As the 336km from Palenque to Campeche slowly slipped behind us, a pain was growing deeper inside of Dane. Was it the curry we made last night? The fruit in our oatmeal this morning? Eventually he decided it was the peanuts he had been testing as he toasted over the fire the night before. It’s gotta be the peanuts. Whatever it was, once we arrived in the colonial city of Campeche the bed slid out and he slid in, all the while making circles on his stomach whilst letting out groans and moans under his breath. He gave me his blessing to leave him (I was probably driving him nuts), so I ventured out to explore the city.
Even though it was a Wednesday evening, the city was bustlin’. People were out watching people, chatting with friends in cafes, playing and listening to live music and connecting with their loved ones (ahem, not on their cell phones). Like San Cristobal de las Casas, there were colourful colonial buildings everywhere you turned. It was a feast for the eyes. People were dressed well, women wore heels – brave souls on those cobble streets and uneven sidewalks! Cafes lured me in with wafts of quality espresso and highly patterned mosaic tiles. The music from the band playing in the zocalo echoed down the streets and as the sunlight slipped away the city slowly lit up, showcasing it’s iconic cathedrals.
Meanwhile, Dane was still recovering from a few bad nuts while Wyatt napped beside him. Shortly after the sun went down we were both snuggled into bed and as the sun rose the next morning we were swiveling our passenger seat back around and using our bootlegged WiFi to determine whether a cafe would be open for us yet. No such luck. Today we would be crossing the Yucatan Peninsula, all 439km, un-caffeinated. We had 3 days left of insurance and a severe case of FOMO (fear of missing out) which was what initially lead us to take this extended route through Mexico in the first place. Thankfully, the states of Campeche and Quintana Roo have some of the most meticulously paved and maintained highways we’ve seen this side of the border, making exploring it quickly actually possible to achieve. If it were 439km of Guatemalan highway we’d be on the road for days!
We’d already been driving for over an hour but it was still only around 8 in the morning. Ahead, under an overpass, were several police vehicles with officers waving drivers over. A routine check, we imaged. “Where are you from? Where are you going? Wow! Why is the steering wheel on the other side?!” But, this time was different. Without the typical niceties we were accustomed to, they immediately asked us to step out of the vehicle. They needed to search it. We calmly stepped outside as they began snooping through all of our cupboards, drawers and bags. They were more thorough than the border police! From three officers there became six until one of them finally triumphantly waved our first aid kit which was packed to the brim with everything we might (but hopefully will never) need from moleskin to anti-malaria meds, pepto bismol to altitude sickness pills. Not every item was in its original packaging, there simply wasn’t enough room, but we kept labels for instances like this. Regardless, they didn’t believe us and threatened to confiscate our necessary and expensive pharmaceuticals! We calmly explained and showed them the corresponding labels and prescriptions but it didn’t seem to matter and they still insisted they would have to have it reviewed and likely confiscated. During these shenanigans Dane caught the eye of another officer across the highway and, just as he did, he winked at him. After seeing this, he knew what was up – they were trying to roll us. Not only that, but, they were burning our daylight. After over an hour sitting road side we finally worked out an agreement to settle our “fine” on location and opened up our wallets, offering it to them openly so that all the drivers passing by could see what this honourable police force was up to.
With a little less jangle in our wallets, we carried on but not ten minutes down the road we pulled up to another road side inspection. We stepped outside of the van once more and, before the officer got busy snooping around, we mentioned we had just been searched. Well, he stopped dead in his tracks and told us to be on our way. No money to be made here! We had a chuckle and continued on our way, right up to the next police check. This time we piped up before they even asked us to step outside and, with long, disappointed faces and a sigh, they ushered us on our way with a “Bueno. Adelante.”
Now we were ticked. We felt robbed of our money and our time and had a hard time shaking it off quickly. This area wasn’t littered with garbage or potholes, but it was littered with a large group of police that bullied their way into “bonuses”. We pulled into the parking lot for Ik Kil, one of the most famous cenotes in Mexico, pushing our angry thoughts from our minds.
We floated among the selfie-stick holding tourists and then jumped from the top ledge into the cool water. Schools of small black fish swam around us as we gazed up at the opening above. The light cascading in felt surreal as it glistened off droplets of water slipping down the vines hanging over us. It was one gorgeous tourist trap and after a few jumps we were ready to feel the freedom of the open road once more.
We returned to the van, still enveloped in shade, with Wyatt wagging his tail, excited to see us after his morning nap. Then we turned up the tunes for the remaining hours of driving ahead of us to reach Tulum.
Before the sun set we’d already strolled down the perfect white sand beaches with frothy white waves lapping up from the intensely turquoise sea. Then we joined several, and we mean several, other overlanders at the Super Che supermarket parking lot. There were classic volkswagons, converted school buses, truck campers… it wasn’t wild but it was free and it is always nice to meet other overlanders, even if it is in a parking lot.
At dawn an iguana greeted us on our way up the steps to the ruins of Tulum. Situated on top of 12 meter high rock cliffs with the white sand and turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea below, this walled city has one of the most stunning backdrops. It was one of the last cities built by the Maya and was a stronghold for them from the Spaniards but since it was simply a port, it doesn’t have the intricate attention to detail that many other sites. However, with such a magnificent view we were still impressed.
That night we strung our hammock up between two trees with a view of Laguna Bacalar. We happened to set up camp right next to The Great Blue Hole, a cenote within the lake whose depth is still unknown. We put on our snorkeling gear to take a closer look, swimming past the stalagmites (mineral formations) to the edges of the cenote. We took a deep breath and swam down as deep as we could as the light slipped away from us. It was amazing and incredibly eerie. A tiny lily pad grew up from the wall of the cenote and small white fish swam nervously about. It was hard to believe that this was a lake and not the ocean. The water was incredibly clear, and the sand perfectly white. At one point we even took off our snorkel masks and could still see quite clearly under the water.
A German couple arrived and set up their tent nearby. They were travelling the same route as us on the same timeline, except on bicycles. It’s hard enough to keep this timeline in a vehicle, never mind fuelled by your own two legs. We happily watched on as they got cozy in our hammock. A very well deserved rest for the two of them.
There was a nervous excitement in us now for our last night in Mexico. Tomorrow we would have a lot of running around to do but, tonight, we soaked in the view of the lake.