Published: February 25th 2011February 25th 2011
Mexico is big. 3000km in a 10 day road trip – and we only touched the surface of southern Mexico.
Oaxaca – some 6 hours of cactus strewn desert from Mexico City - was the stepping off point for the trip around Chiapas Province with our Mexican based friends. As with most road trips, we quickly realised that it always take longer than we’d estimate to get from place to place. We also found out that driving in Mexico is very scary, for instance, overtaking on curves with on-coming traffic was normal practice. The terrain varied immensely from the cacti drenched and steep hill sides outside Oaxaca, to farm land, to jungle around the Guatemalan border.
Outside of Oaxaca we visited the ruins of Mount Alban a magnificent city of pyramids, and temples which pre-dated both the Aztecs and Mayans. We also visited a small town that specialises in alebrijes – brightly painted and carved wooden figurines. It seems everyone in the town has been trained up in the art form but the quality did vary.
From Oaxaca the first major stop was the quant town of San Cristobal de las Chiapas – beautifully renovated colonial buildings, cobbled
streets, arts and craft and a base for numerous back-packers. We stayed at the Casa de Filipe Flores which was adorned with local art, a fantastic internal courtyard, and had a fire place in each room. Previously the home of a local Doctor Flores, the guest house is now run and owned by a retired American couple.
Close by was the smaller town of Chamula de San Juan which is famous for its market and local church which practices its own blend of Catholicism and animism. The church is littered with pine needles and each family prays by lighting numerous candles. Apparently the faith also includes the sacrifice of chickens, and bizarrely bottles of Coca Cola all aimed at healing the sick. Interestingly there is also a very nice, modern health centre right next to the church – just in case the slaughter of chickens does not cure your malaria.
Further south we visited several Mayan ruins set in dense rainforest including Yaxchilan on the river bordering Guatemala. It is mind blowing imaging the grandeur and scale of these settlements in their heyday.
We also had a detour down to Las Guacamayas (the name means the macaws).
This is an eco-tourist lodge where the locals set up artificial nests for the macaws to encourage them to breed. They also organise walks and river cruises to see the birds and monkeys. Howler Monkeys screeched day and night outside our cabins. We also came across a group of monkeys who took exception to our presence and showed their displeasure by throwing things at us, and charmingly urinating in our general direction.
Overall the best part of the road trip was the unexpected such as taking side roads not sure where we were going or why. One side trip took us to Las Nubes with the most stunning, crystal waterfall and rapids.
We ended up in Palenque which really is a marvel of the ancient Mayan World. It is an ancient city – consisting of pyramids, tombs, markets, houses, football arenas – all made from hand in stone. Its setting in the jungle amidst waterfalls adds to the Indiana Jones ambiance.
Finally we made the long haul back to Mexico City. Eleven hours at frightening speed on admittedly very good highways, eating dodgy tacos at road house type stops, playing of road trip games, and hours of
listening to podcasts.
There are more photos below