Hi, my name is Janice, and I’m addicted to showers. I know that I have a problem because my memories of our last three weeks in Mexico don’t revolve around the country’s history, food, culture, or biodiversity. They revolve around showering.
It’s quite disconcerting, really. Gregor and I drove through Chiapas and the Yucatan peninsula – a region full of ancient Mayan ruins, interesting colonial history, and jungles teaming with exotic wildlife. Yet what I remember most about the journey are events related to bathing.
This is the story of seven showers.
Early Warning Signs: Oaxaca to Chiapas
My obsession started on April 11. Gregor and I drove for 10 hours from El Tule, Oaxaca, to San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas.
We started in El Tule at an elevation of 1585 m and at a comfortable temperature of 23 deg C .
By midday, we dropped down to sea level along Oaxaca Hwy 190 in oppressive heat – it was 38 deg C inside the van. Gregor and I were absolutely sweltering.
When we arrived in the cool highlands of Chiapas state (2135 m), we were sticky from sweat and sea salt and felt chilled after the drastic change in elevation. I needed a warm shower.
San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas
We rolled into Rancho San Nicolas campground in the colonial city of San Cristobal before sunset. We were pleased to find that several fellow overlanders that we had met back at Overlander Oasis were also camped there: Martin (viaje.ch), Jacqui and Cameron (Follow the Wind), and Adam and Karen (This Journey We Call Life).
After exchanging hugs, we updated each other on recent driving routes and travel advisories. Then the topic of conversation turned to the showers at the campground.
“My shower turned ice cold after I lathered with soap,” Karen said, “You’ll want to be quick.”
“Take the shower on the far right,” Jacqui advised, “The hot water lasts longer there, but it still turns cold before I finish.”
I was determined to have a nice warm shower. So I came up with a plan…
I brought in a bucket to catch as much hot water as I could while I showered. Once the cold water started (Karen was right – it was ice cold!), I turned off the tap and finished with a lukewarm bucket wash. Cold water crisis averted! I thought I was pretty clever. Little did I know that I was already obsessed.
By the way…
Had I predicted that I was going to write about my addiction in this blog article, I would have taken photos of all the showers I used. Instead, I’ll show you pictures of the things we saw in between my showers.
The Buildup: Chiapas to Quintana Roo
Our next major destination was Akumal, located in the state of Quintana Roo. That’s where we were going to meet our friends, Gillian and Sasa (pronounced “Sasha”). To celebrate Gill’s birthday, they booked a week at an all-inclusive resort on the Mayan Riviera called The Grand Sirenis. We decided to smash our budget to smithereens and join then at the resort for Gill’s birthday week. To get there, we drove 1050 km in 3 days, stopping in Palenque, Merida, and Xpu-Ha Beach.
It took us about 5.5 hours to drive from the comfortably dry, cool climate of San Cristobal to the hot, sticky, humid jungles of Palenque.
Gregor and I decided to camp overnight in El Panchan, just outside the national park gates to Palenque’s Mayan ruins. We didn’t have time to visit the ruins, but the photo below shows that we definitely stepped into the Mayab (lands of the Maya).
El Panchan has several restaurants and cabanas buried in the jungle. The place had a really interesting vibe: “laid-back” and “mysterious” at the same time.
As we explored the forest we heard the eerie, echoing calls of howler monkeys. They kind of sound like the Sand People from Star Wars.
It was damn hot again – 38 deg C and 60% humidity. Gregor and I were dripping with sweat. And we were surrounded by biting ants. Despite the heat, I put on my leather fashion boots to protect against the ant bites and cooked up some dinner. I didn’t want our leftover chicken and rice to go bad. So, naturally, I made chicken fried rice.
There were no showers. A restaurant owner let us camp in his parking space for 60 pesos (4.70 CAD/3.90 USD). For that price, we had access to a toilet but no bathing facilities. Once again, the bucket came in handy. With one face towel and a bucket of water, we washed up inside the van.
The highways in Yucatan state are mercifully straight, wide, and flat, so we were able to drive a whopping 540 km from Palenque to Merida in one day. Unfortunately, it was another scorching hot drive. I desperately needed a shower that night.
With no idea where to camp, we decided to spend the night at a hotel – our first one in almost three months. A highway sign advertised air-conditioning AND hot showers at Hotel Itza for 350 pesos (27 CAD/23 USD). We had camped at many places throughout Mexico for almost the same price, and had neither air-con nor hot water taps. Hotel Itza also had secure parking and a restaurant on site that specialized in hamburgers. We couldn’t pass up such a sweet deal.
The bathroom smelled incredibly musty and for some reason had mosquitoes inside it, but the shower had great water pressure and endless hot water. We even had complimentary soap and shampoo! We were very happy.
