19th August: I’ve never liked snakes at the best of times, and this one’s looking particularly menacing. It’s not yet nine o’clock in the morning and here I am, balancing a mug of tea whilst leafing Mike and Terri Church’s Traveler’s Guide To Mexican Camping, attempting to digest the curious American camping jargon, such as hookups, plug-ins, pull-throughs, sewer dumps (pretty self-explanatory) and back-ins, when I spy this creature streaking across the bay towards us. Like a beast straight out of Terminator it raises its head from the water as the gap rapidly closes. I hate snakes with a passion I generally reserve for rats, though the thought that the bite of a sea snake makes jelly of your muscles, causes urine to turn black and forces the heart to go poff! like an exploding tomato, has me tumbling from the chair, a blur of arms and legs, sloshed tea and flapping pages. ‘It’s after us,’ I hiss, snatching a withered walking stick from the roof of the car. Thankfully the intruder proceeds no further than the low sea wall. He lies there, calmly watching the crazy gringo with the stick – the archetypal “Mexican stand-off”. ‘I thought you were getting a camera,’ Christine says. ‘Yes. But then I thought a stick might be better.’ I’ve read that sea snakes are very rare in the Caribbean Sea. Others claim there are no sea snakes in the Caribbean at all, only eels. Well, I’ve never before seen an eel sunning itself on a wall. However, if this one stays where it is, perhaps I’ll still get that dip I promised myself earlier. When the snake disappears into a hole in the sea wall I’m ready to take the plunge. It’s when I glance across the bay, savouring the aquamarine waters, just for the briefest moment, a very large dorsal fin pokes above the waves. Ahaa!……..maybe I’ll swim tomorrow.
22nd August: At Izamal we stay with Harald, a genial Austrian who, with his wife, runs the Hotel Hacienda Santo Domingo. Being a former overlander himself he has a soft spot for travellers, allowing people to camp in a field with the sheep. We compliment him on the shower and toilet block he’s recently constructed for the campers: such luxury as this has become worthy of comment. ‘It took them a year to build it,’ Harald laments. ‘And it’s not even square.’ When Harald complained to the mason the man quipped, ‘And I suppose you want the floor tiles straight, too?’ It seems they had the same problem with straight lines back in 1533, for the walls of the San Antonio of Padua convent have some serious bows in them. An old boy shows us round the convent and explains how the Spaniards built it on top of a Maya temple, the Ppapp-Hol-Chac pyramid. The Maya were much influenced by a blue-eyed, blonde-haired god with a big nose, he says. Apparently this god arrived 200 years after the death of Christ. It’s a magnificent place. After the tour of the convent we return to the little machinery shop to see if the man has made any sense of our new gas fittings, so we may refill our bottles. When we arrive we find the owner has gone out on an errand and so it’s the father who shuffles out to see us. He gazes at my Australian Jacaru hat and mutters, ‘Oooh….it’s John Wayne.’ I crouch forward, draw my pistols and drill him full of imaginary lead. He seems to like this. ‘We’ve come to collect our gas fitting,’ Christine says. ‘Your son said to return in an hour.’ The man laughs. ‘Not a gringo hour,’ he says. ‘You need to come back in a Latin-American hour.’ Of course. Silly us. It seems a good time to go and have lunch at a restaurant on the plaza called Muul. They serve big, Mexican portions and a mountain of tortillas. Afterwards we have to retire to the shade.
26th August: The town of Campeche was founded in 1540 by Spanish conquistadores and was much admired by pirates and buccaneers as a place to replenish the coffers, get blind drunk, burn a few houses and squeeze a wench or two. Amongst such notables to weigh anchor off Campeche was Francis Drake and Henry Morgan. Another visitor was a fellow going by the name of Roche Braziliano, a particularly unhinged Dutchman with a penchant for rum. Anyone turning down an invitation to drink with Braziliano was immediately shot. And apparently this crazy pirate had a thing for roasted meat, for he often hacked up his prisoners and cooked them over a spit. It’s said that two farmers who refused to hand over their hogs were instantly skewered, basted and left to cook over the embers in the fire pit. And whilst on the subject of pirates here’s a quick pirate joke – A little kid with a speech impediment dresses up as a pirate and goes trick or treating. He knocks on a door of a house and a man answers. ‘Oh, I see you’re a pirate,’ the man says to the kid. ‘But where are your buccaneers?’ The kid looks at him a bit nonplussed and replies, ‘They’re on the sides of me buckin’ head.’ – In Campeche we stay at the New Samula Trailer Park, which is owned by the 94-year old Dona Anita Coleman. Something of an institution, the campsite has been running for 50 years and used to be much larger. Land has been sold off for development over the years, so today it is only her front lawn that remains. When we return from our tour of the town Dona Anita gives us a jar of nonces (which are like cherries) soaked in syrup. They’re delicious and go well with the rum and mango juice. When we go into the house the next morning to say goodbye Dona Anita insists that we depart with a Tupperware of vegetable stew, also very delicious. Today is a long drive, though the view and the scenery along this road are much improved after the forested, “green corridors” of the provinces of Quintana Roo and Yucutan. By evening we reach the Maya city of Palenque…but that’s another story.