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Mexico City to Catemaco

Feb 23

After arriving back in Mexico City and a good night in our own bed we are anxious to get going the next morning. It is a Tuesday and that is significant because Pepe’s RV Park is in the small town of Tepotzotlan. This puts it within the “Hoy No Circula” zone around Mexico City.

What’s this?

This is Mexico City’s stab at pollution control. To reduce the number of cars traveling at any one time in the congested metro area, there are days you cannot drive. In our case, our license plate ends in a 4 so we cannot drive on a Wednesday. Thus the urgency to get outside the Hoy No Circula zone or we’d be stuck there till Thursday.

So we struck off, merrily tooling down the highway, delighted to be rolling along in our own little casa. We are both feeling sooooo much better already. That ends abruptly when a police car turns on its lights and pulls us over.

We had forgotten the other part of the Hoy No Circula regulation – foreign plated vehicles cannot be on the road between 5 am and 11 am. It is now 8 minutes to 11.
The policeman figures out really quickly that we “habla no espanol” and pulls out an English flier explaining the regulation. Oh yeah. We get it. But he also pulls out a piece of paper on which he has scribbled 3600 pesos. That is about $360 and just plain crazy.

I explain that I don’t have that much money and we will have to pay the fine at the banjercito (bank). The nice cop’s ugly buddy now comes up to the window and stabs at the 3600 peso line. “Aqui! Aqui!” For the non-Spanish speakers: "Here! Here!"

Okay, so now we know this is a shakedown because traffic fines are legally paid at the banjercito. So knowing what is going on I also realize that this will be a matter of negotiation. I reach into my purse and grab some money. Seeing that the cop is looking in the other direction, I pull some of the 100 peso notes out of the center of the wad of money and stick them under my seat. I wave what is left in his face indicate that this is all I have.

We go back and forth for a while with him stabbing the 3600 peso line and me waving my money around. Since he is demanding that I pay “Aqui” we both know how this will end. It is just a matter of time. Both cops walk back to their car. We sit and wait.

At 3 minutes past 11 the nice cop comes back with a ticket for me to sign admitting that I drove (although it was actually Steve driving but they do all their negotiating through the passenger window) during Hoy No Circula. I sign. He grabs the money out of my hand and says, “Vamos.

And so we do. It cost us about 1200 pesos which seemed cheap when he was insisting on 3600 but expensive when more experienced RVers tell me they never pay more than 500 pesos and usually 200.

So off we go, annoyed with ourselves for giving them a reason to stop us when we knew better. Speaking to other RVers who travel here all the time, it seems that the average is about one cop interaction per 7500 km. But in virtually every case the foreigners were pulled over because they HAD broken the law in some way. So that’s rule number one from hereon out – pay strict attention to the signs and speed limits. Don’t give them a reason to pull us over and they probably will not.

Still, these interactions shake your confidence. On the road east today we passed through the town of Los Reyes. Most of the time you can bypass these big congested towns with what they call a perferico around the city. But in this case we landed right in the middle of market day and it was a driving nightmare. Cars and trucks, carts and donkeys, people dashing here and there. I was terrified that we’d run into someone or something …or even that they would see us as an easy mark and pretend that we’d run into them. That never happened during the whole time we were in Mexico but when you have one tense interaction, like with the cops above, it shakes you for a few days.

We did make it through Los Reyes, basically due to Steve’s careful driving and my navigation. We lost track of road signs for a while but I just kept yelling out the window, “Donde esta Puebla?” and watching for where the hands waved. Mexicans always want to help you. It’s just their nature. So I just keep asking and following the hand signals and using my own built-in sense of direction. It’s pretty good. Steve’s is lousy. In these situations he is always certain that “This doesn’t feel right to me. I don’t think this is the right way.” So we have our marital moments. But I am usually right …about navigation.

By late afternoon we find the next RV Park in Cholulu, a suburb of Puebla. Good Pueblaenough. Puebla itself is a big town, population of 2 million. It is another of those colonial cities with a thousand historic buildings, in this case literally. The Centro Historica and its 70 churches were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. Cholulu, where we are staying was the religious cenPueblater and has an interesting local attraction, the widest pyramid ever built. Completed in 4 AD, it is now grass covered and not recognizable as a pyramid but it is 450 m along each side and 65 m high. This is bigger and higher than the Egyptian Pyramid of Cheops. There is a church perched on the top.

Steve loves old ruins and this one is an easy walk from the RV Park so he sets off to see it. We’ve only been out of Ecuador 48 hours but we are already feeling sooooo much better.


Catemaco
Feb 25
Mexico - east to coast
Today we finally reach the Caribbean coast and the charming town of Catemaco. The day started in the burnt out barren plains. Then burnt out plains transitioned to barren hillsides but the closer we got to the coast the lusher it became. So much of Mexico is dry and dusty. The towns in that kind of terrain reflect that. There is such a sense of impoverishment and hopelessness. But when you get near the coast and the foliage greens up, so too do the towns.

East Coast of MexicoOne that particularly impressed us was Santiago Tuxtla. It was so clean and well-kept, pretty and prosperous. People were bustling about, well dressed and busy. Children marched down the streets in their school uniforms or kicked balls in the playing fields.

Located on its own lake, Catemaco is a holiday town for Mexicans. Tour boats and souvenir shops line the shoreline of Laguno Catemaco. Children frolic in the water, chickens roast on the spit, ice cream vendors cruise the malecon. A research facility released a troop of monkeys onto an island in the middle of the lake so while no one is supposed to bother them, they do represent a major tourist attraction with tour boats cruising out there to entice the monkeys with food so the tourists can take Fishing on Lake Catemacophotos.

The campground overlooks the Rio Grande de Catemaco, a jungle-clad river that is a magnet for birds. We plunk our chairs over the river and watch grand egrets and great blue herons come and go for hours. Especially as dusk falls, they arrive by the hundreds to natter and squawk at each other while they negotiate their perches on the favoured trees. There is also a wonderful Egret at Catemacodeep swimming pool here, so it’s a nice place to rest up in for a few days.

Tomorrow we’ll start up the Caribbean in the direction of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Carolyn Usher