Hooooooo boy! This is going to be quite the entry!
I will need to begin the story at the airport in Mexico City, the beginning of our second leg of the trip. Here we thought we´d arrive quite early in San Cristobal de Las Casas, but it turned out that our flight was an hour late (a wheel replacement), and it was dark when we arrived in Tuxtla Guiterrez. We met a nice man, Bill, on our flight and upon arrival I asked him if we wanted to split a cab to Tuxtla. In fact he was driving, and gave us a ride himself into town. He was extremely nice, and we had a great conversation where we learned about the Zapatista rebels, and his orphanage that he and his wife created in a small Chiapan coastal town. We parted ways in Tuxtla and Jay and I set off to find a bus to San Cristobal. We caught a taxi who dropped us off at a colectivo station, and 35 pesos and an hour later we were in San Cristobal.
As soon as we arrived, and after walking for five minutes towards the downtown core we happened upon a guy who said he had a hostel in town with rooms for 100 pesos. He offered to pay our cab fare there and we agreed, and the place was great. La Casa di Gladys, it was adorned with paper lanterns and paintings and plants and had a kitchen, free internet and a common movie area. Our room for the first two nights was cramped but decorated with all sorts of neat things, and the third night we moved to a slightly larger but more bare room.
San Cristobal was absolutely lovely. Of course, the streets were charming and reminiscent of the other colonial styled towns we had encountered, but the true beauty lay in the costumes and faces of the indigenas people who walked the streets within. Colourful huipiles and fuzzy black skirts, the girls and children were at times pervasive, walking into the restaurants and trying to sell you nylon woven belts and bracelets until the waiters told them repeatedly to leave. However, I understand that if they had more money this would not be a problem whatsoever and they wouldn´t resort to this kind of pushiness.
The first day we were there I went straight to the artisan market and had my first true SHOPPING SPREE!!! YAY!!! I bought sweaters, skirts, dolls, baskets, and Jay and I split on an unbelievable red woven tapestry, which must have taken a week to work on and cost us a whole 800 pesos (thats about 85 dollars canadian). I went way over budget, but I had so much fun doing it! A girl has GOT to shop, you know.
On February 12 Jay and I signed up to go for a horseback ride tour of the nearby indigenas town of Chamula. We arrived on the back of a pickup truck to the horse stables, where we were outfitted with extremely uncomfortable wooden saddles and dog-sized horses. Our guide wasn´t interested in giving the backpackers (there was an international crew of young Germans, French, Canadians and Japanese) a nice, relaxing stroll through the hillsides. Oh no, he forced us into a continuous (and painfully uncomfortable) trot for most of the trip, causing bruising on multiple parts of my legs. We made the most of it, however, and in some parts we really had a fantastic time as we were able to get the horses to gallop in certain stretches which was not only more comfortable but SO MUCH FUN! By noon we were at the town of Chamula, and given an hour to investigate before we were set to return.
Chamula is a small indigenas village that was unlike any town I´ve ever seen in my life. Firstly, upon entry near the town we passed farm plots that seemed to have missed the industrial revolution completely. Small, orderly hand-toiled rows of corn and watermelons and Chayote, a root native to Chiapas. We saw women leading herds of sheep, men breaking the soil with large awls, and cutting the corn with skythes. It was unbelievable. Finally, we entered the town itself and saw evidence of tourism in the storefronts leading up to the downtown Zocalo, which was home to the Chamulan Church. We were impressed with the festive green decorations lining the pretty white church, but were not allowed access unless we paid the tourist office across the street. We bought the tickets, showed the man at the front, and walked in.
You will never, ever, see a church like this unless you come to Chamula. No pews, no priest, no giant cross. The floor was devoid of seats and was littered in pine boughs, and families in fuzzy black skirts and vests sat in various spots on the floor and had laid thousands of lit candles all over the church floor and tables. In front of each family between them and the candles were bottles of coke, fanta, and other carbonated beverage (which we learned they drank so they would burp, as burping released bad air and cleaned their soul). A procession of musicians played slow accordians and guitar), and beside a couple of families sat bound chickens. Jay and I witnessed the sacrifice of one of the chickens, and were in awe the entire time. What a strange, magical area. Apparently the priest had been expelled a long time earlier, and the last catholic mass was held in the 50´s, and bishops are only allowed into the church once a month to perform baptismal services. We left feeling very fortunate.
