Some might look at the evidence of our recent road trip (we can road trip now ’cause we bought a car!) and say “OK, epic fail on road trip test one”. Me, I like to think I am a ‘glass half full’ kinda guy and see it more as “an epic non-success”. Either way I’m sure you can surmise the general outcome of our recent journey down South. Down South being a small town on the furthest stretch of a narrow peninsula south of Tulum named Punta Allen.
Now the road itself does not cover that much ground and had it been a normal road, you know the kind that are flat, the journey may only have taken an hour. However the road to Punta Allen is not so much a road as it is a construction sanctioned by Satan to infuriate anyone who might make their way to the bio reserve that waits at its bitter sweet end.
There are many different ideas as to why anyone would leave a road in such terrible disrepair. Most seem to think that it is to keep the ‘purity’ of Punta Allen at a maximum. To deter all but the strong of will (and tours) from venturing to its end. Personally I believe that is a load of horse shit and it is just a case of no one wanting to pay for it. If it was about purity, you would just close it off and only let as many people through as you want.
The strong of will mentioned before tend to be those of us who cling to hope in the face of adversity. The hope that the road will improve as the hours pass, and the hope that by some miracle you will not have to make the journey back on the same road, knowing full well it is the only road there and back. Us strong willed folk also share the ‘road’ with the large tour groups being carried full tilt in off-road jeeps with screaming shocks and even louder occupants. So much for the purity theory.
So how bad is the road? I would not be exaggerating if I said it is the worst road I have ever been on. It is worse than the shocking road I took in the hills of China. It is worse than any of the roads any of the buses I have taken in any of the countries I have traveled to in my entire life. It is not that the road is dangerous, or that you cling to cliff sides precariously while your life flutters before your eyes. It is far more nefarious than that. It is the world’s number one most infuriating road ever, full stop (and another full stop here ->.). <- and there
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSsyQF81AIY?rel=0]Full Speed!
For somewhere between three to five hours, depending on how much stress you are willing to put your car through, you bounce, non stop, at around 10 – 20 km per hour, from one pot hole to the next as your stomach muscles and back strain to keep you from toppling into a sorry heap of mushy tears. I am just grateful I have this enormous stomach muscle keeping me upright.
I’m not talking about the sort of potholes you can drive around. Or the ones that feel like a little bump when you go over them. I am talking about foot deep, half the road wide, two alongside each other, one right after the next potholes. Sometimes to mix it up you get giant potholes with potholes in them, or jagged rocks which threaten to pop your tires. This goes on for the entire distance. Just when a ten meter stretch of road promises that things are improving, it gets even worse than before. The point is, this road has been forsaken by all the Gods and makes this place not worth going to unless you can fly there, boat there, or plan to stay there for the rest of your unfortunate life.
That’s enough about the road, what about the rest of the day?
Anyway, now you know the road was bad (I assume I got the point across), how was the rest of it? Well for the most part it was pretty good. We started the day off with a stop in Tulum and a swim in the beautiful clear ocean. Then we jumped back in the car and on a whim decided to make the journey to Punta Allen, at 14:30 in the afternoon. I think subconsciously we had made some decisions at the same time as we made this one to head down South. We knew we did not have enough money for a hotel, and we knew we would not make it out before dark. As such I think we knew we were going to try and spend the night in the car. It was a nice idea, in theory.
So onto the road from hell we popped, and at first it was fine, the surroundings are eu-natural and interesting to look at, and every now and then a deserted beach or part of the lagoon pops its head out from the jungle. We even stopped and had some fairly delicious prawn tacos. About an hour in we stopped on a bridge where the locals were fishing and watched an alligator watching us from below. OK, so no swimming in the lagoon.
Another two hours and we were pulling into Punta Allen. A small town with very little going on. Of course there is very little going on! It is mission impossible to get there and no one ever goes back. We wandered around the town for an hour or so, and then made the decision out loud to spend the night in the car. OK so we had to accept it wouldn’t be that comfy, us being a bit sandy and sweaty and all, but we had mints to replace a toothbrush, a tap for washing our dirty bits, and enough money for dinner and breakfast. As the sun went down we scouted somewhere to park for the night and decided outside a restaurant on the beach would be good. We could go have dinner and then retire to the car for a bit of light reading and stargazing through the sun roof. Perfect.
