Arriving by bus to San Andres Tuxtla we still needed to make our way another half hour down the road to Catemaco. From the ADO bus station our next opportunity would be an hour away so we sought out other options. A nice local helpfully pointed us towards a new form of transport: collective taxis. These are your usual taxi but you pay per seat instead of for the whole trip. Being Mexico it’s not unusual for these taxis to have six adults (including driver) plus children and shopping in the medium sized cars. Yes this means that the front passenger seat accommodates two adults. We could only fit one of our packs in the boot so the other got to ride on our knees for the short drive.
After being dropped in the zocalo we set off to find accommodation. We walked a loop around the block, down past the malecon (lake front) and back up to the zocalo where we found our to-be hotel right next to where the taxi driver dropped us off. Typical right. The hotel was cheap enough to begin with but while we discussed it in English the lady dropped the price for us by $60 peso; making it a bargain $300 per night. Sure the hotel was super dated but our room was clean, came with towels and soap, had a fan, free water, was cleaned daily and was nice and cool. It was also in a central location; easy for the malecon, restaurants and buses.
After a walk down the short malecon with people trying to sell us boat rides on the lake we decided to splurge on dinner at an Italian restaurant. Garlic bread and pasta washed down with a beer and a jug of sangria while looking over the lake made for a lovely evening. We happily spent a few hours there taking our time with our food and beverages.
The next morning in the dated cafeteria area in the hotel we ordered breakfast. Eggs, frijoles (beans), tortillas, fried banana, orange juice and coffee set us up each morning for $45 peso each. We were always the only people having breakfast there and I think the owners got used to our presence around 9 am each morning.
Our first day we decided to head to see Salta de Eyipantla waterfall. I slathered myself in sunscreen and insect repellent as I wasn’t going to make the same mistake I had in Xico. Those insect bites were still visible on my lower legs and I did not want to add to them.
Looking for a colectivo taxi we instead found a bus which dropped us at the main road. We needed to catch another to get to the waterfall so headed off down the side road keeping a look out so we could flag the next bus.
The waterfall area was surrounded by people trying to sell us stuff but we stubbornly ignored them all making our way to the top lookout. The falls were quite wide and pretty enough to look at even though the water wasn’t super clean.
Walking back through the gauntlet of souvenirs and vendors we headed below the falls where we could get a vantage point looking back up at them. Surprisingly I saw no signs of nasty biting insects as we tried to take photos while shielding the camera from the water spray. But maybe my repellent was keeping them at a distance. Hooray for no more bug bites!
Catching a bus back to the main road we found a colectivo taxi for the return to Catemaco. Our driver was a good salesman and sold us on a trip with him for the remainder of the day. We would be heading to two fresh water pools with small waterfalls in the forest where we could swim for the afternoon. But first we needed to stop off at the hotel to get our togs (swimwear), towel and more sunscreen and water.
A drive around the lake and through the forest for an hour was a beautiful start to the afternoon. Munching on a new favourite snack of banana chips while staring out at the greenery and lake was very pleasant. It took about an hour to reach some private property; parting with a small fee before a short bush walk to the first waterfall. Poza Reyna, or Queen’s pool, didn’t disappoint and we soon were stripped off and making our way into the clean, clear water. It was a little on the cool side! I was laughed at by a group of three local women who were floating around with a cooler bin of (alcoholic) drinks while I shivered and squealed my way into the pool.
Tom of course was long in the water by the time I was submerged. We had a few attempts at swimming to the waterfall but at about 2 meters out from where it hit the pool we would get stuck as the current became too strong. Floating around in the water was very peaceful and I didn’t even mind the small freshwater crayfish getting close to my feet.
After an hour or so the water started feeling a little too cool and we slipped over the mossy stones to the edge. While drying off and redressing we were lucky enough to see a toucan flitting through the trees across the pool, a rare sighting.
Walking back through the forest to the taxi we headed further up the dusty road to another waterfall. This one required a longer walk through the trees and was a little trickier in jandals than the other had been. But it was worth while as we reached a impressive waterfall with a deep pool underneath.
