STUCK IN TEOPISCA
Coming back from Cuba we directly went back to Jilotepec to collect our doggies from Bernardo and Saraí’s ranch, get some more climbing in and enjoy good Mexican food. What a change compared to the situation on Cuba :-).
The rainy season seemed to wait for us to finish our climbing projects this year and after having said goodbye to so many friends it was time to move on in direction of the famous pyramids of Teotihuacan, just north of Mexico City. We made a stop in the Pueblo Mágico of Tepotzotlán that proved to be quite expensive before reaching the pyramids late in the evening. Having driven through crazy traffic for hours we were quite happy that the police organized a perfect sport for the night for us, just in front of the pyramids. It was only then that I realised that our spare tires were gone, obviously they were stolen in Tepotzotlán while we visited the town. Nothing broken, no traces, our motorbike unharmed, pretty impressive to remove these huge tires like that. Nothing could be done now anyways so we went to visit this impressive cultural site early morning before the crowds from CDMX flock in.
Our next goal was to visit the climbing spot of El Chonta in Guerrero, knowing that we were completely out of season we just wanted to get an idea as we had planned to drive back there in the fall. We passed the then pretty active volcano Popocatépetl and soon reached the farm of Don Procopio. We explored the impressive cave, sweating and suffering from all the flying insects but were convinced to come back later in the year. Our travels carried us further South and East in direction of Oaxaca, culinary capital of Mexico (some may say the world).
While we tried to find a spot for the night near the local climbing spot La Meca we met Jesus. Owner of a huge piece of land with private soccer field, a perfect hangar for Rouletout and everything else we needed. He invited us to stay there, a perfectly quiet spot just 15 minutes outside of Oaxaca City and in walking distance of Tule, known for one of the largest trees in the world. Jesus is quite a character and you will hear more of him later, we used his spot on all our many journeys through Oaxaca :-).
We used our time in Oaxaca to arrange many things. Trying to organise new spare tires (8-hole rims are not available in North America which meant shipping them from Europe, but this is a very different and long story), getting some stuff repaired and replaced and exploring the area and many cultural sights. Amongst them the highly recommended Jardin Etno-Botanico, a festival in Teotitlan de Valle (famous for its textiles), Monte Alban (the Mayan site above Oaxaca) and most of all sampling all the delicious food and drinks of Oaxaca. Amongst them all sorts of Mole (a creamy sauce, often with chocolate and served with empanadas or meat), chapulínes (grass hoppers, often added to a spicy sauce), tlayudas (the Oaxacan pizza), atole (a hot corn based drink), pozol (a fermented corn drink from the pre-columbian age), and of course all sorts of Mezcal, an alcohol made from agave and unbeatable in its varieties and tastes.
Having finished necessary repairs and improvements it was time to head in direction of the Pacific coast, crossing the Sierra Madre Occidental with passes above 2600m ASL and breathtaking views. As we had plenty of time we opted for the direct variant in direction of Puerto Escondido which meant even smaller and more winding roads than the more popular road via San José de Pacifico. The way down towards the coast lead us through many different climate zones on just 40km, from the pine forests on top to the tropical jungle. In the same manner, the fruits and food sold next to the road changed and we stocked up on Mamey’s, Guyabano’s and all sorts of exotic fruits before reaching the coast and swimming in the powerful waves of the Pacific ocean.
Slowly we moved in direction of Chiapas, stopping at secluded beaches - amongst them Playa Morro Ayuta, famous for its turtles - and enjoying the seafood before heading inland again and up into the mountains. In Jiquipilas, where we stopped next to the river for the night, police probably thought we were involved in some sort of illegal activity. They showed up with 4 cars and a good dozen of heavily armed officers to explain - after some hesitation and disbelief that we are just 2 persons in the truck - that it is not safe here and that they want to escort us to a safer place closer to town. OK, not our preference but we really had no choice :-).
The countryside changed again quite dramatically as we climbed up into the mountains, so did the faces and dresses of the locals. Soon we arrived in San Cristóbal, the picturesque town nestled in the mountains of Chiapas at 2200m ASL. El Arcotete, a cave with climbing developed by Martin (an Austrian mountain guide living in San Cristóbal) just outside of the city became our base. We enjoyed the town, climbed with Martin and Sofia and after 10 days we decided to move on. The plan was to drive a loop through Chiapas and head back to Oaxaca via Tabasco to celebrate Ulf’s birthday there, but as so often, plans change.
