Merida was great to visit, but the smog and earsplitting noise of all the vehicles, scooters and buses lacking upkeep quickly had us researching where we would go next.
We befriended a couple from South Korea and found out they were heading to Palenque, our next destination, so we decided to travel there together. Soon after, another girl from Korea who was staying at the same hostel as us joined our group. And so after 8 hours of failure of sleep during our night-time bus ride (384 pesos each, and a smart money-saver from spending on hotels for those who can easily sleep in vehicles), we arrived in Palenque at 6am, dark, cold, and raining. That didn’t stop us from seeing the ruins though. While everyone had breakfast at the bus station and waited for the sunrise, I scouted the area for hostels and hotels. Before arriving here I had done some research on the town of Palenque and was surprised by all the negative comments I read about it, but it’s really a nice little town, surrounded by beautiful lush vegetation. The main road was all mud and clay from construction in progress. The locals mostly kept to themselves. I enjoyed what little time I spent there.
The ruins were amazing. That is, after you get past all the persistent tour guides and merchants, which you will find in the ruins area as well. (Collectivo: 10 pesos each, Park entrance: 22 pesos each, Ruins ticket 51 pesos each, and 15 pesos for 2 bags of stored luggage). I feel fortunate that I got the visit the ruins while it rained, not only because of the lack of tourists, but, I can’t describe it, is was just so beautiful and tranquil. For a while the rain was a mist, and the clouds slithered between the hills – I couldn’t help but think of Mushishi.
But the rain got heavier and heavier. We went ahead of the group in search of the museum but later realized that it was a very, very long walk through the forest, by waterfalls and some lesser known ruins. We hadn’t seen anyone in a long while, it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, and we were getting poured on. Suddenly, while climbing through a neat tunnel entrance from what seemed to be residential area ruins, we heard a loud sound, repetitive. I tell you, it sounded like a dinosaur, and Robin says it sounded like a jaguar, but a friend of ours later suggested that it might be a big black monkey. The museum was very interested and filled with beautiful artifacts, definitely helping us understand more about the ruins since we didn’t know much about them at first. We decided to take the road and walk back to the entrance of the ruins. We had really cheap raincoats on that we were happy to purchase at the entrance for about 15 pesos each but that didn’t stop our sleeves, shoes and pants from getting soaked. It was a fantastic walk back, and no picture could be as good as seeing it with our own eyes.
We split from the group as they headed to Oaxaca city, a 14 hour drive from Palenque, and stayed at a nice little hotel for 150 pesos total. We thought of staying a few days, but the rain was constant and it was said that it would go on for a couple more days, so the next morning we choked down some oatmeal after our late wakeup (and lack of a watch, which Robin lost in Merida), and took a 4 or so hour drive with the OCC bus to San Cristobal de las Casas, a very nausiating trip for some. The best thing to do is to just close your eyes. The worst thing to do is to look outside all the time. If you want the inbetween, watch the movies. But I couldn’t help but look out the window. It was s beautiful, and for the first time I got a good, quick look at little Mexican villages. Little homes scattered here and there, some held off cliffs with wooden planks and missing floor boards, free range chickens, and the villagers themselves, washing clothes, making food, trying to sell food and crafts by the street side. It was really interesting to watch the flora slowly change as we headed deeper into Chiapas. We stopped in a city called Ocosingo long enough for me to take a walk in the slanted city. Once we arrived at San Cristobal de las Casas, I fell in love.
It’s a combination of things. The cold air is familiar to me, and there is a wonderful air of seclusion from the rest of the world at almost 7000 feet up, nestled between the mountains. The architecture and streets are lovely (I’ve come to realize that there is no such thing as a perfect, safe sidewalk in Mexico), decorated with bands of different-colored flags. The people are very friendly too, with lots of dreadheads and French-speaking travelers, many who have decided to call this city home. It’s a great experience to get out of the ¨city¨and head up the hills and meet those who live in little shacks. The markets are fabulous, and there is an excellent health food store and vegetarian restaurant downtown called Tierra Verde. When something is to be celebrated, it’s celebrated loudly! Horns, whistles, and lots and lots of fireworks. I have very sensitive ears so it’s tough on me, but it’s nice to see everyone so festive. Otherwise, people seem pretty relaxed here compared to other Mexican cities I’ve been to so far. What else? There are barely any mosquitoes. I really do love this city, it’s my favorite in Mexico as of yet, and I believe it’s the same for Robin too, but what he’s really hoping for is to climb some mountains. I’d totally be up to hiking up a mountain and spend a night up there, sleeping in our hammock and mosquito net, a bit of food and a pot for hot water, but we would FREEZE! It can get cold here, but not humid.
We went to Chamula on an eventful Saturday after hearing many recommendations to visit the little town 10 minutes from San Cristobal, and we were disappointed. Three main reasons: 1) It was very touristy. 2) You had to pay and get a ticket to visit the church. Not only is this wrong, but it looked like the locals could get in free. A donation would be more appropriate. It’s not supposed to be a tourist sight. Anyway. 3) There are LOTS of beggars. I have no problem helping those who show that they truly need help and make an effort, but for those who go around from one person to the next asking for money got on our nerves, especially the persistent ones, and especially the persistent, incoherent, drunk ones. At one point I had bought a small cantaloupe and took a bite out of it while sitting near the market. It tasted poorly and I didn’t want to eat it. At that moment a young boy followed by others his age approached us, asking for money. After turning them down, I decided to give them my cantaloupe halves to two of them, who quickly dug their dirty fingers into them. Uh-Oh. Of course, suddenly we were surrounded, I don’t know, maybe 7 of them, grinning from ear to ear. So we moved onward. I saw this happen to others in a slightly different fashion. There really are a lot f beggars in Chamula. We made our way to the hills, very pretty and tranquil, and got to enjoy the scenery, but really, we don’t know what the big fuss is about Chamula.
We’ve decided to stay in San Cristobal de las Casas until the day after my birthday. I will feast on organic corn on the cob, organic dried mango, my ABC pudding, baked potaotes with onions and carrots and garlic, my banana bites, and a walk up the hills to visit the locals! Then, who knows, we’re still working on that. We won’t be going to Oaxaca city since it’s expensive and a long drive to get there, not to mention supposedly very touristy, so we will head South and ride the coast Westward. Back to the beach with us! But San Cristobal de las Casas will always hold a special place in my heart, and I hope to visit it again in the future.