So… was March better than February? Yes. But only slightly, as you can read below.
At the beginning of March we went to Rio Lagartos where we saw some crocodiles in the mangroves near the ocean.
Followed by a short trip to the yellow city Izamal with its Mayan pyramids which can be visited for free and can be climbed upon.
We then arrived at Merida. Here we stayed a few days camping at the grassy courtyard of a hostel that also had a pool. With +30°C, a welcome luxury.
Merida also had a Decathlon so we managed to replace a few of the stolen items like the headlights. We replaced the tent fabric of the pop-up roof (Kilian pre-fabricated it in the Netherlands on his mothers sowing machine) and Kilian also had the bike rack fixed. Mexico has lots of topes (speed bumps) many of them unmarked and huge. To avoid damage we have to slow down to first gear but we didn’t see one in time, causing a crack in the bike rack. We also wandered through the city and saw a performance of Mexican musicians and dancers. It’s a nice city to visit and Binkie thought so too, with the trees, bushes and neighbour cats he had a nice time as well in the courtyard of the hostel.
After three days we left Merida to go on and find a cenote. That should be easy as Yucatan has thousands of them, but of course we wanted the “perfect” one. We ended up going to Yaxbacaltun where we enjoyed ourselves for several hours and got to test our new waterproof dashboard camera as well.
While driving through Yucatan we had difficulty finding a decent campsite. Mexico has very few side roads. All the main roads are surrounded by fenced off private properties or impenetrable walls of green. Even finding a place just for lunch was difficult. We had already spend a night on a abandoned festival ground and at the back of somebody’s agave field. And real campsites are very rare in Mexico and are often no more than a parking lot with a toilet that may or may not flush, depending on the water pressure. Not having a nice place to camp is tiring. After a long and hot (>35°C) day of driving we need a rest. We also need some privacy because we don’t have a toilet. And of course we want Binkie to have fun as well. Often all we had was a dusty place, just off the road with little shade, no water and usually some trash lying around. So far travelling in Mexico has been far more difficult than Europe and Asia. The lack of side roads or off road tracks also meant Kilian couldn’t go for a bike ride. We hoped it would improve when we would get to the more mountainous areas.
We visited the city of Campeche where we had a nice dinner. Campeche is a walled city but to be honest we were a bit disappointed. Perhaps we are a bit spoiled from seeing many ancient cities in Europe. Here it was also very difficult to find a place to camp, we ended up next to a road at a sports park. The police came and checked up on us. This was the 2nd time in 3 days. But despite the negative image of the (corrupt) Mexican police, they were all friendly and polite.
After all these crappy places to camp we really were in need of a few relaxing days at a nice campsite. And we finally found one at the bay of Mexico near Haltunchen. Directly at the ocean, enough shade, quiet and lots of green. We had the beach and ocean to ourselves, really our own little piece of paradise.
We stayed for 3 days and then drove on to Calakmul. We wanted to visit the Maya ruins located in the jungle. We arrived in the evening and camped on the parking lot before the entrance to the national park. The road to Calakmul is 60km through the national park. The next day we bought the tickets and wanted to drive in but were stopped. They had noticed Binkie and now told us pets weren’t allowed! Even though he was going to stay in the van anyway and there are stray cats and dogs everywhere. And there was no mention of pets not being allowed on the website or at the information board next to the entrance! And they wouldn’t give us our money back either because we could still go. When I asked what we should then do with Binkie, I was told just to leave him with them at the entrance, tied to the gate!!! No way of course. I ended up selling our tickets to a couple of French tourists so at least we got our money back. Angry and disappointed we left.
