her a stroke and at that moment a flash of lightning illuminated outside the window and I realised the guy from the restaurant was standing there. I feel that it was perfectly naturally to be freaked out by this. He stood in the dark, in the pouring rain, facing the camper but only a matter of inches away from it. I could have reached my hand through the window and touched him. This is the thing with the pop top, it can certainly make you feel vulnerable.
It told Lee what was going on in a whisper, in case the psychopathic restaurant owner burst in through the mosquito net and killed us both. Lee wasn’t quite convinced, he was standing so close in fact it was hard to see him in the brief flashes of light. After a while, he was still there. Standing silently in the pouring rain. We went downstairs and turned the lights on before going back up. He seemed to have gone and another figure was sitting on the deck of the cabana a little way away. I stared out trying to figure out what the hell was going on, when he reappeared sneaking around the edge of the light from our windows. This time, Lee saw him and shouted out. Then we went outside to check, but he was gone. I lay awake in the dark, unable to sleep and hoped the rain would stop as I didn’t want to get stuck down an impassable dirt road with whatever was going on.
In the morning, he came over and handed us our refund for the overpaid money in a perfectly normal way. Why he had to do that at 6.30am I’m not entirely sure but we had no reservations in packing up and heading out. While nothing had happened per-say, this was only the second time in Mexico that I have ever felt unsafe. Perhaps the overly dramatic backdrop of the storm had somewhat added to the horror movie feel of that night, but I still can’t come up with any rational explanation for what he was doing.
At least this meant we were hitting the road early again and to my relief we made it out without any issues. We got stopped by the police in Tabasco this time, but after a bit of the stupid English act they let us on. The other road blockades weren’t a problem either, it seems they are more concerned about traffic coming from Cancun and the border than going towards it.
The last thing to do before leaving was collect Lee’s phone. We were now at Emiliano Zapata, just two hours from the border and we went to check on it. Tomorrow, we were told. We decided to try a different campspot, after a drunk guy had starting banging on our door at 3am the last night. In this area however, there isn’t a lot of choice. We decided to try La Libertad, a quiet, looking rural place. We spent probably half an hour trying to persuade the police, and then his boss to let us in. They said we had to stay at the hotel, but when we eventually managed to get there they wouldn’t except pets. We gave up and headed back to our free river spot, hoping that no one else would hassle us.
After having a problem with the engine overheating, it seemed to keep getting airlocks the last few days, and getting stuck in roadworks, we wasted the whole afternoon. Back at the free spot a guy pulled in to chat to us. He’d seen us stuck in the roadworks and was interested in our trip, much better than the drunk guy. We also found that our cooling system was creating a vacuum as it cooled and pulling in air, thinking we had solved that problem too, we hoped the phone would arrive the next day.
Fast forward to the following afternoon. We have been waiting on the street for around two hours. Estafeta was supposed to deliver before two, then at two, then in half an hour. After three, the driver pulled up and passed us a phone on the street, it had arrived! Officially, nothing was keeping us here.
The last stop before the border at El Ceibo is Tenosique. We got our roof rack welded again, the dirt roads of the volcano had not been kind to it. We found a welder who started to put it all back together. Was he drunk or just a bit weird? We weren’t entirely sure but he fixed it up pretty well.
Then it was time to set about trying to get a Covid test. Our friends had gone to a chain of pharmacies and I had wrongly assumed that this one in the border town offered testing. They did not. Eventually, it was getting late and we headed out to camp for the night at the rather beautiful Tultiha.
In the morning, determined to leave but with our engine not wholly cooperating, we headed back to find a test. After being bounced around several places we ended up paying 1000pesos each for an antigen test as supposed to the 350 our friends had paid. That’ll teach us I suppose. What a lot of money for the rather unpleasant experience of someone scraping your brain with a plastic stick. I supposed we can at least be glad they were negative, finally we left.
The border of El Ceibo was less than an hour away, tonight if it all went to plan, we would be sleeping in Guatemala.