The afternoon was at a close so very little sunlight filtered directly through the trees making the area feel damp and cool. The pool had steep sides slick with the spray from the waterfall but it was no deterrent to Tom who quickly decided that he wanted to (literally) jump in. Picking his way carefully across the slippery rocks he found a flat spot and jumped in. The pool was very deep as evidenced when the guide/taxi driver asked how deep it was and Tom couldn’t touch the bottom even diving down. Feeling brave I cautiously found a low ledge about a metre from the water and threw myself into the pool. It was cold; being sheltered by the trees meant no sunlight to warm it so I quickly made my way back to the towel to dry off. After a few last photos we tramped back through the trees and up the hill to our taxi.
On the drive back I could barely keep my eyes open and distracted myself from this by polishing off the tasty banana chips. A meal of a burger with chips from a stall in the zocalo and a treat of a paleta (popsicle) for dessert finished our busy but amazing day before we crashed in bed.
The taxi driver had offered his services for the next day but having splashed out with the day having cost $600 peso we felt it would be a better financial decision to go our own way to our next planned attraction.
Setting off after another great breakfast at the hotel we made our way to the colectivo vehicle departure point on the road out of town. We were on our way to a small town called Sonetecomoapan where we would take a water taxi up an estuary called La Barra to the beach. The rural public transportation in this region was a little more rudimentary with utes outfitted with seats and a canopy on the back. We had picked up a bag of fresh lychee on our way and happily got sticky hands as we munched on them waiting for our departure.
The vehicles are not the most comfortable form of transport with hard wooden benches, at least 10 other people and numerous pot holes in the dusty road but they get you from A to B.
Getting dropped off in Sonetecomoapan where the water taxis depart from we were immediately offered tours of the area by boat for several hundred peso. After our hired taxi man the previous day we opted out and jumped on the colectivo option with the locals. Cruising towards the beach didn’t take long and we were soon on dry land getting ripped off by the boat driver. We had been warned earlier in the day that there was a ‘local’ rate and one for tourists. Questioning the driver why he was asking us for double what the others had paid didn’t get us anywhere in our rudimentary Spanish as he was basically playing dumb. So Tom handed over the asked money with a few choice words (in English) and we headed to the beach.
La Barra is a tiny place, I’m not sure I’d even call it a village. There are a few deserted beach restaurants as well as some housing. The beach itself was very quiet with only a few locals splashing around in the water but this could be because it was a weekday rather than a weekend when we visited.
We decided to go for a walk down the beach with the aim that we would stop somewhere for a swim. The bay is huge and we only saw one other person on our walk. This wasn’t including the quad bikes which were racing up and down ferrying locals to other unseen locations hidden behind the sand dunes. We saw heaps of crabs scuttling out of our path as well as lots of sand dollars. I’d never seen or even heard of these before and Tom described them as similar to starfish. For a while I collected them trying to find the biggest one I could.
Feeling warm and with La Barra a speck in the distance we stripped to our togs and headed into the surf. The current and waves were a bit annoying so we didn’t spend too much time in the water. I much prefer fresh water like we had been in the previous day over salt water which stings my eyes.
After consulting Google maps (which is one of the most handy things ever on our travels, we use it pretty much every day) Tom located a “road”. This would take us back to another nearby road where we could hopefully flag down a colectivo back to Sonetecomoapan or Catemaco. After uneventfully passing through what appeared to be someone’s property on the “road” we made it to an actual road. Putting our clothes on so we wouldn’t look and feel like we were wandering around in underwear (any New Zealander’s remember the “Togs, togs, togs…undies” ad on TV?) we started walking towards the town while keeping an eye out for transport.
Transport appeared in a different way than expected. A ute laden with a large family of locals stopped after driving past us and enquired where we were headed. We must have looked bizarre walking down this road in the middle of nowhere so they took pity on us and invited us to jump on the back. Already on the back of the truck were 10 family members ranging in age from approximately three to maybe 30. Sitting on the edge of the tray we made ourselves as comfortable as possible and held on. It was a crazy experience travelling the 50 odd kilometres back to Catemaco, I’ll admit that I was a little terrified that a bump or turn would dislodge me onto the road in a heap. But we made it in one piece back to our hotel where we showered off our sweaty, salty, dusty and sunburnt bodies before going to find dinner.
