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Published: November 24th 2019
After 35 hours in Palenque and the promise of heavy rain we made the executive decision to get up early and catch the 5.15am bus to San Cristóbal de las Casas; a colonial town in Chiapas approximately 9 hours by bus from where we were. When I was in Mexico back in 2005, I purposefully avoided Chiapas because at the time it was known as the bandits-with-pistols place where you could get robbed or worse if you were unlucky. When Marco went ten years ago he said that most touristy places used the revolutionary history as a way to attract tourists. It was interesting to note that very few tags, signs or mentions of the Zapatista era remained now. It was almost as though the locals wanted to keep their history to themselves and not use it as a commercial strategy. When we were in Yucatán there was a statue of smiling Emiliano Zapata that you could have your photo with but in actual Chiapas, the only photo opportunity with a statute was that of Maradona outside an Argentinian restaurant.
Having said that, there was a reason the bus took 9 hours. The recommended route was to avoid
the Sierra in the event of lurking banditos, which, had we risked it, would have cut our journey by a good 4 hours. Not wanting to take risks, we welcomed the longer journey that took us out of Chiapas into the Oaxaca state, by-passing the Sierra and then back into Chiapas to arrive in San Cristobal around 4pm.
The first thing I noted was the cold. Having been in 30 degree heat for the past 12 days, the sudden drop to 16 degrees was quite noticeable (and not very welcomed by me). In my mind, these 6 months of travel were about staying in warm places, avoiding even some of the world’s most stunning places like Patagonia just to keep my bones from being cold. As someone who is ALWAYS cold and wears about ten layers even on a hot day, I was a bit dispirited when we arrived and I had to wear both my feather down and rain jacket as it had started to rain. My spirits lifted when we arrived to our gorgeous hotel that was also a museum in commemoration of the European couple Frans and Gertrude Blom who were highly respected here
for the work they did in helping the Lacondonian people in keeping their jungle alive. There is a documentary about Gertrude Blom called La Reina de la Selva (The Queen of the Jungle) which documents her intimate relationship with the Lacondona communities.
We had a beautiful room with extra high ceilings, tasteful furnishings and wait for it...our very own functioning fireplace all set up for us with wood chippings and even an electric heater just in case that wasn’t sufficient. This place had my name written on it! And having a glowing fire in your bedroom is definitely one of those things you should experience if you haven’t yet.
Marco had already been to San Cristobal so I was glad to go by his recommendations of what to visit and where to go. We started the evening by walking up some one hundred steps to the top of a pretty 1500s church. After about 30 steps we were both super out of breath and wondered if this was because we were really unfit (despite our morning runs) or if actually (and most likely) it was because of the altitude. A quick Google search told
us we were at 2200 metres altitude which explained everything. It’s interesting to note that we very quickly adapted to the atmospheric changes and by the next day when we went on our morning jog, we didn’t feel any different.
San Cristobal is a really pretty town engulfed by mountains with colourful houses and pebbly streets. It was tasteful and progressive. I particularly liked the independent shops selling home made creams, oils, and soaps, while Marco gravitated towards the Doña Isabel bakery selling Mexican pastries and breads. We were also spoilt with local markets zig-zagging their way around the town like a never ending snake selling colourful and delicious fruits, vegetables and elotes; barbecued corn on the cob that they sprinkle with chilly and lime. Delicious and very different to our butter and salt equivalent. We also bought a bag of chubby and buttery macadamia nuts that were a tasty snack. The great thing in Mexican towns and cities is that there is food in every corner so you can never go hungry! Very important for me as I always get anxious about when I will next eat 😉
The day markets here turned
into night markets and the atmosphere was bustling without being overwhelming. We had heard that San Cristobal was hot on music so after asking a couple of independent shop owners where to go, we were recommended the artsy Paliacate. A bit of a dive in my opinion but Marco liked it and so we went on both evenings to listen to some experimental jazz and then for a reggae evening that was actually more like r’n’b which I preferred. There was a nice crowd so we stayed for a Mezcal and a boogie. On our final night we also found a place with live music - a dude with a deep voice singing his version of Portishead and various other US indie which I particularly liked.
Being in a creative town also means arts, crafts and of course YOGA! I had only taken one yoga class since we had started our trip over in Isla Mujeres so I was really excited to have some time to take some local classes in Spanish. Maria had recommended Casa del Pan which had a sweet community yoga centre above it called Ananda Healing Center which I went to on both
evenings to try the 6pm class. The first teacher was Venezuelan and it was refreshing to be led into postures with her melodic accent. The second teacher was Mexican and I equally enjoyed her style and use of vocabulary. It was good for me to engage my yoga brain in Spanish and I think I prefer instruction in Spanish rather than English. It was sweet that we had created our little routine where Marco would drop me off for yoga, go for a wonder, and an hour and a half later would be meet me at Casa del Pan writing our blog with a Negra Modelo beer.
We ate well in Chiapas but it definitely wasn’t as good as in Yucatán. Michelle had told us this and it was totally true. While the food wasn’t as good, I did appreciate the fact that the waiters were local Mexicans which was refreshing given the fact in Yucatan most waiters and bar staff were Argentinian. I don’t know the ins and outs but it seemed as though Argentinians were favoured over Mexicans for jobs in hospitality over on the Caribbean side of Mexico, whereas here in Chiapas (one of
the poorest states) jobs were given to locals even though there were still plenty of Argentinians who had their steak restaurants and other small businesses. We also noticed the presence of feminism here with many tags and graffs elevating women. High five.
On one of the days, we took a local collectivo bus to the neighbouring village of Chamula; another place Maria had mentioned as somewhat mystical and spiritual. This tiny place has a big green Church from 1522 that no doubt would have been a Catholic Church when the Spanish first arrived. Today, it’s a mish mash of Catholic with Mayan and Shamanic ceremonies. You’re prohibited from taking photographs but it’s certainly something that will remain in my mind’s eye. As you enter the big doors, you are pretty much engulfed in black smoke from above, and thousands of tiny candles from below sitting on a bed of what looks like green straw. There are clusters of local people sitting and praying reverently, reciting prayers in a language we don’t speak and rocking their bodies back and forth. They are entranced and it’s as though the tourists walking around them are ghosts. It was quite a
unique experience and I’m glad we made the journey to San Juan de Chamula to see it with our own eyes.
Sixteen days in Mexico had gone too fast and tomorrow we were leaving bright and early to cross the border into Guatemala. I feel like we barely scratched the surface and definitely intend to come back. We stocked up on our favourite Mexican foods for the journey ahead and ended the final night with live music and a Mezcal for Marco as there would be none of that over the border...
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