San Cristobal & Palenque

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April 10th 2017
Published: April 10th 2017
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Sunday, 2 April

We’ve now been here one week and I think it’s fair to say that Mum and Dad are not enjoying it as much as Eastern Europe. They have issues with a couple of things:

• · The language barrier – not many people speak English and whilst Dwayne and I have been able to pick up a word here or there, Mum and Dad have found it more difficult to communicate. Just this morning at breakfast, they ordered an Americano breakfast from the a la carte menu, but ate from the buffet table and had to pay an extra 45 MXN ($3)pp for the upgrade.
• · Toilets – you can’t flush toilet paper here. You have to place all used toilet paper in bins beside the toilet.
• · The food – whilst Mexican is great for Coeliacs due to all the corn products, there aren’t a lot of vegetarian main dishes. There are lots of salads and side dishes like frijoles, but most of the larger meals are meat. I’m eating mostly vegetarian but I’m ordering lots of side dishes to make up a main meal.

Apart from Esquite (corn soup), I haven’t found traditional Mexican food as flavoursome as Tex Mex, but it’s cheap and we’re certainly not starving so it’s ok. It’s not a foodie destination but I like it more than Turkish food.

We didn’t realise that whilst daylight savings was exiting Australia, it was coming in here. When we were waiting for our speed boat cruise up the Sumidero Canyon, I noticed that my phone and my watch were an hour apart. Then we all realized that we were robbed of an extra hour of sleep!

The canyon was impressive. Although the temperature was a stifling 40C, the breeze kept it bearable. We stopped at several places along the 15km route, spotting a spider monkey and iguana. The whole tour was in Spanish but it didn’t take an interpreter to be dwarfed by the 1000m cliffs either side of the boat. It was very beautiful and for $13, it was a nice way to see the scenery off the road. We were the only English speakers on the tour, as we have been most times. There are a ton of domestic tourists but not many internationals.

After the tour we climbed to 2200m an hour north of the Canyon and made San Cristobal our home for 3 nights, staying at the boutique Hotel Casa Selah. It’s a gorgeous family-run hotel, built mostly by the American receptionist who married a local girl and helped her family renovate and start the business. Dad is almost giddy with excitement that he has someone to talk to in English!

San Cristobal is my favourite town so far. It was wonderfully cheap markets with local crafts – cheaper than CDMX and Oaxaca – and an amazing food scene. They have Indian, Peruvian, Mexican, Italian, Argentinian, Irish and Thai restaurants. There is a delightful French café called Ooh La La that serves traditional French desserts and drinks. It’s my new happy place and I will be availing myself of it several times before we leave! For dinner, we ate at a Swiss Mexican restaurant. I had a very yummy rosti and Dwayne had a pathetic excuse for raclette, which was disappointing. Mum and Dad enjoyed their lasagna and veggies. The main plaza is packed with people at night and the three pedestrian friendly streets pump with life.

The only thing that makes me sad though, is all the Indigenous poor who scour the streets trying to sell clothing and trinkets, and teaching their kids to do the same. Instead of being in school, these kids are wandering from person to person trying to sell something. A boy, no older than 7, wanders along the plaza with his eyes downcast, carrying a wooden step. He approaches anyone with black leather shoes and asks to polish them for money. A grandmother drags a 2yr old toddler from table to table in an outdoor restaurant at 9pm at night, selling trinkets to look after her granddaughter. The little girl, meanwhile, gets pulled along in a daze because it’s way past her bedtime. There’s no denying that they are a hardworking people by selling anything rather than begging, but I feel for the kids who are destined to this life because their family don’t give them any other options. So much lost potential.

Monday, 3 April

We woke to a knock at the door to discover that it was 9.30am! We had the best sleep of the entire trip. The bed was firm but comfortable, the curtains dark and the noise non-existent. I love this hotel!

We spent the day wandering around all the cute little streets, buying things at the markets and eating a leisurely lunch. We went to Ooh La La again – round 2!

If there’s one thing I absolutely hate in Mexico, it’s the tipping. I understand the wages are low but why can’t businesses just increase the prices and drop the expectation to tip?

The afternoon meant a quick nap for the parents whilst I caught up on the blog and expenses. An hour before sunset we set off for one of the viewpoints. Unfortunately we walked up 300 steps only to discover that there’s no view of the Zocalo, thanks to a row of pine trees completely blocking the view. We walked back down, found esquites and elotes for dinner and finished with a lava pudding and hot choc at the Chocolate House. We sat on a park bench and watched the world go by in the plaza before heading back to the hotel for a quick card game before bed.

Museums are closed on Mondays so today was an easy day and we’ll hit them tomorrow.

Tuesday, 4 April

We agreed to do our own thing today, so Dwayne and I headed out to the 2nd viewpoint whilst Mum and Dad decided to rest. Whilst the viewpoint only had about 150 steps compared to the other one, the climb was still a waste because the view was useless. We wandered down to the Santo Dominigo church and then to the Amber Museum.

We had a lazy lunch at a café watching the world go by. The coffee in San Cristobal is highly regarded and after Dwayne’s tasting of a latte, we both agree that the beans are excellent. It was sweet enough that no sugar was required and it didn’t leave a bitter aftertaste in the mouth.

We napped in the afternoon, met up with Mum and Dad and went out for dinner.