We stayed near Escarcega for a few days so the front suspension arms of the van could be replaced and I could get rid of the grey hairs. This meant a busy day in vanlife:
From there we went to drive on to San Cristobal, around 200km away. We had planned to drive this in one day but it turned out this main road went through a lot of villages. And every village has a huge amount of topes, on average one tope per 153m. Thus reducing our average speed to 25km/h. This meant we had to find a campsite for the night so we would be in San Cristobal the next morning. For once we found a spot near some pine trees a little of the road. We could take Binkie for a nice walk and enjoyed this nice spot. Until the next morning that is. Then we were surrounded by a group of about 20 men and 2 woman, who “persuaded“ us to give them all our cash. In short, we were robbed. They first demanded 5000 pesos but eventually took the 1820 (€81,-) we had and let us go. I guess we were lucky, we weren’t hurt and still had all our other stuff. We filed a police report in San Cristobal although that was most likely a waste of time. It took most of the day so that night we camped at the Walmart parking lot. This American supermarket chain often allows that and we asked the security guard first and it was fine. So now we had had it with Mexico of course. To be fair we’ve known people to be robbed in Italy, the USA or the Netherlands and we have met many nice and helpful people in Mexico. Nevertheless we decided to head towards the Guatemalan border. We didn’t check out San Cristobal either any more as we couldn’t care less.
There was, supposedly, a beautiful road near Union Juarez, close to the Guatemalan border we wanted to drive before we left. On our way there we just happened to drive by Agua Caliente a nice surprise. After this enjoyable detour we wanted to drive on to Union Juarez But after sudden and heavy rainfall our engine just stopped on the middle of the road. We managed to pull over on a parking lot from a restaurant with a swimming pool. After some research it turned out, water had gotten in to the air filter, through the snorkel and into the air filter cannister. The bottom was completely filled with water. The air filter luckily blocked the water from being sucked into the engine, but this damaged the filter so much, we had to replace it. In order to drive to the nearest town, Cacahoatan, the air filter would have to be dry again so we could at least use it for this short distance. We explained our situation to the owner of the restaurant and were allowed to stay on the car park for the night. Bad luck seemed to follow us around in Mexico. The next day we bought a new filter and drove on to Union Juarez, only to find out that the beautiful road, leading to a waterfall, doesn’t exist any more, sigh. We were up in the mountains near the volcano Tacana. These mountains are covered with jungle forest, really beautiful and off the beaten track. We found a nice place to camp. But we first checked with some locals, that it would be save and no problem, like we had been doing for the past couple of days since the robbery. And we will keep doing this. At least while we are in Central America. We had no problems whatsoever and the next morning Kilian even went for a short bike ride.
We arrived in the border town Tapachula without any problems. Here we could get a health certificate for Binkie. Tapachula is a rather miserable town with no camping facilities. Even at the coast we couldn’t find a decent campsite. We didn’t want to cross the border in the evening as this is unsafe. We decided to camp at a supermarket parking lot (no Walmart) but at 11pm were told to leave. After driving around town in vain we ended up in front of a, closed, police station in a residential neighbourhood. Another crappy but safe night. And we needed a garage yet again! There was a problem with a steering ball that was very rapidly getting worse, judging from the sounds. So we spend the next morning in the garage to get at least a temporary fix, as there were no spare parts. In the afternoon we searched in vain for a sewing workshop that could make a mosquito curtain, we had the materials, but of course no sowing machine. While waiting for a workshop to open (it never did) we parked underneath a few mango trees near a small house and asked the owner, Jimmy if that was ok. He was a really nice guy and after a while we asked if it was ok to spend the night there. That was fine and in the evening we met his nice family, while Binkie enjoyed the presence of the chickens 😉 The next morning before we left they all came to say goodbye and Jimmy even prayed for us!
By now we had done a lot of thinking. With all the problems, with campsites and the car and the robbery we weren’t sure how to continue? We weren’t exactly having a good time. We had heard from other overlanders that the problems with finding a campsite is pretty much the same in the whole of Central America. But it should be a lot easier in most countries in South America. Now, you can’t drive from Panama to Colombia because of the Darian Gap. This means shipping the van again. We were now considering several options:
- continue as planned and hope for the best;
- Drive back to Veracruz and ship the van directly to Colombia, thus skipping Central America;
- Drive to Panama via the fastest and safest route possible, or;
- Even ship the van back to the Netherlands.
We realized we needed some more time to think before crossing the border. Online we found a good campsite around 200km north along the Pacific Ocean. We drove there and it was indeed a good campsite. We spend 4 nights here and made a decision. Which? You can read about that in our April blog or, if you can’t wait, check it out on our Instagram page. Hasta luega!