It's been an unusual week since leaving the Pacific coast and Puerto Escondido. First because the climate is so unpredictable and it's been the first time I felt cold in months; second because I have been a pure tourist for 9 days, since the shelter in San Cristobal to which I wrote didn't get back to me. I will describe you the beauty of Chiapas and at once there will be less dog pictures than usual!
Travelling to San Cristobal de las casas
After waving goodbye to our friends at Casa Losodeli, we embarked on a 13-hour bus overnight journey. We were quite confident we could sleep a bit since the buses in Mexico are comfortable, you can recline your seat properly and the drivers are usually taking it safe & easy on the road (unlike the camionetas - van drivers!!) Despite being a national road, the highway 200 along the coast still has a lot of curves and gets quite narrow sometimes. After Salina Cruz, the highway goes inland and goes progressively up. We arrived at 6am at Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of Chiapas state. Not without stress, the bus driver told us we had to wait a bit at the bus station and change the itinerary as some kidnapping have been reported on their usual road :/ Chiapas is in fact the poorest state of Mexico, with more than 70% of its population living under the poverty threshold. Luckily we arrived an hour and half later, safe & sound in San Cristobal de las casas.
My first impressions of San Cristobal are the beautiful surrounding mountains, pine trees and the fresh, crisp morning air. I almost felt back home! Indeed it lays on a plateau at 2'200 meters above sea level. The city is home to ~200'000 inhabitants and has a colonial flair, with cobblestone streets, colorful walls and wrought iron balconies. There is a mix of baroque, neoclassical and modern architectures which render the place a gem to visit. We did a free walking tour and learned so much about the town's history, landmarks and culture thanks to our local guide and artist Erika. San Cristobal got founded by the Spanish conquistadors in 1528 and used to play an important political role until the 19th century, when the capital of Chiapas was moved to Tuxtla Gutierrez.
San Cristobal remains nonetheless the cultural capital of Chiapas, and has a large indigenous population living on its municipality. It's not unusual to hear women speaking tzeltal among each other, and it sounds nothing like Spanish. You see them weaving textiles and selling their work at the local market. If you like colorful items, this place is your heaven! You can enjoy below some of my photos to give you an idea:
San Cristobal brings a steady stream of tourists throughout the year - and some even decide to stay forever. It impacts the town a little, as you see more European style cafés and international restaurants popping up. Nonetheless, the magical and historical atmosphere prevails for now.
There are a couple of excursions one can do in the surroundings. Being a "full time tourist for a week", I decided to take advantage of my free time and visited the small botanical garden, with an orchids greenhouse. It's amazing how adaptable flowers are - even at this altitude:
I also went to the Canyon of Sumidero, a natural freshwater river & lake system surrounded by high rocky mountains. For 2 hours on a small boat, we navigated and admired the breathtaking views as well as spotted some wildlife. Besides the usual pelicans and cormorants, we spotted numerous... crocodiles! Sun-bathing on the bank of the river.
Onto the Maya adventure: Palenque
After almost a week in San Cristobal, it was time to leave the cold and get back to normal Mexican weather - or so I thought! I took the bus to one of the most important Maya ancient city: Palenque. While Google maps indicates 5 hours to get there from San Cristobal by car, the bus trip takes 8 hours. I was wondering why, but then I realized that instead of taking the most direct route, we did a huge detour and passed through the state of Tabasco. I didn't mind as the route is quite scenic and there are beautiful green landscapes. However the past few weeks have been non-stop rain there, and I witnessed with desolation many inundated fields, that literally look like lakes (some ducks invaded there!) and even the road was at times a gigantic water field. Luckily after 10 hours instead of 8, I made it to Palenque.
The town is mostly visited for its Maya ruins but it also has large waterfalls nearby. As I was not in the mood to book an organized tour, I went to venture by myself; to be honest, Mexico is not a complicated country to travel when you speak some Spanish. Mexicans are generally extremely friendly and helpful.
So I managed to visit both the ruins and the Agua Azul waterfall within the same day. I had fun sharing the journey with local people in the colectivo (local van transport) and also being the only gringa waiting at some random crucero (cross-road), while waiting for the next colectivo. There is always a small shop (abarrotes) selling basic necessities, chips and coca cola (the most important drink for anyone in Mexico...), where you see some kids and dogs roaming around. In this case, there were 3 girls, 2 dogs and even 1 pig so I made some friends for 30 minutes!
As much as I loved Chiapas for its unique beauty, I am ready for some warm weather and sun again. So here comes the emblematic Yucatan peninsula, which I am sure most of you have heard of, since that's where Cancun and all the tropical waters are. There are numerous other Maya ruins in this area (Chichen Itza, Tulum etc.) but we have to check if we can visit them - some are closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. In any case, I'm also looking for a last volunteering opportunity in the area. Let's wait & see what the future hold!
I'm not sure that I'll manage to write another article prior to Christmas. So I already wish each of you and your loved ones a relaxing time for the holiday season - no matter where you are and how you celebrate (or not), keep up the positive spirits!