It was getting dark and we didn’t actually make it all the way to Puebla that night. Instead, we stopped at another auto hotel (what we were now referring to as “love hotels”) in a nearby town, hoping to get an early start the next day and make it all the way to Palenque.
When we followed the host into the first room offered, we immediately, emphatically, and comically refused and asked to see a different room as that particular room was occupied by a rather offputting contraption. Aaron said he would rather sleep outside than have that thing be the first thing he saw when he opened his eyes.
So he brought us to a different room which was normal in just about every way, but also very dirty. We left there in hopes of finding a restaurant with Wifi, but instead just found a cocina economico (a tiny, cheap, mom and pop restaurant) that asked what we wanted, then ignored everything we said and gave us soup burritos. It was interesting and we were sure we looked like idiots trying to make it work, but the husband and wife that owned the place didn’t give us a second look, so we figured we were doing it right.
We’d been trying to avoid tolls ever since Guadalajara. Once we were in Puebla we learned why we’d spent about $200 in tolls so far. Apparently, the richest man on earth made a deal with the Mexican government that allowed him to build a huge, convenient road around the North of Mexico City (The Arco Norte) and collect taxes on it for 20 years. After that, Mexico can have it. Well, wandering on and off that road and getting charged the same as a car, but twice because there were two of us, was adding up quickly. I think one toll alone took about $40 from us.
In addition to this, I lost my debit card in an ATM machine in La Paz. Aaron misplaced his the next day by putting it in the pocket of his shorts, which have such big holes in its pockets that it amounts to carelessly throwing it over his shoulder. He returned to the bank and they had it waiting for him. I was not so lucky. When I went to the bank, they told me that some guy with scissors came and cut my card up the night before. I appreciated that no one was unlawfully using my card, but Aaron’s account was now being directly charged double for everything on the condition that I pay it back later.
We had a comfortable breakfast in Puebla where we met with a man who went to college at a sister school of mine. He and his father assured us that the tolls from there on wouldn’t be so bad. It turned out that for a little bit, they were. But not long after we got further away from the city, things got a little cheaper. By the end of that day, we only spent about $40 on tolls. But with our budget, that was still very bad.
We rode all day and were happy to not have any problems. We did stop for about an hour trying to get a small, speedometer issue on the DR fixed, but we didn’t stop except for that and gas. Aaron was confident we’d make it all the way to Palenque that day, but between getting lost in Puebla, not being confident in the route we were taking after that, and the hour at the mechanic, we fell very, very short of that goal.
As it was getting dark and we were getting close to Minatitlan. We contemplated sleeping beside the road, as it was still a toll road and someone once told us those were bandito free (but you have to watch out for police…). Instead we went a little further and stopped at a gas station where we met a fun group of attendants. They assured us that the whole area was very “tranquilo.” In the same breath, they said that it was imperative that we not stop anywhere except the gas stations, though, as sitting on the side of the road would attract thieves. With the KLR’s tendency to break down, we decided we could either stay there at the gas station, set up the tent, and sleep on the concrete or ride off and find a hotel.
We were sitting in the restaurant area of the gas stop eating when we decided we would find a hotel. When I went outside to and got on the KLR, I felt wetness and gust of air on my leg and it became obvious that I had not put the oil filler cap back on after checking the oil before heading into the restaurant.
In a panic, I went looking for it. I didn’t find it, so I asked one of the friendly attendants who happily pointed and walked me over to where it was… crushed. A truck had, apparently, run straight over it while he happily sat and watched (I may be exaggerating, but from our interaction, I assume that was the case).
The frail plastic cap was destroyed beyond what I would call, “redeemable.” The debate as to whether or not we would try to find a hotel nearby instead of camping at the gas station was now fully decided. I, of course, felt terrible. I was adding oil to the KLR almost more frequently than I was adding gas and it was late, but this was a mistake that was hard to reconcile. Defeated, I helped Aaron set up camp.
The mosquitoes were nearly unbearable and, for the majority of the night, it was so hot we couldn’t even think about sleeping. It’s awful to be so hot you can’t stand wearing clothes, but fear the insect retribution to exposing skin so much you dare not to.
