So I’m back in San Cristobal again, I really like this city. The first night I go out for dinner with Joel (who still lives here, see last San Cristobal post). We eat Ceviche: raw fish in a lemon sauce. Mine had shrimp, octopus and some white fish in a pepper sauce. Very very tasty. This restaurant shows that the tourism business is huge in San Cristobal. It’s inside an old colonial building, but they only kept the outside walls. The inside is an extremely modern courtyard with a bunch of fancy restaurants. When you’re inside you’d almost think you’re somewhere in Europe instead of Mexico. That evening it became clear again that I should soon start a Spanish course. We went for drinks with some of Joel’s friends but the Spanish was too much and too quick for me. Luckily the street with all the bars attracts loads of interesting characters so watching people is quite fun too. When I get back to the hostel, I realise that I don’t know which bed is mine. So instead of sleeping in a full dorm I opt for my van in the courtyard. I guess I really like sleeping in that van.
I do like this hostel. The included breakfast today is quesadillas with egg, avocado and tomato. Jummy. The hostel is extremely social and there are loads of people hanging around to chat with. I head into town again with Joel who shows me around some more. We climb a hill that has a great view when you’re half way up. Not so much when you’re at the top. Too many trees. When I get back to the hostel they ask me if I want to join for a BBQ in the courtyard. Of course! We have shrimp in garlic marinade, a huge pile of chorizo and a whole pig leg. The whole group goes to a nearby by where we have the local alcoholic beverage made from corn: Pox. The people at the hostel are OK with me sleeping in the van, so no need to be in a crowded dorm.
Sunday breakfast is a huge ham, omelet, avocado, tomato sandwich. Joel and I were planning to head to some caves. He’s bringing the daughter from his guest family with her two kids too. The Kiwi guy and Dutch girl I’ve been hanging out with at the hostel ask me if I want to join them to the caves, instead they join us. To get to the caves we do the “how many people can you fit in a taxi” trick. We managed 4 adults, 2 kids and a driver in one small taxi. Not bad, also the police seem to be fine with this around here. The caves are in a park which clearly is a typical Mexican day out place. Loads and loads of people, but we’re the only non-locals. There’s the caves with big rooms, stalagmites and stalactites. There are slides, which of course we have to try. There made of concrete so they don’t slide that well. Mexican solution: sit on a flat water bottle. Worked really well, until someone crashed (not me). Time for lunch with more great quesadillas and for the kids a cob of corn with mayonnaise, ketchup and chili powder. After that we just sat on the grass watching pickups with 20-30 people (looks like a whole village) drive up for BBQs; watch people ride horses; listen to local mariachi bands. A very Mexican sunny Sunday afternoon. When we want to head back, the taxi driver actually did show up at the time we agreed. Nobody is cooking at the hostel so I’ll have to cook my own meal today. The hostel people ask if I don’t mind sleeping in my van because they have more people showing up and they could sell my bed again. Scored a discount!
Last day in San Cristobal. I drop off my laundry at the taqueria across the street (Mexican logic). The guy asks me when I need it and I say tomorrow morning. He writes down 6PM so I ask him again if he really means tomorrow morning. He says yes so I assume he mixed up AM and PM. My morning program for today is visiting the NGO Joel works for. I join him and his coworkers for their coffee break and after that Joel shows me their tree farm with all kinds of trees in different sizes. One of the other guys there is doing some experiments on making better compost so they have some piles of compost that are being checked to see which one is better. Pretty cool. Time to wander around town some more. I run into an Argentinian couple with a VW van. They are driving south to north and are selling home (van) made stuff (wallets, post cards, bracelets, etc.) from their van to pay for their trip. They actually camp in the street and use the bathroom at a nearby bar or hostel. We exchange some tips for the trip ahead. When I get back to the hostel they just made pasta and ask if I want to join. Saves me thinking about dinner. For that evening I have another very Mexican plan. Joel joined a local traditional dancing group and tonight they’re giving a show for one of the neighborhoods in San Cristobal that have their yearly festival. It’s on the outskirts of the city and again I’m clearly the only non-local (with that I mean the only person taller than 1.60m). The festival is in front of the church and has loads of food stands, bumper cars and even a mini ferris wheel. Joel and his group have a program that lasts two hours and they have 8 different outfits from different regions in Mexico. It’s impressive to see how many different dances they do in a row. While the dancers change outfits a local artist sings some songs. This is an old guy in a badly fitting suit. The locals love it, but it sounds terrible. Joel is the only non-Mexican in the group and at least a head taller than the other people. This does look kind of funny when he has to dance l/cheek to cheek with one of the girls. It’s good fun to watch a local fiesta. Back at the hostel they made mountains of ceviche (the raw fish meal) and have plenty left over for me for a midnight snack.
