Heading to the border line

Published: November 15th 2018
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Lagos de Montebello

We have woken to a slightly nicer day. I’m not sure if St Cristóbal is any nicer though! We’re also not sure how today’s van trip will go either - 8am to 9.30pm on a van tour could be a bit much!

We are collected promptly at 8am and thankfully we are first pick up today so we secure the seats behind our driver. ‘Non ang-lazy’, says our driver to let us know we will be on our own today. ‘Non Es-span-nol’, we reply to let him know it’s much as we expected. We all laugh.

The van proceeds to circle St Cristobal for the next hour, picking up other clients or returning when they are not ready - the Mexicans are not known for their meticulous timekeeping. Finally the van is full and we are the odd men out in a bus full of Mexicans. Fortunately one young man speaks English and kindly interprets for us.

It takes over two hours to reach our first destination. We climb through mountains heavy with mist clouds and then descend into a flat valley. Here we have to contend with more than the usual fair share of speed bumps. The road is heavily laden with big lorries carrying their harvests of sugar cane. The speed bumps have caused them to catapult debris which creates interesting alternative speed bumps of their own. Our driver is keen to overtake at every possible opportunity but somehow we miraculously manage to reach our destination without any accidents.

Las Cascades del Chiflon turn out to be worth the journey. Well that’s a relief! There are 400 steps and it’s a 1.2km walk. There is no time to swim (but we read that the currents could be dangerous here in any case). We must be back at the van at 1pm. That gives us almost two hours. But, after that long bumpy journey, first there is a mass rush to the loos!

The waterfalls are very beautiful and the climb isn’t too challenging as the steps are interspersed with flat paved walkways for the lower sections at least. The water is a beautiful turquoise blue and there are plenty of viewing platforms along the route for those much needed breaks and photo opportunities.

Ian and I are back at the van park 20 minutes before departure so we buy some fresh fruit - we are both hungry as we skipped breakfast. Amazingly everyone is back by 1pm as instructed and we are back on the road by two minutes past!

We are now on our way to the ‘Lagos de Montebello’, a series of lakes on the Guatemalan border, each lake having a different colour due to their differing mineral contents. It will take 2 hours, our friend Hector interprets. Crickey, I was sure we’d be going straight to a restaurant - wish I’d visited the loos again now!

Once we have wound our way back up through the mountains, we are on pretty straight roads - though still littered with those annoying speed bumps. We arrive at our first lagoon in just under two hours.

Lunch here is traditional food, all cooked by local woman using brick ovens. It’s a cacophony of noise as they are all shouting out from their individual cooking huts, trying to attract customers inside. We huddle inside one of them, sharing a long bench with a trestle table. Two Canadians are enjoying a steak lunch so I point at what they are having, indicating that we will have the same. It’s very nice...steak, beans (not mashed for a change), rice, tomatoes, cucumber and some kind of mince. This is accompanied by freshly cooked tortillas and washed down with a mug of hot chocolate...proper chocolate too - we think they grow the beans here. And it’s just what we needed as it’s decidedly chilly here!

Hector comes in to ask if we’d like to share a boat ride across the lake with them. We say yes, pay for our lunch and join the group. The boats turn out to be rafts...six logs roped together with big gaps and blocks of wood to sit on. Ian states that no way will he be coming on that! I’m going though!

The boatman assists us in walking over the logs to our seating blocks. Fortunately I’m the last in so I don’t have so far to wobble. The water is oozing up between the logs - it really doesn’t look that water tight! We are issued with life jackets and warned to hold on to our valuables tightly. Once dropped, they will never be seen again, we are told! The moment I am seated, I realise the wooden block is very wet...ughhh. I take my waterproof off, which also involves removing my life vest first, so that I can sit on it. Too late however.

We are issued with paddles, ‘to help the boatman, if we wish’. We can also informed that we can tip him on our return. There is an English speaking guy on the bank to make sure we all understand this important point. Once we leave shore the commentary is all in Spanish and our boatman seems very amused that I can’t understand a word. Well, I have gathered that it’s very deep - 120 metres in fact - and the water is a turquoise blue due to the minerals.

On reaching the far side we disembark to see a cenote. Hector translates that they used to chuck women in here in ancient times. Now, people chuck money in and make a wish instead. I bet they are able to recover that from the bottom. :-)

We return to the raft to paddle over to the island. This gives us some fine views. We are told we can take a swim...pity I don’t have my costume, I am very jealous as one guy takes the plunge. We also test out our shouting skills...which result in a loud echo around the lake. For some reason Ian claims that he was only able to hear me from the opposite side (it’s the reverse of his selective deafness I suspect).

It’s getting late - the mist is rolling in from the hills and the light is fading fast - it is only 4.30pm! I have had a text from my Mexican mobile company to say that I have not chosen a roaming package and I have no service. They obviously think I am in Guatemala as we are right next to the border.

We board the minibus and head off to the next lake, deeper blue this time due to a different mineral mix. Here we are offered an option. With the light fading, we can either visit another couple of lakes or head to the Guatemalan border which also has a lake - it appears that we have voted for the border.

Ten minutes and a rubble road later brings us to another lake. It’s just inside Mexico and coloured dark green this time. A five minute walk takes us to the border. Obviously done up for the tourist trade, it is rather quaint especially since the lake is also marked with buoys to show the border line as well! There is no one around to stop us crossing over the Mexican border, into no mans land and right up to the sign that says ‘Welcome to Guatemala’. We can see the official huge metal gate a few yards away - it’s just about to close as it’s fast approaching dusk.

It’s now 5pm, drizzling hard and the light has finally gone, so we start on the three and a half hour journey back to San Cristobal. Fortunately we are able to take a slightly shorter route back as we detoured to the waterfalls this morning. We do take a couple of other interesting detours on our return, however. The first is at a police checkpoint where we drive around a brightly lit zigzag loop, passing some disinterested policemen who are having a fag and a cup of coffee. We are then straight back on to the main highway about five yards further down the road. Presumably they ‘stop and check’ if they don’t like the look of you (or if they have finished their smoke break?). The second is round a residential back street - obviously a rat run. It results in us being one van further up the line of traffic once we rejoin the main road!

As suspected, we are last drop off...I told Ian we should have got out and walked at the first stop in town! We eventually reach out hotel at 9.30pm after circling the streets for another half an hour. We drop off our gear and nip into the centre for a snack (all the restaurants are closed) - it’s mainly loud bars that are open, but we do find a cafe for a ham omelette and hot drink. And now back to our room to dive under the warm covers as it’s definitely cold and damp out here!

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