Chiapa de Corzo to Cuauhtémoc, border of Guatemala
The Sunday in Chiapa starts for me with a stroll through town looking for yogurt and some fruit. I really treasure the time wandering alone through quiet streets in a city that is awakening.
Colourful people in traditional clothing, brightening the streets. Pictures engraved in my soul as people don’t want their picture taken.
After breakfast we walk full of expectations to the quay from which the boats to the canyon leave. Cañon de Sumidero. What a bummer, due to strong winds the boats will not sail. Lucky we took a photo yesterday from the bridge coming into town. We take a taxi to a waterfall close by and enjoy the tranquillity of a non-touristic place with lots of butterflies. Frank chats with Ernesto who seems to have a hotel in San Cristobal. We will check it out when we are there!
Next day we still contemplate if we should do the boat trip or just leave for San Cristobal. It is only 52km but with 2,000m ascent. So happy we decided to just leave at 8:00 as it turns out to be a full day of biking up-hill, without one flat stretch of land.
Slight headwind, altitude and looking for the hotel resulted in only arriving at 18:00 at Ernesto’s place, even if we took the toll-road. They recognize us immediately and we are happy to have chosen this very quiet, clean place. Our host are very kind and helpful in every way they can.
San Cristobal is indeed different from other cities we have seen in Mexico. Beautiful low-rise buildings, small one way streets filled with people from different mountain tribes (recognizable by their dresses) and lots of tourists. Afterwards we said we should also have taken photos of the tourists. Hippies, tattoos, dreadlocks, selling their own stuff on the streets. City (almost) taken over by outsiders. In the evening we join Lars and Karin. How much fun to see them again and not have to look/think/decide where to eat. What a perfect pizza El Punto has! Company and discussion are relaxing and inspiring. Such great fellow travellers!
What a refreshing night, due to the altitude (2050m) it really cools down and for the first time in ages we sleep with a blanket!
Next day we join Cesar to visit two important hill tribes. He is dedicated to give more insight and background info than other touristic tours, lived in the past at one of the indigenous tribes. You just show up at the cross in front of the cathedral and for us it becomes a private tour, low season has its benefits!
San Juan Chamula is our first stop. You really recognize the local dress code, sheep are kept for their wool which is used for the skirts for women and ponchos for men. We are lucky to meet this family and this time they allow us to take pictures for a small fee. The daughter is 20 and already has 2 small kids. The oldest starts to hold Franks hand and doesn’t let go, when we leave she starts to cry. Strange, but touching.
We visit the Tzotzil. Most important is how this group of indigenous people is trying to live as their traditional ways dictate. A mix between Spanish and their local believes. Their church is also a mix between indigenous Maya believes and Christianity, but without any control from Rome. People burn candles on the floor and sacrify chickens but still have Christians saints lined up against the walls. Each colour of candles has its own meaning. We can soak in the atmosfeer but we are not allowed to take pictures.
The cemetery shows the age of the deceased by the color of the crosses, babies (white crosses), youngsters (blue) and adults (black). We also visit one of the spiritual leaders, locals can apply to become a spiritual leader and will be responsible for one specific Saint for one year. Very low criminality in this town as it is a self governed community with its own police, own judge, own time (only God can adjust the time, not the people). The year on the arch in front of the church has a special meaning to us, but what does it mean here, as the church is much, much older than that?
Zinacantan is the next town with a totally different spiritual approach, weaving and embroidery. We visit a local family and see how much time is needed to create a blouse (huipile) or skirt. Beautiful work. Taking photo’s is a challenge, only allowed with a tele of the full surrounding or after agreement (nobody we ask want to have their picture taken) and even with the tele lens you feel like you are intruding people’s space.
Second day we wake-up at 3:30 as our pick-up for Palenque is at 4:00. A van with 17 people is speeding over the winding mountain hill roads towards the first stop at 6:30 for breakfast. After an other 1 ½ hour we visit Aqua Azul, a beautiful cascade. Where I take a short dip in the clear blue water. Next stop is a 35m high waterfall where we don’t swim as we only have an hour to hike behind the waterfall, visit the cave and have lunch.
Then finally Palenque. You don’t really know what to expect as this is one of the highlights of Mexico everybody is raving about. An immense Maya site, only 10% excavated, the remaining still covered with jungle. We have brought everything with us so if needed we could spend a night here. Strolling and reading, climbing and roasting in 36 degrees with a 90% humidity we still are able to see most of the buildings and feel the spirit. Amazing buildings, large constructions, the use of cement and plaster as early as 250 BC, colours and tunnels. We decide to take the ride back as the site anyhow closes at 17:00 and we don’t mind to use tomorrow to discover more of San Cristobal.
Next day we enjoy what goes up will come down. From a chilly pine forest cruising down the hill we end in a scalding humid tropical forest. Passing fields and fields of sugar cane. Lot’s of harvesting going on, such dirty work, sugarcane factory in the middle of the valley. The clear spring water really provides life for all around. We don’t take the short 190 route to the border but take a detour to El Chiflon waterfall where we arrive just in time to still have dinner and visit the beautiful high waterfall. Not a long hike, but just about enough after 100+km biking. Colourful amber pedant and a beautiful standalone cabin are my birthday presents. We could have camped but birthday and feeling shitty justify staying in the cabin. Happy we stayed there!
Next day still feeling shitty but pushing on as I want to reach the border tonight so we can cross on Franks birthday. We decide to follow the right side of the mountain and end biking a hot, remote, great, dirt road with some 20% incline stretches. Yes, pushing it on my birthday. But we make it to the border, all restaurants are closed and to restore intestinal flora we only eat yogurt (only thing we could find besides chips). A birthday to remember.
Fun to close off Mexico after having spend 3 months in this beautiful country. Long but way too short. Friendly but reserved people. Safe but a lot of traffic. Prejudice & cheap accommodation resulting in less camping. Rules are no rules. Best maintained toll roads for speedy, safe, distance biking. Colourful little towns. Bustling cultural big cities. Stilled remains of wiped out cultures. Mountain people treasuring their culture. Price is price, same for local or visitor, no bargaining. Great food, different per region. So much more to see.
What will Guatemala bring us?