Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sixteen Days in San Cristobal de las Casas

We arrived in San Cristobal on a cold, wet evening - it was Monday May 29th and I was nervous about just how long the cold and wet conditions would last.  I came to Mexico for (among other things) warmth and sunshine so that I could get rid of the annual S.A.D. but this was not looking promising because we want to be at a reasonably high altitude to get away from the humidity and overly hot temperatures at the coast.

Staying here for 16 days was a complete change and adjustment for us after being on the road for two months with 2 weeks in Tulum being our longest stay.

The down town area is a mix of very narrow little cobblestone streets, the tourist area around Real de Guadalupe (pedestrian area) and the Mercado Viejo where there are great bargains to be had and where the locals shop for everything from fruit, vegetables, fish, meat, clothes, hardware and everything in between.  Join us on an adventure through the market where the sights, smells and sounds are so different from anything that we have every experienced.  I cannot believe the hundreds of little stalls crammed in under tarps and in the main building.  The building is mostly devoted to meat and fish and the smell can be quite nauseating as you slip around the wet floors.

We grabbed a bite to eat at one of the tacaerias in the market - Quesadillas with meat, were delicious and cost only $1 US for two.

After a couple of quiet days 'at home' we ventured out into town again and explored the more touristy area along Real de Guadalupe - the area is filled with very narrow cobblestone streets that you can't imagine are the roads that are used to drive through town all the time - of course most are one way with one driving lane (almost) and a line of parked cars.

The older buildings are made from adobe bricks

The streets are narrow but very clean and well maintained.

Real Guadalupe - the artsy pedestrian street that is in town.

We had to wait for a truck to finish loading and reverse out here so that we could get round the corner.

The pedestrian tourist area of Real de Guadalupe is vibrant, colorful and constantly filled with people milling around, meeting and greeting, shopping and exploring.
Bakery (panaderia)

Real Guadalupe 

another part of Real Guadalupe 

We stopped at a coffee shop that one of our friends in a local expat FB group has just bought.

An afternoon spent exploring the area and admiring the view and many churches:

I didn't even count the steps up to the church but at 7,000 feet I felt that climb.

A couple of young ladies fresh out of school asked us to take a picture of them (in Spanish) but when chatting to them later, we found out that they were from England and were on their way to Guatamala by bus.

We went back into town to find another place that had been recommended to us by a FB expat community group - very interesting place called La Vina de Bacco.  For every drink that you buy, they present you with a free tapas.  We sat a bit uncomfortably on tiny stools outside at a barrel/table because we wanted to people watch and somehow ended up in conversation (and at their comfortable table) with a couple who were in town from a small farming community in Guanajuato - Mohammed and Blanca are Mexicans (though Mohammed was a US citizen from California) and after sharing some food and drinks and lots of conversation in both Spanish and English, we parted firm friends vowing to meet up again when we are in their area.  I came away from there happy to have made some friends and excited at the prospects of going to the Guanajuato area - somehow I have always had a feeling that we would be spending time around San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Chapala and Ajijic and from our conversations, that seems more likely than ever.

Another day we took an afternoon walk around our neighborhood and checked up on the progress of the antico (traditional house) that we had seen being built on a previous walk.

This bicycle has been turned into a water pump for the mixing of the mud.

We ended up in conversation with a lady that lives on the street that we were walking in.  It didn't take long for her to extend an invite to see her home and we ended up spending a pleasant couple of hours visiting with her - another friend already - once again our conversation was a mix of Spanish and English.  We are so lucky to be meeting up with some people that are able to speak more English that we can speak Spanish at the moment but we are improving.

In the garden with Christy

Membrillo (quince) tree in the back yard
Christy was disappointed that she did not have any galletas (cookies) to go with out coffee so she produced some ate de membrillo (a firm jelly slice made from quince and sugar).  We also had some of the figs that she had preserved from the tree in her yard.

Yet another trip down town to the Mercado and we ended up bumping into Mohammed and Blanca and having coffee with them.  After we parted, Gerald and I went walking around town and up one of those very steep sets of steps

We eventually ended up at a small local Maya restaurant away from the tourist street.  We had a wonderful 3 course typical local meal which included a small Margarita - the food was really good and amazingly cheap at $86 MX ($4.70 US) each.  Eating local really is the way to go here and there is no need to eat at the so called 'better' restaurants where most tourists eat.  We enjoy the local food much better and that is our meal for the day.

Las Cascadas and Lagos de Montebello Tour Day.

On a day that appeared to start out with no rain (some days start like that here but it doesn't last), we got up early for a tour that we had booked.  Driving into town is always an adventure because finding parking in those narrow little streets (think lanes) is as difficult as finding a clean, free toilet.  Since we arrived in town just before 7:30 am we were able to find a parking spot quite near to where we needed to meet the tour operator.
Outside El Gran Cafe waiting for tour operator

We were off to start gathering the rest of the tour group shortly after 8 and then headed out to our first stop - Las Cascadas de Chiflon, which is about a 2 hour drive away, in the mountains near  Tzimal (nearest city Comitan).  It was so nice to just sit in the bus and watch the scenery an all the interesting artisan stalls, especially for Gerald who always misses so much on our travels because he is driving all the time - it was nice for me too, not to have to concentrate on looking for topes, animals and general navigation.
A school that we passed by in the mountains
The agriculture out here in the mountains concentrates on sugar cane and there were many, many fields of cane growing - looking very healthy.  We even saw a small hand cranked press with a boiling tank which seemed to be used to process some small quantities of cane into what we presumed are the raw sugar cones that are common in Mexico.  These cones are formed by boiling and evaporating cane juice.

