Saturday, 19 May 2007, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas
We have been in San Cristobal de las Casas for a week and have been enjoying the cooler weather very much. I'll just record our journey from Oaxaca to here before giving any sort of detailed description of this beautiful town. Before we left Mitla, we went to have a look inside the church that had been built in the middle of the old buildings. It was not a special church in any way and somehow it still feels like a great dis-respect to the indigenous people to put it where the Spanish did, but it seems they made a habit of it.
We then headed south-west in the direction of Tehuantepec, where we had planned to spend the night, before driving across the Isthmus early the next day. We had been warned that the crossing has very strong winds and you must be careful - we were also told that if you drive early the wind is not usually as strong as later in the day. The campground we were headed for, Santa Teresa Trailer Park, turned out to be so unkept and disgustingly dirty that even for free we wouldn't have considered staying... We also weren't keen on paying 300 pesos a night to stay in the parking lot of a hotel right on the highway.
So we decided to drive on to Juchitan and look for a hotel with a secure parking lot and take a room - it was very hot and we thought an air conditioned room might be welcome. There was a hotel, once again on the main road - which we discovered was actually the Pan-American Highway - but we thought a room at the back would be ok. Unfortunately they had no vacancies at all but suggested one in the town that had parking. After much hassle trying to manoeuvre in the town we found the usual problem with parking lots - the overhead clearance is not high enough for us. We went to the parking lot of the Bodega Aurrera and made dinner before driving on.
Finally we stopped at a Pemex at La Ventosa. They had plenty of room at the back and at the time (about 8.00pm) it looked pretty quiet. Not so. All night the trucks rolled in, stayed a while and rolled out again. Juergen slept maybe 10 minutes in all. At 1.30 I found some earplugs that someone had given us and I managed to sleep quite restlessly for about 3 or 4 hours. Travellers we have met tell us that they have spent quite restful nights at Pemex stations - I think we definitely picked the wrong one! It certainly does not encourage us to try again, and if we do we will certainly take more notice of exactly where it is placed. Two pluses about it though - they had clean showers with hot water for 12 pesos each and since we were on the edge of the Isthmus, there was at least a breeze to help combat the heat.
Needless to say we got a very early start and drove across the Isthmus to Tonala. It was not as windy as we had expected and we found the drive quite pleasant as the road was mostly good and we could maintain a reasonable speed - different than in the mountainous regions we had been driving lately. We turned off the highway, which goes on to Guatemala, at Tonala to drive to Puerto Arista. We thought it might be nice to spend some more time at the beach. We arrived at Jose's Camping and Cabañas at around midday and spent the rest of the very hot afternoon in the camper, catching up on our sleep with the air-conditioner on. We were surprised at how hot it was - even hotter than in Zipolite. But we had a good night's sleep despite the heat and decided to stay another night. We were very tired after one disturbed night at Mitla and one almost sleepless night at the Pemex, and even though it was very hot it was at least quiet at Puerto Arista. We spent the majority of our second day in the camper with the air-conditioning on, but at least got a few things accomplished - some photos sorted and some diary written. Jose made dinner for us and an English couple staying in one of the cabañas, and we spent a pleasant evening in the outdoor covered veranda that serves as a restaurant.
We didn't feel like we had missed much when we left the next day. I had walked along the beach late one afternoon and then back through the town and it seemed to be really deserted. The beach was also not particularly inviting. We drove back to Arriaga and then north-west into the mountains again to Tuxtla Gutierrez. We made a stop there to shop but our ultimate destination was Chiapa de Corzo where we took a boat at about 5.00pm through the Sumidero Canyon. Unfortunately we had forgotten to charge our spare battery, so when we found the battery in the camera empty after just one shot, we resigned ourselves to having no photos of the canyon. It was very hazy and the light wasn't particularly good for photos that late in the day either, so we just relaxed and gazed in wonder at this awesome work of water. At its deepest the canyon rises one kilometre from the bottom of the river to the top of the cliff. The cliffs rise up on both sides and one feels particularly small. The local indigenous people used to throw themselves into the canyon rather than submit to the Spanish conquistadors 5 centuries ago. It was quite an experience and worth the trip.
After dinner at the riverside we spent the night parked by the Zócalo in the town. It wasn't very peaceful but I guess we slept from about midnight until 5.00 when the street sweepers began. We drove on to San Cristobal de las Casas, on an extremely mountainous and winding road - the altitude increases by about 1700 metres in the 60 kilometre drive! On the way we stopped in Nachig. We had just been driving through the village when we noticed people in colourful traditional clothes, some wearing masks, who seemed to be assembling for some sort of procession, so we found a place to park and walked back to check it out. It turned out that the locals were celebrating the annual holiday for the Virgin of Fatima. It was bright and colourful and all the more enjoyable for being totally unexpected. After absorbing the experience for an hour or so we moved on and arrived in San Cristobal in the early afternoon. The campground, Rancho San Nicolas, is on the outskirts of the town and proved to be reasonably quiet, so we slept the afternoon away. After several weeks of disturbed sleep we really felt like we needed a good rest and were hopeful that this campground on the edge of this small city would provide it.
Monday, 28 May 2007
We are still in San Cristobal but are planning to leave for Palenque tomorrow. The fact that we are still here is mostly due to the beautiful city and the restful and pleasant environment of the campground, but is also partly due to Juergen getting a rather bad cold that has seen him in bed for most of the last 4 days. Every morning that I wake up without a sore throat or a stuffed head I am grateful, and I hope that with my daily dosage of Echinacea I will remain healthy.
San Cristobal is another nice Mexican city to spend some time in, but the first thing we had to do was to find a dentist - Juergen had discovered that he had a loose tooth that had previously had a root canal treatment. We tried the tourist information and the very helpful woman there gave us the directions required to find her father's dental office. We went there first thing on Monday morning (after arriving in San Cristobal on Saturday) and he took an x-ray of the tooth. It didn't look good. He said that there was nothing he could do and arranged for a specialist (we later discovered was his son) to come on Wednesday and look at the tooth. Unfortunately the specialist couldn't save the tooth either, as the root was broken, and the tooth had to be removed. That took a days of rest to get over, and somewhere further down the road we will have to find another dental specialist to replace the tooth with an implant.
Fortunately for us the Rancho San Nicolás turned out to be a fairly restful place - especially so for Juergen, first with his tooth problem and now the cold. It also brought us some interesting people to spend time with. During our first week here we met a couple from Holland, who have been travelling for about 12 years and spent the last 2½ with their Toyota Landcruiser in South America. Once again we picked up some useful titbits of information for future reference. There was also a German couple, who had met them in Guatemala, and we spent a couple of pleasant evenings with the four of them. At the same time there were a couple in the campground, she from Switzerland and he from Venezuela, who had just decided to stay in San Cristobal for a while and start a business. They are artists and want to use that talent to live and work here. They were also very interesting people to talk to about their life adventures. They all left and we thought we were once again alone when a small trailer pulled in with a couple from San Diego, their 3 daughters and their dog. They have been travelling since July in the United States, Canada and here in Mexico. Logan, Kelly, Katie, Corey, Abbey, and of course Summer the dog, are still here, and we have spent quite a lot of time enjoying all of their company.
Continuation on > Page 2 > !