Quaint it ain’t

Published: November 15th 2018
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Oaxaca to St Christobal de las Cassis

It’s 7am and just getting light. Our bus is labouring it’s way up the mountains into the cloud and the thin mizzle. It’s pretty cold. We arrive at the bus station half an hour later and don our fleeces. A taxi takes us to our hotel but the doors are all firmly locked. The driver is concerned about leaving us standing on the pavement in the rain, but I knock on the wooden door and someone kindly let’s us in.

We store our luggage and go off in search of some breakfast. There isn’t much open at this time but we find a small cafe. The only thing we recognise from the menu is tamale (steamed fruit pudding), we order strawberry and pineapple flavours. The ladies in the shop are making the tamale in the traditional way so it arrives wrapped in some kind of leaf.

We return to the hotel and our room is ready so we move our luggage and then set off for the day. Our guide book lists a number of places of interest so Ian has his tour ready for me.

The Plaza 31 de Marzo is supposedly a fine place to take in the atmosphere...but not at 10am on a damp, cold morning when most shops are closed. We head to the Arco del Carmen, a 17th century city gate only to discover that it is fenced off and undergoing renovations. Similarly the cathedral next to the plaza is also being renovated. The final place in the historic centre is the church of Santo Domingo de Guzman...unbelievably, we find that, this too, is under renovation!

So there you have it - San Christobal...cold, damp, closed or under renovation. It‘s not the quaint cobblestone town we had been promised. Our impression is that of poverty here with a few central streets tarted up for tourists - outside of this, there is graffiti everywhere, much of which seems to refer to the evils of capitalism.

We return to our hotel to review our options for the next few days. Believing this to be a lovely, picturesque place, we have planned four days to relax and enjoy the scenery - it would seem that we have seen most of it in a couple of hours! It’s definitely not the pretty little town that we had envisaged...another of those guide book fallacies!

We are so cold that we decide to have a hot lunch and make our way back to the pedestrianised central area - the only nice bit of town as far as we can make out, and where there are a number of restaurants and cafes. We order hot chocolate and spaghetti bolognese.

This afternoon we decide to climb the town steps to the high point which should give us fine views of the town. It’s another unloved spot, overgrown with weeds and strewn with litter. It’s also too overcast for any spectacular views but we climb it anyway. And yes, the church at the top is fenced off with yellow tape and is resplendent in its scaffolding. It looks like the paving has been built around trees that were already growing here and there are huge gaps for us to fall through.

As we make our way back, the wind is whipping up again. It gusts down the pedestrian alleyway so strongly that it picks up several wooden table parasols sending them flying in all directions. Watch out, shouts Ian, as one narrowly misses him. The cafe owner dashes into the street, to find his parasols scattered and one even lodged in the fairy lighting spanning the street!

Back in our room, we decide that we will take ‘out of town’ tours for the next two days as our hotel room is booked and paid for, and then move on. We had planned to take the overnight bus on Saturday, but decide that spending another day here would be foolish. Instead we will take the morning bus and book an additional night at the next hotel.

We head to the bus depot on the edge of town to change our tickets, and return to the centre for an early dinner. This is probably the first day that we have eaten three cooked meals, but it is so chilly and damp that we both feel that we need the sustenance. Fortunately the one thing that San Christobal does have is a lot of good eating places!

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