Turns out the guy did mean 6PM, which means no laundry. Luckily I’m in no hurry and I’m enjoying the hostel so I’ll stay another day. With the Kiwi, the Dutch, three Germans and a whole bunch of other people we go to another cave today. We take a collective there. Even though I’ve been in Mexico for two months I haven’t taken a collectivo yet. Good time to get that one of the checklist. The caves are similar to the ones we went to on Sunday but these have signs saying what the rocks look like: sleeping mammoth, a cathedral, a snail. You have to be very creative to see it. There’s also a river just outside the caves and most people decide it’s time for a swim in the pretty cold water. (Still better than the Pacific in Alaska.) After a while we want to head back so we walk to the road to a small store. Turns out there’s not that many collectivos at this time of the day. But the store sells food and drinks and we can play cards so we don’t mind. Across the street a few men are cutting trees with a chainsaw. They actually manage to cut stacks of exactly equally sized wooden planks from the trees with a chainsaw. Without any jigs or something… That’s some serious skill. After more than an hour wait we get a local pickup truck to let us ride in the back and drop us off in the city. Real local public transport. Time for more BBQ at the hostel. We spent the night playing cards and following the US elections in shock (especially for the Americans and Canadians). We head to the local wine bar later to play some table soccer. Team NL is not very good.
The next morning my laundry does arrive but a car is parked in front of the hostel gate and I cannot get out. The weather is nice so I’m not in a hurry. After a while I figure out that it’s the hostel’s owner’s car. He moves it aside while I say goodbye to my new friends. From San Cristobal I drive to Chamula, a Mayan village in the mountains near San Cristobal. It is famous for its church where Catholisism and Mayan rituals are mixed. On the outside the church looks like any Central American church but once inside (no photos allowed) it’s completely different. There are no benches, instead the floor is covered in pine needles. In multiple spots groups of locals sit together to pray and bring offerings. They’ll move some of the needles aside and set up heaps of candles on the floor. Somehow apparently the church has not burned down yet. The people then pray out loud while bringing offerings of Coca Cola (a sacred drink here) and eggs. Very interesting to see. The town also has another church which lies in ruins but is surrounded by an active graveyard. Because it was Dia de Muertos not too long ago the graves are nicely decorated with flowers. After Chamula I headed to the Cascadas de el Chifflon, a bunch of nice waterfalls. It is possible to camp there which sounded like a good idea to me. Sadly enough the nice camping spots are tent only (you can only walk there) but I could sleep in the parking lot for cheap. Around sunset I went for a walk along the first few waterfalls which look really nice at night with bats flying around.
The next day I got up early to start the hike along the waterfalls. It was a weekday and pretty early so there was nobody around. The path leads along some six waterfalls that range from just a meter to more than 50 meters. The viewing platforms are nicely refreshing and the views are great. That night I planned to camp at the Lagos de Montebello. Several people at the hostel in San Cristobal went there on an excursion and said it was pretty nice. Sadly enough the weather wasn’t too good so I didn’t really explore the lakes that day. But a restaurant/cabanas place let me camp in the grass next to the lake with an awesome view. My original plan was to cross to Guatemala the next day but I read that you should never try to cross at that town on a Friday because the local market blocks most of the streets and makes it almost impossible to get through. Well.. I guess since I haven’t seen the lakes yet and this place is cheap I can stay for another night.
The next day I set out to explore the lakes. There’s a main road in the park with multiple smaller roads leading to the lakes. On my map those roads are connected so I decide to drive a circle. Turns out the roads are steep, narrow dirt roads once again. Plus it rained a lot yesterday so there is plenty of mud. A few times I was slightly worried if I would be able to get through. The road was too narrow to turn, but luckily I didn’t run into any cars going the other directions. The cool thing was that I passed multiple small remote Maya villages. All the kids came out of their houses and smiled and waved at my van coming by. That night I enjoyed another beautiful sunset at my lake spot. That is until it started pouring rain again… So much rain that a river started flooding underneath my van to the lake. When I checked before going to sleep it was at least 10cm deep. Let’s hope I don’t get flooded into the lake. Just crossing a border into Guatemala tomorrow will be enough adventure for a day.
Thanks again to Joel for showing me around and getting me the most Mexican weekend possible!