Friday, May 22, 2009

3 Days in Lagos de Montebello

So, where to much has happened since the last post but I'll do my best to give some justice to the last 2 weeks, most likely posting the info in increments starting with the oldest.

After leaving San Cristobal, we caught a collectivo bound for the town of Comitan. The drive was beautiful, and we were able to see the terrain change as we descended in rolling waves of terraced landscapes, as we went from the highlands of San Cristobal to the lowlands of extreme southern Mexico which stretch to the border with Guatemala (where the mountains very abruptly begin again). In Comitan, we roamed the streets in search of another collectivo bound for Lagos De Montebello, and as every experience in Mexico has taught us, it's easy to get just about anywhere via public transport. Sure enough, we found another shuttle, and were off within the half hour to the lakes. Our challenge in the second part of our journey was to figure out where to get dropped off, because supposedly the (many) lakes were kilometers apart, and there was conflicting info in the guide book as to what area would work best in terms of a base camp for us. Reinforcing this challenge was the fact that most people do this excursion as a day trip through local tour companies because of the difficulty in getting between all the lakes. We asked around before leaving Comitan, and went with our best guess as far as where to get out of the know, there's the whole language barrier thing. Just as the sun was setting (we barely made it before dark), we arrived at a small village named Tsiscao where a joven (teenager) offered to take us to some cabanas that he knew of and we proceeded on a 20 min walk with our loaded packs to the location which ended up being right on the banks of one of the largest of the lakes in the area. Food was a little hard to come by as we quickly discovered and we ended up eating a meal provided by our cabana host comprised of eggs, beans and tortillas, which sounds good, but
it wasn't that good, and the ranchero sauce in the eggs kind of made me a little queasy. That ended up being our food situation for the next 3 days if we weren't eating potato chips from the tienda (small store). So food wasn't great in these parts, but the landscape was incredible, and we stayed an extra day because of it.

Day 1 at the lakes, we got up early and headed out on foot, determined to see the park by hiking it. We first hiked to the Guatemalan border which was only 1 km. away where a small lake called International Lake separated the countries and with no immigration officials to check our papers (...probably a good route if you were a smuggler). A cable was strung across the lake to delineate the border and we took some nice shots of the area including the one above in which we were sitting on one of those white pilons with Michelle in Guatemala and Mark in Mexico. After this, we went back to the highway, and decided to look for the real lakes on the Mexican side. We took the first dirt road off the highway (that wasn't on my map) and decided to do a little exploring. After a few kilometers we found our first lake, and the road dead ended here. Eventually we found a trail that looked like it would take us to other lakes on our map. The trail rose steeply and then decended to another lake (yay 2 lakes out of the way). We continued on the trail and looked in awe at the beauty of the vegetation and the primitiveness of it all, the trail itself was not very developed or used much. The trail rose even more steeply this time and longer, crested, and then decended again very steeply and after some careful descending we found another lake that was small, probably only 3 acres in size, but it was a beautiful turquoise blue and we had it all to ourselves. After scanning for crocodiles (you never know), we both enjoyed a dip and a nice dry off in the sun. After coming so far, we wanted to continue to the next lake which was on our map and would be a good destination because we could take a road back from there. I did my scouting thing and came back with info that there was a trail used by cattle that went up and over the next saddle which put us in the right direction. We took it, climbed up a steep trail and basically spent the next half an hour in a blackberry patch trying to find the right direction. The cattle took different paths in this thick undergrowth, and we tried about every imaginable direction. From this flat point, we could not only see the next lake, but we could hear people splashing around and talking, but we couldn't get there. It was frustrating because our only good alternative was to go back up and down, up and down the way we had come. We could have made it to the lake off trail, but then I was sure that we would be dependent on some boat or raft with the cliffs being too steep to accomodate any kind of trail around the lake itself. Before backtracking, we took some nice shots of cattle that we found in and amongst the thick undergrowth. Here is a picture of a calf sucking on his mom. He literally had milk dripping off his mouth. It seemed so rich and very raw from an experience standpoint. No person was there tending these animals. It was just nature in it's purest form. Moving on.....Disappointed and pretty scratched up, we turned back and went out the same way we had come in. Oh well. It was worth a try anyway, and we did see a lake that very few people get to....certainly the tour groups don't take their people there. Low on energy, Low on water, Michelle made the call at the highway to push on to the lake which we didn't make it to via the road this time (in the opposite direction of food and water). I went along, thinking it wasn't the smartest decision considering what we had already been through, and at this point, the day was also almost over. We speed walked, thankfully found a roadside cooking collective where the sweet lady made us flor de calabeza quesadillas and even gave us an extra one with just cheese without charging us. I think she saw how messed up we were. While there, a small tourbus came by, and we witnessed the cook charge some aparently wealthy latino women more for drinks than she charged us. It was really interesting to see the differentiation. We continued on, speed walking for another 4 km or so before we made it to the lake that we had originally tried to get to. It was too late to rent a kayak, and the prices were outrageous anyway, so we luckily caught a ride in a pickuptruck back to town. What a day.

