16-Jan-2005 -- On January 16, 2005, we left the comforts of our lovely beach vacation in Akumal, on the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, and drove south for two hours on Highway 307 in search of 19°N 88°W. On the way, we got gas in Tulum and again in Felipe Carillo Puerto, which is the closest gas station to the confluence. About an hour and a half south of Tulum, we arrived in the little town of Limones, about 12 km. west of our confluence.
Our plan was to continue south through Limones, then head east on the Mahahual highway for 12 km until we reached 88° West. We would then park the car on the side of the highway and hike (or hack!) north through the dense jungle for 3 km until we reached 19°N.
But as we were driving through Limones, we noticed a dirt road that was heading east, right at 19.01.482. We figured if this road paralleled the Mahahual highway, it would bring us much closer to the confluence than the highway, and we could avoid several kilometers of jungle. After confirming with a local that the dirt road continued east towards Mahahual, we headed east on the dirt road, thrilled with our good luck. Unfortunately, the road got progressively worse as we got farther from town and our little Nissan Platina rental car with 12” wheels barely survived the huge mud holes!
We continued slowly on the bumpy dirt road for about 45 minutes, by which time it had become apparent that the road was now headed east/northeast, taking us farther north of 19N. We came upon a smaller dirt road that forked to the right, so we went ahead and took it, thinking we might be able to correct our path. It turned out to be even more impassable than the road we were originally on, and before too long, we decided we were going to get stuck unless we turned around. Turning around on this narrow path in the jungle, we tried to imagine how we were going to explain to the rental car people in Cancun how their car had ended up stuck in the jungle in the middle of nowhere. . . but fortunately, we finally managed to get out and back onto the main dirt road. We continued east for awhile, hoping the road would start to veer a little southeast again, but after we had been off the highway for an hour, we were still too far north –at 19.03°– so we decided we’d better turn back and go back to our original plan. On the way back to Limones, we came face to face with a horse-drawn plow and were relieved to learn that a horse could back up much better than a Nissan Platina.
We finally got back to Limones with a whole new appreciation for pavement, and by 1:00pm we were parked along the Mahahual highway at 88°W 18.58.429N°. We left a note on our car saying we were in the jungle headed to 88°W 19°N and would be back soon, and we wrote down the date and time on the note. By 1:15 we were sprayed with mosquito repellent and were outfitted with our 50 peso machetes, as well as hats, long pants, hiking boots, trail mix and plenty of water. We were ready to go! The sun would set at around 5:45pm so we hoped we could keep up a pace of 1.5 km per hour, which would give us just enough time to get there and back.
As it turned out, these were lousy machetes, not like the big ones all the locals were carrying. We don’t know where they buy those things, but we wish we had gone to a bigger hardware store to look for ours! The jungle was dense and we were only able to make headway at an average of 0.9 km per hour. The bushes and trees made it impossible to travel in a straight line, and that confused our GPS, which kept pointing the wrong direction (our GPS doesn’t have an internal compass). So we ended up using our compass for navigation and just used the GPS to check our coordinates from time to time.
There were no animals in the jungle—not even birds-- and it was strangely quiet. The only animals we had seen all day had been the two large red monkeys that had scampered out of the jungle and across the dirt road when we were taking our “short cut” earlier that day. Of course there were plenty of mosquitoes, and a few flies showed up when we stopped for a snack. The most dangerous thing in the jungle was a thin, harmless looking vine that we soon learned to recognize. It had little thorns on it that would grab you and stay in your skin like splinters once you finally managed to wrestle yourself free, and it was practically machete-proof!
We knew we would have to turn around at 3:15 in order to make it back to the highway before sunset, and at 3:15 were still only at 18.59.392, with 1.14km to go before we would reach 19.00°N. It was disappointing to accept failure, but we didn’t have a choice. Besides, we had just hit a really brambly area that made the thought of continuing a little less attractive. . . So we turned back. On the way back, we ended up slightly west of our original path, and the jungle must not have been as dense there because we kept up a pace of 1.1km and got back to the car in less than two hours. While disappointed at not having reached our confluence, we were happy to have made it out of the jungle with nothing but a few scratches, cuts and mosquito bites. And margaritas awaited us in Tulum! Boy, did they taste good. . .
We plan to attempt—and reach—this confluence the next time we go to the Yucatan Peninsula, and in the meantime, we are going to order two more topographical maps of the area, since 19°N 88°W happened to be the point were four maps intersected, and the maps cost $30 each! Because of this, we had only purchased the two maps to the south of 19°N and were not aware of the dirt road to the north of 19°N (and consequently had no idea whether it was going to stay on 19°N or not).
In closing, we would like to extend a special thanks to Luis Felipe for giving us his jungle confluencing advice and being our emergency contact on the Yucatan Peninsula! Luis, we hope you can join us next time!
Steve and Lauren