This entry is coming to you from the mountain town of San Cristobal de las Casas, which is located in the Central Mountains of Mexico and in the state of Chiapas. 2,000 metres of elevation means two things; finding it easier to get out of breath (which is already routine when you’re as spectacularly unfit as I am), and something we’ve not really experienced since Mexico City – cold. It’s a beautiful mountain town though, with heaps of character and probably the most unique atmosphere we’ve encountered so far. That’s not to say that it’s un-Mexican here, but it certainly feels like we’ve left the distinctive ‘surfer’ vibe of the Pacific Coast behind. The people here seem to be every bit as hardy as the weather. I’m also more than OK with some frostier climes after the exhausting heat of the coast.
We checked out of our hostel in Puerto Escondido – the highly recommended Tower Bridge -to head down the coast for one night in a smaller town named Mazunte. It wasn’t as completely off the grid as we expected, but was very relaxed and provided a lovely beach and top notch plate of fresh-as-it-comes pulpo (octopus). I think we could have happily stayed for another night, but after that we’d have had enough. I’m certainly pleased we went, but glad we didn’t make it an official, three-night stop. We splashed out on a taxi* for the hour drive there from Puerto so decided to try the cheap method back, namely a colectivo** up to the main highway and a pretty sketchy bus back along the coast, which was driving about twice the speed of the taxi despite being at least 10 times the size.
We needed to get back to Puerto for our overnight bus to San Cristobal, which ended up costing us about 400 pesos more than it should have done as we hadn’t booked it in advance. Lesson learned. After 14 hours of patchy sleep***, we were delivered to the morning chill of this lovely mountain town and made our way to our hostel (Puerta Vieja) which came highly recommended by a mustachioed Australian who had stayed there for a month and extolled the virtues of the peaceful garden and the British bartenders propensity to dish out free shots.
We downed bags and headed out for an explore, taking in the obligatory square and impressive catholic church before treating ourselves to coffee and pastries at a surprisingly authentic French cafe. Back at the hostel we were intrigued enough to try out the on-site Temazcal, a type of sweat lodge that dates back to pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica. It’s a brick igloo with a pit in the centre that’s filled with red-hot rocks, which in turn are splashed with copious amounts of rosemary-infused water to generate singeingly-hot steam. Ben managed about an hour and I stayed in slightly longer, suffice to say that we definitely sweated out the sins of Puerto Escondido.
We then booked ourselves onto a tour of Chiapas’s main attraction for the next day and headed to the hostel bar for ‘tapas night and beer pong tournament’. The tapas was delicious, the beers were cold, and Los Gringos (the elite beer pong trio we formed with a Dutch girl named Nikki) had to settle for a second-place finish. In our defence, the team we faced in the final was a pair of Mexicans, and it was pretty distracting lining up your shots with two thirds of the bar screaming “MEX-I-CO! MEX-I-CO! MEX-I-CO!”. At least I managed to back up my hubris-laden boasts that I was a ‘last cup specialist’ by nailing the last shot in the opening two rounds.
The highlight of Chiapas we were seeing the next day is Sumidero Canyon, a stunning gorge lined with kilometre-high walls, through which we had booked a boat tour. We rolled out of bed in the nick of time to leave the hostel at 9am, trying to ignore the hangovers and cursing ourselves for snoozing too many alarms to grab breakfast or coffee****. Sumidero did not disappoint though. My fears of a tedious barge-style boat that crawled along the river were dismissed as we boarded a twin-engined speedboat and proceeded to fly down the 13 kilometre passage, taking in crocodiles, spider monkeys, iguanas and jaw-dropping scenery. This was also a perfect chance to really road test my new baby, a handheld, 3-axis, electronically stabilised gimbal for my GoPro. Yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds.
The tour stopped briefly in the small town of Chiapa de Corzo – where we made our first culinary error of the trip, paying 30 pesos for some soggy empanadas flung onto our table by a decidedly grump senora. We alleviated this problem with an ingenious solution -having a second lunch! This was a more palatable pair of pork tacos served by a significantly more amenable lady.
That was yesterday, and today is another travel day. We’re jumping on an overnight bus in four hours that will take us up to Merida, where were won’t pause but will head along the top of the Yucatan peninsula so we can take a boat to our next stop, Isla Holbox. We’re beating a hasty trail across the country at the moment, and the reasons for this will become apparent, but that’s not to say we don’t have enough time to be taking in this magical country, which keeps changing and offering so much more every time we step off a bus.
Next stop – island life.
Current location (Just for you Vez! xxx)
*Our numbers were up to four at this point, which made this cheaper. We boasted a Canadian girl and an Australian chap in our ranks for the Mazunte road trip.
**A pickup truck with some roughshod seating in the back and filled to standing room only
***For me at least – Ben could probably sleep in the middle of a mosh pit at a thrash metal concert during a hurricane
****Why we keep choosing to get the most inebriated before the earliest starts is a mystery to us as well. We’re working on it.