MEXICO: A PAUSE FOR THOUGHT

Our arrival in Mexico City marks the end of the fourth leg of our trans-America journey. After eight months it is time again to take a break from the road and head back to Europe, to catch up with family and friends, see what surprises the postman has left, enjoy the latest episode of Homeland and 24, soak in a steaming-hot bath, sink a pint or two of Black Sheep down at the pub and move about our home without constantly knocking into each other. Whilst we’ve only covered 18,000 kilometres in the last eight months, we’ve come a long way. Back in February we returned from Europe to northern Peru, where we’d left our car on the beach beneath a tree, depositing it in the capable (though somewhat frantic) hands of Leon, the owner of the Casa Grillo campsite. To be honest I was never quite sure whether the whole of the car would still be there when we returned. Though I needn’t have worried. The only things missing when we got back were a few more of Leon’s teeth. Colombia has been a big surprise for us. Marked down as a haven for narco-traffickers and ruthless revolutionary armies, which of course it is, we’d always imagined traversing the country with a nervous glance over the shoulder and a heavy boot on the accelerator. We thought we could get through it in a week and ended up staying two months. We loved it. It seems a ceasefire of sorts between the Colombian authorities and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) meant good fortune was on our side. After traversing the Devil’s Trampoline, a route over the mountains beyond the Sibundoy Valley, we spent our second night in Columbia wild camping beside a river near the village of El Pepino. Officially this is FARC country, though when we questioned the locals swimming in the river they all confirmed it was ‘Muy tranquillo.’ And so it was. Except no one was taking any chances. Along the road from Mocoa there were many troops patrolling the roadside, a few strategically placed battle tanks and quite a lot of machine-guns poking out of sandbags. Our guidebook said FARC rebels can be identified for their Wellington boots, a trigger for our curious obsession with unorthodox military footwear. By the time we reached Cartagena, on the north coast of Colombia, the new and much lauded RO-RO service to Panama was already dead and buried. In order for us to shift our car across the infamous Darien Gap it was back to using a boring old shipping container. So began three weeks of sitting around and twiddling our thumbs, shelling out way too much money, brushing the cobwebs from our choicest swear words and harbouring a shed load of murderous thoughts. For all the effort in getting there I didn’t much like Panama. The oppressive heat and constant ceiling of grey cloud depressed me. The upside was that we met Caroline and Geoff, a couple of Aussies living beside the beach. It was the third time Christine had had her birthday on the road. The first was in Argentina, where we celebrated with a glass of wine during a massive rainstorm, observing our flip-flops sail away on the flood-waters. The second time was in Chile, where we had fish and chips and went to a museum full of skeletons. I definitely had to up my game for the third one. After a morning of refilling gas bottles, changing tyres and booking the car in for a service Caroline and Geoff came to the rescue, inviting us to stay at their house for supper, a bottle or two of wine and some good stories. Insects are a big deal in Central American life. You must learn to embrace their frenzied biting, stabbing and buzzing…or go totally insane. How many times have we parked on that perfect beach, only for the sand flies to turn our legs into something akin to a pin cushion. And there really is no hiding from them. During the Central America leg we’ve variously shared the inside of the car with ants, mosquitoes, cockroaches and scorpions. In Costa Rica, with the help of Eddie Serrano, we found the mythical quetzal, a bird considered among the world’s most beautiful and whose tail feathers have adorned many a Mayan chief. Also in Costa Rica we met an orphaned sloth, caught a rare glimpse of Arenal volcano and watched the spirited national team finally succumb to the might of Holland in the football World Cup. In Nicaragua we camped two nights in a fire station, which added to our growing list of exotic camping spots, such as a sex motel, a volcanic crater, a football pitch, a roundabout and a Caribbean beach. Honduras is memorable for the Maya ruins at Copan, and the cowboys who seemingly wandered aimlessly along the highways and byways, images from an elapsed world. Guatamala is a great place. I think Antigua is my favourite colonial town so far. So atmospheric and so full of cake shops and good wine. Lake Atitlan was a restful place to catch our breath and the river at Semuc Champey a wonderful place to cool down on a steamy day. It was the rainy season when we reached Belize, not a great time to be there. What a curious country this is, culturally at odds with everything that has come before it, with its Rastas, colourful woollen bonnets, houses on stilts, American-style officialdom, British street names and the English language spoken with a lilting accent. Our taxi driver in Belize City was called Byron, after the famous poet. He’d returned from Los Angeles because, ‘Life in Belize is so easy, mon.’ We crossed the border into Mexico at Chetumal, letting the long, straight roads cutting through the Yucatan swallow us up. In Campeche we visited the forts that attempted to keep at bay such rogues as Roche Braziliano, a Dutchman with a penchant for barbecuing his victims and, at Palenque, clambered over the ruins that had once been home to one of the most famous of the Maya kings, Pakal the Great. On the Pacific side, down on Zipolite Beach, we caught the end-of-season surf at La Cabana Habana and, in Oaxaca, celebrated Mexico’s Independence Day at the very accommodating Overlanders’ Oasis. What a remarkable trip. Such great memories. I’m already looking forward to getting back on the road.

A stroll through the streets of Mexico City

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2 thoughts on “MEXICO: A PAUSE FOR THOUGHT

  1. Hi; nice to hear from you again.
    Enjoy the GB holiday and chores, trust you keep the mailing list for next time?
    Hamba kahle – Hasta luego

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