As I reversed the car into its resting place for the evening, coming round to the thought that the evening might just be a bit of fun. I felt the wheels start to sink and slowed to a halt. “Hmmm, I’m sure its OK but lets just go forward a bit” I tell Sarah. As I rev the engine we stay stationary, hmmm. I rev again and feel the back wheels sink. My heart starts to slowly come to terms with what my head already knows, we are stuck, bummer. We climb out and find the back wheel buried in soft sand, double bummer. A few more attempts which make it worse and we realize we are well and truly stuck. After a lot of face pulling and wild gestures a man comes over to help. I spend the next half hour digging out sand, putting planks under the wheels, reversing, revving, and going nowhere.
At this point I am covered in sand and sweating like hell. The sun has gone down and I am covered in mosquito bites, things have well and truly taken a turn for the worse. Suddenly a fella pulls up in the biggest pickup you have ever seen, ties a rope to the front of our car, and drags us out, just like that. We thank everyone involved and move across to the restaurant. Sandy with nowhere to go, but at least with the ability to.
We are tied in to staying now as it is pitch black and, well you know about the road. So we have an amazing dinner of fried fish and octopus in garlic butter before going wandering around the town (now smothered in mosquito spray, and sand which sticks to the mosquito spray). We procrastinate and watch what little life constitutes this sleepy town go by. A couple food stalls are set up in the square and the owners sit watching TV waiting for the trickle of customers to show, in all about 4 for the entire evening. The local kids group by age and sit around in veritable silence. Not smoking, drinking or being violent, basically not acting like any kids I know.
Eventually at about 11pm the lights in the restaurant go out and we make our way to the car. We roll out the mattress thingy we bought and climb in, sand and all.
It is hot.
Even though it is cool outside with a lovely breeze, the car is stuffy as hell. We fit nicely and it is fairly comfy on our mattress, but God is it hot. We open the windows and doors and a beautiful breeze blows through. In case you didn’t know I am South African, and as such paranoia flows through my veins. I tell Sarah I will stay awake in the front and she can sleep with the doors open. At first she protests, but knowing how unreasonable I can be quickly gives up and tries to sleep while I peer up through the sunroof.
A couple hours pass and all the town lights go out. Occasionally an army car drives past and I duck my head down not wanting to draw attention to us. All seems to be going well, I am tired and bored, but at least we are being left alone (aside from a big barky dog that keeps walking past). Suddenly the wind dies down and I hear it, “bzzzzzz”, I slap my ear in the universally accepted fashion for dealing with mosquitoes in the dark. Another “bzzzz”, another slap, and I accept the inevitable with a “ahhh man!” We have to close the windows.
Sarah has not managed to fall asleep despite my gracious, if failed, attempt at being a silent watchmen. She acknowledges a bite and says “Well that’s it, lets go back.” We had previously decided against this because of the road from hell. But now with the options of the road or another 6 hours of sitting in the dark in a stuffy car, we throw everything in the back, close the windows, crank the AC and make our way towards the exit of Punta Allen.
The journey back is a lot worse than the journey there, and somehow takes about five hours. We laugh at first, joking and remaining pretty jovial about the whole thing. But three hours or so in the frustration hits. The constant bouncing and wheel whacks, the inability to drive with any speed, and the knowledge that we still have so far to go turns things sour. By the time we leave the horrible road with cries of “hallelujah Jesus” and “Thank fuck for that” I am asleep on my wheels as we make the final hour of the journey along the highway back to Playa.
We get home at about 06:30 in the morning, shower and crumble into bed grateful that it is over and with a new found hate for people who think it is OK not to fix a road. But the main thing is that we had some fun times, some great meals and met some cool people. We figured out that the car doesn’t like driving in deep sand, that it handles bumpy roads pretty well. And that I will never ever again go to or recommend anyone else go to Punta Allen. If that’s what they wanted, well kudos to them, they have it.
So road trip test number one: epic non-success. Bring on road trip test number two next week for a visa run, Belize and border control. Yay!
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