Mexico: North of the Border!!
I had planned on maybe one more day in Guate but my queztales ran out so I decided that was a sign to head north…to Mexico!!! I looked at a map and it seemed that San Cristobal de las Casas, in the state of Chiapas, Mexico was going to be my first destination. It turned out to be no easy task getting my buns up there. It took a boat ride and 8 bus/taxi rides to get there. This would be ok if there was a system like with airplanes where you can just check your luggage straight through, but nope, I was feeling pretty happy about my new bedspread about 4 bus transfers into the journey. The last hour before reaching the Mexican border was by far my favorite (in Guate, anyway). It was incredibly pretty with lots of road side stalls along the way full of people just living their lives. It would have been a bit more enjoyable if I hadn`t had a lady and her two children sleeping/sitting on me, but it was still great. This area has very jagged and dramatic mountains all covered to the very top with thick jungle green vegetation. I think this would have to rank #1 in border crossings – the beauty category. However, it was one of the annoying border crossings where exit immigration and entry immigration are just far enough apart where you can`t walk – in this case 4 km. I much prefer the walk across the bridge method. About 5 miles into Mexico, I realized that I do not speak the same language as these people. Seriously, I think I understand Portuguese better than I do Mexican-Spanish. When people speak directly to me, it`s ok, but when they are speaking to each other and I am unashamedly eavesdropping, I don`t understand a damn word. There is so much slang used and some of the most common items that everywhere else in Latin America are called one thing, here they have a whole new name. It will be fun!
San Cristobal de las Casas was warm and cozy and had charm coming out of its ears! It is the perfect climate for me as it is at about 2100m; warm during the days and chilly at night. It is in the heart of Chiapas, and honestly, a place I never had any desire of visiting. Boy was I mistaken. The first day I went up to the mirador de Guadalupe (the virgin saint that nearly everything is named after in Mexico) to check out the city. I spent a good part of the morning hanging out in the zocalo (it`s no longer called the plaza central) and checked out the handicrafts. I went to various churches and just walked and walked and walked. Chiapas is quite similar to Guatemala, but in a more refined way. It is visibly cleaner…there are trash cans in public and I see people actually using them. I also immediately noticed the absence of the local town drunks. In Guatemala, it was sad; there were inevitably drunk men passed out in the middle of the sidewalks, on the side of the road, in the park, everywhere. I also went to the Museum of Mayan Medicine and learned all about their natural healing traditions that are still very much in use today. There are 62 other languages in Mexico other than Spanish and the main one spoken here is Tsoztil, or something like that. It`s interesting to hear, as it seems to me what I would expect an African tribal language to sound like. Later that night I met up with a couple of friends whom I`d previously met online and we went out for a night on the town. I discovered that tiburon (shark) is the name for some seriously cheap aguardiente de caña…and it is equally as disgusting and dangerous as Colombian aguardiente….eek.
Friday I went with the same people to the little village of San Juan Chamula. It was market day and it was lively. The highlight though, was the church. It is a Catholic church, but is nothing like the Catholic churches we know. It is a big cross between christian and pagan traditions and beliefs and as most religions are, it is taken very seriously here. If you don`t believe in the church, you are expelled from the community and apparently many have had to move away because of this. I found this church fascinating. There were no pews or seating of any kind. The walls were lined with statues of different saints and there were people in front of each of them praying for various reasons. The entire middle floor area was covered in a layer of pine needles and the crosses had pine branches wrapped around them. Supposedly the pine tree is significant in Mayan tradition. Throughout the church were traditionally dressed Mayan women, men and children with gobs of candles that they would stick to the floor in rows and they would chant in low voices as they set up their own private worship areas. I guess the number and size of the candles depends on the severity of what they are praying for. I have no idea how this place hasn`t burned down with all those dry pine needles and millions of candles. No pictures allowed though, so I can`t share. There were also some “healer” women at work. One was rubbing eggs all over this man`s head while chanting and another was doing something with soda. I met a man the next day who said he`d been there a few hours after I and they were sacrificing a chicken!
My other side trip was to the Canyon del Sumidero. This is a very dramatic canyon outside of San Cristobal and at its deepest is 1.2km deep. I took a boat trip through the canyon and admired the nearly vertical walls and the caves embedded in them. There were monkeys to spot and lots of waterfalls, the most impressive resembling a christmas tree.
The rest of the weekend was spent dancing, dancing, dancing. The friends I made were salsa lovers like me so I had a great time dancing until my feet blistered for 3 nights straight. During the days I was able to spend time with my friend Luis`s family…sipping high-quality tequila, listening to them tell tales about their family members and small town lives and EATING!!! Food is a major part of Mexican life and this family was very interested in making sure I tried EVERYTHING!!! My favorite so far has been the mole con pollo made by his grandma…nothing can beat a grandmother`s cooking!
I then headed over to the capital of Chiapas, Tuxtla de Gutierrez. This wasn`t a part of my itinerary but I got talked into it and those are usually the best stops. The highlight of this town for me was el Parque de la Marimba. Marimba is a traditional and folkloric music/dance in southern Mexico and is very tropically sounding. It is upbeat and lively and in this particular park, bands play every night of the year and the public comes out to dance in the park. I loved it!!! I think my friend thought I was a bit loca for making him go there 3 nights in a row, but it was fun to boogie with everyone, even though I had no clue as to what I was doing. I also went to the zoo, which had animals from Chiapas state only. This was cool because Chiapas is very biologically diverse as it is home to the only true jungle remaining in the country. My favorite was the Quetzal bird. It has the longest tail I`ve ever seen with brightly colored feathers which apparently are worth boo-coo bucks. It was beautiful.
And that was my week in Chiapas. I can`t believe I wanted to pass right on through here. Goes to show how ignorant I am regarding Mexico!!