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1996_Road_Trip

In July 1996 we decide to drive from our house over to the Gulf of Mexico, follow the Gulf down to Cancun, then drive South along the Caribbean Sea through Belize. Then the plan was to drive back up the Pacific Ocean side of Mexico back to our house. We are in search of the perfect beach – maybe to plan a longer vacation in the future at such a beach. We only have two weeks of vacation so we don’t know how far we can get before we need to turn around. What we found however was the Mayan world and this is our story……

Day 1 – We drive from Casa Grande to Brownsville Texas in one 16 hour drive.

Day 2 - We cross the Mexican border into Matamoras Mexico. We then drive along the Gulf of Mexico and stay in Poza Rica.
First checkpoint just south of Matamoros (where we also got our papers) Second checkpoint south of San Fernando. Third checkpoint at the Tropic of Cancer.
Our first ruin site Quiahuiztlan.
Day 3 – Saturday June 22


Continuing our drive along the gulf we encounter our first ruin site Quiahuiztlan. After climbing to the site you have a beautiful view of the Gulf of Mexico from the ruins. We are excited on our find.

On our trip we are determined to utilize the “free” roads and not pay for any toll roads. Today we came upon a split in the road and our map said there was a toll road branching off. Since there was no road sign we stopped at the small police station that was at the road intersection. On the porch of the police station were two officers sitting in chairs. When we pulled up one of them came over to our truck. He spoke NO English. We tried to ask for directions to the free road. He immediately started to ask us for US$200. He was on the drivers side so Brian started trying to converse with him.

Brian took out our Spanish/English dictionary and proceeded to look up words. The officer kept asking for $200 over and over. Brian quickly went into “I don’t know ANY Spanish” mode. After 5 minutes of trying to communicate the officer started to get mad and grabbed the dictionary out of Brian’s hands. He turns to page 200 and points to the “200” on the page and continues to ask for $200. Brian takes the dictionary back and begins to read words off the page at random.

The officer starts to get very mad as Brian will not pay him any money. The other officer is still up on the porch yelling “libre, libre” and pointing to our right letting us know that was the “free” road, and also yells “go, go”. Well the officer at our side has a rifle on his shoulder so we figure we should not just try to drive away. Brian starts to look up other random words in Spanish to continue toying with the officer.

Finally after about 15 minutes the officer is so mad but is starting to realize we are not going to hand out any money. He grabs Brian’s K-Mart $5 sunglasses off the dash of the truck and points to our right and says “go!” Yoo Hoo! We continue driving and spend the night in Villa Hermosa.
 
Fourth checkpoint just East of Coatzacolas.


Photos both taken between Veracruz and Villa Hermosa. The sticks they used to make their fences had received enough water to start growing into trees again!

Day 4 – Sunday June 23

We leave early out of Villa Hermosa and are now heading East. Along the way we see a sign for ruins called Palenque. We turn down that road, a couple of miles later we see smoke along the road. As we get closer it turns out to be a few burning cars along side the road. Then we see hundreds of people with guns and pitch forks standing in the road blocking all traffic. As we drive up they look inside and then part to let us through. (Later we find out they were staging a demonstration for the Mexican President who also was supposed to be driving through that day)


Photo Left:
The Temple of Inscriptions

Photo Right: The Palace



We get to Palenque just as they are opening for the day – and a good thing too as it is very hot in the direct sun. Palenque is a great ruin site and our first Mayan ruin. This was as far West as the Mayans settled. We are very impressed with the architecture and layout of the ancient city. Sunday is free video/photo day! You do not have to pay for the video permit on Sundays!

We depart Palenque and again head East and stop for lunch In Escarcega at a truck stop and have a steak with all you can eat rice, beans, and tortillas for $5 each – incredible!

As we travel East again we see signs pointing off into the dense jungle only saying “Ruinas”. We decide to take one. It is a very narrow road carved out through the jungle, winding through the trees. The built the road around the trees never bothering to clear land for a road – just put a road through the trees. We drive off the paved road for 35 minutes and come to a very small parking lot. End of the road. We have not idea what we are getting into. The parking lot could hold maybe five vehicles maximum. We get out and go into a small bamboo hut. We then find out we are at Calakmul.

