Sierra Gorda to Palenque ...by Bec
I am not sure if I should take offence that Nick's blog post entries are getting more hits than mine; but lets face it I have always been the serious Ernie Wise to his Eric Morecombe!
Once again, following the advice of a friend and a few locals (we research very little ...its a lot more fun to fly by the seat of your pants!) we left San Miguel de Allende and headed for the Sierra Gorda national park, an area of outstanding beauty in the centre of Mexico.
The road in was incredibly twisty and narrow, probably best described as a motorcyclists nirvana. As we climbed up into the mountains the surrounding area was incredibly dry and barren, but as soon as we topped off and started descending the other side the area turned to lush rainforests and jungle. The difference was incredibly stark.
We stopped for lunch at a little roadside stall and had Gorditas, our now favourite lunch snack! Maize and water dough with a tomato and cheese centre flattened and cooked on a hot plate and then cut open and stuffed with a filling of your choice. Our favourite was a chicken/potato mix and Nopales (cactus) ...delicious!
Sometimes they are from a roadside hut, others from someones front room, or from tiny "hole in the wall" eateries.
By the time we stop we have normally been riding for 4-5 hours and skipped breakfast so are always ravenously hungry!
We ended up in a little town called Conca. There was a Misson Hotel there and it piqued our interest so we booked a room. It appeared to be run by nuns and monks and we couldn't work out if they were real or if it was a marketing ploy with actors as the receptionist "nun" spent almost all her time on her cell phone???
They had extensive grounds that we walked around including an enormous tree named Ceiba that was 500 years old.
There was an onsite restaurant in the ruins of part of the mission so eating was open air ...luckily it didn't rain.
The following day we headed through the Sierra Gorda National park and passed a couple of pretty towns, Jalpan de Serra and Landa de Matamoros, with ornate mission churches.
The closer we got to Xilitla the more the weather closed in to a thick fog that shrouded the views.
Our destination for the day was Xilitla, a steep streeted mountain town with a lot of history.
One of Xilitlas claims to fame is that it was home to the eccentric English poet Edward James who created Las Pozas; a surrealist sculpture garden in the jungle that is now a famous tourist attraction.
Molds for the poured concrete were meticulously made by hundreds of skilled carpenters.
James died in the 80's and one of his wishes was that the sculptures should not be maintained, they should merge back into the jungle, creating a unique and beautiful wild garden full of native plants, imported plants, and lots of creepy crawlies including tarantulas.
Around the gardens he had several open air "rooms" build where he could relax and escape form the world and we like to think this is where he wrote this poem.
I have seen such beauty as one man has seldom seen;
therefore will I be grateful to die in this little room,
surrounded by the forests, the great green gloom
of trees my only gloom – and the sound, the sound of green.
Here amid the warmth of the rain, what might have been
is resolved into the tenderness of a tall doom
who says: 'You did your best, rest' – and after you the bloom
of what you loved and planted still will whisper what you mean.
And the ghosts of the birds I loved, will attend me each a friend;
like them shall I have flown beyond the realm of words.
You, through the trees, shall hear them, long after the end
calling me beyond the river. For the cries of birds
continue, as – defended by the cortege of their wings –
my soul among strange silences yet sings.
James' foreman, a guy called Plutarco Gastélum, built several properties in Xilitla in the same surrealist style as the gardens, and the main house, that was the home of Edward James, is now a hotel run by Gastélum's grand daughter.
We treated ourselves to a couple of nights in this unique hotel as it was our 34th wedding anniversary.
It ended up that we were in Xilitla at the weekend ...and this place HUMS at the weekends with celebrations, fiestas, concerts and general riding up and around the streets until 3am letting off firecrackers! Welcome to Mexico!
We spent the few days we had in Xilitla reviewing what we wanted the most from this trip as we had realised that we were rush, rush, rushing again (as we had done in the USA) from one place to another and it was leaving us tired and demoralised. WE had also had some advice from a couple who had done the same trip a few years back and their main advice was "slow the whole thing down" and "see things once and see it well"
Nick REALLY wanted to learn Spanish, and to be honest we actually needed to or we were going to end up starving, homeless and with no fuel once we hit South America if our Spanish language skills didn't improve!
So the decision was made to hightail it to Guatemala and enrol in a language school there.
The following day we rode to a place on the coast called Tuxpan. The roads were incredible slow and we must have ridden over 500 topes (sleeping policemen) so 300kms took us almost 8 hours.
That evening Nick got really ill with Motezumas revenge and wasn't well enough to travel the next day so we spent the time sleeping (Nick) and route planning (Bec).
Next stop was a small town 300kms south called Tlacotalplan. It was a halfway point between Tuxpan and our final Mexican destination Palenque so we weren't expecting much, but it actually turned out to be a beautiful little place with a lot of old buildings and very friendly locals.
We found a hostel where we could park the bikes in the locked courtyard and it looked idllic until we found out there were other "guests" ...hundreds of mosquitos who hadn't eaten for days!
The following day we reached Palenque where we had planned to visit the Mayan ruins and makes sure all our paper work was ready for the border crossing into Guatemala after our stressful crossing from the USA. This time we were going to be ready with paper work, photo copies and at least a few keys words of Spanish.
The ruins at Palenque were beautiful. We arrived first thing in the morning to beat the jungle heat and brought our tickets into the park AND our government pass and then followed the backpackers and walked to the start of the park instead of take the taxis.
A guide came up to us and asked if we wanted a private tour ...for $2000 pesos EACH! I wish I could have bottled the incredulous look on Nicks face, it was a mix of "do you think we were born yesterday" and "WTAF".
The history of the place was mind blowing and because we got there early we managed to miss a lot of the crowds. We were genuinely wowed by the place ...however it was going to be blown out of the water by the Guatemalan equivenlt a few days later.
On the walk back to our hotel we came across a giant lizard on the footpath. Bec just about jumped into Nicks lap until we both realised it was a deceased lizard and no threat.
The animals are sure getting scarier and more different than we are used to!
Doccuments in order we set out the following day for the border not really knowing what to expect.
It was bitter sweet saying goodbye to Mexico, there were places we had loved and places we had not loved!!! People that were friendly and genuine and people that were outwardly hostile and suspicious.
We have two main regrets; one is that we didn't have better language skills, and the other is that we didn't end up getting to Cancun to visit the fellow Mexican bikers we had met in Canada and Baja
...that is a trip for another time ...and we will get there!