I stopped at the last pineapple stand at the last tope. 50 pesos (US$3.85) for three very plump pineapples and another 10 pesos (US$0.77) for two pint bottles of orange juice. The pineapple prices were marked so I didn't argue the price but managed to talk down the fresh-squeezed orange juice to half price. It was there I learned my camera had died for good. So much for a pictorial of my escapades.
The route north was uneventful and rather boring so it was with pleasure I made the right turn toward Mahahual, just 50 kilometers away as the crow flies. It's just a two-lane road, nothing fancy but in good repair, and even less traffic than on HWY307. And straight as an arrow though irregular, even "wavy" at times giving an interesting rocking sensation to the car. One turn changed my easterly progression to southeast as I left the top end of Laguna Bacalar and the Bay of Chetumal behind and to my right. The land on either side was a mixture of swamp and savannah with green "islands of trees" in the distance similar to low-lying Mayan mounds. The power lines and I forged our way toward to the coast.
Speed limit here is 95 Km/H (60MPH) all the way but the road is in good enough repair that the four cars on the path pushed it a little more. Through the military checkpoint and onward I drove. About 5KM before Mahahual is the turn to Xcalak. Although I left a bit later than planned I had made good time and so took the right hand turn to Xcalack. Less wide, this road wound through the swamp and in places the jungle was trying to take back it's rightful territory. I'm now driving through some of those "islands of trees" and am enjoying the scenery much more. In one place the trees meet over the road creating a short but pleasant tunnel effect. The power lines rejoin me and we head past the turnoffs for the small villages of Punta Herradura and Xahuayxol (pronounced something like "Sha-way-shol").
The turns in the road were a pleasant change from the boring straightaway before. Making it even more interesting were the occasional "swamp chickens"...a sort of Coot I think...that crossed the road and tried somewhat successfully to fly off as I approached. Though they had wings they flew about as a far as a farm chicken hence the moniker I gave them. Of course now I'm heading back toward that threatening cloud I had left behind an hour and a half earlier. The drizzle started. As did the potholes. Fortunately traffic was practically non-existent so the whole road was mine to avoid the mini cenote-wanna-be's.
At the T intersection I had a choice between La Aguada, a small village on the Chetumal Bay side of the peninsula, and the airport or left to Xcalak. Xcalak it was. And the road ended.
Only 10 Km or so north of the Belize border that is Bacalar Chico and the northern portion of Ambergris Caye and about 33 Km WSW of Sarteneja in Belize. Yes, I'm even further south by about 33 Km than when I left Calderitas!
There's not much to Xcalak. At least, not now. During the 1900s, the area became a major population area, with a significant production of cocoa that reached up to 300 tons/month. I was told the 1955 hurricane wiped out all but 16 of the 300 inhabitants that decided not to evacuate. Current population is about 350-400 I'm guessing by the buildings and activity but industry is nothing more than tourism and supporting those who support tourism. The "roads" are (poorly) packed sand and with all the rains these past four months you can imagine that getting through town is quite the adventure. The Navy was present on the beach..."Operation Saluda Vidas" ("Operation Salute Lives"...I would have though Salvas Vidas...Saves Lives more the point but I didn't ask).
I stopped and talked to the folks at XTC Dive Center and look forward to returning for some diving along the reef, just a few hundred yards offshore, or Chinchorro Banks, about an hour's boat ride to the northeast. Their dogs came to greet me and they spent my entire visit sniffing my pants. "Scent of Joey" (she's in heat) kept their interest. They got the required scratch behind the ear though I found out too late one of them had had rolled around in a pile of dead fish. Fortunately the washroom was nearby and very clean. They accompanied me to the car and seemed disappointed to not get another head rub.
If you want a place that is "muy tranquillo", Xcalak will provide. It's not the cleanest town, lots of trash strewn about in many of the yards and along the streets. All the buildings in various states of disrepair. I noted three little tiendas offering the basics in fruits and veggies. I'm sure everyone eats a lot of chicken. The one pig I saw will need at least 6 months of good food itself before it could provide meat for a family. A weather-worn abuela (grandmother) and her two little nietos (grandchildren) were hauling their day's purchase home. I added to their burden with one of my pineapples. Very happy they were. "Bucket gas" signs make up for the lack of a Pemex station anywhere near.
