San Cristobal

Trip Start Sep 08, 2008
Trip End Nov 02, 2008

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Where I stayed
Hostel Las Palomas

Flag of Mexico  ,
Tuesday, October 21, 2008

19 October 2008 - Sunday
Early but not too sprightly we arrived at Las Palomas Hostel in San Cristobal. It's very centrally located, and though we were placed in a 6-bedroom dorm, we had an en-suite bathroom making everything very comfortable and convenient. A shower later, and we were ready to explore the town.

Our first stop was the very disappointing amber museum. I'd been looking forward to see Chiapas amber and that wasn't exactly what I'd had in mind. Thankfully however, my faith in the beauty of the amber was restored once I'd walked through the stalls and markets. The amber jewellery was incredibly beautiful, particularly the red amber, however it also proved to be the rarest, thus a bit more pricy.

The St. Domingo's Craft market itself was really great to walk around. What was amazing is that every town we went to had something completely different to offer and managed to rob me bankrupt. I had serious concerns as to how I was going to get everything home.

20 October 2008 - Monday
Felt like a new person after that sleep though there was the potential of being quite cold. This place is freezing at night but very nice during the day. They're moving towards winter so guess its not surprising.
Breakfast consists of break and coffee. No frills but this means no butter and no milk. Not ideal.
We were picked up at about 9:25am for our trip to the Sumidero Canyon. I popped some motion sickness tablets before leaving - not taking any more risks there. The drive to Tuxtla was quite scenic, as we crossed a few other canyons on the way. Saw quite a few mielie fields planted on the side of the mountain. I realize people need to do what they must to stay alive but there are so many times where I'm saddened to see how we've overtaken and destroyed so much of our planet. There really isn't much of it that's been left unspoilt anymore. I really can't see it lasting for much longer and can fully understand why it's come to this point where it already is saying "enough is enough".

On arrival in Tuxtla, we were all piled into a motorboat along with a few other people that had just arrived - 3 in a row and guessing about 5 rows of us in total.

The ride through the first section was beautiful. The river banks were thickly lined with green trees and bush. Also stumbled across a crocodile swimming in the river. It didn't stay around for too long before disappearing. Also saw loads of cormorant, pelicans, vultures and a fair few other bird species. Stopped at a pinkish cave in the canyon wall where a 'shrine' has been set up honouring the virgin. I don't think it was too special, but for the rock colouring, which is why I guess the shrine was put there in the first place.

Further on down the river we were sadly accosted by a floatation of rubble (plastics, wood, shoes and other floating crap) which stretched right across the river from one bank to the other. I assume the water swirled there resulting in it all collecting in one location. Unfortunately however, it doesn't seem like anyone's doing anything about it. Obviously, I hope I'm wrong on that assumption. Anyways, we went through this stretch at chug-along speed and at one point had to lift the motor out of the water to remove some of the crap that was being dragged.

Once through the filth, further on down the river we saw a beautiful waterfall cascading down the side of the canyon, spraying into the air and over some moss shaped into a Christmas tree formation. Really was beautiful!!

The turnaround point was at the reservoir wall built almost 30 years ago to generate electricity for Guatamala and Central America. For our guide's efforts, he sent a hat around to collect tips. He only got $5 from us and in retrospect I'm glad we didn't give him any more. All of the tour was in Spanish, and thus we hardly understood what was being said, but more importantly, the speedboat ride back was just that - a SPEED boat ride. Some passengers saw crocs on the side of the river and asked for him to stop or slow down, but he ignored their requests and continued full throttle ahead. I think the company motto is to "get them in, get them out". Obviously this is the most profitable tactic for the company but really lacks 'an experience' and completely misses the point of exploring the canyon rather than focusing on the ride - so if speed is your thing, do the canyon!! Apparently you could hire kayaks a few years back but those are no longer an option, having been replaced by motorboats. The kayaks definitely would've made the trip so much more worth it.

Next stop Chaipa de Carzo for an hour. Though instead of exploring the town, we stopped for lunch with an English guy we met on the tour. He is the first postman I've met and it struck me just how easy it was to travel from the UK regardless of your income. For most people, no matter what your job is, you can save up to go traveling - which is why I went to the UK. The number of people that have had a look of surprise on their faces when saying we're from South Africa is incredible. "You're the first South Africans I've met in South/Central America" or "That's very far away from home" they'd say. That's because it actually isn't feasible for South Africans to go traveling on the South African rand and also because our passports are so restrictive.

Back in San Cristobal, we took another walk to the markets to find another amber ring - this time for Nix.

21 October 2008 - Tuesday
Early rise again. This time to be at 'Los Pinguinos' cycle shop. We'd booked to go cycling around the outskirts of San Cristobal for 4 hours. We met up with Ursula (our guide from Switzerland - and also part owner of Los Pinguinos) and one other person who'd signed up to go cycling.

We weren't allowed to take our cameras along, as Ursula explained that the Indians' felt that taking a photo of them stole part of their soul. The first part of the cycle was through the town and pretty much uphill. We stopped off at a few small Indian villages and at an old convent. At the convent we saw a group of Indians butchering meat further along up the hill. Apparently these people have quite large families (contraception not exactly being put to any use) of about 7 children per family. Also the men occasionally have more than 1 wife. The sad thing is the number of people you see in town selling crafts and just chocolates or sweets to get by are mostly from these little villages. But worse though is that many of these sellers are kids no more than 4 years of age. So the families are actually struggling to get by, yet still continue having large families. Here is a random piece of information - After inquiring on whether they boil the water from the river before drinking it, I was informed the water substitute at the moment is Coca Cola. Obviously resulting in diabetes and loss of teeth. You can hardly afford to raise your kids now you want to add doctors and dentists to your debt collectors list as well.

Anyways, we continued our cycle through the drizzling rain on through the villages seeing a few girls and women tending small herds of sheep. We finally stopped at a limestone bridge. Not sure whether this really actually qualifies as a bridge but either way it is quite cool. A river flowing through a limestone cliff face which probably allows you to pass over the top. Saw that a few rock climbers have made good use of the rock walls already.

At this point Ursula gave us the option of the short trip (20km) or the long trip (25km), with the additional 5km being an additional hour and a half. Though I was keen for the longer trip, I was secretly hoping everyone would opt for the shorter stretch instead as since I wasn't wearing any cycle shorts, I was in quite a bit of agony. Nix was keen on the shorter ride while the other guy was keen for the longer route, but obliged us by going with our choice. At this point I already wanted to cry every time I got on the seat. Fortunately, the rest of the way home was all downhill. And I mean ALL down hill. Town was loads walmer and drier than up in the mountains. Ursula promised to mail some photos, and then we headed on back to our hostel for a shower and to get some clothes washing done.

We also managed to book our bus from Palenque to Tulum. Bit panicky about Palenque through as it's apparently a hot spot for road robbers. Hopefully cleaned up now as beware the robber wanting to steal my illegally imported cigars. I didn't risk my life and a criminal record for nothing!!
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