November, 1976

Tulum was an untouched tropical paradise. But I was getting restless. Then Garry, a wheeler-dealer from Michigan, invited me along on a quick road trip to Austin. He was planning to buy a van-load of handmade Mayan hammocks.

November, 1976. Bought a van-load of Mayan Hammocks in Merida. Drove with Garry in his van to Austin where I sold them at a modest profit. Bought a beat-up 1959 International pick-up and drove back to Tulum. 6500+ Kilometers.

November 1, Monday: Another kick-back day spent lying on the beach doing nothing. Bought some beautiful specimens of black coral for 500 pesos. Expensive, perhaps, but rare and certainly not ho-hum. Perhaps I will make some jewellery out of it…I have some good ideas for designs. The diver I bought it from, Jorge, had the best collection I’d ever seen. Nice stuff. Getting a nice tan, played a lot of frisbee. Tough life.

November 2, Tuesday: Election day in the US. Big deal. Again, a sunshiny beach day. Ate breakfast in the village of Tulum…huevos and frijoles and tortillas. Typical Yucatec fare, 18 pesos. Tomorrow we leave for Merida, so lots of planning. Just kinda hung out all day, Bueno.

November 3, Wednesday: Senor Cocahuate, so the rumors say, is Prez-elect. Betty Ford breathes a sigh of relief. Kinda hung out at Tulum for the AM, packing and cleaning the van. Had to wait for all the passengers to get ready.

Finally left at 2.30pm. Nice ride down to Carrillo Puerto for some tacos and a visit to El Mercado. Then back on El Camino to Merida. Went through a few small hills before we got to the Quintana Roo / Yucatan frontier. A nice change of pace…no problems thru the border. On to Merida.

Passed through the Yucatecan countryside by the light of the rapidly waxing moon. The towns, once small, ill-lighted and few and far between started to come more quickly, looking more Spanish, in theory, than Mayan. At 6.30pm the people were in the streets. The road wound through Dziuche, Tekax and Muna, passing the plaza, the front of the ancient mission church’s façade, skirting the vendors and strollers. Then into the night again

The sun goes down rather early and twilight does not linger. The moon gave everything perhaps just the slightest hint of surrealism. The churches are not kept in the best of repair. Certainly not just another car-ride.

Soon we were in Merida. We dropped off our passengers, a Spanish artist and his Italian girlfriend at a hotel in town and Pepe off at his house. We drove to a trailer park on the road to Progresso. From what I saw of Merida it looked intriguing. Looking forward to tomorrow when I can check out some shops. Pretty cold at night here.

3 – 7 November. Drove from Tulum to Merida with Garry. Bought 130 Mayan hammocks for 10,900 pesos to import into Texas. Then headed along the Gulf Coast via Campece, Palenque and into Coatzacoalcos. 620 Kms.

November 4, Tuesday: Arose early and drove back into Merida. Garry had to go to the doctor so the rest of us looked around. The tiendas were incredible. A hand-woven wool poncho for 120 pesos ($4.80). A beautiful hand-embroidered long skirt for 250 pesos. Same price for a colorful long hostess-type dress. Jewellery cheap. What a fun place to shop. Very high class stuff for peanuts. Had a great time walking around. Went back to the Rainbow Trailer Park, our local base of operations, for a short siesta.

Went into town around 5pm and walked around some more. Merida is a nice old Colonial-era town. A big church, many government buildings, each with balconies and richly-decorated facades, surround the Zocolo, or Plaza. Just sat there, drinking in the atmosphere. If nothing else, Merida has atmosphere. Decided to go into the movies and saw two lousy flicks. Back to the Trailer Park.

November 5, Wednesday: Hung out in the van while Garry, Natalie and Pepe negotiated for the hammocks. Later on I bought a real sharp Panama Hat for 60 pesos and a fine shirt for 35. That hat is some nice.

Took a siesta back at the Trailer Park. Then back to Poblanas to make the big purchase. Copped 130 hammocks for 10,900 pesos. What a deal. Poblanas has thousands of hammocks. All sizes, weaves and colors. They should sell good in Texas. By the time we got them all sorted, boxed and loaded into the van it was 8p so we drove back to Rainbows. So far in the big deal everything is going well. I don’t want to make plans, but if we do this first deal a second one might eventuate.

