Friday, September 16, 2005

Cancún to Chetumal

A civilized landscape at the Marriott's Casamagna, Cancun

Started taking doxycycline (an anti-malarial medication) today as I prepare to head into the higher-risk areas. The medicine carries precautions: don't lie down within 30 minutes of taking, and avoid exposure to sunlight. Sure bet. I felt slightly nauseous for a while after the initial dose. The instructions are to take it twice daily.

After maxing out my time at the "Marriott", I reluctantly left the world of comfort and stepped out into the glaring upper 90-degree, 80% humidity afternoon. Trying to take a few parting pictures on the beach was quite challenging. The camera fogged up from the temperature shock, and it took nearly an hour, baking in the sun, for it to clear. Noticed something missing as I packed up the bike: nearly left without my hiking boots. I was unaware that Ciro had hung them in the closet.

La Playa at Cancun

The hotel had been a construction zone, especially right outside my room, so when they tried to charge me for two days’ internet service totaling $40, I complained about the sporadic service and constant work outside my room. The woman at the counter, who seemed to look upon me with contempt, consulted her manager, then credited the full $40.

Headed west toward the "Riviera Maya", passing through well-known resorts such as Puerto Morelos and Playa del Carmen. Though less built-up than Cancun, and more accessible to the younger budget travelers, the trend is clearly toward private resorts capturing the seasides, forcing the local people inland. I'm saddened to see workers slaving under a hot sun to build the resort walls that will only serve to keep them out.

The "Riviera Maya" is very exclusive, with enormous, secluded resorts hidden behind guarded gates. This goes on for miles. Reaching Tulum, it felt like I was finally escaping the clutches of obscene wealth. A grittier town, where the locals at least outnumber the tourists. I spotted a popular cafe and decided to stop.

"Don Cafeto Cafe" in Tulum, Quintana Roo serves up the best Mexican food I've had since crossing the border. A big complimentary bowl of pickled (elephant?) garlic, carrots, onions, chilés and herbs is brought to the table, along with chips and a great picante salsa fresca. Amazing enchiladas de molé! Though busy when I arrived, by 4:30 it was quieting down. I had outlasted most of the customers. The food was so good, I didn't want to stop eating!

"Don Cafeto Cafe" in Tulum, Quintana Roo, serves the best Mexican food!

That's a tuna fish sandwich El Maestro is serving up. My advice: stick to the traditional Mexican food.

Continuing the drive toward the Belize border, I began looking for a possible campsite. (I need to stop spending so much on hotels!) Especially along more rural stretches of the highway, there were many dirt tracks leading into the jungle. I considered pulling off on one of these to set up camp a few hundred yards from the highway.

As in many places, these access roads were universally used for dumping trash. And then it was not clear if there were a hut of farm beyond (and visions of machete-wielding farmers hacking through my tent kept me moving down the highway.)

Storms were rolling along with me, just to the south. I wasn't sure how long before they would catch me. With twilight, my camping options disappeared. (I wasn't going to stop in the dark and camp without knowing what was around me.)

I came upon the "Hotel Paraiso" in a picturesque setting on a lake or inlet, the rising moon reflected from rippling water. Climbing off the bike, I could hear the sound of mosquitoes. I asked to look at a room. They were thatched-roof bungalows, with half-walls and the top screened-in. With four beds (and a $45-plus-tax price), it was more than I really needed. It looked like Chetumel would be my final destination tonight.

Several storms were now putting on an impressive lightning display, so I stopped to set up my tripod and camera, and capture a few shots. The fields along the highway sparkled with fireflies.

The full moon casting its glow on the thunderheads, lighting flashing within, and fireflies dancing all around, it was a magical evening.

After nightfall, thunderstorms provided quite a display. I stopped by this field and after turning off my lights, noticed it was sparkling with fireflies. The full moon casting its glow, lightning and fireflies - nature's light show.

Why is it the "home stretch" often seems the hardest? The last twenty miles into Chetumel were rather treacherous, the highway ripped up and in areas, muddy. Storms had swept through earlier, leaving puddled water. Multiple detours, and poorly-marked pavement changes kept me (literally) on my toes.

Chetumel was still festively decorated for the Mexican Independence Day celebration. The city was remarkably clean as well (from what I could see.) I easily found the "Zona de Hoteles" and inquired first at the "Holiday Inn" (which refers to itself as a five star hotel!) $75 plus tax, without internet. No deal.

Another nearby hotel was $55-60 plus. Still too much. A bellman there suggested I try the "Arges Hotel" around the corner. I had looked enough and readily accepted their price of $45. A pretty stark place, with linoleum floors in the rooms, it was adequate.

Though they didn't have internet services, I was able to find three or four hotspots, one strong enough to connect from my room.

I recently received this from a fellow traveler. Coldfoot, Alaska. What I'd give for some of that chilly air right now!

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