09
Nov
08

Discovering Tabasco

    The morning after touring the cane fields of Lerdo de Tejada, Goyo had insisted on giving me a ride up to the hilly Tuxtlas, because of the treacherous and windy roads ahead.  The ride wasn’t long, and we departed from Lerdo at eight in the morning, arriving in San Andres Tuxtla about forty minutes later.  It was chilly, foggy and damp as Goyo helped me to remove my bicycle and equipment from the back of his SUV.  I sincerely thanked him for his time and hospitality, and once again set off into the mists, riding up the hills into obscurity.  Yet it was a rather pleasant and relaxing journey, and I knew that not long ahead I would arrive in the lakeside resort town of Catemaco, where I could find some breakfast before continuing along on my journey.  As I entered the modestly sized town, I headed for the centro, hoping to find absorb a bit of the culture during my short stay.  I found a hotel along the Zocalo which was serving breakfast, had wifi, and had a wide veranda on which to dine and decided that this was as good a spot as any.  As I enjoyed my breakfast of chiliquiles (spelled something like that), the young lady sitting at the next table and I struck up a conversation.  Her name was Ana and she was on assignment in Catemaco working with the parks and natural reserved in the area, although living in Mexico City.  We chatted as we finished up her breakfast, and she let me know that she would be traveling to South America within the next several months, and that perhaps if we were in the same area at the same time we might meet up.  With this we exchanged e-mail addresses and then she was on her way to a meeting.

    I finished not long after, made a quick stroll down to the lakefront to do some sightseeing, and then wanting to take advantage of my early morning start and cover as much distance as possible, soon after set off to continue on towards the next state of Tabasco.  The ride that day was gorgeous, at first hauling up large uphill stretches in the morning mists through the moist forests.  Then, as the afternoon approached, the mists began to burn away and I found myself racing through primitive little roadside villages nestled into the foliage.  At this point the road ahead had turned into a nice, steady downhill stretch and I took full advantage of the reprieve.  After some time the landscape flattened out into gentle rolling hills and the temperatures began to rise until everything around me seemed to waver in the afternoon heat.  Nonetheless, I was covering a fantastic amount of ground and was hoping that by the end of the day I could reach the town of Minititlan in the southern tip of Veracruz.  But as the afternoon wore on, the dusty heat and hundreds of topes (speed-bumps) began to aggravate and tire me.  As I pedaled along through bumper to bumper traffic on the one lane highway, slowly idling over the endless topes, I saw one particularly craggy and protruding one just ahead, but as my tire hit it the bicycle bounced upward quickly and then back down with a shudder.  My pannier holding all of my possessions had popped off the of the rear rack, smashed into the ground behind, and was now rolling along the highway towards incoming car tires.  Argh!  I didn’t need this right now!  I was exhausted, frustrated, and just wanted my shower and to rest.  I pulled the bike over, laid it on the ground and sprinted back for the bag on the edge of the roadway.  After another ten minutes and much struggling, I finally managed to re-secure my equipment and continued on towards Minititlan.  Then, finally, after one incredibly long, sweaty day of riding, I entered the town, found a hotel near the center, and decided to call it a day.

    For breakfast the following morning I hunted down a panaderia for some fresh baked bread and only a few blocks farther down found a large container of assorted, sliced tropical fruit and fresh squeezed orange juice for only a dollar each.  Once I had replenished my energy it was back to the road, and whereas the beginning of the trip was filled with beautifully lush hills, the latter part of the day turned into flat plains of marsh and farmland.  Again, the sun beat down against my skin, and although I made a valiant effort to reach Villahermosa that day, as the sun began to sink and I found no place suitable to camp, I though it best to search for some assistance.  I was only a few miles away from the city and managed to flag down a pickup to bring me in the final stretch, since my body ached and I thought it better than riding in the darkness.  Although I didn’t have a place lined up in which to stay in Villahermosa, I decided that I would find a place to use the internet and search for a cheap hostel or hotel.  My driver dropped me off at a Sanborn’s cafe on the West side of town and as I was just finishing getting my things out of the back of the pickup and out onto the sidewalk, a friendly voice greeted me.  Her name was Erendira, and when she saw the bicycle and all of the equipment her curiosity had peaked.  Her friend Carlos also came out to join us and we all chatted for a while in the humid evening heat.  I told her about my trip and she asked me where I was staying that evening.  When they discovered that I was searching for a place to stay, they offered to let me stay at Carlos’ apartment nearby and after a few minutes we began piling my things into the back of his little coupe and I was riding my bicycle behind them to the apartment.