Calakmul turns out to be the largest Mayan city the have discovered so far – but due to its location, far away from any real cities has not been really developed.  We pay the entrance fee and he points down a very narrow path through the jungle indicating that the ruins are
“that way”. We start to walk down the path. Half way down a snake falls out of a tree and lands on Pam’s shoulder. Brian is thinking “all right – game over – I bet she wants to go home now”. Pam shakes it off and we continue down the path. About 200 yards from the parking lot the jungle opened up – they had cleared the area where the ruins were – and WOW we could not believe our eyes! Incredible Buildings and so huge!
Photos all taken at Calakmul

The best part about Calakmul is that since it is so remote and hardly any tourists find it - there is pottery peices everywhere - so many you can not walk around anywhere without stepping on them. Cool!  We spend the rest of the day climbing the pyramids and temples and since the sun was starting to go down and we had to drive through the jungle for 35 minutes to get out decide we better get going. We drive to Chetumal on the Caribbean Sea and find a hotel. Fifth Checkpoint at Cempeche/Quintana Roo border

Day 5 – Monday June 24

We drive South out of Chetumal and within 20 minutes are at the Belize border. We get our Belize paper work and head for Belize City, the largest city in Belize. We wanted to go to Belize since it was the only English speaking country South of the US. When we get to Belize City we look for a bank to get the local currency.
Photos right: Two 'regular' houses in Belize
We go into the bank and notice there are FOUR armed guards, two with machine guns and two toting shot guns – must be a bad neighborhood…. After we exchange some currency I step outside the bank where I spot one of the armed guards. I proceed to ask him where we can find a cheap hotel. The guard is startled and draws his gun at me. Holy cow! After he realizes I am not there to rob the bank he begins to talk to me. He says if we want to stay in Belize to go to the ‘Tourist’ area and he does not recommend for white people to stay in Belize City at the local hotels. (Belize City is predominately black) We drive around for a while and do not see anything that calls to us in the city. We do remember seeing a sign for a ruin about half way back to Mexico se we elect to head to the ruins and go back to Mexico for the night.

We find Altun Ha. The ruin site is not as developed as the Mexican sites and when we asked they said they do not have any money to excavate the ruins like the Mexicans have. Wow! After touring the ruins we drive North back to the border. When crossing back into Mexico we have to pay US$3 to have our vehicle fumigated. We sat inside as they ran us through a car wash type set up as they sprayed our truck, then we drove off back to Chetumal for the night.
Photo left: Altun Ha
Day 6 – Tuesday – June 25

Since we could not find a beach in Belize we liked we decide to drive North and find a beach. Our map indicates a road that heads off to the Caribbean form the main road so we decide to give it a try. This area of Mexico is like Florida, miles and miles of swamp land. In fact, this road we are now on looks like a dike built up across the swamp and all we can see in the distance is more swamp. We had not seen a single vehicle on the road since we turned off the main road.

About 20 minutes down the road we come to an island about the size of a football field. There is a security checkpoint with guys hiding inside sand bag bunkers they have built. These were Federalies and they were looking for drugs. When we pulled up one of the guys went around back of our truck and yelled to the other guys (in Spanish) “These guys drove all the way from Arizona!”. They all got a surprised look on their faces. Non of them spoke English – and why 2,500 miles from the US. They proceeded to look in the back of our pick up. Meanwhile we got the Spanish/English dictionary out and were trying to communicate with them. They really enjoyed it as we still have not seen any other cars on the road. This would be our Sixth checkpoint.

We asked the Federalies if there was a beach down the road and they told us yes a very nice one. They asked us where we had been and were we planned to go. We had a second Spanish/English dictionary and they started to fight over who got to look words up. (fighting in a nice way) Meanwhile one of the guys wanted to see what we had in our cooler. Brian opened up the cooler and showed them our diet sodas. The Federaly asked about the (Bashas’) lemon/lime diet soda so Brian cracked open a can and they passed it all around to try it. Yup – we got a party now in the middle of the swamp!

After about 20 minutes of trying to converse with the Federalies another car was coming down the road. By this time we had four machine guns laying unattended on the hood of our truck and they scrambled to get their guns and take their posts for the next car – you know – look official and all! We thanked them and headed down to the beach.

When we got to the beach we found a pristine beach and absolutely nobody in site. Yup, we had found our beach and had it all to ourselves. We sun bathed, swam, and body surfed a bit on the small waves. We then started to talk about how even though this was nice we both really enjoyed the Mayan ruins better. We had allotted three days to just lay on the beach and instead decide we want to go explore more of the Mayan ruins instead of lay on the beach for three days. Back to the long swamp road. We stop to see our friends (the Federalies) and tell them how much we enjoyed the beach and thanked them for their advice.

