Yucatan: The Popular Peninsula

On our trip so far, we’ve lamented not meeting as many other overland travelers as we thought we would. I think reading the blog of Travel Amateurs gave us an unrealistic idea of the density of fellow deadbeats. A combination of timing and our penchant for camping miles from anything along roads nobody should drive isolated us a bit from our road-living peers.

We’ve met plenty of people- Retirees, surfers, fishermen, and locals of course; but connections with travelers headed south along the PanAm were few and far between. That is, until we reached the Yucatan Peninsula. Since Cancun, it has been rare to NOT share a campsite with another rig loaded down like the Clampetts’ Oldsmobile. Driving down the road we commonly see Toyota’s and Land Rovers with pop-tops or rooftop tents. We oogle each other’s rigs while simultaneously waving excitedly, making new friends in seconds without speaking a word or letting off the gas.

In Cancun, we happily gave away our coveted flat (free) spot near the public beach to a pair of French climbers in a 70 Series Camper (who’s kick ass button we can’t find, so if you guys are reading this shoot us your contact info). Later, we met up again with Michael and Antia (and their beautiful basset Hessie) who we first met way back in Baja. Taylor’s visiting sister Chyanne was a bit confused at first, when a lanky German bounded from a gigantic converted fire truck to distribute hugs in a deserted gravel lot. 

On our way out of town, we passed the furiously waving French again. Days from where we’d seen them first.

Returning to our first Cenote from a week before, we shared the barnyard camp with an Aussie/NZ couple from the States (IE- they still have accents, but drive a Chevy and cook a mean grilled salmon and mashed potatoes). The next night, at yet another awesome Cenote, we met Celine and Daniel of www.break-a-way.net, also heading south to penguins.

We even struck up a conversation at the Chichen Itza ruins after Taylor spotted a well-equipped Land Cruiser pull in a few cars behind us. Turns out they had seen our truck too and immediately guessed who we were when I introduced myself. The girls rolled their eyes, but patiently put up with the inevitable and repeating conversation about tires, fuel economy, and police stops I have with each and every fellow traveler we meet on the road.

When we were farther North, our truck and camper tended to blend in with the other vacationing CanAmericans and snow bird retirees in RVs. As we’ve distanced ourselves from the US border, American’s in RVs have become an anomaly. That combined with our snazzy new graphics help us stand out a bit, letting other overland travelers know we’re part of their tribe.

The graphics even earned us some hugs and a few beers. After doing a lousy job parking in front of a bar we were accosted by two Texans. They had googled us while I completed a 30 point turn in front of their table and wanted to snap a few selfies. By this point, Chyanne is convinced our life is all free beer, campfires, and pictures with strangers. I can’t really argue.

After dropping Chyanne at the airport, we headed South again. With no real goal but to drift toward the Belize border, we stopped to buy groceries in Playa Del Carmen, but spotted a brewery across the street. Initially planning to just drive through the area, we decided to stick around when we discovered the Carmen Beer Company wouldn’t open until 4pm.

Jeffery, the brewery owner turned out to be a lapsed overland himself. After riding his bicycle from New York to the Yucatan, he settled in Playa to bring liquid joy to the masses. After talking with him for an hour or so we decided to take his  I advice and spend a few days in the area. We had to do our taxes anyway and figured our freshly filled growler would make the filing process less painful.

While Playa del Carmen certainly is a tourist center, we found its walkable design and prodigious expat community gives much of the town a more authentic and all around “loved” feeling than the larger vacation centers like Cancun, which we usually find stale and expensive.

We met Herb and Tracy in a bar downtown when he bought us shots to celebrate his birthday. We talked all through lunch and extended our stay in Playa yet another night in order to keep the good times rolling with dinner and (more) drinks. We fooled them into thinking we were interesting people so we could hear more about their perspective on life, which turned out to be remarkably similar to ours. We always enjoy spending time with couples who have been married much longer than us, because they are a wealth of valuable information and inspiration.

Plus, we’ve got a standing invitation to visit Michigan!

We finally tore ourselves away from Playa Del Carmen, but not before potting the French once more and stopping one last time at the grocery store where our detour began. 

We made our way down the peninsula where we stopped to camp in Buena Vista. Again, one night turned to four after being lulled by the beautiful location, cheap camping, and company of Mark, Victoria, and their son Joey of www.supernovabliss.com. Mark had also removed their truck bed and fitted storage boxes below the camper, so we were instantly interested in each other’s rigs. 

Paul of Paddle Bacalar wandered past our camp in the first evening and offered his services as a stand up paddleboard instructor and guide. One look at the glassy, turquoise water and we were sold. We spent the following days doing little mechanical projects on the rigs (including a string measured alignment for Supernova’s Tacoma), swimming, snorkeling, cooking, eating, and just sitting in camp drumming with Joey. Taylor even managed to squeeze in a workout with her new best friend. A 2-1/2 year old can do burpees!

We even squeezed in time to visit the old fort in Bacalar town and learn a bit about pirates of the Caribbean and the evolution of local politics, sovereignty, and trade. Plus we got some really cool pictures of cannons.

We certainly enjoy our solitude, but everyone craves the company of their peers, even if only occasionally. No one else really understands your motivations, experiences, and world view like someone who’s made the same (really poor) life choices. Young professionals who bailed on adult life for the chance to take cold showers with scorpions and sleep in parking lots are a small group, but there are more of us than you’d think.