Once again it was giddy up and go time. Once again Tiggy Moondust was converted back into serious travel mode. Once again it was just the bike and me. Once again, we were off to find new places, people and things to do. Once again to get ourselves into mischief and out of it again.
I had booked a Spanish school in San Cristobal de las Casas in the region of Chiapas Mexico. First it was back to Villahermosa where I stopped for the night and did my favorite thing…. people watch.
I had planned a route to San Cristobal using the Mex 195. This was an amazing road. Running through banana plantations. But first I had to get out of Villahermosa and onto it. Holly my Garmin Zumo got really confused and mixed up. So out came Hal my windows phone with HERE maps. We got onto the road and headed into the Banana plantations. This was really an amazing sight. Left and right Banana trees. 226 kms of bliss.
It is a slow road being narrow and passing through villages. Also, there were some high mountain passes to negotiate. The scenery was varied. Once we passed through the banana plantations we started to head up into the mountains. It was getting colder and soon I had to put my wet weather gear on as we rode through the clouds.
Visibility was down to a couple of meters. I was really happy that I had fitted a rear mist light. A little red led light that can be seen through heavy rain and fog. Climbing until we broke out into brilliant sunshine and could see the top of the mountains. Looking down we could only see clouds, we were above the clouds. It was like flying. Then it was back down again. Once again visibility was only a couple of meters in places, but we made it. It was a brilliant ride. The road had loads of really nice twists and turns.
The hills around San Cristobal are home to the indigenous population. These consists of the Tzotzils and Tzeltal, both being Maya. They are also the ones keeping the culture alive. The road runs through their villages. They are very weary of strangers and I felt eyes watching me as I rode through. Also, in the forests around the villages. There are still Maya ceremonies held in them. I definitely did not want to be here after dark. It had a kinda spooky feel to it. In the villages and on the road leading into them there were a lot of home made “topes” (speed bumps). Also, there were hand written signs warning against speeding and the fines therefore. They were on the steep side. Also, I had the feeling that the locals would enforce them as well. So, I was careful. There were a lot of people busily making handcrafts. Mostly weaving. They looked up as I passed by but did not smile or return my wave. The men watched as I went by, also, not smiling or waving. I didn’t stop also because it was getting near dark and I wanted to find a hotel in daylight.
Finally, we entered the outskirts of San Cristobal. I had booked an apartment but I was a day early so I had to find a hotel. Saw a group of bikers on a petrol station and shortly afterwards they overtook me. They looked to know where they where going so I followed them.
At a traffic hold up I asked one of them if they were going to a hotel. He said yes. I then asked him if the hotel had parking and that was also a yes. I told him that I was following them. They rode straight into the center of town and stopped at a hotel. A really nice one as well. I checked in, unloaded and brought Tiggy Moondust around to her private secure parking.
Then met up with the bikers. They were Mexican and one Spanish. All, except one who was from Pueblo, were working in the oil business and based in and around Ciudad Del Carmen. We had a good chat. Went out to have a look at the town and got a ticking off from one of the bikers.
I was only wearing a tee shirt and jeans and the temperature was cold. We were up in the mountains. Put my fleece on and went for a wander to explore what was to be my new home for a, just over a month. The next morning, we had breakfast together and swapped contact info. Thanks guys for a super evening.
Then it was time to get in contact with the director of the school and get the keys to my apartment. The apartment as it turns out, was not too far away on the other side of the center. Holly was sulking and refused to navigate, so out came HAL who got us there….. this time without trying to kill us. Rosie, my landlord, turned out to a super nice person. She immediately showed me around and made me feel at home. The apartment came with the use of a garage that was just around the corner. It was in a quiet area just behind the Guadalupe Church and within easy walking distance to town.
It was also very close to the school. I had booked four weeks of lessons, at four days a week and 3 hours a day. It was tiring. But I really wanted to get the basics of Spanish. Once I had the basics I could build on it. I was not exactly a brilliant student, I have to admit.
San Cristobal, or Jovel as it is called in its native Tzotzil language, is considered to be the cultural capital of the state of Chiapas. The Historical center is a maze of narrow cobblestone streets lined with red tile roofed houses. It has kept its Spanish colonial influence.
The town contains many churches, main ones being the Cathedral, the Santa Domingo Church with the surrounding artesian market and the Iglesias de Guadalupe to name but a few. There are at least 15 churches in the center alone. One thing that really stands out is the number of restaurants. There are loads. Just about every culinary taste is represented. Also, the number of tourists, it is a major tourist destination. Some of them never went home, as a lot of foreigners are living in San Cristobal.
