Bacalar - Uxmal (the agouti trail) - Triplogue

Wednesday 18 December 1996, Bacalar to Uxmal, 67 miles

After a night of fitful sleep on the hard ground, I panicked upon awakening, thinking that the sun had already risen (it hadn’t). We had mucho miles to cover and I was hell-bent on getting as many under our belts as possible before the hot part of the day.

--Since then I’ve chilled considerably, having learned that flexibility is the hallmark of a good traveler. Besides, it wasn’t long before we grew accustomed to the sun and would think nothing of pedaling straight through midday. But this particular morning we both woke up a bit cranky, perhaps due to a mediocre night’s sleep, yet more likely a (justified, I realize in retrospect) reaction on Fred’s part to my anality. He said he needed breakfast before we could ride anywhere, and all I could hear was the ticking clock. Reluctantly, I indulged his desire to eat as we spent an agonizingly slow hour and a half at the hotel where all our friends from the previous night were staying, a funky place with an amazing view over a lagoon, and a decor inspired by the Madonna Inn (if they had a "Mexican Beach" themed room, that is). They had coffee, though, which is what I needed to take the edge off my foul mood.

So with food in Fred’s belly and coffee in mine, we hit the road (now known as "the agouti trail") with lightened spirits and heavier loads. It was on this morning as well that the genesis of the "mile system" occurred, whereupon we trade the windbreaking position with each mile. Today especially it helped us pick up the pace and break the monotony of the road.

At about mile 30 the turnoff appeared, the shortcut to Merida that sliced through 60 miles of nothing before hooking up with the main highway again. We were delighted to find that the headwind we had been battling diminished as we changed our course more westwards, yet lamented that this also robbed us of all remaining shade. The first village came quickly, not a moment too soon and like a mirage. What appeared to be the town’s (San Lazaro Somethingorother) only tienda was beautifully stocked with salty snacks and refrescos. The friendly proprietress made us four of the tastiest sandwiches I have ever eaten. Outside the shop, what seemed like the village’s entire adolescent population poked at our bikes with marvel in their eyes. They tolk us the next village was 30 kilometers away, and with the sun blazing down, Fred and I felt as if we were about to cross a desert.

This village –or its outskirts, which consisted of a gritty "loncheria" (divey bar/restaurant) and a "ponchera/llantera" (tire repair), presumably owned by one crusty old guy— appeared just when we thought we’d expire from the heat. We played backgammon and consumed vast quantities of liquid while observing the local languid youths and the considerable interest aroused by the breakdown of a mysterious public vehicle.

At 1:30 or so we hit the road again. The thermometer on my bike read 100 degrees. We rode most of our alternating miles on the shadier left side of the essentially empty road. Most of the vehicles we encountered were other bicycles, ridden by peasants and invariably loaded down with some sort of crop.

Some 25 miles further, after pedaling nearly 70 miles since breakfast, we stopped at the turnoff to a village marked on the map as "Pres. Juarez" to ask a boy how far it was to the next village. We were beginning to wonder about where we’d be setting up our tent, not exactly looking forward to it. The boy was all but mute, but soon an adult emerged from the jungle to tell us it was far, some 30 k, to the next village, but that a bus was on its way any minute, and could take us and our bikes to a town with a hotel.

It wasn’t an option we had considered before, yet it sounded too good a deal to pass up, so we dug our heels in for an ennervatingly long wait. The shadows were getting longer and longer and when the bus finally arrived, it was an hour late. Still, we were grateful not to have to spend the night in this godforsaken cesspool. The driver fucked us on the fare, but it was great to be tearing through the countryside without making any effort. It didn’t take long to get to Jose Maria Morales, where I found us a slimy room in the only hotel in town, above the zocalo. Looking back, Jose Maria Morales was one of the uglier towns we saw in Mexico, offering little beyond the taco stand where we were served by a sparkling waitress/law student. The only beer we could find was at an outdoor bar featuring an excruciatingly loud band and unsavory, inebriated patrons. We opted for ice cream in a shop run by the only white Mexicans we saw in this town. Back in our depressing hotel (where a deer was kept in a cage in the grimy courtyard for God knows what purpose) we pulled the bed away from the wall to keep the insects at bay and covered the dubious sheets with a sleeping bag.

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Wow, how many acres can you slash and burn with that?