Xpu-Ha, Quintana Roo
Xpu-Ha Mundo Chalio is a beachside campground located on the coast of the Riviera Maya. We chose to work there for a few days since it was close to the resort where we would be meeting Gill and Sasa. At first, our campsite seemed ideal – sand outside our van door, a nice sea breeze, a short walk to the ocean. But as we settled in we realized it wasn’t all that great, for several reasons…
1. Our Dutch neighbour, Mark, was a little creepy. He told us he is a shaman who travels to villages all over Mexico in his RV, administering an all-healing compound called MSS to the locals. We barely got to know Mark before he started telling us that the world is being taken over by massive corporations and extraterrestrial beings. Not that we don’t believe in aliens or corporate evil – it’s just that he brought it up really early in our relationship so it creeped us out.
2. Our campsite smelled like sulfurous gas. At first, we thought that our van was leaking propane, but it turned out that the campground’s sewage system was overflowing. Our nice sea breeze was acting like a fan that blew the smell of shit and piss into the van. Nooice.
3. The shower was the worst one we ever had in Mexico.
It was basically a pipe coming out of a tiled wall with no shower head but very high water pressure. When I turned the tap, a raging torrent of cold water shot out of the pipe and pummelled my face. This must be what it was like during the Civil Rights movement in the 60’s, I thought. Except the water was salty and was burning my eyes. For 3 days, I felt like a giant salt lick. I could barely wait for a proper shower.
The Climax: Grand Sirenis Riviera Maya
Akumal, Quintana Roo We slipped into vacation mode as soon as we checked into the Grand Sirenis all-inclusive resort.
The first thing I did when we entered our hotel room: I photographed the shower.
Check it out, people. EIGHT shower heads – SEVEN fixed heads PLUS a detachable spray hose. I shrieked with joy. Most people would head straight for the beach or the pool when they arrive at a seaside resort. I took a shower instead. That week, I had two to three showers a day. I was hooked.
The shower was just one of many highlights that week. Seeing Gill and Sasa again was truly the main highlight.
Another highlight was when Gregor got pulled out of the audience to participate in the “Mr. Sirenis” show.
Gregor and three other guys performed non-sensical stunts on stage in front of hundreds of people to win the title of “Mr. Sirenis”. In one of the stunts, Gregor sat in a chair and sang the word “Sirenis” for as long as he could with a single breath. While he sang, a Mexican woman repeatedly launched herself on his lap, popping balloons between her ass and his thighs. The contestant with the highest number of popped balloons before running out of breath was the winner. It was absolutely hilarious. In the end, Gregor won the entire contest based on audience applause. That’s my guy!
The top highlight of the week was Gill’s birthday (Apr 22, which is also Earth Day). We started the morning at the spa, with massages and a fancy hydrotherapy treatment.
After a healthy spa lunch, we headed for the party pool. What can I say…a few cocktails and suddenly we became THOSE people. You know, the noisy ones in the pool…and at the a la carte restaurant…and at the disco…and on the shuttle back from the disco.
Looking at our photos from that night was like watching the last scene of the movie The Hangover (“Geez, I don’t remember doing THAT!”). I’ll spare my Wolf Pack members and just show you this selfie from the lobby bar…
Thanks to the photos, we’ll never forget the fun we had with Gill and Sasa.
After a week of overindulgence, Gregor and I were genuinely looking forward to returning to “normal” van life…except for the showers. I wasn’t looking forward to shitty showers.
The Withdrawal: Lake Bacalar
Lake Bacalar is a large freshwater lake in Quintana Roo. Gregor and I heard that it is a divine place to swim, so we stopped at two places along the shore…
We drove down a narrow dirt road to a run-down RV resort called Laguna Azul. The place had dilapidated palapas (straw-roofed shelters), moldy plastic chairs, and unkept grounds. Despite it all, there was still a certain charm to the place.
What was surprising about this otherwise neglected campground was the state of the showers…
The shower stall was remarkably clean. It had infinite hot water, fantastic water pressure, and…a big bonus…multiple hooks for our towels and clothes! It felt like taking a shower in our house in Calgary. Gregor says it was the best campground shower we have had in Mexico. I agree.
Green Monkey Hostel
After a night at Laguna Azul, Gregor and I headed for the town of Bacalar. From here, you can see turquoise blue water reflecting from the white sand bottom in the middle of the lake.
We stayed at Green Monkey Hostel, a lakeside backpacker hangout with a communal kitchen, a porch with hammocks, and an outdoor shelter where we could comfortably work on our computers. We camped near the lake shore for 200 pesos (16 CAD/13 USD), including continental breakfast and free use of the stand-up paddle boards.
The cold-water shower had really low water pressure and didn’t drain at all. I had barely lathered up when dirty water started pooling at my feet. This kind of thing grosses me out, so I abandoned the shower and bathed in the lake instead.
Lake Bacalar was a nice diversion that helped me through the shower withdrawal. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still obsessed. But now I accept that there will be good showers and there will be bad showers. The next time I catch myself under a shower head with a head full of shampoo, soap in my eyes, and only a trickle of salty cold water dripping down on me, I can say to myself: “This, too, shall pass.”