Then the real local people, by them I mean the Indigenous People, the descendants of the Maya, the Tzotzils and the Tzeltals. They are making and selling a lot of craft work. They are famous for their weaving skills and make some really nice and colorful materials. They also make a lot of jewelry and the whole area is famous for its amber. They walk up and down the streets loaded up with scarves, shawls, blouses, dresses, jewelry…. and try to sell them. There are hundreds of them. They all live in the neighboring villages in the surrounding mountains.
I started my lessons that week and met up with 3 nurses from the US. They were studying medical Spanish. We all had separate teachers. Mine was a one to one lesson as I only wanted to do conversational Spanish and not a load of grammar.
The director of the school invited the three nurses and me to go to a village called San Juan Chamula in the surrounding hills. This town is home to the most amazing and fascinating church that I have ever seen. It has a pine leave strewn floor, is lit by thousands of candles and shaman hold their rituals there. It is not uncommon to see a sacrifice of a chicken. There is strictly no photography allowed. I was lucky, I got invited there by Luis, the owner director of the Spanish school and his friend a neurologist, from Mayan descent, who is from the village of Chamula.
I got an inside guided tour. Also, there was a festival going on and we where taken around to the different places where people were celebrating. Mostly rituals and their own Mayan celebrations. This of course went on with loads of fireworks and copious amounts of Posh, or “Pox” in the Mayan native tongue. The word “pox” in Tzotzil Mayan means “medicine, cane liquor, cure”. This is an alcoholic drink made of corn, sugar cane and wheat. This drink has been used since ancient times in the Mayan ceremonies. But now sometimes it is replaced by bottles of soft drinks. It is not unusual to see bottles of cola being used as offerings in the churches. Besides being used for Mayan ceremonies it is a popular alcoholic drink in the region of Chiapas in Mexico. It is served in bars called “Posherias”.
Check out this website and the music video from a local rock group called Vayijel, who sing in their native tongue Tzotzil …
The music video features the town and the church and will give you a small glimpse into this amazing place and amazing it really is. I count myself lucky that I had the chance to get an insiders glimpse.
I also needed to get my chain guard fixed. It had to be welded but it was made of aluminum and needed a specialized shop to do it. I found a place in a side street close to a Yamaha dealer. He soldered and welded car radiators. I showed him my chain-guard and all the pieces and he set out to weld it all back together again. He’s done a fantastic job, months and thousands of kilometers later it is still in one piece.
I also visited Cañón del Sumidero or Sumidero Canyon in English. This canyon was created at the same time and in the same way as the Grand Canyon in Arizona USA. It started off as a crack in the earth’s surface which was then eroded by the Grijalva River into the size and shape that it is today.
The walls rise up sheer to a height of 1,000 meters with the river making a 90-degree turn. The canyon reaches a length of 13 kilometers. At the northern end is the Chicoasén Dam and water reservoir. There are boat tours that take you down the river Grijalva into the 13 km long canyon.
I spent a whole day here and in the area. I was the only foreigner; the rest of the group were all Mexican holiday makers. This gave me the perfect chance to practice some of my Spanish. It was a fun day out. I was picked up, in the morning, by a little minibus at my apartment in San Cristobal and was brought back home again that evening. I had made sandwiches and had a wee picnic on the river.
Then came the last day of my lessons. In 48 school hours spread over 4 weeks I learned the basics of Spanish. It was a great help. But the best school is immersion, being in the middle of the people and talking to them.
The next problem is that every country has its own dialect and that complicates things. Also, people here tend to speak really fast. Still armed with my notes it was time to Giddy up and go.
Guatemala was the next country on the way to Argentina. First, I wanted to go to an area called Tikal. The Guatemalan border was pretty straight forward. It was still a couple of hours work to complete the paperwork.
This is a strange border in that, there is an area of about 10km of no man’s land in between the two check points.
I had researched this crossing but still managed to screw it up. I rocketed straight past the Mexican post and realized my mistake when I saw the welcome to Guatemala sign. I had to make a U-turn and run back to the Mexican post. This was not actually signposted as a border post and originally, I thought it was a military control post for trucks.
The immigration guy was in a terrible mood. But he stamped my passport out and I didn’t have to pay an exit tax. Then on the customs to get Tiggy Moondust stamped out of the country. The customs officer wanted to photograph the VIN number. Now that was not gonna happen. On the tiger it is on the steering head but there is a small fairing which meant that he couldn’t get a photo try as he might. Finally, I told him that I had another plate with the number under the passenger’s seat. So, I had to unload the bike, he got the photo and I had to reload the bike again. I wouldn’t mind but it was really hot. Anyway, he entered the VIN number in the computer and I got my exit paper for the bike and we were off. This also meant that I could get my 400 US $ deposit back.
