After a somewhat mundane cycle through most of the Mexico mainland, life on the road has livened up a little.

The Chiapas region has it’s own identity, no doubt influenced by the Zapatistas and their desire for autonomy. And then of course there is Guatemala and El Salvador. Countries in their own right, ever since independence from Mexico in 1821. Why exactly Chiapas remained with Mexico rather than claim independence at the same time as the rest of central America (known as Guatemala then) I do not know.

So even though there was no border crossed on leaving San Cristobal de las Casas, it felt like being in a new country. It is hard to pinpoint the reason for this feeling, for when you are cycling and travelling slowly, the landscape changes only gradually. It is of course the people. More indigenous faces. More curious looks.

We ascended through pine forests shrouded in mist, with a fine drizzle confining those who could be, indoors. Hairy pigs tied on ropes scattered the long grass roadside. A flock of sheep were shepherded through the fields by two young women wrapped in warm clothing. Over a plateau and we descended in the hope of emerging beneath the clouds. But the mist only thickened and the rain persisted until early evening when we pulled off the road to camp in sticky red mud.

Thankfully the following day was drier. But with plenty of hills. We neared the area around Agua Azul, known for robberies of tourists, cyclists included. Whether it was the warning that made us wary, but our perception of the locals was one of mild suspicion.

Although it had been difficult finding places to wild camp on these roads winding round steep dense covered hillsides, we chances upon an old quarry. Careful not to pitch up too close to the steep side, we placed our tents on a dry patch of ground between two columns of marching ants, hoping they wouldn’t make a detour on our arrival and add to the other holes in our tents from earlier ant infestations. But these ants were under orders and didn’t deviate from their path, despite me leaving my food bag out as a deterrent from my tent. The line of ants was endless and going thick and strong throughout the night. Unless they were doing circuits…

Pleased with our campspot, but utterly shattered from the hills and being ill, we settled down to sleep.

Until at some dark hour a huge explosion rocked me alert and a bright flash lit up the tent. Heart pounding. Rubble falling. Then, silence. And darkness.

Heart still pounding. Brain kicks into overdrive. What the hell was that? Are people still mining this quarry? I listen carefully, do I hear something? Probably just the wind in the grass.

No, all is quiet. My mind is playing tricks. I lie quietly, but as the silence continues, my eyelids slowly close and I’m on the edge of sleep again….

But I hear something. Something near the tent. I peer out and see movement. Ok, time to say hello to whoever is here. But turns out it is just a dog. But is it a stray, or with a hunter? I shoo it off and try to sleep.

But first a toilet trip. I emerge from the tent and squat below the cliff face. I’m paranoid about the explosion and wonder if it was an old charge inadvertently detonated, and if so are there more? Better not to stray too far.

As I go back to my tent I see a light at the top of the cliff. And then it goes out. I watch for more movement. But nothing. I go back to my tent and try to sleep…

Rumble, and Crash. Thud.

Then silence.

A huge rock lands at the base of the cliff where I’d just been. Bloody hell, is there someone up there throwing rocks at us?! Surely not.

And then it happens again. And then, finally, Lars says, ‘What was that?’ Seriously. He thought he had dreamt the first explosion and had been asleep all the hours since. We take a look around, decide that the damp air and earlier explosion (which was probably much farther away) has loosened the rock face which is now crumbling. Are we at a safe distance?

Crash and Thud.

Shit, let’s move the tents just in case. An hour later we awake with the sun warming the tents and soon after we get company from a local hoping for a quick quid. Still utterly shattered, we pack up and begin the cycle to Palenque…

It is my birthday. Tired from a sleepless night. And Lars has kindly given me his man-flu. But we make it to Palenque and check into a cheap hotel. A well-deserved beer (in my opinion) and a much needed sleep.

The Mayan ruins have stood for centuries and would still be there in the morning…