We worried that the part might be specific to the KLR, which would mean that we’d have to order it and wait up to a week for it. I went back to the attendants and asked them where I might find a new one and they all agreed that there would definitely be one at a shop about 5km away. Then, one guy offered to come back in the morning and ride with us to the shop.
So, that’s what happened. Aaron went without me, because, obviously, I wasn’t going to ride without the oil filler cap.
About 10am the next morning it was all sorted and we rode off again. We talked about leaving at daybreak before we knew the oil filler cap was gone, but 10 wasn’t such a bad thing.
Again we rode as directly as we could to our destination and only stopped once to get some coffee and internet.
Sometimes, when Aaron and I are working on things, we focus solely on that thing and forget everything else… Aaron a bit more than me. At the end of that day, when we arrived at Pelenque (taking only 1 major unintended detour), I nearly demanded that we eat something. Aaron joked that I just wanted to waste more money, but when I asked him what we’d eaten that whole day, he could not remember. So I told him, “Today I ate two churros and a snickers bar and you ate 4 churros and a snickers bar.” It was quite late at this point. I further pointed out that, while a five year-old would find this to be awesome, I really needed to have something that’s not coated in sugar in my diet.
The sun was going down and we made the choice to head towards some waterfalls we saw signs for instead of going to the ruins.
We rode up thick, jungle mountain roads and made it to the first waterfalls with enough daylight to see the sun set on it as we swam in the pool below. We weren’t allowed to stay there, though (by this, I mean that the nice huts there were around $26 for the night and we were in a mindset to not pay for things).
In the dark, then, we rode further up the winding road to another set of waterfalls, Agua Azul. We rode around the small, national park town and eventually stopped at a house restaurant on a road with hotels along it. We ordered food and I walked around to find that the price of a room here was also higher than we wanted to pay.
So, after eating, we asked the guy if we could sleep where he parks his cars.
Now, every single interaction with Mexicans I’ve written here has been through a lens of my poor understanding of Spanish, what I would call “keen situational awareness,” and the passage of enough time to make an event somewhat hazy. But Aaron and I believe it went something like this.
Us: Hey. Great food your wife just made… I couldn’t help but notice you’ve got a nice carport down there. I bet that fence keeps things nice and safe.
Man: (Hesitently) Thank you. Where are you going with this?
Us: Any chance we could give you a few pesos to let us pull out a couple sleeping bags and camp there?
Man: You know there are hotels directly across the street, right?
Us: Yeah. We don’t want that. We want your carport.
Man: You really want to sleep there? (Man points off the edge of the second floor patio we’re on to the gated carport below)
Us: Yes. That is what we want.
We then gave the man 50 pesos (around $4) and everyone was happy.
We woke up early. Then we went back to bed for a couple minutes and woke up again. We repeated this the whole night. The family with the restaurant didn’t just have a fence to guard their property, they also had four dogs of indiscernible breed. These dogs would patrol the perimeter of the house constantly. When they found something they didn’t like, they would bark for about 10 minutes at it, nonstop.
The didn’t like us, so they barked at us until they got bored and walked around the house. When they came upon us again from the other direction, they would, again, bark at us for a long time. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
We could tell they were getting more used to us as the night went on, because they felt comfortable getting closer to us huddled in our sleeping bags each time they returned. This meant that at times they would be very close to our faces when they started howling at us. They never did, however, during that whole night, decide that our presence was not worth raising the alarm.
When we woke up the last time that morning, we packed up and checked out the waterfalls at Agua Azul. They were great, but we’d had our fill of swimming the night before and, besides that, they wouldn’t let us swim in, jump off of, or get to close to any of the falls there, so there was hardly any point.
We rode back to Pelenque from up in the mountains and saw the ruins. While they were much smaller than the ones back in Mexico City, they were well worth seeing.
We stopped at one of the hotel/hostels in the Pelenque Nat’l Park there and talked to a Dutch couple that helped us figure out which border crossing we would take, as we were hoping to get to Guatemala later that day.