Day 45: Villahermosa, MX to Palenque, MX

After breakfast at the hotel, we asked for directions out of the city from the staff. We think they either steered us wrong, or else we missed something. We intended to head staight south from the city, where we would take Route 195 for a couple of days, which would connect us to the Pan-American Highway just east of Tuxla Gutierrez. We rode about 10 miles, and ended up near the airport, and realized we were on the wrong track. Our option was either to back track to the city and find the correct road, or continue east on our present route, and eventually take Route 199 South to connect to the Pan-American Highway.

I had looked at a couple of guide books for Mexico back in a book store in Austin, and one thing that stood out in my mind was that one of them mentioned Route 199, between Palenque and San Cristobol de las Casas, as being the road through the Chiapas Highlands that is notorious for bandits and kidnapping activity. I had planned all along that this is one road to be avoided.

We asked for directions at a nearby convenience store. The man we spoke to said that parts of our originally-intended route were closed due to flooding, and our only choice was to take Route 199 from Palenque. He said that it’s a much more scenic and interesting route anyway, and assured us that it was safe, as long as we only traveled during the daytime.

So, we continued east, and at some point crossed the border into the state of Chiapas, our fourth Mexican state. It was a hot day, and the road was narrow, made worse by more construction, with rough lanes and sometimes single lanes for about 10km. We finally arrived at the turnoff for Route 199, near the town of Catazaja. Ray arrived a little ahead of me, and started talking to a microbus (taxi van) driver about the route; during the conversation, the driver mentioned that he could take both of us the final 26km to Palenque for only 50 pesos. So we agreed, and loaded our panniers into the van as the driver tied them to the top of the van with rope. We had to wait a few minutes for some other passengers; when the van was full, we were on our way.

The driver took us to the center of Palenque, and dropped us off in front of a very nice hotel with an attached pizzeria restaurant. We checked in, showered, and ordered dinner, before heading out to explore the town. We saw more non-Mexican tourists in this town than anywhere else so far; most appeared to be Europeans. The town was pleasant, including the usual public square full of people and activity.

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