Since we are seeing many different heights/ages of sugarcane, I researched online and found that once the cane fields have been burned (to more easily release the sugar) and the field has been cut, the field is irrigated and new shoots emerge from the perennial base. There is some dispute as to whether the perennial base is good for 5 years or for even 8 years.  We did also find out that there is actually a sugar processing plant in nearby in San Francisco Pujiltic which would explain why we see so much sugarcane growing in this area.

As we approached the Cascades park, we could see the biggest of the waterfalls in the distance - we thought that it was a fire in the mountains until our guide pointed out that it was Bridal Veil Falls.

Bridal Veil falls looking like smoke up in a rift.

Arriving at Cascadas la Chiflon we were greeted by warm air and the sound of rushing water - we followed the raging river uphill on the left side in awe of the power of the water and the beauty of all the falls that we passed on the way up.
Beginning of the trail.

Angel wing falls

Bridal Veil falls in the distance
Every time we stopped at one of the falls along the way, we got wetter and wetter but the time that we got up to the Bridal Veil falls the spray from the falls was stronger than any downpour of rain that I have ever been in - we were as wet as if we had been out swimming in our clothes.  Unfortunately for us, no-one had recommended bring swimming clothes, a towel or even a dry change of clothes.

Getting really close to Bridal Veil

So close now.

Taking the most powerful shower that I have ever had.

So much water, so much noise, so much power - this is as close as we could get with the camera although we made it to the top fence that you can almost see here - the top of the falls is out of the picture because you cannot see it through the thick spray.
Taking the trail back down from the top of the falls took much less time that the climb up and that fortunately gave us about half an hour to hang out in a sunny area in the car park, wring out our wet clothes and try to dry out a bit before boarding the van again and heading out to our next stop. Actually we didn't really get dry the rest of the day, it was just that the degree of wetness reduced a bit towards the end of the day.

Another hour driving and we got to Lagunas de Montebello National Park where there are 59 lakes with incredibly clear multi-color waters, some the colors of the Caribbean sea.  Come take a tour of some of the lakes with us.

Lagunas de Montebello National Park reaching out to the Guatamala Border
Traditional wooden rafts used to take people out to the islands.

The colors of Caribbean waters.

Look at the ferns and bromeliads growing on this pine - a common site around here and they are symbiotic, not parasitic

Gerald at the lake

At the base of the hills, behind the town, is the border of Guatemala
We finally left the lakes at 5:30 in the evening to start the 3 hour journey back to San Cristobal - the skies opened and a torrential downpour hit the area.  Our tour operator/driver was a very good and calm driver and we got safely back into town about 8:30 - luckily we passed our parked car on the way to the drop-off point so we asked him to stop there and let us out.  That saved us a walk of several blocks in the evening rain.

On our last Sunday in San Cristobal, fed up with the daily rains, we decided to get out and explore out of town ourselves.  We headed for Chamula which is a Maya township about 20 km from where we are staying.  I had read about the place being very traditional still having the old traditional mud and daub buildings, religious customs and the churches - however when we actually got there we noticed that the architectural style just outside of the village was very unique and modern with a very decorative style.

There was a market in town and it was very difficult getting parking, it also looked like rain so we decided to drive around the area instead of visiting the artisan stalls.

The churches are the same style/shape but are just decorated differently - apparently they are Roman Catholic with their own additional rites including sacrifice of hens when needed.  There are no pews in these churches and the floors are covered with a carpet of green pine boughs. We did not want to enter into the church and disturb whatever may be going on and taking photographs of the Maya people and especially inside their church would result in at least confiscation and damage to the camera so I managed to take these photos of a couple of the churches as we drove past.

The culture is one of agriculture and these people remind us very much of a mix of Hutterites and Menonites, hard working manual labor farmers who take pride in the quality of their produce.  They also keep sheep and tether them individually out along the roadside to graze there.  The main agricultural crops of this area are corn, beans, potatoes and cabbage and they grow on every available space.  We saw some of the cabbages on the way back to town and they are the biggest most beautiful looking cabbages that we have ever seen.

City of San Cristobal in the distance (along with yet more rain)

No space is wasted - we often see corn planted alongside the roads. Since no tractors are used (manually planted, hoed and harvested) no space goes wasted around power line poles or hill sides.
From here we drove back into town and went to our favorite street (Real Guadalupe) where we chatted with some of the interesting vendors, visited one of the amber stores (amber is very popular here) and stopped in Cacao Nativa, a lovely coffee shop for a latte and very nice piece of panque de nata which is a very light cream loaf cake that tasted of lemons.

One more stop at the panaderia for some ciabatta bread and we were home for supper that had been cooking in the crock-pot while we were out today.  This is one item that we are so glad that we made room for in one of our suitcases.

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