Chiapas (and some Yucatan)

(Note: I’m starting to run out of clever titles for these things so I’m falling back on location. I hope that doesn’t mean I’m done learning over-arching life lessons from each segment. But at least it will be very easy to go back and figure out where I was.)


The Oaxaca road block set me back a day but I still had plenty of time. I made my way from Salina Cruz to Tuxtla with plans to explore San Cristobal de las Casas a bit. I could have made it all the way to San Cristobal at dark. But I decided to just stay in Tuxtla for the night and relax.

I have a guilty pleasure confession – City Express hotels. I can get them for $38 on – which really comes to $47 or so and is definitely above my budget. But they’re so clean, with comfy beds and good AC. And I’m feeling lazy that 1pm checkout time is kinda a sweet. But I have to kick this habit!

No molestar. I feel like that should go w/o saying. But ok.

San Cristobal de las Casas

I made my way to San Cristobal the next day and found a nice very cheap hotel – much more inline with my budget – and explored as much as my heel would allow. I ended up getting pizza for the first time on the trip, which wasn’t too bad. Some scenes from San Cristobal:

Not bad, the center was like Marshmallow Fluff

Finally tried the famous Mexican hot chocolate – very tasty and different than I expected. Not too sweet – sort of like a cross between American hot cocoa and Indian chai.

The next day I was up early for the long drive through the mountains to Palenque.

Oh yeah – I almost left my pillow in the room – AGAIN. I knew people in high school who were very smart but seemed to freeze up on standardized tests for some reason. Well that’s me when leaving a hotel room. I go into a blind panic for some reason. In this case I was clutching my pillow tightly specifically not to forget it – as I will never find a pillow that works for me like this in Mexico – and I need it when I camp. Nope, still managed to set it on the bed while I wrestled with something else and walked right out of the room. The hotel guy came racing out with it as I started to drive off. ARGHHH.

I need a neon pink or chartreuse pillowcase for it so I notice it when I scan the hotel room. I have literally started buying everything I can in flashy colors so I will be less likely to leave it behind. But for some reason this pillow from Costco, which actually works for my head (rare), is too big for any known pillowcase you can buy in the US. So I had to order one online – which of course is tan – the perfect “ignore me” color. So forget about finding a new pillowcase in Mexico, much less one with crazy colors.

I swear this stuff only happens to me. Try to explain to someone why losing a pillow is cause for panic or buying a pillowcase is next to impossible. Or how you couldn’t find a blanket in Mexico. Most people just walk into a store and buy a pillowcase. For me any kind of bedding purchase turns into an epic quest of heartache and failure. If I had left that pillow behind I would still be mad about it.

Anyway – pillow disaster averted – I was on the road. It was this drive that I almost didn’t do because someone had posted a bad experience on the Pan-American Traveler forum with a roadblock. But it sounded like they tried to run it without paying, and I had since read about plenty of people doing this drive with no problems.

The drive was amazing, easily the most scenic yet on the Mexico mainlaind. As I started to approach the town of Oxchuc, about halfway between San Christobal and Palenque. I came across this burnt out Bimbo truck (Bimbo is like Wonder Bread down here) and a lot of activity.

Uh oh – please not another roadblock. Happily – this one turned out to be the 100 peso variety, not the *sit for 8 hours* variety. The guy I finally talked to about it couldn’t be more friendly or apologetic. I gave him a 500 peso note and he ran off to get my change – lol.I’d guess if you wanted to pull over and try to bargain them down that would probably work.

There seemed to be some kind of a town committee set up with a PA system and a lock box for collecting the illegal tolls. I get that this would anger a lot some people when traveling. But personally I much prefer paying 100 pesos to sitting around for 7 hours as I did in Oaxaca where there was no option to pay. Just sit. 

My amigo getting my change from the town ilegal toll committee. All very official.

Maybe not all road blocks are as friendly. But my advice is to just smile and be polite and be prepared to pay something. Even if the main roadblock looks runnable – don’t even think about it. There are tons more partial roadblocks after the main one – where they will stop you and things will get ugly.

Mini roadblocks after (and before) the main one.

I did see some armed guys with masks in a truck labeled “policia regional” heading toward the front of the roadblock (where the burned out truck was). Guessing actual cops don’t want to tangle with them. In the Oaxaca roadblock I saw a truck full of marines drive up to the front and then drive back a bit later. No idea what happened there. In any case the bottom line is I’m sure the cops know about this and tolerate it.

