In February I went to Palenque, which is a must see in the state of Chiapas. At that time I could not go too far south, so did not get to see San Cristobal, which also makes Chiapas famous. So, this time around I went straight to San Cristobal de las Casas to see just that.
We flew into Tuxtla Gutierrez – the closest airport to San Cristobal – and then drove to our destination late at night. The night drive was cool. First we drove through some grass fields that towered above our car and then we drove on winding roads through the mountains.
Once in San Cristobal, we hired a cab to show us the way to the bed & breakfast which I reserved. And this is when our adventures started. We drove for about 15 minutes on narrow one-way cobbled streets, making 90 degrees turns here and there and then finally arrived at a house covered in graffiti – it had the street number of the B&B I reserved. I rang the bell and a wild-looking man opened the door.
He welcomed us inside of an unkempt patio and led us to our rooms. The rooms had cement floors and lots of strange things hanging on the walls, including a picture of a naked man sleeping above the bed. The bed was covered by a grey blanket with dark brown sheets, while an oldish TV was sporting a hot pink cover. And it was freezing. The room did have a small fireplace in the form of a sphere in the corner, but I did not venture to ask how to operate it. Instead I asked the man where were the bathrooms, because those were missing from what the man was showing us. To that, he responded that the bathroom was actually in the hallway and all guests would share it. Very cool. You know, if it were just me stuck in that place for the night, it would be one thing.
But given that I made the reservation for three people, I felt more than horrible. Because it was late and dark and cold, all we could do was go to bed. We froze mercilessly that night. It was a night-long battle deciding whether I’d prefer to go to the bathroom and freeze or stay in somewhat warm bed but suffer. By the morning I had an escape plan. My reservation was made for three nights, but there was no way any of us could stay there for any longer. We packed our stuff and on my tip-toes I carried our suitcases out one by one to the car so nobody could see me. It was a smooth operation until I realized that nobody was watching me anyway as the guy left early in the morning. He also left us a beautiful breakfast on the kitchen table with granola and yogurt served in half-cantaloupes. And in the middle of eating breakfast I also discovered a card left in the center of the table written to us. Yes, the man wrote of disappointment he noticed on our faces when we walked into the house. He also wrote of the desire to see us happy and if it meant our leaving his place, he was totally fine with that. He turned out to be a man with a big heart – I am sure some other people would have loved his place.
But we left. And we left for a super nice place, rated #1 for the whole city in my guide book. After the miserable night each of us wanted to enjoy something nice. The new place was a beautiful colonial house, with real fireplaces in each room and in the beautifully decorated living room. It was just like being home, with Amin making travel arrangementsfor us, Luzma cooking breakfast and Jesus arranging our rooms. It was perfect. To top it off, one of our rooms was on the rooftop of the building with the view of beautiful sunsets framed by flowering plants.
And 0ne of the coolest things I encountered at this place was the special kind of wood that the indigenous people use to light fires. I lit the fireplace myself in 30 seconds using one of those sticks. We speculated whether this wood was treated in some way to have that quality, but later were told it was special pine wood that was just grown that way. I got some sticks with me now in Mexico City and will take them for Mom to see.
The next day we drove to San Juan Chamula – a village just outside of San Cristobal known for its strange form of Catholicism. The main church is what we came for and it was the highlight of my trip. The church is lit only by candles, the floors are covered by pine needles and the worshipers sit on the floor chanting in Chamula. I saw at least one white chicken that was brought for a sacrifice ceremony. I read the Chamulas also bring bones and other stuff – did not get to see that up close. I also have no pictures of this cool place – the book just said “do not take pictures of the Chamula!” while one of the other guests at our bed & breakfast let us in on a story (or legend) that a German tourist was stoned to death after taking such pictures. So we decided to not even take our cameras with us.
After the village, we went to the Canyon Sumidero. I believe after the Grand Canyon every canyon is just a canyon. But it was a worthy trip anyway – we got to relax on a boat surrounded by a beautiful scenery. The guide’s idea to stop by a waterfront restaurant for 30 minutes did not excite me that much, but I wrote it off as part of being on a boat tour in Mexico. To get back to San Cristobal we took a “libre” road that went through a dozen of mountain villages.
And the best adventures of all on that trip came as we drove into San Cristobal and our PT Cruiser decided to start coughing. We let it cough for a while, but it decided to die on us anyway. This is how I got to push a stalled car for the first time in Mexico. Once we parked it on a somewhat quiet street, we let Hertz to deal with the rest. I hate to think what this trip would have been like if the car decided to expire about 20 min earlier than it did.
The final point of interest was our trip to an iron-smith shop. Our bed and breakfast had a beautiful metal cross above the mantel and I asked where it was from. I was told this was a San Cristobal tradition to bless the houses with metal crosses, just like in Medieval Europe. I was also told there was only probably one shop left creating such crosses. We found the shop and I got a “cruce antigua” – it’s just beautiful.