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Cascadas El Chiflón and Lagunas de Montebello

The email notification/reminder for my Sunday 12-hour tour indicated a 7:30am pickup at the hotel, so I was up, cleaned, and ready in the lobby at 7:15. By minutes before 8, I was frustrated enough to call the service provider, to be told the driver would be there in minutes. He picked me up at 8, without apology or comment, grumpier than me. His name was Johnny, and he’d already picked up an older Mexican couple, so I got sent to the rear 3 seats. I took the end seat as I need legroom. The next pickup was a younger Dutch couple, and the driver tried to put them in back, but he was as tall as me, and wouldn’t have it. They sat in the row behind the driver.

The final couple were Mexicans in their thirties, and Johnny put (crammed) them into the front seat. Off we headed to the southeast to La Cascada El Chiflón. Over those two hours, it became evident that Johnny was an excellent but aggressive driver, not a conversationalist (no English). He pulled into the parking area, backing in under a tree and opened the van door. Some Spanish, and we were dismissed. I asked to hear him in English, and “no inglés” was the reply. Fortunately, the Dutch woman had English and some Spanish, so I found we had 2 hours to explore, that the food services and restrooms were up the river. As you can go up either side of the water, with no option to cross to the opposite, it would have helped to be given some guidance. (Yes, I was still grumpy.)

Starting at the base parking lot, I went up the left side of the rapidly moving stream. Dense foliage and concrete walkways, stairs with railings, I gradually climbed while scoping out the vegetation. The aqua water looked like rapids, wending its way around rocks and trees, fingers of land redirecting the stream. Tourist explorers would pass me, and I saw similar groups heading up the opposite side. I actually hoped to be able to cross so that my descent would give me an alternate vantage. Signs prohibited swimming, but that didn’t stop some of the younger folks.

There was a sense of déjà vu, reflecting back to my many trips to hike Vernal and Yosemite Falls in the California National Park. Warmer, and different vegetation, but still that mystical connection to nature seeped in and began to mellow me. Reaching the lower, shorter falls, I pressed onward and upward, enjoying every vista. I passed couples canoodling at the waterside, and both zipline venues. As the roar from the “Bridal Veil Falls” (Velo de Novia) grew louder, coming around the bend to see the splendor of so much water pouring through the gap and down nearly 200-feet left me stunned.

At the observation deck, a staff person offered to allow me access to the path to the very top – which had a sign indicating another 30 minutes of climbing. As I was an hour into the visit, I knew I had to begin my descent. Next visit?

The walk down was a bit easier, however I did get behind an older gentleman, with an Oz accent?, who was descending slowly due to hip replacements, bad knees and arthritis. He stubbornly refused any and all assistance, saying he’d climbed up and could get down. I finally slipped around him, and contemplated the zipline descent as a way of getting to the rendezvous sooner, with a bit of thrill. However, unlike on the way up, there was a queue awaiting getting suited up and sent off, so I continued to work my way down the waterside path.

At the base, I checked with the driver, and the promised water was not to be supplied, so I returned to the concession stand and got a bottle and a sleeve of cookies. Waiting at the van, I managed to make myself understood, as I offered to swap places with the younger Mexican couple, as the front passenger seat didn’t look big enough for them. They were very pleased with my offer.

Ninety kilometers and ninety minutes later, after passing through La Trinitaria, we entered the Parque Nacional Lagunas de Montebello and the launch at Laguna Poloj. A rough dirt road took us from the highway, as we slowly descended over stones and potholes through a forest of tall trees to a parking area. Los servicios offered use of facilities for 5-pesos, and a string of open concessionaires offered meals and crafts. Down at the water’s edge, pontoons of long logs tied together with blocks of wood for seating offered yet another tourist experience.

On our drive in, I’d been fascinated by the preponderance of bromeliads that climbed the trees. Many were huge, with remnants of recent blooms, looking like air plants. The trees looked to be seventy-feet tall, mixing hardwoods and pines. Along the road the ground foliage was dense. I wandered back up the road as I enjoyed checking it all out.

After our 40-minute break, we were driven to the shores of Tziscao, its lake, and the so-called International Lake. Actually a pond, the latter straddles the international border with Guatemala, and with a stroll through tents proffering trinkets, a walkway climbed to the overlook and a monument demarking the political line. Similar tourist material was being hustled on the southern side, so I took a stroll and probably should have grabbed a Guatemalan beer. Our visit was limited to 20 minutes, so I returned to the parking area with the cohort, and we were soon off to the next and final stop.

The last lake to visit was, in translation, “five lakes”, a single body of water that had an undulating shoreline, as a hand with five fingers. We made a brief stop here, before starting our return through Comitan and Teopisca to San Cristobal.

I’d seen a concrete cone construction on our way in, and hoped to get pictures on the return, but only had my phone ready, and my picture really doesn’t help explain what they were built for. In any case, the first two hours of the return moved along swiftly, however the last hours was a crawl, delayed a bit for an accident, but facing Sunday evening traffic. In addition, the roadway through smaller and larger towns seemed to have the speed bumps about every 100-300 meters, so the van (and every other motorized vehicle on the road) had to come to a near halt to slowly advance over them.

The two Mexican couples were dropped first, then me, leaving the Dutch couple for last. I was hungry for “junky Mexican food”, so asked at the front desk where I could find nachos grande. The suggestion sent me down to the French square, and then to an inside mall with several dining venues. There I was directed next door to 1528, where, with a Michelada made with Dos Equus amber, I got a chorizo nachos platter. A sports bar, like most restaurants in town, it was perhaps a quarter filled. The food was decent, filling, and I didn’t finish. The blight of all tourist town, begging children with big eyes, were making their rounds looking for small change.

Back at the hotel, I checked WhatsApp to see if there was any work on a cooking class the following day. I dug into my emails and checked on whether I could book my Covid test that I needed for a return to the USA. That looked like I needed to try again on Monday or Tuesday.


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