Updated: Jan 4, 2021
In the end of May, we left our home in Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico after two months. We had our friends, Inga, Torben, and Sybren sending us off with hugs, promises to stay in touch and wish for safe travels. Larry had called around for many days looking for a spot to camp. Many places were still closed because of the covid pandemic. There were a lot of no answers but he finally got a hold of Antonio at La Jungla in Catemaco, Veracruz. Antonio spoke very little English and put his daughter Cecilia on the phone. We asked if we could camp at their place for a few nights. They hadn’t officially opened up yet. They had been closed for 2 months and had only allowed the family to visit. She said we could stay as Larry explained we had been isolated for the past 2 months in Palenque. I had enjoyed Catemaco when we stayed there back in February so I was happy to go back to a familiar place.
Our plan at first was to head up to Texas as soon as possible, making shortstops. We figured that we could make it to Texas in 4 to 5 days but we would need to drive a lot each day. When we arrived in Catemaco, the google directions had us stop about 2 miles from the campsite. We called and Cecilia gave us better directions to their driveway. They are right next to Reserva Ecologica De Nanciyaga We had stopped at this place in February by boat and did a small tour. We saw our first macaws in the wild at this park. The driveway to the campground looked narrow and had lots of tree roots on the road. Larry got out to walk the road before he took the trailer much further. He was pretty confident that he could make it so we drove onward. About 25 feet before we got there, the trailer stairs got caught on a tree root and he dragged the trailer over them. It was a super sad day for the stairs!!! They were a bit mangled when we parked. Luckily, Larry knew how to straighten them out. We have already done this to the stairs on the west coast of Mexico!
Antonio came out to direct us to any open spot to park the Airstream…..All spots were open too! LOL They hadn’t had campers for months. We parked so that the back windows were to the lake and the door looked out to the large trees in the jungle. It was beautiful! I immediately felt welcome and comfortable. We set up and then went out to explore. This place is amazing! I highly recommend La Jungla. First, you are right on Laguna Catemaco and next to the Ecological Reserve. They had a freshwater swimming pool that is constantly fed by mineral spring. The pool has multiple rope swings and all the water toys you can imagine. At one end of the pool is a small water slide that goes to a small pool the size of a large hot tub. We put our folding loveseat in this pool a few times and sat in the shady trees. The view here was to the lake and it was spectacular! We watched birds for hours. They also have a 3 story water slide to the side of the extra-large palapa. This slide was not in operation when we were here because they weren’t officially open to the public. It looked like so much fun…..even for adults. They had a dock on the lake and 2 kayaks that we used a few times during our stay. Another great thing here was we could get BEER!!! Alcohol was still not available in Chiapas when we left. They had an honor refrigerator with beer, soda, and water. We took out 2 Dos Equis’ and sat by the pool.
Well, we ended up staying longer than planned. Partly because it was hard to find the next spot to stop and also because we were having a great time and aren’t sure when we might be back. There was so much to do right on the property that all the closures didn’t affect us here at all. We had 8 to 10 scarlet macaws visit us each day...several times a day in fact. They were eating the berries off of the huge ficus tree 20 feet from our trailer. They seemed to be just as interested in us as we were in them. They purposely flew right over our heads, about 8 feet, when they took off. They were also quite the posers for pictures! The day we left. Larry found the longest tail feather. The macaws gave us a going away present! I loved the macaws and never tired of them.
