Following in Michel Peissel's Footsteps: Part 3

by Mari Pintkowski

On May 23, 2010, Wendy Morrill and her father, Richard, embarked on the last 48 hours of their adventure to walk in the footsteps of Michel Peissel, the first white man to walk the Caribbean shore of Mexico and cross the border into Belize. This young explorer shared his adventure in The Lost World of Quintana Roo, a book I had admired for years.

I met these two courageous travelers for the first time in Carrillo Puerto the day before at El Faisan y El Venado Restaurant. Louis, the taxi driver who would take them to Majahual where they would set out on foot for the last leg of their journey, joined us for breakfast. Wendy, an adventurous eater, seemed delighted with the menu selections, but Richard's expression as he looked at the Spanish words let me know he wanted something a bit more familiar, so we asked for a menu in English.

We talked about their upcoming journey that would begin tomorrow (I have previously written about their plans in the April and May editions of the Sac-Be Newsletter), and I repeated a question a reader had asked me about why they had chosen this time of year, the rainy season, to do their five-year series of hikes. Wendy responded, "Because there are fewer people along the beaches, airfares are less expensive, and it works out better for my family and work schedules."

This year they will have a cell phone with international coverage, but do realize this does not mean there will be cellular towers in the areas they will be going, but at some point they will be able to call home. They are also hoping to find an Internet café so they can touch base with all of us who will be waiting to know they have arrived safely at their destination. Wendy is also keeping the middle school Spanish class abreast of their travels, at the school where Dylan, her son, is a student. She presented a slide show to the class of the past four years of hikes along with her topographical maps before she left Maine.

We talked about what the trail ahead might be like in their first few days before reaching the Belize border. They seemed a bit fearful about crossing the Rio Huach on the second day, as they have received mixed messages: one, the river is safe to swim, and two, it is inhabited by crocodiles. They were told a clothing-optional resort is on the other side, so that in itself will be a unique experience. If they are lucky, they will find a fisherman to take them across the river. When they reach Xcalak, about a two-day hike away, they will sleep in a hotel and figure out the border crossing then.

Richard said that Wendy had done all the research and he was along for the exercise and excitement of the journey. His favorite experience during the past four summers' hikes was when they had to build a raft with found materials lying on the beach and use it to cross a deep stream.

"Wendy even had an opportunity to use her machete to cut down palm fronds to cover the surface of the raft," Richard explained.

After breakfast, we made our way down to their little hotel near the zocalo and they showed me their gear. I asked what changes they had made in their packing lists for this trip. Wendy said, "We didn’t add anything, just tried to eliminate what we could, like the hammocks."

Richard spoke up and said, "I deleted the chocolate from the trail mix this year, as last year's batch melted within the first mile."

I was able to observe the maps neatly tucked into Ziploc bags, the homemade trail mix that did actually sustain them for the first two days, the three liters of water each would carry, and the machete that Wendy playfully whirled around at her dad as they packed. I noticed that Wendy had a sweater with her and asked about it. She explained that her dad had parked his car three miles from the airport they flew out of, and it was in the 50s the morning they left Maine. She tossed it over to me and asked if I wanted it. I accepted this token as a memory of our first meeting. They hoisted their packs upon their shoulders so I could snap a few photos.

Together we walked down the street for a brief tour of the church, zocalo and cultural center in Carrillo Puerto, admiring the ancient wooden beams and stone arches in the buildings around the square. Richard insisted I step inside the cavernous rooms of the cultural center where only a few others were busy with their own pursuits.

We were all enchanted to have a glimpse of the modern Maya culture in progress, as close to 100 youths assembled in the zocalo with banners, drums and smiling faces, ready to embark on a missionary adventure of their own. For a moment, we focused on a clutch of kids talking to a Franciscan monk in his brown robes in front of the church, and commented that it felt like we were watching a movie from years gone by. As they walked me back to my car in the drizzling rain, the streets turned lively as the kids started to play drums and other instruments, and more people walked toward the zocalo.

We exchanged gifts, a copy of their slideshow for me, and I promised to mail them a copy of my children's book, Molly the Gecko Hunter, about life in a small Maya pueblo so that Wendy could add this to her materials that she shares with schoolchildren in Maine.

I invited them to return to Mexico and, next time, include a stop at La Selva Mariposa, our bed and breakfast near Tulúm. I promised they would eat and sleep in luxury at our little oasis.

We hugged, and I wished them safe travel, along with Chippi chippi rain falling on their backs to keep them cool, and soft clouds overhead to shelter them from the intense rays of the tropical sun. ¡Buen viaje!

A few days later, I received this e-mail from Wendy:
Hello, we made it to Xcalak, just north of the border but it was grueling 30 miles! Between Majahual and Xcalak there is NOTHING, but beach, beach, road, mangroves and river. NO PLACE TO SLEEP OR EAT, OR SHOWER, OR GO TO THE BATHROOM. So we had to beg to stay in a fisherman's shed. We slept on hard lawn chairs, no cushions, no bathroom and no water. But we made it. He had a family; 3 kids. We showed the kids how to play hopscotch, tic tac toe, hangman, hide the toy and the oldest son (8) read a book to me in Spanish and helped me with my pronunciation. In the last 36 hours, we had a handful of nuts, one bar, raisins, and a fishand 3 bottles of water and one coconut! PLEASE SEND US FOOD. And we have had no shower in 36 hours. Boy do we smell! and it is 110F degrees. We named our backpacks WannaBe and Old Fart. But the experience at the MX family's shack was priceless and awesome!!  Now this is going to be a story! Now i have blisters and a sunburn and i cannot walk right. I still have no phone service yet.  But tomorrow we need to find a way to get to the border. And then hike Ambergris.  I should be able to get phone service then! PS: MOM, PLEASE SEND DAD A HAMBURGER AND FRENCH FRIES. STEVE AND DYLAN: PLEASE SEND ME A HOTDOG AND MACARONI SALAD. WE ARE DESPERATE!
Love, Wendy
The next e-mail shows that they did make it across the border into Belize, through immigration without a hitch, and are now walking Ambergris Cay before going inland to explore the jungle, and perhaps find that "cheeseburger in paradise."

To read the "rest of the story," go to Wendy's Web site.

Mari Pintkowski and her husband, Lou, have a top-rated B&B off the Cobá road at km 20, La Selva Mariposa. To read more of Mari's stories about their adopted land, go to or buy her books, Embarking on the Mariposa Trail or Molly the Gecko Hunter on

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