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Published: March 24th 2018
We finally tore ourselves away from the gorgeous city of Oaxaca after three weeks of lazing around, eating loads of local dishes and getting some more work done on the truck's suspension. We also spent a few days up in the mountains near Oaxaca and enjoyed a couple of hikes on some well-maintained trails that are also popular with mountain bikers. We both loved the city but agreed that it is probably a bit bigger than what we're really looking for in terms of a place to call home. Pollution and general air quality weren't great either, partly due to controlled brush burns up in the mountains, which is something for us to consider. It was a great time though and so far one of our favourite places in Mexico.
We broke up the long drive to San Cristobal into four shortish days, with the first night's stop being at Hierve el Agua. It's a pretty spectacular environment of natural mineral pools and petrified waterfalls on the edge of a steep valley side. We were able to camp right above the pools and then hike down to the waterfalls the following morning before the busloads of tourists came in. Ken
took a dip in the pools, which are not thermal, but a pleasant and refreshing temperature nonetheless (according to him!). We then pressed on towards San Cristobal de las Casas, making a few other stops along the way, the most memorable of which was a night at Sima de las Cotorras - a massive sinkhole that is home to hundreds of small green parrots. We saw them returning to the hole in the afternoon, and then got up at 6am the next day to see them leaving it for a day of insect hunting, or whatever it is that parrots do all day. The squawking noise they made was quite astonishing and it was cool to see them flying round and round in circles as they gained height to exit the hole, since it was too deep and narrow for them to fly straight up and out.
San Cristobal is in the state of Chiapas and is a very well preserved colonial town with a rich indigenous culture. It was also at the heart of the 1994 Zapatista insurgency which saw indigenous people demand that the Mexican government grant them, among other things, better access to health, food, education,
housing and work. Land reform and anti-globalization were also important factors in the movement, triggered in part by the recently brokered NAFTA agreement. The struggle became quite violent for some years until an uneasy truce was reached between the two parties. To the casual traveler passing through the region there is little evidence now of the unrest that spread throughout the region during the 90s, but the ideological struggle of the Zapatistas remains strong to this day and there are many autonomous Zapatista communities throughout the state. Roadblocks are still encountered between certain towns, but it seems that they are instigated more by trouble-makers wanting to extort money from travelers than by Zapatista sympathizers. Today San Cristobal is a very popular tourist town, full of artists, jewelry makers, musicians and the like, and we really enjoyed walking the streets of the historic centre and sampling many goodies in various restaurants and cafes. We did experience a short bout of illness (or Montezuma's revenge, as they call it), but were lucky to recover very quickly and be back on our feet again in no time.
Ken went for a guided mountain bike trip one day to check out the quality
Monte Alban Pre-Columbian archeological site, Oaxaca
This site is an ancient centre of Zapotec and Mixtec culture. It was one of the most important cities in Mesoamerica for over 1000 years until its demise in the 8th century. It was also about the only cultural thing that we attempted in Oaxaca!
Disclaimer: I didn't want to carry a camera with me all day, so this photo is plucked off the internet!
of the trails, and although he concluded that mountain biking isn't great around San Cristobal, he enjoyed a day of speaking Spanish with his guide, unimpeded by his trusty translator (i.e. me!). The campground we stayed at was lovely and we were happy to reconnect with some friends we'd met earlier in our trip, namely Ranveg and Niels from Denmark, and Roque and Sharon from the US. There was quite an international vibe toward the end of our stay, with families from Brasil and France, a Swiss couple, some Canadians and an Irish guy, as well as our own little US-UK combo! It was also quite a noisy place, not due to the travelers staying there, but the multitude of barking dogs and ear-splitting firecrackers being set off at all times of day and night. Throw in a few nights of loud dance music and general frivolity emanating from the nearby town, and the conditions were perfect for popping in our little foam earplugs - an absolute Godsend for travelling in Latin America. Speaking of noise reminds me of some of the things we take almost for granted at home, but which in Mexico can be quite rare. A peaceful
Jeff Barnhart with his paintings
We met Jeff at the Overlander Oasis in Oaxaca. A great guy and very talented artist from Pennsylvania.
night being one of them! When staying in motels, which we sometimes have to do if there aren't any camping options, we've learned to ask ourselves questions like: "Is the bathroom clean?"; "Does the shower have hot water?"; "Is the salon de eventos (party room) likely to be hosting a noisy wedding reception tonight?"; and, Ken's favourite, "Does the toilet have a seat?". For some reason this last one has been a mystery in Latin America for as long as I've been travelling here (almost 18 years!). There will have been considerable effort to install a flushing toilet complete with all working parts, but it will be missing the one vital ingredient - a seat! I still have no idea why the humble toilet seat remains so elusive, but Ken is always very happy to come across one!
Anyway, missing toilet seats aside, we're still really enjoying our trip and are now heading northwards again so that we can explore a little more of Mexico before we ship Tortuga down to Colombia from Veracruz. We've decided to skip Central America as between the two of us we've already visited several of the countries there and are pretty sure that
we wouldn't want to live in that part of Latin America, so we would rather spend more time in Mexico, which we like very much, and then get started on South America. Our plans are forever changing though, so any itinerary is still possible! Next stop will be the famous Aztec archeological site of Teotihuacan, and then on to the colonial cities of San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato. We hope you enjoyed this blog entry and thanks for following our trip. There should be 21 photos in total; you may need to scroll right to the bottom of the page to see them!
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