Esquites again and a homely chocolateria – literally in a lady’s home! We sat in her little windowed verandah overlooking her yard whilst she warmed the milk on her stove and gave us mammoth sizes of homemade cakes. She even grilled some plantain bananas and gave them to us to taste. It was more expensive than Ooh La La and it wasn’t as good, but it’s not every day you get to sit in a woman’s kitchen whilst she cooks for you.

Whilst we were in the plaza, a little girl of 5 came up to Mum selling bags of fairy floss. No mother or guardian about. Just a sad and dirty little face alone in the crowd trying to earn a living. It was pitiful and heartbreaking! And it’s a real dilemma – do you buy something to help her out, which her parents will make her do more of when they see how profitable she is, or do you refuse and potentially open her up to abuse for not making enough? Both choices suck!!!

It’s been a hoot in San Cristobal but the ruins of Palenque beckon. Unfortunately, we’ll leave this temperate 21C weather and descend to the jungles and 38C. Hasta la vista, comfort!

Wednesday, 5 April

Today was the worst day of travel yet. We were supposed to only drive 5 hours but after 1.5hrs on the twisty, windy road, we came to a village with a truck parked across the road. We asked the locals, via hand signals, when the truck would be moved. To no avail. Eventually a friendly woman and man came from up the road and advised that there was political unrest beyond the truck, as the Indians do not like the current president so they are blockading the road. She said the safest and quickest option would be to back-track and take a 360km/5hr detour. So, 3 hours after we’d left San Cristobal, we drove back through it again, feeling cheated that we’d just wasted 3 hours for nothing. It turned out to be a 10hr day.

The countryside was the nicest we’ve seen with lots of farm animals, lakes and green pastures. It was very scenic compared to the dry flora we’ve seen recently. It’s a pity that the locals just throw their rubbish out the windows as the constant stream of highway rubbish is disgraceful. And those speed bumps – SOOOOOOO annoying!!

The thing that does crack me up though, are the tuk-tuks. Don’t expect to see them outside of Thailand.

Our house in Palenque is literally in the jungle. It’s crawling with insects and we need to be on the lookout for scorpions. We have Howler monkeys in the trees as well and if we’re lucky, we’ll spot an Ocelot. It’s unbearably hot and humid though – 35C at 10pm at night with only a fan for relief. It’s going to be a sleepless 3 nights. There’s no wifi either, which is rather painful when it comes to researching and booking accomm at the next stop.

Thursday, 6 April

Last night was a hive of thunderous activity with loads of lightning and torrential rain for most of the night. We woke to no running water. We advised the groundskeeper but since he speaks no English and we speak no Spanish, communication was challenging. I think he said it would be fixed by 11am. We went out shopping since there was nothing else to do in the rain and when we came back at 2pm, the water was still not fixed. We decided to check out early and ask for a refund from the AirBnB owner, as we can’t go without toilets. Just as we got into the car after packing it and doing final checks, the groundskeeper came up and showed us it was fixed so we decided to stay rather than try to recover the money. At $200 per night it was just as well but I won’t be giving a good review.

Unfortunately rain has set in, as it does in jungles, and whilst the temperature has dropped to a sultry 24C, the thunderstorms and heavy downpours are unrelenting and we’re thinking that any sightseeing in Palenque is going to be a wash out.

Friday, 7 April

It rained throughout the night and at during the morning. It stopped at 9am so we jumped in the car and drove up to the Palenque Ruins. 10 minutes into the visit, it started downpouring again for the next hour. Dad and I wore swimmers so we were ok but Mum and Dwayne got rather wet, even with umbrellas and rain jackets. Thankfully it wasn’t cold, it wasn’t hot and there were hardly any tourists. Usually 1000 people per day visit this site, so I guess we were both blessed and cursed with

The ruins were stunning, even in the rain. The mist hanging about the trees made them even more mystical. Small tribes had been in this area since 2BC, but at its height between 750AD – 850AD, it covered 2sq km and had 8000 residents. Experts believe that the city was abandoned in the mid-800’s due to overpopulation and declining resources. There were some stunning cascading falls and swing bridge, which were voluptuous with the extra water and the multiple tiers made it that much more beautiful.

We had planned on visiting some more falls in the afternoon and going for a swim, but the rain continued after lunch and didn’t abate until 4pm, which was too late to make the journey 50 mins away. As we consolation prize though, Mum spotted a Agouti whilst we were making dinner so at least we’ve seen one animal in this place. The monkeys and ocelot were no shows.

We had a lucky escape with Dad this arvo. He slipped on the wet concrete and came down on his elbow. Miraculously, he only grazed his elbow when it could have easily cracked. Thank you Jesus!

Sabbath, 8 April

We are very glad to leave our AirBnB place for somewhere with a proper bathroom, air con and wifi. This place may be listed as a lodge but it’s really more of a Boy Scouts camp. I wouldn’t book again.

The 500km drive to the coast was very straight and an easy run at 120kph. I almost ran over an iguana sunning himself on the road, but I swerved and he turned back to the side of the road and ran away. The scenery around Palenque is very pretty with lots of green grass, trees and farm animals. There are also lots of pink trees that look like cherry blossoms, but they’re not and we don’t know what they are. At one point on the drive there was a river of pink.

We also saw a local SDA church having their 11am service.

The scenery soon changed to scrub and stayed that way until we reached our hotel in Chetumal. Dad has been asking in several restaurants if they sell baked potatoes (which they don’t) but I found a place in Chetumal that does, so we ate there tonight. Mum enjoyed her Ovaltine frappe whilst we all enjoyed the baked potatoes. Job done.


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