Now the string across the road people. They piss me off. Basically someone on each side pulls up a string with stuff on it, and dares you to drive through it. I run those if I think I can do it w/o endangering any little kids. After the illegal toolbooth, I ran into two groups of string people – first of the trip. The first one was adult women and they were really pushy. I bought some bananas from them and they still wanted more. The string lady was demanding to be paid for the service of holding up the string. That really annoyed me. I just rolled up my window and slowly moved forward until the string either broke or they let go of it. I got past the kids because they were too slow to pick up the string after the car in front of me. Hah – snooze you lose kids. Apparently there aren’t many of these left on my trip until South America – but then they get bad again in some rural areas.

A bunch of some kind of mini-bananas purchased from the string people. Very tasty.


Even with the roadblock and string people – I got to Palenque with enough time to tour the ruins. I got the local tour even though it probably wasn’t worth $25 for 30 minutes. But hearing the guides speak Mayan to each other and learning a few things was worth it for me. Then I had some time to find a quiet perch and and just soak in the energy of the place. You can really feel that this is a magical place in the world. I could easily spend a day exploring this and the jungle. I guess the excavated buildings are only 1-2% of the whole complex – which is still engulfed by jungle.

My guide was kind enough to demonstrate a Mayan toilet for me

Afterwards I found a place very close by for $22. You never know what to expect for that cheap – but this place turned out to be my favorite of the whole trip so far. The place – Casa Guacamaya – was in a nice building off from the main grounds. I had a whole wall of screened-in windows to enjoy the view and sounds of the jungle. Also the dinners and breakfasts ($3-4) were quite tasty. Such a surprise and honestly one reason I’m glad I’m not doing just pure overlander style where I sleep in my rig every night. Yes I would not be getting sucked into the CityExpress trap. But at the same time I’d be missing out on a wonderful jungle hideaway.

Tasty pork stew dinner

These pics are from my second night – in the $35 suite downstairs.

Whatever was going on here was no bueno. Guessing they had something stolen and were filing a report. Cute female cop though!

Sounds of the jungle – the chirping is geckos

The next day I decided to check out a nearby animal sanctuary that I had seen many signs for. The place was much bigger and packed with interesting animals than I expected. Some of the cats looked pretty bored, which was sad. I assume (hope) that they’re better off than whatever they were rescued from. I guess by supporting them hopefully they can get the cats a bigger enclosure and more enrichment activities. Or maybe the whole thing is just a zoo that they call a sanctuary. I hope not.

It’s hard to describe how impressive it is being up close to a big stocky cat like this – 3rd biggest cat after lions and tigers.

Leaf cutter ants – you can’t tell but this mound was like 10′ in diameter

Getting the job done

Coati whiling away the day
This tapir was the size of a small cow. I had no idea they got that big. Really freaky/cool-looking animals.

Feeding the manatees

I also made a new friend, Nils from Holland, while we were both watching the tortoises court then complete the deed. Nils was visiting the sanctuary alone because his girlfriend was sick.

Tortoise courtship apparently – the male walks circles around the female for a few minutes


The afterglow. The male immediately shuffled away in a straight line. She looks nonplussed.

Nils and I hung out for the rest of the sanctuary then checked out a really neat local waterfall afterwards – Miso Ha (which my French friend on the beach had also talked up). The highest falls I’ve ever swam in for sure.


The next day I headed to Merida, where I planned to get my foot looked at and run some other errands. I found a place on called Quinta Real – which looked like a hotel for $19/night. I was literally parked in front of CityExpress (except this was a CityExpress Jr. – lol branding). But I said – you know what maybe this is a cheaper chain or something interesting. I’ve learned everything I can from CityExpress – let’s give it a try.

First view of the Gulf of Mexico of the trip.

Well it turned out to be someone’s house with a bedroom and a private bath. I think they were gaming somehow. But they were a nice enough couple, and gave me some advice about Merida. So for half the price – sure totally worth it. I should look for rooms like this more often – if nothing else than to get local knowledge.

The next day I went to Star Medica – which came highly recommend as the best hospital in Merida – which is one of the richest cities in Mexico. According to my Spanish teacher Scott – at one time (in the 1800s I think) Merida had more millionaires than any other city in the world. I found my way to the urgent care (which I guess is like emergency room?) line and told them about my foot. They quickly checked me in and did the blood pressure thing. Withing about 30 minutes I saw a doctor who took my story and agreed an x-ray would be a good idea. About 30 minutes later they x-rayed my foot. Then about 30 minutes later the doctor talked to me again.