Day 7 – Wednesday June 26                                       Photo right: Kohunlich

We leave Chetumal and start driving West to find more ruin sites. We remembered seeing some more “Ruinas” signs along the highway. We stop at Kohunlich and find a student from the University of Northern Arizona there helping to excavate the site. We talk to her for a while and get the low down on the area. We also visit the Rio Bec and Dzibanche ruins. We continue down the highway and stay in Villa Hermosa again.
Seventh Checkpoint at Cempeche/Quintana Roo border

Day 8  - Thursday, June 27

We start out our day and head to the La Venta Archaeological site and then the La Venta Park. Most of the carvings at La Venta Archaeological Site were moved to the La Venta Park for protection. Nearly all of the large Heads and Monuments at the site are fiberglass reproductions. After this we head on to the state of Oaxaca.
Eight checkpoint past Coatzacolalos
When we cross the mountain range to the Pacific side of Mexico we are greeted by massive flooding. Rivers are raging and fields are flooded. Almost every village we go through has farmers out in the highway begging for money. Ninth checkpoint after entering state of Oaxaca. Tenth Checkpoint outside of Tehuantepec. Eleventh checkpoint by El Cameron.

We make it to the city of Oaxaca (which is the capital of the state of Oaxaca). We figure we are ahead of schedule now and decide to spend an extra day here and see the sites.
Photo above: The city of Oaxaca from Monte Alban
Day 9 - Friday June 28

We start out the day by heading up of town to the Olmec ruin site called Monte Alban. They were famous for their small carvings and there were people everywhere trying to sell you some of the figurines that were carved out of stone. It is a very different ruin site than the Mayans.

After the Monte Alban trip we stayed in town and walked around to see the sites. They have a huge monastery in down town and it was gorges inside. Today we also got the local paper (in Spanish) just to see if we could tell any world events. We had done this Chetumal as well. The weather section mentioned a hurricane heading toward Mexico – toward Acapulco to be precise which is where we were heading next. Hurricane Boris was gaining momentum and when you don’t speak the language it is hard to tell what is going on. The hotel rooms we stay in normally don’t have TV’s either. We asked around but nobody seemed to know “this Boris guy” and our pronunciation of hurricane must not have been very good.
Photo Right: Inside the Oaxaca monastery
Day 10 – The Hurricane Day (as told by Brian) Saturday, June 29

We head to the Pacific Ocean this morning and as we get closer and closer the wind, rain, and clouds intensify. We stop at the only village along the route and nobody knows anything about the hurricane or this guy Boris we are looking for. We drive on. The road we were on is now a construction zone and they have tore up the pavement to repave the road. We continue on through the puddles of water on the road that are getting larger and deeper as the rain intensifies. We come to an area where part of the mountain has slid down onto the road causing it to partly block the road. We decide that we are heading for disaster and decide to turn around and go back to Oaxaca for the night.

We turn around and head back about 3 miles. Where one of the puddles that I waded through to check the depth on the first run through – was now gone – and the road with it. There is no road back to Oaxaca now and no buildings in site. We again turn around and hope for the best. We get back to the landslide area and now it has almost completely covered the road. The valley below is a 300 – 500 foot drop off so we can’t go around. I get out and push some of the dirt/sand mixture off the road so we can try to drive through. I get back in the truck and try to drive through and we get stuck. I get out to try to shovel the truck out with my hands and feet. The more I try to scoop away the more comes down off the mountain. Oh shoot…..

About 30 minutes goes by with me trying to shovel dirt/sand and Pam trying to spin the tires when a work truck comes up the mountain. It is a big dually truck with four road workers in it. They have a shovel with them and a large rope. Two of us shovel with our hands while one uses a shovel and we dig down far enough to expose the front bumper again. I try to tell them to attach the rope to the bumper to pull me out and they are trying to tell me we need to dig more and get to the frame. I tell them I don’t care. (all of this is being translated by Pam inside the truck with the Spanish/English dictionary) They finally attach the rope to the bumper and they pull us out of the landslide area. We take the rope off and they tell us to follow them down the mountain.

About 1 mile later we hit another landslide area. The work truck 4 wheel drive slams through the landside and we try to follow and get stuck again. Again we attach the rope to my now mangled bumper and they pull us out. A couple of miles later we hit another area of landslide, again I get stuck. This time I ask them to just keep pulling us down the mountain until we get to pavement again. They agree. A few miles later we hit pavement and they stop but do not get out of their truck. I tell Pam, “ This is where they ask us for money and we give them everything we have for saving our truck”.

One of the guys comes out into the rain and over to our truck and asks where we are going. We tell him Acapulco. He asks if two of the guys can hitch a ride to Puerto Escondido (along the way) and the other guy to Acapulco. We agree. We stop in the next town and the three guys all shower, get dressed up, and off to town we go through the storm. There were no more issues other than driving slow through the wind and rain. We make it to Acapulco at midnight and drop the last of the workers off at the central bus station. We find a cheap hotel for the night. Twelfth checkpoint after Ometepec
Photo Left: No more bridge outside of Acapulco

Day 11 – Car (truck) Trouble     Sunday,  June 30

We sleep in and are ready to start our day at 9am. I go to start the truck and it sounds really bad. I pop the hood. I can NOT see the engine – the whole engine compartment is caked with mud. I break out the tool box and get a couple of screw drivers so Pam and I chip out the mud as best we can. We free the belt system, alternator, fan and any moving parts we can see. I then start the truck. The alternator is so out of round that the belt can hardly stay on. We are going to need a new alternator.

