Palenque to Campeche – out of the jungle and into the frying pan…

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After bidding farewell to Jungle Man Frank, The Tall Frenchman and I took to the road once more. We were heading for the Yukatan Peninsula, the large tract of land that juts out of the south eastern tip of the country, into the Gulf of Mexico and the Carribean.

I thought Palenque had been on the warm side; Tabasco, which somewhat aptly is the hottest state in Mexico, had just been experiencing the highest temperatures on record for this time of year – hovering around the 42 degree c mark (108F). That’s in the shade – if you could find it. Luckily, our route only dipped into the state for eight kilometres.

Not that Campeche felt much better. A swathe of tarmac cut across scrub and forest, with nothing but the odd parched dry settlement to distract my mind from the baking heat. I missed the abundant rivers and waterfalls of Chiapas. We decided to knock out the ride as quickly as we could – it’s not a touring formula I’d recommend…

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I have to be honest and say that riding across Campeche wasn’t my idea of fun. It took us two and half days to cover the 370 hard kilometres of tarmac. There were no obvious alternatives to the highway, and the bolt straight roads drove me crazy. Or maybe that was the heat.

Crazy/Jungle/Man/Frank says goodbye.

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Romain takes a break in a Mini Super. Even the light in the Yukatan felt unremitting, bleaching out the landscape into muted tones. All we could do was ride on. One night we were lucky enough to camp by a river to wash away the sweat of the day. The other, we snuck in behind a banana plantation and yearned for a breeze.

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But while I can’t recommend the Yukatan for cycling – at least not in April and May – the seaside colonial settlement of San Francisco de Campeche was strikingly beautiful. Apparently it’s named after two Mayan words – Can (snake) and Peche (tick). So, that makes it the City of Ticks and Snakes…

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Like San Christobal de las Casas, the buildings were painted in a tasteful palette of photogenic colours, and had been carefully restored. The city itself was fortified – built to withstand the pillaging of pirates and privateers - and an imposing wall segregates the old historic centre (the nice bit) from the rest of the city (the ugly, American-style sprawl). Some years ago, there was a drive to develop Campeche into a mega-resort, but luckily the town planners saw the error of their ways before it was too late.

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Need a little help in your life? I spotted these cans in an esoteric natural store. Apparently a well aimed squirt brings whatever it is you need, be it clients, or protection for your money, or love, or virility (the strength of seven machos), or even divine enlightenment…

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In Campeche, the pavements slabs are vertigo-inducingly high, to allow for the river-like torrents that flow through the city come the rainy season. I have that in store in about a months time…

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The hostel we stayed in was set in a beautiful, faded colonial house, with sumptous tiles and an old lookout to sea. Fernando, the manager, played a great blend of Latino flavoured music, which ricocheted round the hallway like a scene from an arthouse movie. Was this how Cuba would be?

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Camped out in the garden. Sweaty. It was like a 24 hour Bikram yoga session. My little yogi sister Holly would have loved it.

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More funky beetles.

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I’m a sucker for brightly painted houses.

But not for these, mega supermarkets that are sprouting up all over Mexico, often with strip-mall style layouts.

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A new fruit! This one is called a maranon. The red, pepper-like fleshy bit is succulent, and used for aguas frescas - water, ice and juice sold in big vats around town, alongside homemade paletas - icecream. Piggy backing on the top is a seed with a cashew nut, which you need to toast before it's edible.

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Cooking up some fresh prawns with garlic. Roman is French, which gives him automatic seniority in the kitchen. I'm sous chef and washer upper.

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I liked this old arcade hall, oozing character, with its swing doors leading to a bank of pool tables at the back.

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The Zocalo. Every town has one and it's one of the better innovations that the Spanish Conquistadores brought with them to the New World; a large, open and social square that brings everyone together. More often than not, cities were established atop Mayan or Aztec settlements that had been conquered, and the main buildings - like the church - were built using the stones from its structures. Just to remind the locals who the new bosses in town were...

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Campeche is set by the sea, and it was good to see a bike path running alongside it. Joggers were sweating their way up and down – I’m not sure how they do it in this heat – and couples were canoodling romantically, watching the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico. No one was swimming… The mighty Pemex, the state oil monopoly, has blighted this coastline of lagunas and reserves with development. And this month's BP oil spill hasn't helped...

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Booooring. Too much highway riding is not good for the soul… Track down those backroads for the best of Mexico.

2 thoughts on “Palenque to Campeche – out of the jungle and into the frying pan…

  1. holly

    cass i NEED one of those sprays!! PLEASE! for my plane ticket. i bet it works extra proficiently if you squirt yourself in the eye.

    Reply
  2. Nick

    I came across that same spray in Chicago in the 90s. I think it was called “Lucky Money Spray”, the idea being that you’d spray it on the money you had in the hopes it would make more money!

    Reply

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