Next stop was the Guatemala post 10 Km further on. This was pretty straightforward. Lucky, they didn’t want a photo. They just spend a long time entering data into the computer and collecting photo copies. But then I got my TIP and we were off.
We had to pass through a few more checkpoints and we were officially in Guatemala. Our destination was a town with a fantastic name. It was called Huehuetenango, yep…. This was a nice little town. Stayed two nights here. Couldn’t find an ATM that would take my card so used my Mastercard. Then that night got a text message saying for security reasons my Mastercard has been blocked, unusual activity was detected. Bugger, unusual activity was me using it in an ATM. Any way once they were told that it was just me then they unblocked it. My debit card was not gonna work in Guatemala.
Then it was off to a town called Coban. I took the mountain road, it was 175 km. But it took me nearly 6 hours. Road was bad….. It started off good, but just deteriorated into gravel, washed-out road and dirt. Had to cross a river were the bridge was gone. But the scenery was amazing. It was really desolate in places and I was kind worried about highway robbery, but we made it okay. Got a nice hotel in Coban and watched the finish of a marathon race. About 10 km before Coban the dirt track turned into a perfect highway.
Next day it was off to Flores or Isla de Flores to be exact. This was to a 266 km run. Holly led me the wrong way which cost me a 40 Km detour. But finally, with the aid of maps got onto the right road. The road was good but, in some places, it was riddled with potholes, in other places, it was just closed and I had to go off road around it.
Then came an off-road bit down to a river and a rickety old boat that served as a ferry. It was an experience. Met up with some American Missionaries riding in the open back of a pickup truck. They were also going to Flores. They were moving at a hell of a speed so just followed them. They pointed out the bridge to the island when we reached Flores.
Isla de Flores is an amazing little island. Really quiet and peaceful. I booked a tour to Tikal complete with guide. It was a good price. The next morning left with a minibus to go to the Mayan site. My plan was to camp up in the jungle and I was using this opportunity to suss out the situation. The ruins at Tikal are simply some of the best.
Tikal or Yax Mutal is a site of great significance. It is an UNESCO world heritage site. It is huge and many more buildings have been found in the surrounding jungle. Tikal National Park is an outstanding example of the art and human genius of the Maya. It lies in the heart of the jungle, surrounded by lush vegetation.
It is considered to be one of the major sites of Mayan civilization, inhabited from the 6th century B.C. to the 10th century A.D. The ceremonial center contains superb temples and palaces, and public squares accessed by means of ramps. Remains of dwellings are scattered throughout the surrounding countryside.
Excavation carries on, even today, as more and more structures are found. Tikal was also used as a filming location for “Yavin 4” in Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope. The shot where the Millennium Falcon lands on Yavin was taken from the top of a building listed as Temple IV. Also Temples I, II, and III can be seen in the film. The guided tour left me with the feeling that I had to come back here alone and to camp out in the nature. This was the best and only way to experience this place.
Spent the next day relaxing and exploring Isla de Flores. Then it was off to go back to Tikal. It is possible to camp there. You have to report at the gate and buy a ticket to camp behind the Research Laboratory. This is a clearing cut out of the Jungle and right beside the ruins.
There are little bamboo and palm covered areas where you can pitch your tent. There is water and a toilet. I also bought another ticket to get into the site again. Pitched my tent and started to cook dinner.
There were two other people camping, a German girl and a French girl. We spent some time chatting then it was time to go to bed.
The Jungle came alive at night. With the sound of Howler monkeys at about 1 in the morning and again at sunrise. I filmed and recorded this. You can see and hear it on my Facebook page…. Ride Live Explore. It was a fantastic experience that is impossible to describe. The sound of the Jungle was also used in the sound track of the film Jurassic park. It was well worth the bug bites and I mean these were bugs that I have never seen before.
Spent the next day wandering around the ruins of Tikal. I had taken a picnic lunch with me and ate it in the middle of the ruins. Just soaking up the atmosphere. Then it was back to the tent to cook dinner. Once again there were some crazy people camping out and again had some good chats and bug bites. But also, it is an extremely brilliant place to stargaze. There is no light-pollution, so you have a clear sky.
The next day it was time to pack up and head towards another country: Belize. I wanted to pop over into Belize for a couple of weeks before returning to Guatemala and exploring some more. But this will be another story and another blog. There are some photo albums of this little adventure over on the other channel…. The Facebook one. You don’t need to have an account it is an open page. So, make a wee cup of tea and pop on over for a wee look.
Thank you for reading the blogs, following and liking on Facebook, thank you for sharing the journey with me.
Hasta la Vista Amigos….