6 November, Saturday: Got up and took a shower, felt a lot better. Packed the van with all out hammocks and drove into Merida to take care of some export visas. In town we found out that visa take two days to get. So we’ll have to stop in Vera Cruz for a couple of days to take care of it. A little bit more walking around and a good lunch. We were off from Merida at 3,30pm.

Rode down the Yucatan on Camino 180. A lot of low scrub, seems real dry. Through a few towns. Each town has a few speed bumps to keep down excessive speed. Seems like a good idea.

Got into Campeche around eight pm. Stayed in a trailer park. Canpeche looked like a neat old town, all surrounded by walls. Used to hear stories about Campeche from the shrimpers in Florida. Muy bien.

7 November, Sunday: Arose early and packed the van. Drove into the mercado in Campeche to do a little food shopping. Usual fun trip. Then off, down through Lerma Many new shrimp boats being built, both wood and steel. This town is a boom town because of the new 200 mile fishing trend that Mexico just joined. Now the US fleet can’t come in so the Mexicans will quickly fill the void.

The ride down the Gulf coast was extremely interesting. Some nice hills (completely lacking in the US Gulf Coast), even a lighthouse standing over rocky spit of coast, then inland. Scrub bush and very dry. Lots of cows. Reminded me a lot of central Florida. Soon, in the distance, we saw a ridge. That could only mean one thing. We were getting close to Palenque.

We skirted the foot of the ridge for about 10 miles then took a sharp left that led to a series of swithcbacks right up into the jungle. The air seemed to thicken and stillness pervaded the entire atmosphere. Another switchback brought us to the ticket seller. We paid and entered.

Palenque. Just like the pictures. Temple of the Inscriptions, The Palace, Temple of the Foliated Cross, The Crypt of Pacal. I’ve heard theories that Palenque was perhaps a center of learning for the surrounding area. Kind of a college town. Only spent a couple of hours there as we were on company time. A quick sandwich from the mercado a la Campeche veggies and we were off again, down from the aesthetic stillness of Palenque to modern day Mexico.

We drove on past Villahermosa, all the way to Coatzacoalcos. Passed a lot of oil refineries, many giant flames shooting out of the natural gas wells. Reminded me of Mordor.  Coatzacoalcos reminded me of Biloxi: trains, trucks, noise, etc. Stayed at a noisy, smoky trailer park.

8 – 10 November. Continued north to Veracruz and on past Tuxpan and Tampico. 750 kms.

8 November, Monday: Got up real early and hit the road for Veracruz. Was pretty rainy most of the day. Pretty interesting scenery and pretty country, but nothing real nice. Real lousy road. Mucho potholes.

Pulled into Veracruz and looked up the IMCE office. Turned out to be closed so we walked over to start the gears in motion to get our export visas. Alas, the guy wasn’t in and wasn’t due back ‘til 4.30. Typical.

Rock and Natalie knew of a place that served super thick hot chocolate right off the zocolo. It was very, well, elegant sipping chocolate a Espanol right next to the old cathedral in the middle of Veracruz. We just sat and watched and relaxed. On the way over we had passed a restaurant the looked intriguing. Also cheap…a five course meal for 28 pesos. I had consumme pollo, paella, enchallas, flan, coffee and bread. Muy Bueno and all for $1.12. No one can’t tell me that devaluation hasn’t had some effect.

Anyway, after eating we drove to a hotel on the beach that Rock had said was good and inexpensive. Checked in and relaxed a bit more. So at 4pm, feeling well-fed and relaxed, we set out to tackle the export office again.

We arrived at 4.30 sharp, but our man was still out to lunch. So we looked around the office. Then a man came in. We showed him our receipts and told him we wanted an export visa. No problem. He whipped out some stamps and officialized our receipts for export. That’s all he said. Bueno.

So back to the Hotel Simon Bolivar. Bought a bottle of wine and relaxed even more.

9 November, Tuesday: Got up and ate breakfast at a little café on the corner. Then over to the mercado for the day’s food then to the bank to change over money. Rate today 24.79. The ratee I cashed in on was 26.25 so I made 1.41 pesos on the dollar or 1128 pesos or about $45. Not bad.

The off to Tuxpan. The roads have gotten progressively worse since we left the Yucatan. The Veracruz countryside is very beautiful, lots of lakes, rivers, hills, very lush vegetation. Lots of horses and cowboy types. Pulled into Tuxpan after a short but rough driving day. Stayed down by the beach in a hotel, met some fun people.

