Fronter Corazal, Escudo Jaguar, Chiapas, August 20 & 21

SATURDAY, August 20

Destination: Frontera Corazol and the Mayan ruins at Yaxchilán

The road, for the most part, to our destination was the Carretera Fronteriza – otherwise known as the PITA Highway. It is without a doubt the worst road we’ve driven in Mexico.  Not only are the potholes numerous, but entire sections are missing asphalt.  The fix?  Fill the deepest holes with gravel.

The highway passed close to the Guatemalan border.  We were stopped at a military checkpoint.  I was asked to show my passport for the first time in Mexico.  The soldiers were just young guys.  One of them wanted to practice what little English he knew.  Everyone was all smiles and we were wished well on our journey.

SUNDAY, August 21

Destination: Hotel Mayabell, Palenque

Getting to the ruins at Yaxchilán requires a 40-minute boat trip up the Usumacinta River towards Palenque.  The boats (lanchas) look like long, thin canoes.  They’re powered by a single large outboard motor.

The boats leave from the embarcadero at Escudo Jaguar, another ecotouristico lodge.

When we arrived at Escudo Jaguar yesterday afternoon we were told the first boat of the day leaves at 7:30am.  When 7:30 came there was nobody but us at the ticket office. To hire a boat for ourselves would have cost M$1,300.  Not a daunting sum, but we were running low on pesos. (In rural areas credit cards are not accepted – even at Pemex stations.) When it became obvious that nobody would show up, Chris made the manager an offer of M$800.  Deal, amiga.

I don’t know what the Mayan word “Yaxchilan” translates to, but my best guess is “mosquito infested sauna.”

With a couple of notable exceptions, the ruins were in bad shape. On the plus side we had the entire site to ourselves, along with the mosquitos. We were serenaded by a chorus of Howler Monkeys from across the river in Guatemala. Chris climbed up a long and nearly vertical staircase to see the “acropolis.”  I stayed on ground level and got a brief glimpse of the first Toucan either of us has seen in Mexico, a Keel-billed.

On the boat ride back our driver pointed out a large crocodile at the river’s edge.

Once back on the PITA Highway, we encountered 3 military checkpoints.  At the first we were waved through by an obviously bored soldier.  At the next 2 we were stopped, but were not asked for identification nor was the camper searched.  The soldiers just wanted to chat and look at our rig.

Most of the land along the highway is used for grazing cattle along with some corn fields.  At one point we could see the land had been deforested to the next mountain range.  There were a couple of sections of primary forest. Driving through them was like traveling back in time.

We must have driven through two dozen small hamlets on the way to Palenque.  Each one of them had topes waiting for us.  With slowing down for topes and chats at the military checkpoints, we averaged a torrid 32 mph on the 3-hour drive to Palenque. The day being Sunday, most of the people in the hamlets were sitting around, relaxing and chatting.

We chose the Hotel Mayabell because of its location – near the ruins – wifi, and, most importantly, it was the cheapest hotel – to the best of our knowledge – in Palenque with air conditioned rooms. The wifi, unfortunately, was “no working.”

We also checked the camper into the trailer park to plug in to electrical power to run our dehumidifier while in Palenque. If we run it all day off the battery, the solar panels cannot keep the battery charged.  (Keeping the camper dry is extremely important.  Once mold gets a foothold it would be almost impossible to completely get rid of it.)  The staff at the reception desk couldn’t understand why were renting a room AND parking in the trailer park.

Bird of the Day: Louisiana Waterthrush (life bird).  Found at Yaxchilán.  Chris spotted it on the path to the ruins. Also seen at Yaxchilán: Keel-billed Toucan (trip bird).