After a pleasant night at Casa de Cortes, I left Villa Rica with the day’s destination of Catemaco lake, a volcanic lake in southern Veracruz.  Before getting too far south, I wanted to explore Quiahuizatlan, a nearby Pre-hispanic Totonac archeological area, set up on a nearby mountain and with commanding views of the coastline.  The site dates back to before 800AD.  The remains of two pyramids, a ball court, and about 70 tombs are all that is left of a settlement that is thought to have once numbered around 30,000.  Like many of the smaller ruins, this site is not visited much, and I had the place to myself.  It only took me about 30 minutes to walk through the entire site, stopping a few times to enjoy the view of the Veracruz coast that spread out below.  

After leaving Quiahuizatlan I headed down the coast, bypassing Veracruz on the highway and making my way down Mexico 180.  Before long I was riding alongside the Gulf of Mexico, on the barrier islands that lined the coast south of Veracruz city.  The heat abated a bit as the clouds started building, but I could see that I was in for a drenching up ahead.  As I continued south, the land rose up ahead, the long-dormant volcanoes rising up towards the sky.  It wasn’t long before the clouds opened up on me and I was riding in heavy rain, but it was a welcome relief from the heat.  The rain only last about 10-15 minutes, leaving me soaked but comfortable.  I didn’t even bother to stop and close up the ventilation in my waterproof jacket.  

Coming into the small town of Catemaco, the lake spread out ahead of me, surrounded by the mountains that formed the volcanic crater.  I rode along the lakeshore and checked out the scene and looked at lodging options.   Vendors for the boats that plied the lake kept approaching me on the bike to try to sell a boat trip, as if I was going to drop everything, leave my bike, and take a boat ride right then.   My tummy was grumbling, so I decided to get a bite to eat and pulled over opposite a lakefront restaurant where I could enjoy the view as well as keep an eye on my bike.  Fresh shrimp empanadas hit the spot perfectly, as I had eaten nothing that day and it was already about three in the afternoon.  While sitting at the restaurant I  scrolled through lodging options on my phone and decided to take a look at an ecolodge about 5 miles away.   

I rode to the ecolodge, following their winding, rough, and muddy driveway through the jungle to get to their muddy parking lot.  Leaving my helmet and jacket on the bike under the watchful eye of an attendant, I walked down the path to the reception and asked to see a cabana.  For some, no electricity or AC and a 100 yard walk to the bathroom would’ve been fine, but for me, at over $60 a night, that was a non-starter.   I like adventure, but I also like to be comfortable at night and be able to cool off.  It makes the riding day better if I can get a good nights sleep.  I thanked them for showing me the room and left, headed to a hotel I had passed closer to town.  

I took the next day off from riding and instead worked on the bike in the parking lot.  I had noticed a little bit of oil seeping from the oil sump gasket, so I pulled off the skid plate, cleaned up the area thoroughly, and snugged up the sump bolts.  Hopefully that did the trick.  I also noticed the chain needed adjusting, so I took care of that as well.   They say adventure riding is fixing your bike in exotic places. There is some truth to that.

Once Bella was put back together, I hopped on her in order to go find some lunch.  In town I found a nice little taqueria where I enjoyed 10 street tacos (they are very small) and a water for about $3.  I strolled around the town a little bit in order to check out the scene.  Every Mexican town has a Zocalo, the main square, usually with a church on it, and The pretty blue and white church in Catemaco stood out for its bright colors.  

After lunch I thought about taking a boat ride, which was a 2-hour tour and took you to several small islands on the lake, one including monkeys.  But then I read that the monkeys were not native to the area and had been imported from Asia, and that the tour was very touristy and took you to vendors who then tried to sell you stuff, so I decided against the tour and instead took a ride along the lakefront, stopping to enjoy a desert and take some pictures of locals fishing.   

I used the evening to look at maps and plan where I wanted to go next while enjoying the sunset on my balcony.  I considered options to the Pacific coast, but ultimately decided on going to the Mayan ruins at Palenque. It would be a long ride to Palenque though, almost 9 hours in the heat, through some pretty flat and boring landscape, so I decided to break it up with an overnight stop in Villahermosa.  

The state of Tabasco is pretty flat, and contains more water than land.  Think of the low country of Louisiana and Mississippi.  There is not a lot to see there, so the toll road, boring as it may be, seemed like the best option.  Four non-descript hours later I pulled up to the Villahermosa Marriott, where I thought I would treat myself to a nice hotel and get some laundry done while enjoying some of the perks of the high status I had earned in my career as a pilot.  

The next morning, I was off to Palenque, which was only about a 2 hour ride.  Once again, a lot of it was on the toll road, but eventually I turned off the toll road onto the local road towards Palenque.  In the US you see a lot of deer crossing signs, in some places you even see elk and moose crossing, but you never see monkey crossing signs.  You do here.  Shortly after seeing a monkey crossing sign, I saw an long net, hung between tall poles on either side of the road.   I guess that was a way for the monkey to safely cross!

I pulled into my lodging for the night, and they showed me to my Cabana.  It was already three in the afternoon and the park closed at four, so I would not be seeing the ruins that night.  My plan was to take a bus up to the ruins first thing in the morning when they opened in order to beat the heat and the crowds.  That evening I read by the pool and enjoyed a cerveza before retiring for the evening.  

In the morning I walked out to the main road and took a Colectivo up to the ruins for only 20p, or about $1.  The Colectivos are privately-owned and run minibuses or vans that serve as local transport in just about every community in Mexico.  They are a truly local experience and I enjoyed the ride, smiling and nodding at the locals as I boarded.  The Colectivo dropped me at the main gate where I had to buy an entrance ticket, and then I caught another Colectivo the final mile up the hill to the entrance to the ruins.  

Palenque was a Mayan state that existed between 226 BC to 799 AD.  After it was abandoned, the thick jungle quickly took it over until they were rediscovered by the Spaniards in 1773.  The site was incredible!  The pyramids rising out of the jungle, surrounded by the foothills of the mountains had an Indian Jones kind of vibe about them.  I wandered through the ruins for about 2 hours then took a Colectivo back to the hotel in order to check out on time.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.