I woke up at 7.20am in my jungle hut in Palenque- argh I had set my alarm (or so I thought) for 6.15am to give myself time to shower, pack, get ready in a leisurely manner before my 8.30am bus… instead what happened was I saw the time, panicked, jumped out of bed, started shoving my possessions in my rucksack, and scuttled as quickly as I could to the collectivo which would take me from El Panchan huts to the centre. Somehow I managed to get to the bus station for 8am, leaving me time for a Nutella crepe and coffee to see me through the eight hour bus ride ahead! The scenery en route made the long journey worth it- with hills and mountains encased in green for a good portion of the journey it was absolutely stunning. Scenery you don’t really associate with Mexico, the state of Chiapas is incredibly green and beautiful. It reminded me of the coffee district in Colombia or the hills of Ecuador. Beautiful!
We reached San Cristobal, a high altitude mountain town, the first thing that hit me was the cooler climate- bliss! I was so pleased about this- a welcome change for me from the intense sun- particularly as I’ve lost my hat and sunglasses. Not to mention my patchy skin problems!
I got to my hostel Posada Abuelito (a lovely little hostel I fully recommend), walked into my female only dorm and the first friendly face who greeted me was an American who it turns out is also a teacher! We ended up going out that night with a few others from the hostel and had an interesting night to say the least. It involved tacos (I got some great veggie ones with roasted pumpkin and falafel), a shot of a local speciality drink made from fermented corn- like an intense tequila shot- not really my cup of tea to be honest but when in Rome, salsa dancing at a well known bar with live music called revolucion, and finally a cool bar with a dance floor. Again my salsa dancing skills were not upto scratch- I would like to take up classes as it is really fun. A Dutch guy was also lacking in technique ..his dancing was a sight to behold- crazy jerky movements with his arms and shoulders.. it was an incredibly fun night though!
The next day I met up with Dana at a vegetarian cafe (ooh get us!) and we were discussing the events of the night before- apparently while I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth there was a knocking on our dorm door. She opened it and it was Dutch guy in nothing but a pair of tiny pants! “Oops wrong room” he apparently said! “Yes it is!” She replied and slammed the door on him! The next day he was upset that he had lost or spent all of his money. Dana told him “no you didn’t lose your money, you emptied the entire contents of your money belt and gave all of your money to a beggar on the street! I think he must have felt quite sheepish today haha, but Dana was telling me about all of his bad luck on his travels- he has been robbed and punched in the face in Peru, had his mobile phone stolen in Colombia and lost various other possessions along the way… poor guy!
San Cristobal is a cool town- in both weather and vibe, it reminds me a little of Cusco Peru, and also of Sucre Bolivia, although perhaps less visually impressive- the buildings and plaza aren’t as grand as those in Cusco for example, but it’s similar in the way that it’s a colonial town in the hills with cool streets lots of coffee shops, cafes, bars and plenty to do in the surrounding area – a good place to base yourself from and there’s a lot of Spanish language schools here for those who choose to do just that. It’s definitely more ‘Mexican’ here than in the touristy Yucatan. I was hit by the poverty- children no older than five years old begging cars at traffic lights, children selling things and working in cafes. Elderly people begging or selling tat. So sad. A huge discrepancy between the rich and poor here.
Saturday evening I had an early night to recouperate and booked to go on a horse ride on Sunday morning to a local indigenous village with Dana and a Belgian girl Anne from the hostel. However when I woke up on Sunday morning bright and breezy and raring to go, Dana had been ill with a stomach bug and she thinks it was from the mayo at the veggie restaurant- that was the only thing I didn’t have that she had. In order to avoid vomiting on a horse she had to give the riding a miss. At 9am me and Anne were picked up and taken to the outskirts of the city where we got our horses! The ride to the village was through stunning green scenery- it was like something from a film! I almost felt like belting out “the Hills are aaallliiivvveee…”, an hour or so later we arrived at the indigenous village of San Juan Chamulah – many of the residents don’t even speak Spanish, but their own language. Interestingly it is autonomously ruled- general police or military are not allowed in the village like many villages in Chiapas! Anne (who is an actress in Belgium) was telling me about a filmmaker she knows who actually got kidnapped in this state for making a documentary- they don’t like people taking photographs or videos of them as they believe it steals part of their soul, as well as being superstitious, they’re also very suspicious of outsiders in general. I started to feel like I was entering a Mexican version of the wicker man as I approached on my horse!
The first sight was a colourful market, and after a browse where we saw some embroidered clothes, shoes and a few bizarre things such as chicks which had been dyed really bright colours- pinks and purples! I tried to take a photo but was told no! Well the guy shook his head and looked stern so that was enough to make me back off!
We walked to the square which had a Church as its centrepoint. This is now a tourist attraction- we had to pay to enter.
Inside the Church strict rules of no photography apply – the locals can get very angry if you disobey this rule. Inside the church the first thing I saw was thousands of candles covering tables which lined the perimeter of the church. The interior of the church had no pews or beaches or seats- instead the floor was covered in pine needles (slightly worrying that these flammable needles were surrounded by lit candles!) Women, men and children kneeled on the floor by candles- lining them up on the floor and lighting them one by one. Wax would periodically be scraped up from the floor as the wax melted and all that was left was a burned out wick. Incense was burned, which stung the eyes, and glass fronted cabinets holding various images of disciples lined the walls. People were kneeling, chanting and praying, by the candles were many people with bottles of Coke… apparently burping gets rid of ones evil spirits!!! Hence drinking the fizzy coke to encourage this! I would have thought they’d have some special herbal remedy rather than Coca Cola! Just shows there’s no escaping the West and Capitalism..
I also got a surprise when I walked past one lady and heard a loud squawking of a chicken- aww a woman has her pet chicken in Church, how quaint I thought. Erm no it was actually to be sacrificed in other words killed.. I escaped the church before I could witness this. Randomly I bumped into the Spanish guy from Bacalar and the bus station at Chetumal. He seemed happy as his bus had been fine! No more lost towels to report either!
Well I’m off to get food and a coffee. I still have a few more days (and nights) in San Cristobal so I will be back with more soon…
Hi, I live and work in Dubai. I enjoy getting out and about and seeing what Dubai has to offer, travelling in my holidays and spare time – prepare for blog posts about this, and cooking vegetarian recipes. I am passionate about travel and animals.