We had the howler monkeys visit our campground twice in the 5 days we camped at La Jungla. These monkeys had a deeper howl than the ones we saw in Palenque. They didn’t put on as good of a monkey show either but I was happy to see them one last time. I tried to savor every last bit of the jungle while we were here. We went on walks up the road/driveway each morning. We saw so many butterflies and dragonflies. We saw a few new birds too. The most amazing one was the great curassow. Several ran in front of us. This bird is 3 feet tall and such a sight to see in the wild. We had several white-nosed coatis cross the road ahead of us too. We saw tons of lizards that were way too fast to catch. I was happy to be able to capture them with my camera. No boa constrictor….. :( There were 2 german shepherds that lived on the property and became fast friends, especially with Larry. They were up early to sit with him for coffee. Gypsy our cat, was not that enthusiastic about the dogs as it limited her freedom around the campsite. Taco and Nacho (the dogs) learned that we walked the road each morning and they were our constant companions after that. We saw less wildlife with the dogs unfortunately but they made sure we were safe! Lol
The lake was super fun to kayak on. We went out 3 different times. Once across the lake to a small little island. It looked as though it’s only inhabitants were grazing cattle. Interesting. There is an island that is entirely for birds to roost and we cruised by it. They have 2 other islands with monkeys on them but we didn’t get to them this time. Last February on our boat tour we stopped by them. On our second kayak adventure, we spent nearly 2 hours cruising around the shoreline. We found lots of birds to photograph but the best part was yet to come! When we got to the Reserva de Nanciyaga, we discovered a small cocodrilo (crocodile). This little cutie was around 5 feet head to tail. We quietly paddled up as close as we could and I was able to get some video of him eating. So cool!! I only had my phone so the pictures were just okay. We watched him until he disappeared into the water plants. The next day we went back with my good camera and got some better shots. He was in the same place. This was the only croc we encountered. It was so exciting to be that close to him!
After 5 days at La Jungla, I felt we should start traveling north again. Cecilia helped Larry call on campgrounds as I like to talk to someone before we head out to make sure we have a place to stay. They were able to find a campground right on the beach near Playa Oriente. Playa Oriente is about 1 ½ hours south of Tuxpam. We left Catemaco around 8 am and on the way out we dragged the stairs again. In the future, we should get some quick release stairs for these campgrounds.
We got back on Highway 180. This road took us right up the coast to Playa Oriente. We stayed at Trailer Park Playa Dorada This was a nice little park but I think it’s mainly for tent campers or smaller trailers. The clearance between trees was pretty narrow. This is where my help was enlisted. I stand on the side where Larry can’t see with the mirrors. We communicate by yelling at each other when things look good or not. Well, it looked good from where I was standing….if he continued straight...he would clear the tree branch. When I said clear, he thought he was clear and turned the trailer hard. The trailer did something I never expected……..it kicked out right into the tree limb. OMG!!! STOP!!!! The damage was already done...so sad. The owners of the park came to help. They brought a saw and cut the limb the rest of the way off. I felt horrible….it took some time to get past the “Incident”.
The cat liked this place a lot despite all the dogs. There were a lot of dachshunds and one other cute mutt. She roamed around so much, we thought we had lost her one day. The beach was empty and we walked it several times each day. I even did some jogging on the beach. They had a wonderful pool that we enjoyed too. It was a great place to stop for a few days.
When we started looking for our last stop before the border, it was challenging. There weren’t very many options. Larry called on a few and no answer. We tried to get help from the owner but he spoke no English. He found someone next door to help us call but we weren’t able to find anywhere that was open. We also did some research on the safety of the roads we would be taking to the border if we traveled straight up the coast. All we could find out was that it was super dangerous for robbery, kidnapping, and other violent crimes. This made me hesitant to go further north up highway 180. We looked at other routes, more inland. That seemed better but no places to camp either. The other concern was if Larry, a Canadian would be able to enter the US if he was traveling to Canada. When we decided to travel up highway 180, then to highway 80 in Tampico to go up to enter in Laredo Texas, I called the office at the border. I wanted to make sure that Larry could enter the US in Laredo. I talked to the office twice in 2 days, eventually talking to the Chief, Officer Garcia about what was needed to cross. He said Larry could cross and would need to have proof, documents, that he lived and owned property in Canada. Greg, Larry’s son sent us pictures of the documents. Officer Garcia told us if we had any problems, ask to speak with a supervisor. That was good news!
