There are two sensible routes from Tikal to Palenque, even though Google Maps doesn’t know about either of them. One of them is through the new border crossing at El Ceibo. It’s about 180 km from Flores to the border at El Ceibo, and then it puts you in the state of Tabasco, about 80 km from the town of Tenosique. The other would have taken us back down to Sayaxche before joining a dirt road for the 100km to the border, taking a boat down the river, getting dropped off in Mexico, then being about 175 km from Palenque. That would have taken us near a couple of interesting ruins, although one of them would have needed an expensive boat tour, but 100 km of dirt road didn’t sound that fun and nor did the boat down the river.
We had taken the unpaved road heading to Flores, but going back south we decided to take the paved one even though it was 10 km longer. It meant we had a place to stop for breakfast earlier than we would have otherwise.
The road to El Ceibo, which was not on any of the maps we have, was rather straight, but pretty with green rolling fields and rather sparsely populated. Having said that, there were definitely some small settlements, although when we arrived in one and asked for something they usually told us that we’d have to go to the next one to get it. I got shouted down by a drunk guy who gave me a can of coke and later, when we stopped at one place to get water, ended up getting given a few bottles of beer by some guys sitting round drinking. Our being told to go to the next town included things like dinner, and the only place we could find meant that we finally succumbed to having chicken and chips which were uninspiring enough that I barely slept because of a stomach-ache and felt pretty terrible the next day too.
The next day, in the late afternoon, we made it to the border and had a painless crossing. Being a new crossing, there’s not been time for much to grow up around it. It means the money exchangers were kept in a very small area nowhere near the immigration office which had a few security guys stood outside it. In the Guatemalan office, I confirmed that we shouldn’t have had to pay the 20 pesos to cross the border from Mexico, and saw a map of Guatemala that included Belize as Guatemalan territory. When I asked the official, he let me know that Belize is a part of Guatemala, a surprise to me and I’m sure all the people living in Belize.
We had expected there to be a town just inside the Mexican border, which would have been good with it getting dark, but there was nothing. The border had closed at 5 pm, so there was no traffic and night riding was problem-free. We got about 25-30 km down the road before seeing some lights where we stopped. It was a ranch and we were welcomed in by a carpenter who lived there. There was a church service on the go, so we were told to come in and sit down. The preacher was talking about how to give a sermon and every few minutes would ask questions to make sure we were listening. We were not spared from the questions, but thankfully they were quite easy after our months of listening to lectures in UNAM. After the sermon, we were given coffee and biscuits as well as a personal talk about finding Jesus in our hearts before people retired to bed and we put our tents up in the covered entrance.
The next morning, on our way to Tenosique, we rode past a group of 5 people. Peter, riding behind me, stopped to talk to one who just appeared out of the ditch on the side of the road. They were from Nicaragua and had walked to Mexico. One of the guys was walking barefoot and carrying his work boots. I can only assume it was to make sure they didn’t wear out before he got to his destination, be it in Mexico or the US. They seemed to have little more than the clothes on their backs, and weren’t looking for rides. I guess it was because they didn’t want to get split up and it’s a bit difficult to get a ride for all 5 of them at once. It put our journey into perspective as I can’t imagine having to walk that far, with so little, in the search for a better life.
We arrived in Tenosique around lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the wonders of the Mexican free wifi that is almost ubiquitous in town squares across the country. It was interesting to me that after 18 days in Guatemala to come back to Mexico, it felt so much richer. Obviously not to the same extent as going from the US to Mexico, but a lot more than I had expected to feel. I got a good number of my pictures uploaded, and some work towards the never-ending attempt to keep the blog updated.
The next day, we had thought we’d get to Palenque, but then realised that we had nowhere to stay, so had a relaxing short day. Almost 2 years ago, when I’d been talking with friends about how I’d be able to wash, I said that I was sure I’d just jump in a river or lake somewhere. This was the first time in nearly 2 years that I did so when we stopped in a small town to do some laundry and clean ourselves up. It was a really fun experience that I’m sure I’ll be repeating. In the US I was staying with hosts so frequently that I rarely went more than a couple of days without washing, and, if I had needed, it would have been easy to find a place like McDonald’s to have at least a quick wash with the hot water and soap. Mexican, and definitely Guatemalan, bathrooms rarely have hot water, and in lots of places you’re lucky if they have a bucket of water. While I’ve used those buckets for washing, so much easier with my wash-cloth, it’s not really the same as even a hot water sink wash.
After lunching there, we continued on to the final town before Palenque. It was small and had only one place to eat in town, thankfully we had asked the owners of that place where we could eat while they’d been standing at the entrance to town waiting for a bus. If we hadn’t, they’d have gone home and we wouldn’t have had the delicious food that they cooked up for us.
The next day, we made it to the town of Palenque. The reason we had gone so slowly was that Norman, our Warmshowers host from Mazatlán, was doing his first bike trip and was going to arrive in Palenque that afternoon. He was hoping to ride with us until we got to Cancún, which we were really looking forward to. He got in just after 2 pm and after meeting up in the central area we rode off to Palenque ruins.
Norman had only just bought his bike, and wasn’t a cyclist, but only had two bags so could keep up at our slightly reduced pace. We paid for a place to stay, for only our third time since getting back on the bikes on the 12th of December, so we had a place to leave our bags while going to the ruins. It also meant that we wouldn’t have to cycle into the unknown on Norman’s first day of the trip.
After dropping our things off, we finished riding to the ruins and went in the main entrance. The ruins at Palenque are some of the most famous in all of Mexico, and we were really happy to have finally arrived, but were slightly concerned about arriving around 3pm with the ruins closing at 5 pm. We are to blame for what happened next, as we got distracted by how wonderful the ruins are and lost track of time, but at exactly 4:30 a worker at the ruins came over to us and told us we had to start leaving. Apparently the parts we were heading to had closed at 4, some others at 4:30 and the part right by the entrance of 4:45. I got into a heated discussion about how ridiculous that was, but of course it lead to nothing good as she escorted us back towards our bikes.
We rode back to the campsite, via the offices to complain, and, after putting tents up, chilled out in the swimming pool. We sat round and got to discuss the ride. We talked about things that we were hoping for from the trip to try to ensure that we didn’t have any conflicts down the road. We also made sure that he knew to let us know if he had any problems at all, or we were doing anything annoying. Peter and I have been travelling together for so long that we know what the other is thinking, are flexible, trust the other in whatever choices get made and so we very rarely argue. Obviously that means we’re pretty ingrained in our ways and so wouldn’t want to leave Norman in a position where he felt he was getting forced into doing things on his trip that he didn’t want to do.
Last few minutes in Guatemala
Guatemala ramble (talk)
Palenque thoughts (talk)