11 – 22 November. Crossed the border at Matamoros and drove on to Austin, 1000 kms from Tampico. Sold my hammocks at a profit. Bought a 1959 International pick-up truck to drive back 3200 kilometers to the Yucatan.

10 November, Wednesday: Another day on the road. Again the scenery is very interesting. Went up by the Sierra Madre for the first time. Pretty big foothills, kinda reminded me of the Front Range in Colorado. Just real nice country. If Mexico is this nice, what is further south going to be like? Spent the night in a trailer park in Ciudad Victoria.

11 November, Thursday: Up at dawn. The sun rose over the smooth eastern prairie, lighting up the rugged Sierra Madre. Crystal clear in the first rays. However, the haze moved right in. By 8am you could barely see the tops through the a) smoke, b) smog or C) fog. Pretty low air quality.

Rolled out of the trailer park at 8.30 for the run to the border. Nice smooth, flat roads to Matamoros. No problem. Crossed El Rio Grande at 1.30 and drove right over to US Customs. Just a slight three-hour delay.

They gave us a rather hasty check and a little bit of red tape, but the outcome was quite acceptable to us. 25 cents per pound or 15% or about $1 per hammock. Then, ta da, back in the USA.

I had been in Mexico for almost three weeks. But when I go back it will be with more money and just a little more experience. I should be back over the border in three weeks. Depends on how well the hammocks sell.

Drove to a bar and got drunk. Went to a motel, we’ll start work tomorrow.

12 November, Friday: What a lousy day. It started out cold and rainy and got progressively worse. Nasty. It’ll really screw up our plans if the weather stays the same. Drove 300 miserable miles to Austin. Got in late and stayed again in a motel. It’s just too @#&%^ cold (34 degrees) to camp out.

13 November, Saturday: Scoped out Austin in the frozen AM. Rented a well-heated room for the week.

14 November, Sunday: Went to a rinky-dink flea market to try to hawk hammocks, but, alas, no deals at all. A couple of nibbles, but no bites. It’s just too (bleep) cold.

15 November, Monday: Went around to some shops in the Austin area. There are some nice stores around here. Got a couple bites. We shall see manana. A friend of Garry’s called and wants to buy 50 hammocks. All right, things are coming together.

16 November, Tuesday: Sold our first hammocks today, six chicas and six grandes for $180 to Oat Willes, a veritable landmark in Texas headshop lore. Then got a call from Garry’s friend who would wire the money for 50 hammocks tomorrow…we’ll ship ‘em UPS. Good deal. Saw Roy Buchanan at the Austin World Headquarters.

17 November, Wednesday: Got the cash and converted to Travellers Checks. $700 in American Express Travellers Checks and $100 cash. I’m fully paid back, the rest is profit. Saw Mark Lane talk about the Kennedy Assassination. Very interesting, right next to the Charlees Whitman Memorial Tower.

18 November, Thursday: Sold the rest of my hammocks to Garry for $410 cash. I’ll probably spend $150 getting back to Yucatan. A good deal. Didn’t make as much money as I’d wished, but it was fun. Also have six nice hammocks. Probably fly back on Saturday or so. So the Deal is over, transpiring back to Trips. Head south.

19 November, Friday: Tied up some loose ends in Austin. Bought some new gear. Crated my bike and dive gear again for the trip down. Might go by rail if the airlines are filled. What a trip. Got $300 more in Travellers Checks for a total of $1000 in TCs plus some cash. Looks A-OK.

20 November, Saturday: Another curve my way today. Bought a truck, a 1959 International pick-up, for $400. I might be able to sell it in Chetumal. I’ll put some money into it before I split. Looks good and runs OK. Leaks a bit of oil. Hope I can cover the distance to Chetumal. It’s a gamble, but worth it. Garry split so I’m back to basics. Get me, my bike and $1000 to Chetumal. Wheelin’ and dealin’.

21 November, Sunday: Took the truck to a shop today. Got the brakes bled. Tomorrow they’ll tune it up, get two new shocks and fix the loose transmission. Total cost: $100 (I hope). Perhaps Mexico manana.

22 November, Monday: Sold my last eight hammocks this morning. Got the title and registration to my new camoinetta all taken care of. All in my name. Muy bien. Also got a new pedal for my bicycle. All this by 1.30pm. I called up the truck repair place and, by golly, it was all ready.