Turns out I have a bone spur in my left heel. Me and Trump are in this together lol. The doctor gave me a prescription for muscle relaxers, a non-narcotic pain med, and Icy Hot and gave me some calf-stretching exercises to do. He did not recommend I tape it, as I had been doing. All in all I was in and out in 2 hours and the whole thing cost me 2000 pesos – about $100. In USA #1 BEST HEALTHCARE SYSTEM – I probably would have sat around the ER for 8 hours, or been told to make an appointment for next month – and it would have cost $1200 minimum if I didn’t have insurance.

It does look kind of like a little hook on the inside bottom of my heel. Feels like it too.

Later I went and looked online for bone spurs and it pretty much matched what he told me – try this stuff, then maybe a cortisol shot down the road if nothing helps, then surgery as a last resort after 9-12 months. So I stopped taping my heel. Maybe that was even contributing to the problem – who knows. If you think about it – the idea of the tape was to ball up my heel more to give more cushion against a bone bruise. But if there’s a bone spur poking into my heel pad – maybe pulling the heel up into that isn’t the best idea. I’ve been taking the muscle relaxers, which really REALLY mellow me out. Like I could easily sleep all day. They might be helping a bit, it’s hard to tell. But at least I know what’s wrong – which makes me feel better. (Unfortunately the Patagonia hiking trip is out – as I am writing this a month later and nothing has improved.)

I had set aside all day for the hospital but found myself free by 11. So I got my first oil change of the trip, got my car washed and still had some time to kill.

For some reason (maybe the muscle relaxers) Burger King really appealed to me. So I got set for some American fast food, immediately followed by the inevitable self-loathing.

Why am I here?

Since Burger King was next to a mall, I wandered over to see if they had an ATM. Somehow the air-conditioning of the mall beckoned me in and I found myself wandering the huge mall in a muscle-relaxer daze. I got a DQ Blizzard just to finish off the unhealthy outburst. If you’re wondering what’s different about a gigantic mall in Mexico than the US – I would say absolutely nothing. Except – there was a Radio Shack and an Aeropostale – neither of which exist in the US anymore – I think. So think a US mall in the early 2000s I guess.

Pro tip – buy your Halloween Costumes in February.

I went out that night in Merida – which is an absolutely beautiful city at night:



The next day I said goodbye to my nice family at the “Quinta Real” and headed to Cancun, where I was to pick up my friend in Shauna in 2 days. Like Mazatlan, no one seems to have anything good to say about Cancun – except for totally different reasons. Mazatlan I guess is kind of dangerous and gritty. Cancun is a built up American tourist mecca like Cabo. I got a room at the Ramada Inn because the price wasn’t too bad and they had pictures of a really nice gym on their entry. Heh – turns out that was nothing close to the actual gym – which is very close to a CityExpress gym. Eh – I found a great gym just down the street for $3 for a day use. So I finally got to get in a good leg day for the first time in 2 months. 

Proof I actually went to the gym.

Later I headed to Isla Mujeres (Women Island – not sure why it’s named that) since walking around Cancun didn’t seem all that fun – it’s basically a hotel zone with resorts and a downtown part with restaurants but not much else. I actually really like Isla Mujeres. A ton of great beaches with music, food/bar, and the nicest sand in Mexico. Also the weather on this side of the Yucatan peninsula is just gorgeous. Low 80s, nice breeze. It’s amazing for me the difference between low 80s and high 80s. I found a deal on 2 pairs of sunglasses – since I left my primary pair behind at Capi’s.

These lasted a couple weeks before I lost them.
I don’t really like these. So of course I still have them.

Best pina colada ever – and not just because of the scene – it was really good. I had 3.

I took the ferry back to Cancun and the next day I just have to kill some time until mi amiga arrives – then it’s on to the next phase of the adventure – traveling with other humans!

Cool ferry wake in rotating lights


  1. Another doozie blog post, Matt–from the ruins of Palenque to tortoises copulating to x-rays of your bone spurred heel (ouch!). Your photos, as always, are sumptuous and ravishing–alone worth the price of admission (0!). Glad you’re with your friends by now. Thanks for inviting us along to share your terrific adventures!

  2. Always interesting and, man, you are a funny guy. I love reading your blogs – have even mentioned them to a few of my friends! Hope Shauna is well and can’t wait to read the next blog of your adventures while traveling with humans (instead of alone)!

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