We stayed another half day in San Cristobal, and took the bus to Palenque later on in the afternoon. After what seemed like forever, we were in the town of Palenque, and caught a taxi to El Panchan, a complex near the ruin site that is rumoured (according to the Let´s Go guide) to be legendary amongst backpackers. Indeed, it´s a very, VERY cool complex, and we have a cabaña right across the street from the main site with a big overhead fan (well needed in the heat and humidity here), and alongsite a beautiful stream for only 120 pesos a night! We found out from the guy who runs the place that they have 7 hour tours to three waterfall sites for 135 pesos, and we thought that would be great so we signed up for yesterday. Plus, we decided it would be a great backdrop on Valentines day. Awww.... how romantic. Back at the Cabaña we explored the wilderness that is their outdoor washrooms, counting geckos and getting scared by big spiders until we had our fill and crashed in our beds.
The next morning we were in a van by 9am and heading towards Misol-Ha, the first of three water areas. We were surprised to see Erick, one of the Frenchmen that we met on our horseback ride to Chamula. Later on we would realize how much of a tourist trail we were on as we encountered not just one or two but MANY of the backpackers we had met in San Cristobal. According to the guidebooks we are on the Ruta Maya, which for us ends in Palenque as we are going north into the Yucatan rather than into Guatemala. Anyway, onwards to Misol-Ha!
Misol-Ha was the site of an absolutely breathtaking large waterfall, which they gave us half an hour to revel in. Jay and Erick got into their bathing suits and dived into the water, swimming beneath the fall and meeting me on the other side, which I would have tried to do as well except for the fact that I didn´t feel like rushing with my clothes off and on only to swim for 10 minutes. It was gorgeous, though, and had a cave in the back where you could walk behind the waterfall. Cooooool.
The second area we went to was Agua Clara, which had no waterfalls but did have a beautiful calm river with bright turquoise waters and many little indigenas children selling tiny little bananas. It also included a rickety suspension bridged that swung dangerously and would not meet up to any Canadian standards. We enjoyed this place too for a half hour before we hopped back in the van and drove to Agua Azul, or Blue Water in English.
Agua Azul, the name we´ll never forget. Here we were allowed 3 hours to frolic, and we certainly did! Agua Azul is the home of hundreds upon hundreds of stunning teal waterfalls against sandy cliffsides, and in contrast with the robin´s egg blue sky appeared no less magnificent than as though we were in a movie. We swam in an out and amongst the falls, found more, browsed souvenir stands, and enjoyed what was turning out to be the most perfect day ever.
As we sat on the edge of one of the falls I turned over to Jay and said "You know, here I am, sitting underneath a thousand falls, blue sky everywhere, in the middle of the rainforest with my boyfriend. This day could not get any better."
And it did. Five minutes later, after receiving many nervous smiles and the loudest silence ever between us, Jay turned to face me and asked for my hand in marriage. I burst into tears and of course, I said yes!
I think I have never smiled for so long on a long ride back. We celebrated with our new French friends (Erick and his Quebec friend and her son Manu) and had a great dinner of Pizza and tortellini at Don Muchos in the complex. We wanted to get to bed early but realized we had to call our parents, and there were no telephones in the complex. We splurged on a taxi into town, found a payphone, and broke the news to firstly my parents (Jay had to ask permission, Mom replies with "Holy Shit! That's Great!!!" and of course they said of course) and then to Jay's, who were overjoyed as well (I hope!). We taxied back to the Cabañas and had a great sleep.
This morning we woke up EARLY, and hoofed it to the ruins of Palenque, supposedly the most romantic ruins in all of Mexico. Set in amongst the rainforest and detailed with some of the most important inscriptions of all the sites, it certainly captivated us. We entered through the back side thinking that we had escaped paying an entrance fee, but were 'caught' by a bored looking guy who didn't seem to care too much and walked us to the front to pay the 45 pesos each entrance fee, which wasnt such a big deal. The ruins themselves are out of this world, white pyramids jutting out of a green floor embraced by the wild and surrounded by lizards and smothered by humidity. I certainly needed a lot of water as even without the sun the heat was almost unbearable. We spent the entire morning and early afternoon exploring, climbing and admiring the artship and the majesty that it was and was it used to be. We took a colectivo back to town to have lunch, and buy our bus ticket out of here. Along the way we became unsure of whether to continue as we have been on the itinerary, or to go somewhere else. We (Jay) still don´t know where we want to go next, so we´ll let you know next post where we ended up!