So I rode my bike there and picked up my pick-up. Talked the guy down to $90. Runs real well. Went back to the motel, threw my gear in the back and left Austin at 3:10. The drive to the border was relatively uneventful. The truck runs great but it guzzles gas and oil like it’s going out of style. Two quarts every 100 miles and not even 10 mpg. Other than that it’s a champ.

Pulled into Brownsville, very cold and tired, around 1am. Stayed in a fairly nice motel, just a few blocks from Mexico.

23 November, Tuesday: Up at 8.30am. Went to the bank and changed $67 for 1500 pesos. The peso devalued again, but nobody knows what going on for sure. It’ll be interesting.

Went back to my motel room, threw my gear in the truck and hit the border at 9.30. Took about ½ hour to get my tourist card, auto permit, etc. No problem. Another grey, cold day. Drove through Matamoros, heading south. Lots of flat, empty, sage-filled countryside. Picked up a few Mexican hitchhikers along the way.

Started to rain about 100 miles inside the border. Bleah. Truck runs like a charm, but it is rather greedy. As night descended, travel got rather hairy. All the big camions would pass me and throw gallons of filthy water on my windshield where it would crust over and leave me totally blind.

But I managed to muddle through to Tampico. I was fried. Tired (ten straight hours of driving) and frazzled (two straight hours of sheer madness on less than comfortable roads). So I pull into the first motel I see in Tampico. Just my luck: it is a big, fancy place with a pool and phones in the rooms. Way over my head. But I was too zapped to move on. The price? 125 pesos, or $6. Ahhhh.

24 November, Wednesday: Another long driving day under less than ideal conditions. Left Tampico at 8am. Took the ferry over the Rio Tampico and took off. The road was terrible, yet with each bump my confidence in my new truck grows. It is a very rugged machine.

Hit Tuxpan before noon. Through some real fine country to Poza Rica. Green, hilly land sweeps both ways. Just beautiful. I bought a small vanilla figurine. Smells fine. Down right by the Gulf to Veracruz.

Started to rain around 3pm. Hard. Yecch. Finally made it to the Simon Bolivar Hotel where we stayed 16 days ago. Ahh, nice place. Agua caliente for $2 a night. Had a superb meal for supper. Shrimp soup, biftek al la Mexicano and Spanish hot chocolate. Ummm. Elegant dining. I might stay an extra day in Veracruz.  Just relaxing and seeing the sights. I’ll know manana.

25 November, Thursday: Spent a very leisurely day exploring Veracruz on my bike. First I went to the bank and exchanged a $50 Traveller’s Check for 1100 pesos. Looks like the peso might stay stable at 21 or 22 for a while. I hope so. If it devalues I stand to lose a bundle on my truck. But I’m a gambling man. Then to the Correos for some stamps.

Veracruz was founded by Cortez in 1519. It was his starting point on his conquest of Mexico. In the modern harbor, Mexico’s largest, stands the Castillo de San Juan de Ulla, complete with turrets, moat and thick masonry bastions. It was there that I spent the rest of the morning. Great view of a bustling seaport from the highest tower.

Took a nice siesta back at the Simon Bolivar, wrote a bunch of letters, etc. About 3pm I rode back into town and ate a superb four-course meal on the zocalo for $1.50. Not bad. Just kinda relaxed. I’m anxious to hit the road once again. It’s nice having both a truck and bike for getting around. Went to bed early.

26 November, Friday: Got up real early and hit the road. As I was leaving Veracruz I picked up a bunch of young students hitch-hiking to escuela. Then tragedy struck. A blow-out on my right front tire, the one I’d been worried about…rightfully so, as it turned out.

So I pulled off the road and looked for a jack under the seat. By golly, there was one there. But no lug wrench. Rats. Just about that time a teacher from the school that the students went to. Whaddya know, he had a lug wrench. So off came the tire, the spare went on and no doubt the kids had something to talk about all week.

Back on the road. About two hours later I started losing power going up hills. Hmmm. Pulled into a gas station. Damn, my fan belt was in two pieces. The Pemex had a few extras, but the wrong size. I had visions of riding my bike 15 kms to the next town when a little kid said that there might be more at a tienda near the station. So I rode down there.

Not only did he have the right belt, but it was the top one on his pile. Luck is with me. However, once I had ridden back to my truck and replaced the belt I found out my battery was way run down. So I had to get a jump, Mexican style. That entails a battery, two cables and a couple of people to hold the cables to the terminals. Varoom. Started right up. After many ‘gracias’ I was off.

