Canon del Sumidero
I am torn about this place. It was really beautiful and we took the boat ride through the canyon and visited all the five miradors (overlooks) in the national park. The problem is the river is FULL of trash, mostly plastic bottles. Islands of trash. So much trash in places the boats had to zig zag to avoid hitting a flotilla of trash. And this is a national park! The hydroelectric dam at the top of the river has killed all the current, and there are people living illegally along the shorelines in the national park that apparently use the river as their dumpster. I just did not get it. Why doesn’t the Mexican government hire someone to clean it up? Labor is cheap, it seems like such an easy thing to do. This is one of Chiapas’s most visited sites.
The entire boat ride I was frustrated, and my type A personality was going nuts. If I was in charge of this place for one week, I could figure out a solution and get that trash out of the water. Sometimes it is hard to let go of that part of myself while I travel. The corporate American sales manager who got shit done. When I see problems, my first instinct is to figure out how to fix them in the most efficient manner. I have been traveling the world since I was 18, and I think I am pretty open minded and culturally tolerant. To me one of the most important parts of travel is to not judge, to just be an observer. I accept that there will always be things I will not understand. I have found I can take this stance with people, behaviors, food, lifestyle, but not when nature is getting destroyed. I have a big problem with that, and the trash and pollution you see in developing countries is heartbreaking and frustrating. I think daily about how to fix this problem. I obsess daily about trash…..
San Cristobal de las Casas
Driving from Sumidero Canyon to San Cristobal only takes about an hour, but you gain over 6000 feet in elevation. It was a steamy, sunny 97 degrees in Tuxtla Gutierrez when we left the canyon, we arrived in the pine forested mountains of San Cristobal and it was 60 degrees and rainy. Crazy.
San Cristobal is a charming colonial town with lots of great cafes and car free pedestrian streets to slowly walk around and soak up the atmosphere or stop for an excellent cup of Chiapas grown coffee. But what makes it feel so special are all the indigenous tribes people who wear their colorful and elaborate clothes in the city. It was so different from anything we had seen in Mexico so far. It reminded me of Sapa in the northern mountains of Vietnam, where all the Hmong tribes would come down to the village to trade goods during the weekend markets. It was an interesting clash of so many cultures. Colorful colonial buildings left by the Spanish, international tourists and Tzotzil and Tzeltal villagers wearing clothes fit for the cover of National Geographic. We have very few pictures of San Cristobal, the indigenous people do not like their pictures taken, and when you pull out a camera people seemed to stop in their tracks. To respect them, we just left the camera behind most days and enjoyed the ambience.
We spent a week in San Cristobal, more than we had planned. Sam and I both got our first serious attack of travelers sickness here. We were not sure what it was, but we both have not been that sick since we got amebic disentary in Cambodia. Along with the normal traveler belly symptoms, we both had high fevers. It was pretty horrible and took us some time to recover. Getting sick while on the road is one of those times when you long for the simplicity and comfort of home. On a side note, we got a prescription for anti vomitting medicine that dissolved on your tongue, it saved me. I was getting seriously dehydrated and needed to get some fluids and antibiotics in me, but could not keep anything down, without that pill, I would have had to go to the doctor and get antibiotics through an IV. Make sure to get those if you travel long term.
San Juan Chamula
We happened to be in San Cristobal the week before lent where many of the hill towns have elaborate carnival celebrations. We headed to San Juan Chamula to witness the Tzotzil villagers carnival celebration. This town is famous for its independence from the Catholic church and the Mexican government. The once Catholic church in town has had all the pews removed and instead there are pine needles strewn across the floor. A shaman sacrifices chickens inside if needed, rubs bones on peoples heads, they pass Coke bottles that have some sort of religious meaning. It was like nothing I have ever experienced before. It was a very interesting mix of indigenous and Spanish cultures.
In this city, it was the first time in Mexico where we felt unwanted and slightly at risk during the carnival festival. The atmosphere was intense, there were religious ceremonies occurring, men dressed as warriors running around waving large sticks and straw, incense burning, canons exploding, drums, screaming, it was chaotic and charged. We found out very quickly that you can not take pictures, in fact, we saw a group of local men chase down a Mexican tourist who took one and grabbed his camera from him. Sam got a few pictures before we realized it was a huge risk and we put away the camera quickly. There were so many people here from all the villages watching this event, they were on the top of roofs, hanging out of every window, packed on the streets like sardines. We stayed for a few hours and left before they brought the bulls in. Yes, they bring bulls in the square tied to huge ropes and men chase them around. I could tell Sam was getting uncomfortable and we felt the atmosphere getting charged, we decided we should leave. We were glad we got to see it, but felt we were uninvited strangers crashing a party.