    The next few days were spent with my wonderful new friends, heading to the bowling alley to watch Carlos and his family’s team compete, sleeping in an air-conditioned room (which was almost a necessity in Villahermosa), and exploring the city.  One day we went and got dinner at a little seafood restaurant in the Malecon neighborhood, which only a few months earlier had been completely flooded during the torrential downpours of the rainy season.  However, now, most of the area head been somewhat repaired, and we sat down to enjoy camarrones empanizadas and camarrone empanadas (which yes, are quite different – one is fried shrimp and the other is shrimp in empanadas).  It was all quite delicious, and during dinner we had decided to take a trip in a pochimovi, the Villahermosa term for a tuktuk.  We raced around the small streets nearby and along the sandbagged riverfront, dodging and weaving through other pochimovis as we passed.  Once the ride was over, we migrated towards the other side of the river to explore the zona centro of the city, pausing at frequent intervals for campy photo ops.  After that, Erendira had to head to her salsa class, although on the way we stopped from some eskinos, somewhat similar to a strawberry milkshake, and a Villahermosa trademark.  Carlos and I decided to join Erendira for the salsa class, but only as observers, watching the class as the instructor counted “cuatro, cinco, seis… uno, dos, tres,” over and over again.  Carlos and I had thought that Erendira would be exhausted after her class, but instead she insisted that we head to the other side of town to try some marquesitas, another Villahermosa treat.  At this point I was quite full since we had stopped several times to forage for food, but I thought that I should at least try the marquesitas now that we were there.  They turned out to be very yummy, essentially freshly prepared crepes with the toppings of your choice, rolled into a cylinder, and cooling off to a nice crispy texture.  All in all it was quite a full day, and since Erendira had lost her keys, we retired to Carlos’ apartment for a few more hours, chatting and waiting for Erendira’s sister to return with her keys.

    The next day I slept in (although Carlos had to get up for work at six, after only a few very short hours of sleep), and when Carlos returned around lunchtime, he said that he had gotten the rest of the day off to go watch the football game that day (although maybe it was because his grandmother was sick… I can’t remember for certain).  So we headed down to a local pub filled with big-screen T.V.s on the main strip in town.  However, I had plans to meet up with my friend Daniel from CouchSurfing for lunch, so during the first half of the game I dipped out and headed a few blocks away to Daniel’s printing business to meet he and his wife Lorena.  The two turned out to be incredibly pleasant and outgoing, showing me around the workshop first and then Daniel and I heading out to a restaurant nearby for some typical cuisine of Villahermosa.  Afterwards, we headed over to Lorena’s family’s house to meet her sisters and mother.  When we arrived, the house was right in the middle of town and abuzz with the teenage children coming and going, the sisters and mother sitting on the front porch chatting, and friends coming to visit.  They all welcomed me warmly and I sat to join in the conversation and soon felt like family.  They insisted that I come to stay at their place that evening and the following morning Daniel would take me and another young lady who was coming to visit, out to a beautiful place near Tapijulapa, in the Southern hills of Tabasco.  Not long after, we were headed over to Carlos’ place in Daniel’s van with half of the family coming along for company, where I went up and lugged all of my things down the four flights of stairs, making plans to meet up with Carlos the following day for dinner.  When we returned to the other house, Lorena’s sisters Cecilia and Louisa took me out to a local taco restauran which was one of the best in town.  As we sat and enjoyed our gringas, al pastor tacos, and jamaica, I got to know them a little better and we were all laughing like old friends.  Afterwards, we headed back to the house and retired to our rooms for the evening.