Lots of driving, on into the night. Past Villahermosa, all the way to Escarcega. 15 hours of driving. Slept in the back of my truck next to the Pemex station in Escarcega.

23 – 28 November. Drove my truck back down the Gulf coast via Veracruz. Turned due east at Escarcega to visit the Mayan temples at Xpujil and Kohunlich. Then north to Tulum. 3200 plus kms from Austin.

27 November, Saturday: Up early to an excellent breakfast of frijoles & huevos. Then off to Chetumal. The road to Chetumal (280 kms) cuts right across the base of the Yucatan. I mean empty jungle. After the first 160 kms I was in Rio Bec country.

Ancient Mayan civilization flourished in this desolate country over 1000 years ago. Becan, Xpujil, Calakmul. I was only 100 kms north of Tikal. I stopped at the ruins of Xpujil. Three towers in the classic  Rio Bec type of architecture. Rounded corners, well-dressed masonry. A little bit of well-preserved sculpture. Bueno.

Down the road a new ceremonial center had been discovered, Kohunlich. I stopped in there. The place is huge…over 200 large and small temples. One of the temples is adorned with incredibly well-preserved stucco mascarones. Such consummate artistry I have never seen equalled, either in pictures or in museums. Five large faces peering out from either side of the temple. I talked to the caretaker, an old man. He told me a little bit about the place. There was a full crew of Mexican archaeologists working the ruins.

Back up the road. I was in Chetumal in no time, drove right on by. On to Carillo Puerto. Scarfed some of those superb tacos and tamales at that little stand next to the Pemex station. Yum.

Only 96 more kms to go. Up the road. 50 kms. 30. Then I was back. Tulum. Ahh, success. Saw my friends, met new ones. Me gusta Tulum.

After a few cervezas at Paraiso’s I drove down the road to a small turnoff overlooking the Mar Caribe. Set up my hammock on the bluff. Just relaxed. Like the relaxation due a weary traveller on the completion of a successful trip.

28 November, Sunday: A typical Tulum day. Lie on the beach. Swim, eat, play. Vey sunny. Having a truck has certain advantages I drove out to the cenote by the bee-keeper’s on the road to Coba. Nice clear, fresh water. Mu bien. Bought some food in Tulum pueblo. Just relaxed, met some nice people. Might drive to Belize and sell my truck there. Might drive to Isla Mujeres with Pepe manana. Never can tell. I like Tulum.

29 November, Monday: Another typical Tulum day. The sun always shines here. I’m getting my sun tan back. I don’t spend much money here and I have met some nice people. I can’t see any reason to move on, at least not quite yet. No rush to get to Belize. Time just glides by. However, the Bay Islands might be nice, too. I will eventually leave one paradise for another. Es bien.

30 November, Tuesday: Lousy night last night. Many bugs and very damp. My hammock is bogus also. Cloudy day. I was talking to Roger, a real good guy and he expressed a desire to see Belize. I was ready. I said ‘Let’s go’.

Said adios to Tulum and resumed my trip. Stopped in Carillo Puerto for more tacos and gas. Then on south, to the bridge. Stopped at Mexican Aduanas and it cost us four dollars each to get out. Robbery! Es Mexico. Over the bridge to Belize.

Walked in, showed them my papers and cash. The customs man looked them over and stamped my passport ‘ineligible’ because of my long hair. Wow, what a curva peligrosa. Roger was able to get through, but not me. So he went on. No amount of hints of bribes could make him change his decision. I wasn’t to go to Belize. Oh well. I turned around and drove back across the bridge and on towards Chetumal.

Drove right over to Lorenzo’s house in Caldaritas. Lorenzo is a used car dealer. I arrived just in time for dinner. Muy bien.

After supper we drove over to a friend of Loreonzo’s to try to hawk my truck. I wanted 15,000 pesos. Too high, they say. We’ll come back manana we say. Right now is kind of a bad time to sell trucks. Taxes are high and money is tight. The peso is fluctuating wildly. But, if luck is with me…

Back to Lorenzo’s. I helped them fix their TV antenna. Es bien. Parked my truck in their yard and slept next to it.

Well, El Trucko made it. 1970 miles in one week, 3200 kms. Now all I have to do is sell it. Lowest I can go is 10,000 pesos ($500). Then, who knows. Perhaps I will fly to Flores in Guatemala. Never a dull moment. Es bien. Might try to cross into Belize again with different ID. We’ll see manana.

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