Having left San Cristóbal we decided to stop for lunch in a small town called Teopisca, just 30km outside of San Cristóbal. We parked in front of a chicken roast and as the lady asked me to move our truck a bit so she has more light I couldn’t start the engine anymore. Hmm, worrisome but we decided to have lunch first. We took some fuel in San Cristóbal, so I thought it might be this and checked the filters, nothing. I started searching for a diesel repair shop and on mechanic helped us trying to find the source of the problem but to no avail. An electrician joined the search but nothing, which meant that we spend the night here right in front of the chicken roast. By next morning half of the town was aware of our situation and tried to help. They recommended getting an expert from San Cristóbal, so I went. It didn’t take long to find “the” expert and they prepared a car with parts and another helping hand and back we drove to Teopisca. They searched for hours and the conclusion was, that it can only be the engine control electronics. Another night in the street. After having consulted my German repair shop it was clear that without a diagnosis system, there is no way to find out what is really going on. The problem being, that this specific diagnosis system is only available in very few Mercedes truck centres in Mexico, none in the area. It looked like a longer stay in Teopisca. But things became more complicated as for the next day the beginning of the yearly town festival was planned and this meant, we had to move so that the parade can pass in the street. Lacking pressurised air we couldn’t be pulled so police organised two trucks, one to fill our air system and one to pull us in a narrow side street, at least it was quieter there to sleep but it was obvious that we had to find another solution as the festival also meant music and party all night.
While I was still trying to identify the cause of our situation, Berna with the help of so many locals went on to search for a place to stay and found the way too big but beautiful Quinta Anna Maria that we rented for the next weeks while we waited for our diagnosis system to arrive from China. We enjoyed the festival, the food, the music, shopped at the excellent local market, visited nearby places and re-planned Ulf’s birthday party to happen in Teopisca. We also went to the Canyon de Sumidero to film Martin’s attempt of the first ascent of a newly bolted multi-pitch route and just in time for my birthday we received the diagnosis system.
Once connected I simply deleted a low voltage error and Roueltout was back alive. Not knowing why this happened wasn’t great but we were ready for the party. Quetza, Fredy, Adrian and Ferri flew down from CDMX and together with Martin and Sofia, who helped organise the local food, we spent a great weekend together. Thanks to everyone for coming and the great time we had together!
After this extended episode in Teopisca that we learned to love, we were headed in direction of Montebello, a national park with amazingly coloured lakes and cenotes. We hiked, kayaked and unfortunately lost our puppy, Zorra. Despite days of waiting and searching with the help of so many locals we had to give up and moved on. After a quick border run into Guatemala to renew our visas for Mexico we followed the border to Guatemala and reached Las Guacamayas, a lodge deep in the jungle situated at the river Ocosingo. A boat tour up a side river deep into the natural reserve is highly recommended.
On we moved to visit the archaeological site of Yaxchilán, located on the shores of the border river Usumacinta and only reachable by boat. Having slept near the boat launch with howler monkeys we organized a private boat leaving early morning to the Mayan site. Arriving through the fog at this place that we had for ourselves for hours was truly mystical. After having visited Palenque, a very impressive Mayan site that is still being discovered we headed for the Caribbean coast.
Early September is definitely not the best time, it is quite humid and the sandflies and mosquitos are almost unbearable. Parts of the coastal road were destroyed by recent storms and so we headed inland through Villahermosa, Coatzacoalcos and on to the mountain lake of Catemaco, famous for its annual reunion of witches and its crabs!
From there we headed straight back to Oaxaca, taking a rarely driven road through the mountains (MEX179) that turned out to be a very narrow dirt road for very long stretches. The rain made parts of that really dangerous and our heart stopped a few times when we were sliding down steep section on red mud. The scenery, water falls and remote villages however were worth the risk.
Back in Oaxaca we checked in again at “Jesus’ place” near Tule. We were a bit surprised that no one was around, all looked abandoned and even more surprising was yellow “Crime Scene tape” at the main entrance. We knew the place so didn’t bother much. Same story on the next day, no one around, just a stray dog. We had a look at some of the buildings and found some official announcement that looked like a search warrant for a whole list of offences. We quickly checked with our friends what it meant but it seemed the action passed and we had the place for ourselves :-). Oaxaca also meant back to school for Ulf, taking daily Spanish classes for three weeks at the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca. Time passes quickly, we visit more places around Oaxaca, climb, get new upholstery for our seats and furniture, have protection panels installed for our fuel tanks, and finally receive spare tires (still without rims) with the help of our friend Bernardo. A month in Oaxaca passed just like that, time to say goodbye - but not for the last time - and off we were again to the Pacific coast.
This time we took the eastern road to Puerto Ángel. It took us a day longer than planned as the road was blocked by local protesters but we took the time to stock up on Mezcal. On this road you have to stop at San José del Pacífico, the small town high up in the mountains with breathtaking views and things to do, that you can only do in San José del Pacífico.