I drove north, more or less along the beach, until a couple of dogs let me know in no uncertain terms that I was in a dead-end and needed to go back. I had reached an area where private houses now occupied the waterfront. I crossed a bridge over a mangrove area and continued north until the "swimming pool" across the road. My current ride was not amphibious. Executing a perfect 8 point turn in the narrow road, I made my way back to "civilization".
Definitely a remote destination and I'm sure one of those little towns where the bars are well-attended for lack of other activity. Xcalak is one of those places where the pavement ends, literally and figuratively.
I left Xcalak and headed northwest slowing when passing once again the "landfill" on the side of the road where some workers had stopped. Looked like a lot of plastic rather than trash and it was right along the side of the road where it could wash out at some point. I passed the stretch of road where tree trunks, less their branches, had been overtaken by vines and looked like giant green statues in the swamp. I left the villages of Xahuayxol and Punta Herradura for another day. It was raining once again and I pressed on for Mahahual.
Back at the original road and the turn for Mahaual, the rain was coming down. The lonely Pemex station was the beginning of development and the 5 Km to town went quickly. I passed on the turn off for the cruise ship port and stopped at the lighthouse for a look. Town to the right, cruise ship port to the left and the reef right there. Deep water was only a few meters off shore.
There's the beach with many tables and palapas or umbrellas, a walkway for bikes and pedestrians, and then the restaurants along the waterfront. Behind the restaurants is the main road into town. It's one way traffic by the restaurants and hotels necessitating a back road to get out of town.
Each restaurant had their touts on side of the street hawking the finest of food, the best prices, and beach dining. I opted for restaurant parking rather than leave the car on the street or in the soccer field. Although I'm told crime is very low, I'm not going to tempt fate any more than necessary. El Capitan Mono and a menu that advertised American Lobster vice the Caribbean Lobster won my attention. I was soon met by Stewart and we enjoyed a nice lunch on the beach. Not lobster but some excellent tacos. The prices were, as expected, a bit higher than Calderitas but not by much. Oh, the lobster by the way was Caribbean despite the picture and sold for 1.10 peso per gram. Yeah, like gold. Per gram. That's about US$38.50 per pound. Ouch!
Despite the lack of visiting cruise ship, the beach tables filled quickly. Mostly Mexican tourists come up on cruise buses but also individual families, often three or more generations together, came for food and a swim. The smell of salt water was in the air (I was reminded how much I missed that) and the soft sand under my feet. There were neither mosquitoes nor sand fleas but I did notice several of the lighter-skinned tourists sporting the tell-tale mark of sand flea bites. Not sure where they had been. But it was a cool day and I was wearing two shirts and jeans. I was more protected than normal even if still just sporting sandals.
After lunch, I gave Stewart his package from Chetumal and the second of the three pineapples. I walked along the beach and saw the usual assembly of tourist trinkets for sale. Right where I would turn around and head back was a bar selling beer at 15 pesos. Cheap, cold, and a good label. Perfect beer. Belly up to the bar for the lack of tables, I was soon invited to sit with Carol and "Nacho" (Ignacio) who were handcrafting some very nice jewelry and far different from the usual tourist junk I had seen before. He's Mexican, she's from Germany, and we had a nice international chit-chat. I left with a little something for the Wifey that I'm sure she'll like.
The back road out of town, on the other side of the soccer field, was in somewhat less repair. A local church had a Christmas tree made of plastic bottles out front and some tourists had stopped to get a picture. The houses, restaurants, and stores along this road were decidedly Mexican. No tourists here.
Heading back I noted once again how the return along a "new" road seems so much shorter than the first pass. Despite that, if I had to make this trip every couple of weeks for supplies from the big city, it would no doubt get downright boring. The boys at the military checkpoint earned the last of my pineapples. At Hwy307 I turned left and headed into clear skies and the reflected glow of the setting sun.