Fred luxuriates in the shower at their "minus two-star" hotel in JoseMaria Morales

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Take thee to a nunnery, Fred looks down from the temple of the Magician in Uxmal

Thursday, 19 December 1996, Muna to Uxmal, 10 miles

The next morning surprised us. Outside our window it was drizzling and… cold; were we still dreaming? We went immediately downstairs to the bus station and bought tickets to Muna, the closest town to the ruins of Uxmal and a much-needed princess fix at Club Med. Thus, "Mayab" –the name of the bus company—became part of our vocabulary, used most often as a verb meaning "to stick our bikes in the bus instead of riding through unpleasant weather." After another tamale breakfast we were mayabing again. The ticket agent had said the trip would take three hours, but I predicted half that given the short distance. What I didn’t know is that the bus would stop in every rinkydink town along the route, so it actually took us four hours to get to Muna, a mere hundred clicks away.

The bus dumped us alongside the zocalo, where we changed into our wet weather biking gear under a menacing sky. Just outside of town we encountered our first real hill of the trip, and it was a steep motherfucker. To compound our misery, it started to pour as we reached the top, but the rain tapered off considerably as we reached Uxmal.

The hotel seemed outrageously opulent in comparison to the previous nights’ lodgings. We stuffed ourselves with good food and booze before hitting the ruins, which were very impressive. Fred kept saying that they didn’t hold a candle to Tikal, but he had to admit that the restoration had been beautifully done and that the carvings were in much better shape –mostly since Uxmal enjoyed its heyday some centuries after Tikal did. After marvelling at the oddly-shaped "Pyramid of the Magician" and the enormous "Convent," we set off in search of the far-flung "Temple of the Phalli," which turned out to be little more than a pile of rocks crowned by a penis-shaped drainspout.

Back at Club Med, we got trashed on mai tais before a scrumptious dinner, followed by pool in the games room and still more drinks. When we checked out the next morning, our food and beverage bill was three times as high as the price of the room.

Friday, 20 December 1996, Uxmal to Oxkutzcab, 44 miles

It was another early start, since there was much to see on the road to Oxkutzcab: no fewer than four Mayan sites, plus an allegedly spectacular cave. The sky was blissfully overcast, yet everyone assured us it wouldn’t rain. And the roller-coaster of a road was a pleasant change of pace, as was the abundant wildlife we saw along the way.

Our first cultural stop was at Kabah, famous for its wall of Cha’ac masks. Cha’ac was the rain god venerated in this supposedly dry area, and a god that we didn’t feel like pissing off on that particular day. Fred and I were the only tourists there, which enhanced our visit, as did the wacky antics of the mayan-speaking staff. There were three of them, and they all appeared drunk, or just plain slaphappy. For some reason, they found our bikes hilarious. Their guffaws echoed about the ruins as we picked our way through them.

Sayil was the next stop, on a side road known as the Ruta Puuc, a gorgeous twisty affair with zero traffic and dense jungle on either side. We called it the "Ruta Puke" and enjoyed it as much as we could given the stiff stiff headwind from hell. Sayil was a huge palace with several floors and more rooms than you can shake a stick at. It, too, was tourist-free. We ate our junk food and oranges on top of it, admiring the view of the surrounding jungle.

We skipped the ruins of Xlapac in the interest of time (wanting to hit the Loltun caves for the 2pm tour) and headed straight for Labna, famous for a courgeous archway. It was also interesting seeing the restoration work in progress on the now-familiar-looking palace. I took a photo of an archeologist-dude putting together the ring from the ball court.

The Loltun caves were much more heavily touristed than any of the Mayan sites, principally by Mexicans. Halfway into the Spanish-speaking tour, an elderly English-speaking guide appeared and gave us a private tour of the place –your basic stalagtites and ‘mites, with the added bonus of some Mayan and pre-Mayan remains.

After a late late lunch of lime soup and beer at the Cave Café, we pushed onward (and mostly upward) to Oxkutzcab, a hilly 10k away. Other cyclists on crop-laden one-speeds marvelled at our ability to climb hills, and it was a rush zooming down the final ridge into our first proper Mexican town, complete with a lively market and extensive colonial-era church complex. "Los Tucanes" was the name of our hotel, and Fred didn’t like it. It was perfectly clean, though unfortunately situated above a night club (or "centro nocturno", as it was euphemistically known). After showers and yoga we took a tricitaxi (reminiscent of an Indonesian becak: a tricycle with room for two passengers in front) into the center of town to check out the church –where a big Christmastime fiesta was being marred by a sudden downpour--, the lively market area, and the cavernous restaurant where we dined on mediocre food. All in all, it had been a fantastic day of being tourists on bikes.

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Cha'ac before and after a nose job

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