The coast welcomed us with hundred of turtles laying their eggs and we spent two days amongst these impressive animals. This time we took a right, in direction of Guerrero, following the wild coast, stopping at lagoons and enjoying the seafood. After a few days we reached Acapulco and turned inland through Chilpancingo and Taxco to our next long time destination, El Chonta, the huge cave we had visited earlier in the year.
We decided to stay at Don Bartolo's ranch as this offered a nicer and cleaner space for us and soon we became friend’s of Temu’s family. We climbed, climbed, visited the old silver mining town and Pueblo Mágico of Taxco were we also had the opportunity to experience the Día de Muertos in early November and as the days became cooler and less humid met up with our friends from CDMX visiting us almost every weekend. The climbing in El Chonta is steep and long. Tufa laden rock makes sure your whole body is challenged and so we also had to rest a lot, leaving enough time to finally organize the delivery of our rims, plan for the upcoming visit of Jutta (Ulf’s sister) and Sepp and explore the wild and relatively undeveloped surroundings.
One of Temu’s dogs gave birth to a bunch of puppies and Berna couldn’t hold herself and adopted Posh, a tiny puppy now named after the alcohol from Chiapas, but also her posh behaviour. It took a while for Mutlu to accept her in his house but by now we know that he is really happy with her.
After almost two months and having sent our projects (and Ulf’s hardest route so far) it was time to move. A final dinner with Temu’s family and we were again on our way to Oaxaca to meet up with Jutta and Sepp.
It was the 24th of December when we checked in again at “Jesus’ place” in Tule, nothing had changed, and we started organising a few things before the arrival of our visitors on the 27th. Most notably picking up our rims that I had sent from Germany to a climber in the US who kindly brought them to Nuevo Leon and shipped them from there to Oaxaca - avoiding all the import hassles in Mexico. It feels much better driving around with spare tires :-).
It didn’t take long to organize ourselves, four people in Rouletout can be a challenge and after having visited Oaxaca for a few days we were again on our way to the Pacific. We stopped again at San José del Pacífico, slowly followed the coast East, celebrating the New Year at a remote beach with way to many shrimps (on the barbecue of course), experiencing a pretty strong storm that almost destroyed Jutta and Sepp’s tent (luckily Sepp stayed in as ballast until we secured the tent), and climbed up to San Cristóbal. In between we visited canyons, amongst the the impressive Sumidero, hiked and replaced one or the other spare part that was brought from Europe.
From San Cristóbal, where it was pretty cold in early January, we headed to Tonina, another great and impressive Mayan site that is rarely visited. We cut through Tabasco and stopped late at a small river, enjoying our Cuban rum and cigars to wake up with the fisherman arriving early morning. Slowly we made our way into Campeche, visiting the jungle and Maya ruins in Calakmul before arriving at the coast in Chetumal.
Our next few days were marked by barbecuing langoustines, drinking Modelos and cutting branches and trees to make our way north along the coast from Mahahual into the reserve de biosfera Sian Ka’an. Luckily Sepp is good with the machete and the saw and so we arrived at the lost village of Punta Herrera. The boat tour through the laguna was nice but other than the occasional dolphins and birds, we didn’t see much, the sea was too rough for the famous manatees of the area to show themselves.
A few days later we reached the touristy town of Tulum and quickly decided to leave as fast as we can. Once again we headed inland to explore the impressive cenotes of the Yucatan peninsula. These often cave like structures with amazingly dark blue and turquoise waters were not only access places to the Mayan underworld, they provided important sources of sweet water to the riverless peninsula of Yucatan. Some of the over 5000 cenotes are more or less heavily exploited touristically but plenty are pristine places in the middle of the jungle.
Slowly it was time to plan for Jutta and Sepps’ return to Europe and so we decided to head north to Las Coloradas, a huge area of lagoons known for flamingos and shrimp and kilometres of untouched beaches. We stayed there for a while, did final improvement work on Rouletout and headed to Cancun to say goodbye - one month passed just like this…
Alone again it was time to prepare for the next stage of our trip which also meant leaving Mexico for Central America. But not before some deep water soloing in the cenotes near Merida (most notably the cenote Nah Yah) that are really breathtaking. We also took the opportunity to have another look at our engine start problem, the famous low voltage error from Teopisca appeared again from time to time and with the help of Javier and his team in Merida we did a thorough search of the complete electrical system lasting several days. Unfortunately to no avail…
It was hard to say goodby to Mexico, what a great country and after so much time it felt like home. We visited Uxmal, another major Mayan site, enjoyed the incredible lagoon of Bacalar and headed to the Belizian border. I don’t know why I didn’t hand in our Banjercito (our temporary import permit) when leaving Mexico in the last minute. Was it because we liked Mexico so much or just a sense of foreboding. But as always more about that in our next blog entry…