After the most lovely time in San Cristobal, it was time to hit the road again. This time we wanted to drive further south to the city of Comitan. Hoping that our GPS might actually show us the correct way this time, we typed in “Comitan, Chiapas” and were surprised to see it wanted to direct us to the very opposite direction, towards Tuxtla Gutierrez.
We decided to be smart and follow the signs rather than our GPS, after all, it didn’t prove terribly reliable when we arrived to San Cristobal… It took us a long time to get to the outskirts of the city as it was market day everywhere. Finally, we found the highway towards Comitan – only that it was blocked that day and there seemed to be no alternative route. So we didn’t have much choice but to eventually follow our GPS that would surely lead us some loop road somewhere.
Only it didn’t. We ended up in Tuxtla Gutierrez where we turned around again to head back to San Cristobal. That little detour took us 3 hours, yet we hadn’t gone anywhere really. By that time, we had realized that there were several Comitans, and the one we wanted was Comitan de Dominguez. Petty but important details…We consulted our old fashioned road map and found a countryside highway in order to avoid the downtown traffic of San Cristobal. What should have been a 90 minute drive at most turned out as a 5 hour trip, but never mind, in the end we made it to Comitan. De Dominguez.
Hardly anyone ever mentions the city of Comitan but it was actually quite beautiful, and we found an extremely nice, extremely cheap hotel downtown. We also found the said to be “best restaurant in town” where we had a mediocre dinner at best, while 6 waiters were eyeing us curiously from behind a column. Every now and then, one of them got pushed forward by his colleagues to approach our table and see how we were handling the pasta. At 9pm they started their live music programme which seemed weird since we were the only guests, and it got so noisy that we finished our dinner in sign language.
The next morning we started off early because we wanted to see the Lagos de Montebello National Park, before we would drive all the way to the border of Guatemala where we intended to spend the night. This time, we didn’t bother to use the GPS, we just followed the signs that luckily were everywhere.
When you drive through Mexico, you will always encounter numerous police and military posts. At the Riviera Maya, where we live, they always exclusively stop Mexicans, tourists (or expats) never get checked which I always found highly unfair. In Chiapas it is the other way round, not a single Mexican needs to undergo a screening but we did every single time. That day I believed we might have gotten our fair share. I was wrong, there was more to come on the last bit of our trip.
I am not sure what those guys are looking for as every checkpoint does different controls. Some just ask you where you are from and where you are headed to, some will check your papers, some will note down your license plate, some the serial number of your car which seems a silly thing to do as they have no computers. I am sure they hand their handwritten papers to someone like once a week, and that someone throws them away immediately. But maybe it is to practice calligraphy.
And then there are those who let you get off the car and search for God knows what. They even check under the vehicle floor and under the car mats. One of them very seriously asked me to hand him my bag which he searched thoroughly. Thank goodness, there was nothing embarrassing in it! Nevertheless, an airline refreshing towel aroused his suspicion, but he just couldn’t figure out what it might be. Uh, the misteries of foreigners! This very determined search process lead to my belief that we must look like real European criminals trying to smuggle their grandma tied to the vehicle floor cross country. Or German potato dumplings. Another guy, though, was checking for something else: He asked us how to say “God” and “Jesus” in German. Maybe that was a test to see whether we were real Germans and not just mental patients talking in some funny accent.
Anyhow, after passing several stops we didn’t really pay attention anymore so we must have missed a crucial detail somewhere… I got a little suspicious because I thought we should have arrived at Lagos de Montebello by now, so I got out my iphone to check my GPS. I didn’t have network anymore and was informed, I should enable roaming services. Seemed a little odd to me, so better consult the map. And who would have known: We were in Guatemala already!
We turned around, found the junction that we apparently had missed earlier due to a missing sign, and finally arrived at the National Park. On the road leading to the park, we got stopped like every 10 minutes by someone who offered his services as a guide. Since we didn’t want a guide, we drove on. Then we passed the first stall to pay an entrance fee and more guides waiting for work. After a while, we passed the second stall to pay another entrance fee and even more guides who tried to stick their hands and heads into our car. After a while, we got stopped by an old man who showed us ancient, possibly inherited postcards of the park to prepare us for the stunning sights (maybe he thought we might collapse out of joy otherwise?) and who wanted to convince us to take his young colleague as a guide. By then, we were rather annoyed. We drove on a little and stopped to take a look at the map – but the minute we stopped the car, someone started running towards us waving a screaming – another guide.
Upon leaving the car at the first lake we encountered, we were surrounded by helpful guides and an old gentleman who insisted we took a horse ride. I told him that Mr. R. was allergic to horses, but he probably had never heard of such a fancy thing as an allergy. Finally, we got rid of all the people and could admire the lake.
However, all this brash behaviour had dampened our spirits a little. We drove to a few more lakes and then decided to continue our journey towards the little border village of Frontera de Corozal which turned out to be a wise decision as it got dark soon. The last few miles to the village, we had to drive on dirt tracks full of potholes. I felt literally shaken when we arrived at our destination. The village of Frontera de Corozal was awaiting us in complete darkness, but luckily we found the hotel very soon.
It was 8pm when we received the keys for our hut and were informed that the restaurant was closed already. However, they’d be happy to prepare a little something for us. We ordered two surprisingly delicious quesadillas (for our anniversary dinner, by the way!) and got out our torch lights to search for our hut in the jungle. It was very simple, just a bed under a large palapa, the toilet was missing its seat, the shower had no walls, but well, it would be enough for a night. However, we slept miserably. A thunderstorm was shaking our hut, and we could hear the howling apes really loud. On top of that, I was worried that a tarantula or a scorpion might enter our room through one of the many gaps in the wood.
I was relieved when the alarm clock indicated 5am and I could get up to start into a new adventurous day!