After 3 nights in Playa Oriente, we decided to make the drive even though we had nowhere to camp. We had stayed at Pemex gas stations before twice and that was our only option. Not the best but relatively safe as most our open 24 hours and some have security on site. We found the city of Ciudad Victoria to be the halfway point to the border and it had 3 Pemex stations to choose from. So far the drive north had been uneventful much to my relief. There is so much police on the roads, I feel that it is to our benefit. Just across the Rio Tuxpam, we were stopped at a military checkpoint. The officer did not speak any English and we tried to communicate where we were heading. He seemed to be trying to tell us we were heading down the wrong road. He tried to explain in Spanish where to go. When that didn’t work, he called one of his officers to escort us by car through the city of Tuxpam!! That was amazing. We tipped the officer 200 pesos($10 US). Once we were traveling on the right road again, we stopped for a break. It was right by a place that sold bonsai plants. Larry bought this cute little tree in a traditional planter for his daughter Amanda. It was so cute! It only cost 200 pesos too. We encountered a bit of rain traveling on this day. We figured it would clean some dirt and dust off the truck and trailer. We went through some very flooded streets when we got to the big city of Tampico. We made it through no problem and I was glad. Some reports on the internet said Tampico was bad for crime and fake stops. It was easy traveling and we made it to the Ciudad Victoria area at about 3 pm.
We checked out all 3 Pemex stations. The one in the middle seemed to be the best. It was bigger, well lighted and right on the highway...good or bad, whichever way you look at it. As we were traveling back to the middle Pemex, we saw a hotel/restaurant that had a big sign that said open. Hotel Rancho El Futuro in Guemez, Tamaulipas. We decided to stop to see what they had there. As soon as we stopped, I found a tiny frog. Yeah! Then the owner came out to speak with us. We had our masks with us in case we needed to put them on. It seems like many places were starting to require them. He said no need for masks in sign language. I got out my translator and his wife came out to speak with us. We asked if we could park and plug into electricity. Of course!! They seemed so happy to welcome us. They showed us where to park and opened up a room at the hotel for us to use the restroom. They had 2 children, perhaps their grandchildren, we never found out, that came out to meet us as well. The kids seemed super interested in our trailer and then our cat when she popped out to look around. We negotiated a price for the night with dinner at the restaurant. It was only 500 pesos ($23 US) We asked if they would take US dollars as we wanted to save our last pesos for any toll roads coming up the next day. They said US dollars were fine. They asked what time we wanted our dinner and what we liked to eat. Larry eats everything and anything and I like vegetarian food. Berta(the wife) said our meal would be ready at 6 pm. Larry and I looked around their property with their children, Roberta and Emilia. They followed us everywhere. Roberta could speak more English and Emilia just spoke Spanish to us but we all tried so hard! Emilia who is just 5 years old was fascinated with my camera. I let her use it to take pictures. Berta, Roberta, and Emilia wanted to see inside of the Airstream and see our maps. We talked about where we have traveled. Then back outside. We met her father Miguel’s horses. He was very proud of them and showed us their brands. We saw deer in the field behind their hotel and they had an aviary with parrots. We spent hours with this family on our last night.
Since it was our last night in Mexico after crossing the border on November 7th, 2019, we made margaritas! Larry makes the best yummy margaritas! We brought a gift to give the young girls when we went to dinner. We had lots of pesos coins so I wrapped them up and gave them to Roberta and Emilia. Our dinner was wonderful. Afterward, we exchanged flags. We gave the girls our US and Canadian mini flags and they gave us a Mexican flag from inside the restaurant. Berta gave us some of her homemade honey too.
We had such a wonderful time getting to know this family that it really capsulized our whole Mexican experience. Everywhere we went, the people were kind and generous with us for no other reason than they are good people. We had folks help us when we were driving down the wrong way on one-way streets. We had 4 and 5 folks guide us with our trailer when we were down streets too narrow for us to be on but google maps told us we could. They would hold up traffic so we could get through on our way. We’ve had a man on a motorbike escort us to the right road when we were lost. Mexican folks want to speak to us even if their English is minimal. They wanted to get to know us. It warms my heart and makes me more motivated to improve my Spanish. I feel like I could have had a fuller experience if I could have spoken their language and tried harder to know them. I hope that people reading my blog will give Mexico a chance. I did not encounter the Mexico that is hyped up on the media. I never felt like I was in danger anywhere we traveled. The Mexico we saw was beautiful and welcoming. We were in Mexico for almost 7 months, traveled down the west coast across to the east coast and back up. My only problem would be with the Topes(Mexican cement speed bumps)!!! Ha haha
The next day, we traveled to the border at Laredo. It was the easiest crossing so far. They did x-ray the truck and trailer. No one asked about our cat or Larry. They did take all of our plants we have collected on our journey including the cute little bonsai we bought for Amanda. Back in the USA!!