Sunday, June 4, 2017

Palenque to San Cristobal

On May 29th we set out on Mex route 199 through the mountains from Palenque to San Cristobal for cooler (and hopefully drier) climes.
Google maps says 4 hr 34 min, it was more like 7 hrs but that's due to road construction and windy roads.
Our travels since April 1, 2017


There were a lot of new culverts being put in along the road, causing sudden rough patches and at one time we had to stop for a while so that they could finish covering one of the culverts enough for us to pass.


In general, the road was very rough for about 26 kilometers (to about Santa Maria)

Another reason we do not drive at night!  Notice that hole has been there a while since it has warning signs, several other similar holes didn't.  And its a deep one, as we passed we looked down on the tops of trees!


Having seen truck loads of some sort of fruit or something that we could not recognize, we figured it out when we saw palm fruit being harvested at the side of the road and mounds of the 'fruit' in other places (mostly alongside the road) ready for pick up by trucks.

Harvesting oil palm with a long pole beside the road.

Oil palm fruits

We then saw a huge bunker of this same 'fruit' and this prompted us to stop and find out what was going on - these are palma aceite (oil palms) used for extracting palm oil.  The worker that we asked said they are they used for 'food for cars' but we are not so sure as to whether or not they actually make car oil or bio-fuel from these or if they are used for the palm oil that we are all more familiar with from nutritional/culinary use to beauty products etc.  Palm oil plantations were created back in the '80s when the price of coffee and maize etc. dropped and peasants started leaving the lands and moving north and to USA etc.  They were told to start planting oil palm trees to make a living and they actually started getting paid a salary, this has meant that there are now areas that were high agriculture areas and are now reduced to oil palm trees.  However, we have also seen that a lot of palm plantations grow maize and other crops between the palms.  Another concern is the deforestation of the jungle to plant oil palms.

At Poblada Tulija the road was covered with limes which were just falling off trees onto the road. Remember all the recent news articles about how the price of limes is really going up?  Not here in Mexico - we have limes with everything.  You need to try squeezing some lime juice on eggs, it gives a whole new taste to everything.

As we got higher up into the mountains, the roadside vendor stalls disappeared and we were hounded by more aggressive sales techniques - ladies or children hung strings of flags across the road so that you could not pass until you had bought their bananas or whatever.  Somehow we managed to get past them but one little child walked right in front of our car as we were pulling away - once again, Gerald's amazing driving skills saved us from trouble.

No tope, so a rope will do.
You know you are far from civilization when there is no cell service, the taxis/collectivos have ham radio antennae and the gasolineria (gas station) is a bunch of plastic jugs on a shelf by the side of the road.  One gasolineria had 3 liter coke bottles filled with gasoline.  At least the jugs (pic below) look like polypropylene which  is safe for gasoline, I'm sure coke bottles (HDPE???) would slowly dissolve and can you imagine what that would do to your cars fuel injectors????
Rural Gas Station in the mountains.
We reached Ocosingo where it is about 4,000 feet elevation and it had cooled down (from high 90s) to a lovely 75F.
Leaving Ocosingo
About 14 miles after Ocosingo we came across our first scary 'situation' where some political activists were demanding donations for their party or candidates or whatever.  We didn't know what was happening at the time as we just came across a queue of vehicles - traffic stopped in both directions.  On the fence a way off the road were huge posters that we first thought were 'wanted' posters as they just had a person's face on each one - we found out later that these were obviously the political party candidates.  Several middle class looking people had thrown boards across with nails pointing upwards to prevent people from passing until they had put money into a tin.

Tire Spike board that gets pulled off by the rope, after you 'contribute'.
When it came to our turn at the board, a typewritten sheet of paper was thrust at us through the window and the tin was shown to us.  We realized that they were demanding money from us and they were taking a good look in the car (unfortunately I still had my camera on my lap).  It was obvious that they had seen the TX license plate and the TIP sticker prominently displayed on the windshield, they demanded 500 (quinciento) pesos from us and told them that we didn't understand what they wanted, why we should pay them and that we don't have that much money.  Somehow with our broken Spanish we got into quite a disagreement with them then decided to stick to English - we offered them 27 pesos which is all that we had in loose change in the car, but when they wouldn't back down we just went quiet and acted dumb.  I made a loud comment about it being OK, that the queue of traffic behind us was getting longer and that people were sure to get upset.  Finally they accepted our 27 pesos instead of the quinciento that they had been demanding.  We were very nervous for quite some time but have now realized that we were never really in any danger of any sort - we could have just handed over the money but we didn't see why we should have to pay more than everyone else just because we are gringos.  Another Mexican lifestyle lesson learned, in future we will just drop some coins into the tin like the locals do if we come across another situation like this.  We have also since learned that this route is the wild west of Mexico and that this sort of thing happens frequently here - the police will also just tell you to pay and pass.

We arrived in San Cristobal and after all the hot weather in Riviera Maya, it was 66 F (19 C), gray and rainy.  In three days we went from roasting to freezing.  It turns out that a large tropical depression is bearing down on the Puerto Escondido area (southwest of here on the coast) dumping tons of rain and May is the start of the rainy season with the forecast for the next 10+ days being rain.

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