México: San Cristobal de las Casas to Lago de Montebello – via Palenque and Benemérito
We left San Cristobal on a cold (yes, really) and overcast morning. It was quite a novelty to wear more than one layer of clothing. As we climbed up out of the mountain valley the sun soon appeared and we were back to normal. We’d thought of heading away from the main road to Ocosingo in order to take a ‘long-cut’ to cut down on traffic. As it turned out we were both enjoying the riding and the traffic wasn’t too bad, so we stuck to the main road. The road, although it had its fair share of undulations was mainly down and satifyingly fast. The next day, having surprised ourselves by doing more than 100km out of San Cristobal, we arrived at the Agua Azul cascadas in time for lunch. We were just thinking of getting going again after lunch and post-swim when Javier and Sylvia arrived. They are a Navarran (Spain) couple who’d started out from Alaska in June and coincided with us in San Cristobal. So, with company we thought we’d have another swim, and leave at 4pm when it would be a bit cooler. A little later, as we were again thinking of leaving, another pair of bicycles arrived and our fate was sealed – we stayed the night! Anita and Mario are a German couple who’d started in Cuba and come from Palenque that day. They plan on spending a bit of time in Oaxaca and some other parts of Mexico before turning south again.
Palenque provided a reason for our diversion from the obvious, and more direct route into Guatemala. Our route through México had avoided all the archeological sites of Mayan and Aztec interest. We thought we’d better correct this, so concocted a large ‘almost’ loop taking in Bonampak and the Carretera Fronzial.
After taking our fill of the stunning ruins at Palenque we headed into the jungle, using the road that follows the Méxican-Guatemalan border. Here we discovered that the greatest enemy of a peaceful camp is the humble ant. Mosquitos have nothing on the horror of accidentally camping next to lots of aggressive small ants with fiery bites. These, combined with very hot, humid days made us feel beset on all sides. We managed some spectacularly early starts to make the most of the few cool hours in the morning. In contrast to the USA where we woke at 7am and after drying the tent got going at 9-9.30am; we managed to start riding at 6.30am! There were some nice rivers to cool down in, and we found a couple of nice campsites next to pools. One of them had a resident population of very (very) loud Howler Monkeys. Sarah feels they should be re-named ‘Groaner’ Monkeys as they sound very distressed and the pitch is much lower than we’d imagined.
After Ixtán the climbing began, and with ever increasing undulations continued to the Lagunas de Montebello. A measure of our exhaustion was the vision that confronted passing Collectivo (mini-buses) drivers of two cyclists snoozing in a ditch by the road at the top of a particularly long and sweaty climb.
Our relief to be in temperate climate again once at Tziscao and camped among pines by the shore of Lago International was enormous. Our bodies and minds will have to toughen up as we’re heading through central america at a particularly hot time of year. Our initial plan to ‘stay high’ may be our only saviour. Now it’s time to leave México and head into the Western Highlands of Guatemala.