    When I awoke in the morning, Lorena’s mother had prepared me a fantastic breakfast of fresh papaya juice with chorizo scrambled eggs and steaming tortillas.  Not long after, Lorena arrived to take me down the print-shop to meet up with Daniel for the trip to Tapijulapa.  She also brought ReDeat with her, a sweet girl from Ethiopia who had been living in Pennsylvania for most of her life.  ReDeat had already been out to the area near Tapijulapa and fallen in love with it – this time she wanted to go back and look for a job there for the rest of the summer.  So that morning, Daniel, ReDeat and I made the hour long drive out to the countryside and as we began to ascend into the rolling hills near the northern border of Chiapas, the landscape became thicker and leafier.  When we finally arrived, we disembarked and walked down to a river at the bottom of the hill to await a lancha (longboat), that would come to pick us up and carry us down the river to the jungle resort where ReDeat was seeking employment.  It was a beautifully blue skied day, and only a few minutes after embarking on the lancha and speeding down the river the motor died and our captain used a long wooden pole to push the boat downstream through the shallow riverbed.  Not long after, we arrived at the docks and hopped off, making our way up the hill and through little wooden plank fjorded rivers, low hanging canopies, and finally out into an open grassy courtyard, filled with small cabanas and green tie-dyed tropical foliage.  We went in to the main office and sat for a while during ReDeat’s interview, and after some coaxing, it looked like she had landed the job.  Afterwards, we decided to tour the vast property, strolling down little trails through the woods, spotting peacocks, and then hiking out to the nearby waterfalls for a dip.  We stripped down to our bathing suits underneath the cascading crystal waters of the falls and bathed for a few hours in the cool river waters beneath the thick treetops above.  Of course, it didn’t take long for me to get hungry and suggest that we go find lunch, so again we packed up our things and made our way back to the van, this time utilizing a treacherous looking Indiana Jones style rope bridge over the river, which I couldn’t resist rocking precipitously back and forth to tease ReDeat as we crossed the brown waters from a hundred feet above.  For lunch we made our way to the town of Tapijulapa, which was a sleepy little red and white painted village with terra-cotta roofed cottages.  We ate empanadas and tortas to quench our hunger, and when we had finished, embarked on the journey back to the city.

    That evening, Cecilia, Carlos and I met up for a quick dinner out at the taco stands near Carlos’ apartment and for me to say goodbye to Carlos, as I would be heading out the following morning.  We sat out on the street-side in plastic lawn chairs as we ate and once we had finished Carlos drove us back across town to Cecilia’s house where we said goodnight.  Cecilia and I sat up chatting in the living room for a short while and I was so glad to have met such a wonderfully fun and witty person as her during my time in Villahermosa.  In the morning, Louisa took me to search for a bicycle store for some parts for my ride, but unfortunately these parts don’t seem to be very common south of the U.S. border.  After a fruitless search, she dropped me off on the outskirts of town and I continued my journey towards Palenque.  After cycling for some time, then taking a short ride across a vast, dusty construction zone, I eventually made it to the turn off for Palenque and knew that I was in the final stretch.  I rode through the lush green fields for some time and then finally arrived in the town of Palenque, found a hostel and called it a night.

    When morning dawned I carried my bike down the stairs to the street and hopped on to make the short voyage out to the ruins of Palenque, about a half an hour away.  It was a hilly little road, with the mountains of Chiapas looming off to the left side as I pedaled along.  The last stretch was a steep uphill climb, and as I pulled into a clearing at the top, I saw the tourist vans and indigena kiosks scattered around the parking lot.  I purchased a ticket for the ruins, a bottle of water, and headed in to explore my second set of ruins in Mexico, but this time, Mayan.  It was a beautiful site, with temples built into the mountainside, throughout the fields, overlooking the plains below, and tucked into the dense jungle nearby.  However, my plan was to tour the ruins and still be back at the hotel by checkout time, so after a few hours I checked my watch and decided that it was time to return to the town.  Once I arrived, I repacked my things and prepared for the daunting task of riding up in to the mountains of Chiapas.  For several hours I rode, straight uphill on windy roads cut alongside the steep mountains, in scalding, intolerable heat.  I forged on, but know that under these conditions I could not continue for much longer.  When I saw the sign for the waterfalls of Misol-Ha, I didn’t even hesitate as I turned the handlebars in the direction of the side road, thinking only of cold, delicious water.  At the entrance to the falls, I asked a security guard if he would watch my mount and almost ran down to the waterfall at the end of the road, peeled my sweat soaked clothes off and dove in to the refreshing mountain pool at the bottom of the crashing waters.  I swam around for some time, trying to decide what my next move would be, and when I met a few other travelers basking in the sun on the huge rocks beside the pool, they told me that the colectivo shuttles stop on the sides of the main road and run to Ocosingo, then to San Cristobal de las Casas.  Before leaving, I joined them to explore the pitch black caves below the waterfall which were filled with the roar of yet another unseen waterfall inside the mountainside.  Then finally, it was time to go, and I returned to my bike to ride back out to the main road and pray for a colectivo to deliver me from the skin melting heat to the chilly fabled highlands of San Cristobal.

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