As Villahermosa fell away behind us, we still had 157 miles to go just to get to our turn off at Acayucan. From there we were to leave MX 180 and head north, back up towards the Gulf and today’s destination, Catemaco.
The road through Tabasco is excellent, but boring. It took us another 2.5 hours to reach Acayucan. We passed, but did not take, the turn off for Coatzacoalcos and Minatitlan. In fact, they are oiling towns and there is nothing there for tourists. I only mention them because it is so much fun trying to say their names! About an hour before we reached the turnoff for these cities, we crossed into the state of Veracruz. Almost immediately the topography began to change. Fading away behind us were the flat scrubby fields of Tabasco. They were slowly being replaced with the rolling hills which lead into the foothills of the Sierra Madre. However, it would be a few days before we actually headed purposely into these majestic mountains.
We finally reached the turn off for Acayucan and left the freeway system behind and entered Mexico’s system of secondary roads again. These roads are always a crap shoot as to condition. They can be well maintained or so bad it is hard to get over 20 mph on them. One never knows. We located the sign for Catemaco and started the final 42 mile stretch of our journey to our destination for the day.
The road turned out to be one of the better ones but the going was slow just the same. The road continued to rise, heading towards more mountains in the distance. The drop offs, most unprotected, got higher and higher as we climbed. It was full of sharp, blind turns and long uphill stretches. Both of these were killers if caught behind a bus or semi. But usually there were two or more that one had to get by. Since they are so slow they tend to pack up. It is not unusual to get behind 6-8 of them at once. It can take hours to pass them all. After two hours of this, we reached the summit of a particularly long climb and the road turned to the left. It was here that we got our first glimpse of Catemaco shining below us.
The town of Catemaco actually sits on the shore of Lake Catemaco, an oval lake which is ten miles long and full of islands. The lake sits in the bowl formed by the high, rugged volcanic hills surrounding it. Even though we had to descend down out of the highlands to reach the lake, it still sits at an elevation of 1200 feet.
We located the town center quite easily and parked the car. We had decided that we would both visit the hotels listed in the guidebook and any others that may look nice. I guess B did not want a repeat of last night’s $88 splurge!
We finally decided on a hotel, checked in, parked the car in the secure parking lot and got ourselves situated. We wanted to take a tour of the lake and see the sights listed in the guidebook so we had to try to arrange that. There was no lack of tour hawkers down by the lake. We finally struck up a deal with one of them to take us on a private tour the next morning at 9am. They use those long boats called lonchas which the fishermen here on the island use. With my fear of being on open water, I knew this was going to be quite the adventure and take all my willpower to get into that boat the next day. But, I told myself, I was here for an adventure and I was going to have one!
We retired back to our room and took a well deserved siesta. We awoke later and got ourselves cleaned up to go out for dinner. There were several nice sounding restaurants listed in the book and we wanted to give one a try. I was especially anxious to try the fresh water perch, since that was the fish most often served as I grew up in Michigan. This lake is also famous for the very large, fist sized snails and eels. Both considered a wonderful meal by most people. Believe me, I memorized the Spanish word for snail and eel very fast! No way I wanted to try either of them! So off we strolled back down the slightly inclined road to the waterfront. Much to our surprise, not only was our first choice restaurant closed, so was every other restaurant along the waterfront! And it was only 9pm! Very early by Mexican standards.
Feeling like we were going to starve, we decided to head back to the square and see if any local restaurants were open. Lacking that, maybe some kind of store where we could buy something. We found one, just one restaurant open. But that was enough. Since this was to be our only dinner in Catemaco, I was very disappointed to see that they did not have perch on the menu. They had a fish fillet but the waitress said it was not perch, just a white fish of some sort. I ordered it anyway. And it was very good so I ended up not being disappointed afterall. B had swiss enchiladas. I was also pleased to be able to order a beer again in public! Bellies satiated, we headed back to the hotel for a decent nights' sleep.