HOLIDAY DISASTERS

Determined to see some ruins, George Key chose to ignore all warnings and boldly drive through the Mexican jungle
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The Independent Travel
Having bought a van to get around, we - my best friend Danny and I accompanied by Amandine and Sophia, two European girls - decided to explore some of the more remote areas of south-east Mexico.

Chiapas is a troubled region, home of the famous Zapatista rebels. There is only one road in and out of the still deeply jungled areas bordering with Guatemala and sheltering the remains of one of Mexico's greatest indigenous tribes, the Lacandon. Due to the many wars and guerrilla actions, the border areas are heavily militarised, but also contain two rarely frequented archaeological sites of great significance, Bonhampak and Yaxchilan.

Everybody we encountered told us that it was a dangerous and unpredictable road, but the pristine paintings of Bonhampak and the lavish crumbling beauty of Yaxchilan were too much for Danny. The scare stories also conflicted with the road which, unlike most of Mexico's roads, was new and solid. We were passing through deep lush vegetation, but our speedy passage marked our departure from civilisation.

After a couple of smooth hours, we came to our first military roadblock. We responded with our usual tourist ignorance and Spanglish, but our papers were in order and they waved us on with a smile. We had a gas-guzzling American Ford van, but it had two petrol tanks so we had good range. Lucky, considering that we saw nothing more for quite some time. The road was still decent and we had made really good time, when suddenly it shrunk to the typical one-lane highway.

I say suddenly as I was not prepared for this, I braked hard coming out of a wide bend. The back end of the van was beginning to slip when I saw a small bridge over a large river just ahead. Next thing, we slammed into the right side of the bridge - the girls were thrown forward, Danny saw it all happen and was braced so he was OK. Jumping from the van we were all in shock, steam was pouring from the bonnet, the front-right wheel was hanging over the edge of a crevice jarring down to the river crashing below.

The remoteness, density and heat of the jungle shifted substantially closer. Trying to keep a lid on the panic, we split into two groups. Amandine and I headed off for help, while the others stayed with the van.

However, before we set off several locals appeared out of the undergrowth and began commenting on and sniggering at our predicament. Walking through the jungle, I was thankful that it was getting cooler. The noise and the animals became even more apparent as we walked safely along a concrete carpet laid through thick nature.

Butterflies flitted by as Amandine told me of a Mexican tradition whereby acting out your prayers enabled them to come true. Mockingly I acted out the arrival of a tow-truck, the van being winched and Danny taking the wheel as we drove off into the sunset. My fantasies crashed when we arrived at the nearest village. There was satellite TV but no telephone and eight kilometres to the next village that only might have a phone.

After another hour of jungle- trudging, despair was beginning to set in. We were trying to hitch but had seen only one vehicle, a white pick- up crammed to overflowing with passengers already. Then we heard the sound of another vehicle approaching and stuck our thumbs out. As the vehicle approached there was honking and an arm started waving out of the window.

It was Danny and Sophia. A dozen Mexicans in a white pick-up had rescued them.

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