Saturday, June 30, 2012


We spent last week in one of my favorite places in the world: the state of Chiapas, Mexico. Why is it my favorite? At the risk of sounding like an eight-year-old, there are a lot of animals, trees, flowers, rivers, old buildings, and it is warm. There are also a lot of different ear-pleasing Mayan languages to hear, colorful traditional outfits to observe, and inspiring locals and foreigners with whom to converse. It’s also a budget-friendly destination.

For the aforementioned reasons, last week was one of the best weeks out of the ten we have spent in Mexico. If you have not visited Chiapas, I highly recommend moving it to a higher position on your travel list. I had visited Chiapas ten years ago as a student at the Tecnologico de Monterrey campus in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico. Revisiting mostly the same sites, now with Harold, was not only a lot of fun and adventure, but highlighted some changes in those places, as well as in my perspective as a traveler.

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned that an extremely generous couple we met at a funeral in Juchitan, Oaxaca, had given us a ride to the capital of Chiapas: the steamy, busy Tuxtla Gutierrez. They fed us several meals, took us to another funeral, for someone they knew (a nice way to celebrate our first wedding anniversary….?), and offered us a room in their house for the night. We were overwhelmed by their hospitality. Yet, having seen most of what Tuxtla had to offer (which included a terrifying drunk girl who repeatedly accused us of being vampires and stole our tequila), early the next morning we headed to Chiapa de Corzo, a picturesque world heritage site of a town about a half hour away. Once there, we signed up for a boat ride down the stunning Canon del Sumidero, which I had not previously visited. Rumor has it that some of the locals, preferring death over submission to the Spanish Conquistadors, threw themselves into the canyon during the Conquest.

On the boat ride, we met some friendly, fun Finnish guys and ended up traveling with them to San Cristobal de las Casas, about an hour southeast of Tuxtla. We took the colectivo, which cost less than a dollar, but we had failed to protect our backpacks (strapped to the top of the crowded van) from the afternoon rain, and fresh our things were not when we arrived in San Cristobal. For some reason, we decided to walk in the pouring rain to the hostel, rather than take a taxi. I think our travel austerity measures just kicked into high gear for a moment.

As we had risen to about 6000 feet above sea level (1900 meters), it was only about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and I immediately broke out my fleece and rain jacket, and promptly developed a stuffy nose. What a change from the previously balmy weather! We were lucky enough to get a room at the beautiful hostel (with excellent feng-shui!) that the Finnish guys had reserved, and promptly tossed our moist clothing all over the room in an attempt to dry it out.

We hung out in San Cristobal de las Casas for a couple of days, strolling the streets and eating and drinking in the hostel kitchen and having some seriously fun and stimulating conversations with other travelers. The young Spaniards who were working in Mexico in order to gain experience to help them obtain a job in the brutally tight Spanish economy. The Spanish guy who lost his job, sold his house, and started traveling, as it was cheaper than living unemployed in Spain. The professional Irish couple going through the Australian immigration process. The young Welsch woman with a history degree who was considering studying nursing. The Finnish animator for the Angry Birds app. The Japanese guy who was taking a year off from his MBA at a top Japanese university to study photography in Seattle. The spirited South African couple who were traveling by land to Brazil.

From San Cristobal, we hopped on a bus to Palenque, an eight-hour ride away, to visit the jungle and the large Mayan ruins site. It was a fascinating journey through the highlands of Chiapas, where many signs were in Mayan languages, and daily life could be observed while passing on the road, as children dressed in traditional clothing walked home from school, women returned from the market, carrying babies and purchases in rebozos, or large scarves worn in sash-like fashion, and men plowed the steep cornfields with horses. After arriving at the jungle cabin recommended by the hostel manager in San Cristobal, we met up with our friend, Hiroki, who had come in on an earlier bus.

We had little time to soak in the sights and sounds of the jungle before hearing from our friends at the Canadian embassy, necessitating a trip back to Oaxaca City, and then on to Mexico City. Oh, well, we shall return, and next time venture on to the states of Quintana Roo and Yucatan, as well as the countries of Belize and Guatemala, all short bus rides from Palenque. Or better yet, plan a trip to southern Mexico and come and explore with us!

There are so many pictures of Chiapas that I will just provide you with the link to our online album. Click through them one by one in order to read the captions. Enjoy!

Chiapas album

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