Woke up for the first time in days not to roosters or birds but to the sound of a toilet flushing. Non-stop. The auto flush on the men’s toilet wouldn’t stop which was a vast improvement ton the woman’s toilet (yes the ejectivo couch had two different washrooms) which didn’t flush at all. It was now daylight and pulling back the curtains to a totally different view full of lakes and rivers and forests. This was Chiapas State. If that name sounds familiar but you don’t know why, let me refresh. Zapatista. EZLN. Gunmen. Ten years ago the Zapatistas launched an aggressive (i.e. violent) campaign for land claims. Nowadays, their techniques are decidedly more urbane. You can take tours of their villages, attend reading or buy books that they sell in town. Kinda like the Hari Krishna’s but with guns.
Don’t let that alarm you (particularly you Mom). Everyone has guns in Mexico. That probably sound alarming too but wait. It’s not unusual to see armed personel carriers with cops in full combat gear just doing their patrol. But the gear is to scare people or rather assure them rather than to actually use it. Despite this I will admit it was kinda scary at first especially when combined with all the “Death to Capitalism. Viva EZLN graffiti” we were seeing on every government roadside sign.
Arriving in San Cristobal all that apprehension disappeared. It’s as close to stereotypically looking Mexican village as you can get. It reminded me of Cusco, Peru. And where we were staying was backpacker central. It was 7am and normally too early to check in but our room was being cleaned when we arrived and while we waited the manager, David invited us to have join in the free breakfast of fresh fruit and coffee. All this for only $20 a night. You’re probably thinking the room or shower or security is crap. Nope. Great room. Lots of hot water and great security.
As we sat there many of the other guests trickled out and we got a chance to talk to many of them over breakfast. Sophie from Holland (hi Sophie) was headed north through Central America and had lots of great tips. In San Cristobal she recommended we check out the Mayan Medicine Centre.
Unpacked and showered we went wandering around the town. It was quite cute and touristy but not in a Disney land way but in the fact that all the businesses were either bars, internet cafes offering skype service or cafés offering hamburgers/pizza/banana pancakes. But it was also amazingly pretty. The first place we stumbled upon in the Igles de Domingo(the picture above) a beautiful ornately decorated church. Outside was a craft market where women in traditional Mayan dress sold all sorts of trinkets and trash and men sold Zapatista manifestos and pirated CDs and DVDs.
We decided to head to Mayan Medicine Museum following the directions David from the hostal had given us but found ourselves at a bridge blocked off and barricaded by some unsmiling men. Before getting too close to find out if we could pass we decided to walk a different way. It gave us an opportunity to see a different part of San Cristobal. Just past a busy main market a bridge took us a smelly creek that was full of more trash than water to the dusty part of town that was the exact opposite of the postcard views we had seen. Looking to our left we saw more barricades and sings that I think read “Autonomous indigenous zone. No entry” which wasn’t the most welcoming feeling. Thinking we weren’t going to get to the Medicine Centre today we turned back and crossed back over to the postcard part of town.
Passing the church again, we thought we’d grab a snack. There were a few stands selling grilled corn, I approached the nearest one being manned by two kids and asked the price.
“Cinco pesos” the girl responded.
“Dos, por favor,” I said and handed her 10 pesos.
Just then her brother lept up, elbowing his sister and said “Siete! Siete!”
Cheeky bugger was trying to charge us more. Two-tiered pricing. We were definitely in a tourist town. But I stood my ground and the girl knew she’d already told me the regular price. In the end they actually won, because the corn was hard and dry. Unsatisfied we walked over to the big market and grab some fruit but were equally shocked by the prices 40 pesos ($4) for four apples. No gracias. So now it was time to find a supermarket.
Once again we attempted to follow the direction David from the hostel had given us. But like the Mayan Medicine Museum it wasn’t where he said it was, nor the Scotia Bank nor the supermarket. We cracked open our 5 year old Lonely Planet and gave their map a shot. And it worked. We found a tiny supermarket just behind the cathedral and zocalo. We decided to make use of the hostel kitchen and load up. But food was surprisingly limited. No fresh meat. No spaghetti sauce. No fresh vegetables. But lots of pasta. And apples and lots of other backpackers. Picking up what we could for a pasta dinner we headed back to the hostel to make dinner.
Dinner wasn’t bad thanks to the bulb of garlic I added. Despite reeking of garlic we still met lots of other people. So many that we didn’t get names. One of them was a guy from Mexico City who explained the blocked road to the Mayan Medicine Museum. Apparently it’s been there for years and it’s part of an ongoing land claim by a local indigenous group. He marked out another route for us which was the same as the alternate one we had taken except we hadn’t gone far enough.
It was starting to get cold (like 10 degrees cold) and a bonfire was started. But we headed to the cosy comforts of our room. Told you we were old farts.