Dinner was another excellent meal of fish fillets with beers. Again I ordered mine a la Mexicana style with a delicious stew of tomatoes and onions while Tom had his with a chipoltle sauce. The meals came out and mine had a huge amount of fish so I gave some to Tom to polish off. I really love eating in Mexico, having tortillas and making little “tacos” out of your meal is super tasty and something we will miss upon returning home.
On our final day we went on another excursion. This time a boat tour over lake Catemaco. We had two options; a private lancha (boat) tour or we could wait a little longer and pay less for a colectivo option. Waiting half an hour didn’t phase us for the price difference. Boarding a small motorboat with a Mexican family of five we took off around the lake. The driver/guide explained about the lake and area while driving slowly along the shore. We soon stopped at a cove where a local woman told us about the natural clay found in the area. This apparently had a lot of healing qualities and we were offered (for a small fee) a clay mask before we were due to re board the boat. No one took her up on the offer so she moved on to telling us about the tradition of brujas around Catemaco. These are basically shamans and can be consulted for a variety of reasons from receiving positive energy to darker applications.
Our next stop after driving through some beautiful lilly pads, which may or may not have housed some of the few crocodiles which live in the lake, was Nanciyaga. Nanciyaga is a small nature sanctuary which references the pre-hispanic culture of Veracruz state. We took a half hour walk around where our guide told us about the replica sculptures, the temazcal (a ancient form of spiritual sauna) and the animal life. The forest was beautiful and we were again offered the clay mask. Tom out of curiosity decided to take them up on the offer and spent the next 20 minutes complaining about how weird his face felt with drying clay on it. Some springs in the area produce natural mineral water and we sipped this from large leaves before Tom washed the clay from his face. Overall the park was small but well done. Anywhere dedicated to the preservation of the lake and wildlife has got to be a good thing in my opinion.
As we headed back across the lake towards Catemaco town we stopped near two islands. Surprisingly these had two species of monkey, the first a scary looking fat one and the other a spider monkey.
The afternoon had been really lovely and as Tom was craving chicken we went on a mission to find some pollo asado (barbecued chicken), tortillas and some vege to turn into little taco type things. After licking our greasy fingers we went out for a beer. We had seen and walked past a tiny shop/bar often in the last few days so Tom wanted to try it out. I’m pretty sure it was the kind of place which didn’t often serve females, or tourists for that matter. But we sat ourselves down and ordered a beer. Quickly we attracted the attention of two local men who started quizzing us on our travels. Encouraged to order more beers we ended up sitting there for a few hours chatting away practising our Spanish. At the end of the evening one of the men said he had paid and we thanked him profusely. It was one of the stranger experiences we have had while drinking here.
The next morning was our last, we had ended up staying an extra night than expected as the hotel informed us the previous morning that after three nights the fourth was free. Always after a bargain we stayed on of course despite the impending expiration of our visas. The tour over the lake the previous day had definitely been worthwhile.
But it was time to leave and we ate a final breakfast before finishing our packing; farewelling the friendly ladies who worked in the hotel and walking towards the bus.
As on our first day we needed to get a small colectivo or bus back to San Pedro Tuxtla to the main bus station. Upon arriving we saw that our options we very limited and the only bus which was headed to Villahermosa where we had originally planned on was at about 9pm. There is no way we were going to wait around for eight hours and take a bus which would arrive in the middle of the night. Sitting down we discussed our options, we were quickly running out of time on our visa and we wanted to make it to the border in a unhurried manner. We decided that our best option was to jump on a bus 10 leaving in minutes back to Veracruz. After arriving there we could either over-night in a hotel or if the bus times allowed take another bus onwards to another destination.
We had the two hours on the bus back to Veracruz to assess our options.
If you want to see where we decided on travelling to next stay tuned for my next post!