Apologies again for the late update. I have been having the BEST time and the internet connections haven’t been so good! I shall endeavour to update you rather rapidly. Please note that my phone was recently stolen in Mexico so I have zero pictures of these places until I manage to grab some from other people.
To get to San Cristobal we decided to take collectivos to keep it cheap rather than getting the ADO bus. This meant we had to get two: one from Palenque to Ocosingo, the second to San Cristobal. This was a 4-5 hour drive in total through the mountains of Chiapas, and what a drive it was!
The views were absolutely stunning. Mountains rose all around us as we made our bumpy way up winding roads. You think pot holes are a problem in the UK – they have nothing on Mexico. Roads were crumbling and, in places, falling away down the steep drop beside us. The driver had to adopt a less than safe tactic of driving on the wrong side of the road towards blind bends to avoid sending us to an alternate doom! This only added to the experience.
The hills and mountains were littered with small villages and the occasional lonely hut. Children bounced on huge tyres by the side of the road, many of them caked in mud from the small streams that crept towards the roads. Old men walked bare foot up the mountains with sticks that would rival Gandalf’s staff, huge sacks upon their shoulders full of god knows what – probably corn, palm leaves, or merchandise for their shack shop by the side of the road. Chicken buses packed with men, women and children zoomed past us as the collectivo struggled to climb. Balloons hopelessly clinging to the side of the vehicle as it went. There were groups of people running with blazing torches, followed by chicken buses full of people dressed in the same way – most bare foot, white tops with an imagine of the Virgin Mary or some choice words to celebrate her. Upon arrival in San Cristobal we realised this was the start of the week long festival for the Virgin Mary. These large groups of people were making a pilgrimage to San Cristobal. This meant one thing, there would be parades, there would be music, in other words – a week-long fiesta!
I can’t begin to explain how beautiful San Cristobal is. It is a colonial city of around 186,000 people. Its cobbled streets are lined with buildings of every colour. Cathedrals and churches stood tall and dominating in small open squares. Music blared from, well, everywhere. Groups of people danced around the streets in traditional Chiapan dress. Colours, aahh the colours! I cannot do this place justice with the written word so, if you’re ever in Mexico, make sure you go to San Cristobal!
Our hostel – Rossco Backpackers – was a treat. They had a fire pit that brought people together every night. The dorms were clean and the beds were amazing. At first I questioned the need for a sheet, a blanket AND a duvet, but the first night there confirmed that it actually got pretty chilly and it was great to sink beneath the cozy layers each night. I say this, but I actually only spent one full nights sleep in that bed – too much partying. We met some fabulous people and took advantage of the buzzing party atmosphere at night. Most nights I did not get to sleep until 5am. But you don’t want to hear all the details – everyone knows I like a good party! One thing I will say, is that my Spanish is significantly improved with alcohol and I managed to hold a few conversations with locals in the bars. Yes! I am now fluent in Spanish…
The hostel offered some rather cheap tours so we took advantage of them. We took a tour to the Canyon del Sumidero. This was overwhelmingly beautiful. This involved about an hours drive to a town called Chiapa de Corzal, and then we hopped on a boat that would take two hours to drive up and down the canyon. We saw iguanas, crocodiles, vultures, and spider monkeys. The shitty camera strikes again and I could not get photos that were good enough to share. Unfortunately, amongst all this beauty one thing stood out to me. In certain parts of the canyon, the river battled with a trail of litter, and this strangled the banks of the river in places. One croc that we got quite close to was surrounded by plastic bottles and other rubbish. Humans are poison.
The second tour we took was to the Cascada El Chiflon and the Lagunas de Montebello. It was around a 3 hour drive which took us right to the Guatemalan border. We went to the waterfall first. Hungover and, therefore, extremely dehydrated, we started the long and steady climb to the top of the waterfall. Again, my words cannot describe this properly. Small pools of bright blue water lay at the bottom of the falls. The water crystal clear. The main waterfall roared and spat at us. There was a main view point here, but then we found that we could climb higher, a path that not everyone took, as you can imagine. So we climbed again. Sweat and alcohol dripping off us. The view from the top was worth it, a view of the valley and the small blue pools meandering through it. I’m gutted to have lost the photos of this place. The climb meant that we did not really have time to swim in any of the pools as we had to make our way to the lakes.
By the time we got to the lakes the clouds had descended and visibility was poor. They were still impressive but we will just have to google images to see their full glory! One of the lakes lay across the Mexican-Guatemalan border. On water, this was marked by a rope and some buoys. On land, it could be distinguished by tall, white, stone columns every 100 metres or so. We spent about 15 minutes in Guatemala and then headed home. Customary border photos were taken! Obviously! Alas these, too, have been lost.
Our remaining days in San Cristobal were filled with partying and wandering around the fantastic markets. One market for artisans and the other for fruit, veg and Christmas decorations! The fruit and veg market was incredibly claustrophobic. As we squeezed through the tiny aisles, walls of exotic fruits around us, our noses were filled with the most amazing smells. True to my tummy, as always, we followed the smells through dark alleys that opened up into small eateries and grill bars. Being late at night we were unable to get food as they were closing up. We didn’t return because there was always some other new discovery that satisfied our rumbly tumblies.
During our last few days in San Cristobal, I met a fabulous group of people that need an especial mention: Liv, Chris, Emily, Sera and Karen. Mostly Aussies apart from Liv who is from Bristol. We gelled instantly. These people are some of the most open, honest and friendly people I have met. I cannot put my feelings for this group into words – again! A mixture of silliness and fantastically deep conversations ensued.
We spent a few crazy nights together and then it was time for Mike and I to leave for Guatemala. But there was something stopping me. I could not leave these amazing people with whom I was having so much fun! They told me they didn’t want me to go and asked me to go with them to Palenque and Tulum. I thought I would grab the opportunity with both hands. I felt like I was betraying Mike a little but thankfully he was very understanding. He left for Guatemala and I stayed behind.
The next day we had to say goodbye to Chris who, sadly, could not come with us. So the five of us left for Palenque on the night bus the following evening. I hear you questioning this decision: Frankie, you’ve been there, done that! But we had a completely different experience. So I shall be writing a brief post about Palenque once more.
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