We took a taxi all around town to the parts stores and Chevy dealer and nobody in Acapulco had an alternator for our truck. The Chevy dealer made some calls and found in Chilpancingo which was 100 miles to the North. He suggested getting a mechanic to maybe make a temporary fix. Near our hotel was a mechanic so we drove the truck over to him and showed him. He said he could fix it. He took the alternator apart, cleaned the inside, and reassembled the broken pulley on the shaft. He got it to spin relatively round and then welded the pulley to the shaft. We drove the truck up the mountain to Chilpancingo 100 miles and it made it. But today was Sunday and the Chevy dealer in town was not open – we would have to wait for Monday morning.
Thirteenth Checkpoint just before Chilpancingo

We found a nice hotel (nice for us) and rest up the remainder of the day.
Photo Below: The road outside of Acapulco
Day 12 -   Monday,  June 30
 

We wake up and find out it is only 59’F at 6,200 feet elevation in Chilpancingo – Burrr! Since it is summer and we thought we were driving South we only have our rain coats to wear for warmth. We go down to the Chevy dealer, pay US$320 for the alternator we can buy in the US for $89 – ouch! But we are on our way with our new alternator.
Fourteenth checkpoint at Coyuca de Catalan.   Fifteenth checkpoint 50 miles past Coyuca de Catalan

The road was washed out by the hurricane North of Acapulco anyway so we would have had to come this way anyway. As we head down the mountain get back to the highway that follows the Pacific Ocean. We turn on to the highway and the storm had made some pretty big potholes (craters). As we just came out of the town of Zihuatanejo we hit a big pot hole and a piece of rebar slices one of our tires. No big deal right??? Well my truck was made in 1988 and this was 1996 and I have never had a flat tire – so for 8 years the spare had been under the truck, vibrating against the frame in the same place on the tire sidewall. The vibration had wore four holes in the tire where the frame had contacted the spare. Luckily we had just come out of town so we drove very slowly on the bad tire to a tire dealer.

The tire dealer did have two tires (we wanted to get a spare – that is a good idea right??) for our truck but they would be US$378. Why so high?? Well evidently the tires are made in the US and the export taxes from the US are high and then the Mexican import taxes, etc… Just like the alternator – made in the US. So today we have spent over $700 to get us road tripping again – wow!

By now it is getting late so we drive around and find a hotel for the night in Zihuatanejo. We tried to go over to Ixtapa, just over the mountain, but the hotels over there were 4 times the price.
Photo below: A village in the state of Tabasco
Day13 – Tuesday, July 1st


Today we drive, without incident and make it to Puerto Vallarta. As we are only a few miles from town the sun was setting. We kept seeing objects in the road and I began to swerve to miss them. After slowing down we can see they are crabs migrating across the highway heading for the ocean – thousands of them. They kept getting thicker and thicker to where we were crushing them unavoidably. I even slowed down to a crawl but they we so determined to cross the road the did not care if they got run over. Weird. 
Sixteenth checkpoint at Tecoman

We find our hotel and proceed to check in. The woman at the counter was a very large white lady from San Francisco. When she asks how many nights we tell her one and she asks “why only one – most people who check in here stay for months”. It was a few blocks form the ocean, only US$8 a night, had a beautiful garden in the center with water fountains, yes it was a great find for $8!

Day 14 – Wednesday, July 2nd

We drive from Puerto Vallarta to Mazatlan today.
Seventeenth checkpoint coming into Mazatlan

Day 15 – Thursday, July 3rd

We drive to Moctezuma to pick up Jenny. Jenny had been staying with our friends in Moctezuma for 2 1/12 weeks while we were on our road trip. She has learned quite a bit of Spanish during her stay (since they do not speak any English) and we are very impressed. Our friends have a BIG dinner/cook out at their house for us and their extended family are attend to hear of our adventures. One of our friends sisters that was visiting from the US was on hand to translate for us.
Eighteenth checkpoint at Sinaloa/Sonora border (This was the most intense checkpoint – they run your car over an oil change pit and tap on your gas tank, doors, and really go through our glove box and suitcases)

Day 16 – Friday, July 4th

We drive back across the border and back to our house in Casa Grande. With two days to recover until we go to work we reflect back on all the adventure we encountered. 
Nineteenth (and final) checkpoint Douglas Arizona USA.




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