Day 2 we were determined to see the portions of the park that we missed due to our misadventure, and right away we caught a collectivo at the highway on its way to the next lake turnoff. We walked the dirt road a few Km., and found probably the most beautiful lake of all, Lago de La CaƱada (as in the city near Pasadena, CA). We splurged, and after much negotiation, we managed to get a kayak for 1.5 hours. The water was turquoise and it was really neat exploring all the coves. We found a perfect rocky point and spent a good half hour of our time swimming and enjoying the water. The time went by quickly, and soon we returned the kayak and continued on back to the highway to get to our next lake. We caught another ride in the back of a pickup truck further to the next lake turnoff, and we were lucky we did because it ended up being really far down the highway. The next lake was Lago de Montebello, the largest of all the lakes. We struck up a conversation with a really nice off duty police officer who gave us a tip on a REAL trail that would take us from this lake to the next area of lakes that we wanted to visit. We took his advice, fended off some people that wanted to be our guides to caves and such, and headed out. This ended up being the HIGHLIGHT of our visit to the lakes and one of the best parts of the adventure was that we didn't see a single person along the way. The trail took us through some amazing terrain, past 2 Cenotes - the picture here with Michelle against the tree shows one of the Cenotes (One of the differences between Cenotes and lakes is that they are typically much deeper than a standard lake, and many times have underground passageways for divers), up a steep ridge with an awesome lookout tower, and down the other side to the watershed that contained the last of the lakes. The lookout tower, as they normally go, was awesome! There was a strong breeze at the top, and you could almost feel the thing swaying, but the view was worth it....we just tried to stay really still. On the hike down the other side of the mountain, we saw more interesting plant life including Orchids and more neat tree ferns. The final lakes were interesting, and I'm glad we made it, and even happier that we reached a road. At the end of the afternoon, the last thing we barely squeezed in due to daylight was a series of caves that were well worth the extra walk. We caught a ride back to town (we felt like pro's now at catching rides in this area) and strutted home, very proud (or well pleased) at what we had accomplished in one day.

Our last order of business in these parts was to visit a Mayan Ruin on the way out of the area, so we quickly packed up our bags at the hotel, and headed for the highway, hoping to make it to a hotel on the outskirts of the park before dark. Did Mark and Michelle make it to their next destination before dark? To be continued.........

In the next post I will blog about day 3 and our visit to the forbidden Mayan Ruin (really)!


  1. Ooh! A cliffhanger.... I love it!


  2. What an adventure!! I wish I could have experienced the adventure with you guys. I'm very jealous that you guys are seeing such incredible places and having great adventures along the way. I'm looking forward to Day 3. I hope your classes and studying are going well. You guys are awesome. Love you.


    P.S. Happy belated birthday Mark. Sorry for not sending an email on your day. How does it feel to be 35?