We finally reached Champoton, which also signaled the end of the freeway system for us for a few days. We continued on MX 180, which hugs the gulf coast all the way to Ciudad del Carmen. We came out of the hills and sandstone cliffs to get our first glimpse of the Gulf of Mexico off to our right.
The road kept descending until we were driving at or below sea level. There were flat, dirty sand dunes between us and the water. At times, however, the dunes rose up to block our view and the road dipped down to below sea level. As evidenced by the debris that was everywhere in the ditches, the water had more than once crossed the road along here! I think there must have been some erosion along this road since Jaimie and I drove it in April 2004. At times the road veered crazily towards the water and we drove right on the edge of the water. Only feet between us and the Gulf. I thought at times that the waves were going to come crashing onto the road, pushing us into the big ditch on the other side. Or worse, carry us out to sea! Of course, neither of those things happened. But they could have!
We had changed drivers again at Champoton so, much to my great dismay, it was I who was driving as we came around a rather sharp corner and had to stop to pay a toll. I thought it strange that there should be a toll booth here since this was not a freeway. Almost all freeways in Mexico are toll roads. Then I saw it! The much hated two mile long bridge that separates Isla del Carmen from the mainland! Some of you may remember in my trip with Jaimie how much I hated this low, dangerous bridge. Oh well, nothing to do but head out onto it. As I white knuckled the steering wheel, B kept himself entertained by asking things like, "So when does is bridge get scary?" or "This bridge doesn't seem that bad to me." Of course it didn't. He does not share my fear of water. So it shouldn't have bothered him to cross it. Duh. But we made it across and I must admit, my fear of it was not as great this time. Maybe because I had done it before? Maybe because it was a Thursday afternoon and it was not crowded with fishermen? Who knows. I am just glad my heart was still beating when we reached the welcoming shores of the island.
Isla del Carmen is a 36 kilometer (22.5 miles) long sliver of an island. It mostly serves as a breakfront for the huge bay, Laguna del Terminos. It protects it from the pounding of the Gulf waters. There is one road in, one road out, and it too hugs along the Gulf for most of the way. I think they do that to conserve on land so people and businesses have a place to go, instead of being split down the middle by a road.
There are a couple of little built up areas as you travel toward the other end of the island and downtown. Mostly little straw-roofed restaurants selling fish and shrimp. Some look quite nice and inviting. Others I would not touch with a ten foot pole! Remembering that these restaurants exist was to come in handy later in the trip.
We finally entered downtown, Ciudad del Carmen, proper and started looking for a hotel. There is nothing in CdelC to make it noteworthy or really even to stop for. Therefore it is not listed in any guide books so our Lonely Planet was of no help to us. I did not want to stay at the same hotel Jaimie and I used because it was too far from downtown. Our good friend here on the island, Terry, had also stayed at CdelC when she brought her car down. She had given us the name of the hotel where she stayed and we eventually did locate it. Again, way too far from downtown. We did not want to have to get the car out after dark nor did we want to be dependent upon taxis. We just wanted to walk wherever we wanted to go. We really felt no rush because it was only 5:30 pm. We had made excellent time this day, driving only 9 hours since leaving Cancun. We found a nice, clean, safe looking hotel and we parked in front to enquire about a room. Since my Spanish is a bit better than B's, but not all that good by a long shot, I was sent in to see about getting a room while B stayed in the car and "protected" it! I think he just wanted a chance for a cigarette. I had quite smoking again about 5 weeks before this trip and would not allow him to smoke in the car. (Ok, so at times I did give in to high stress situations and light one up, but I still considered myself a non-smoker)
I negotiated a room and registered and paid before going back to the car and driving it into the secured parking area attached to the hotel. I had a rather rude awakening when he passed the bill across the counter to me. It seems that I had understood him to say 88 pesos when in fact he had said 880 pesos! If I had stopped to think about it, I would have realized that no way could it have been 88 pesos. That is only $7.97! So we ended up in a very fancy hotel in a very fancy room. We were not budgeted for $80 a night rooms so this had to be a one time treat.