Here we are again, more mature, learned, and ready for more shopping!
06.03.2007 - 10.03.2007 25 °C
We hopped the border. It wasn't fun, but it needed to be done. Now, we were back in Palenque, with two new American (San Diegan) friends, and I needed to find a way to convert my 20$ worth of Quetzals into Pesos, as there were no moneychangers on the Mexican side of the border and we had run out of time to get our money changed on the Guatemalan side because I was arguing with the border control officer. Anyway, no banks in Palenque would change Quetzals, only American Dollars and Pesos. I found that to be a. slightly reminiscent of Tijuana and b. a little weird considering we were only a few hours away from the border. Finally, I found a tour company willing to change, but only at a rate of 1:1. That was like, a 30% cut! I ditched out of there, frustrated and unhappy.
I joined Jay and our new, funny American buddies at the local Torta establishment. We sipped fruity licuados and compared travel plans. Eventually, since everybody who is anybody stays in El Panchan if they're a backpacker, we all shared a taxi ride to the establishment. Since we had heard (and then confirmed) by other travellers that El Panchan was experiencing sewage issues, Jay and I split and hopped back across the street to El Jaguar, and re-rented the Tulum cabin, where we had stayed when we visited Palenque and got engaged in Agua Azul. Awww, it seems so long ago! I had devised a good way to convert my Quetzals, too: After we settled and got our packs off, I crossed the street to El Panchan and the Don Muchos restaurant, and beginning at the back of the establishment, asked people if they were headed to Guatemala, since most backpackers have either just returned or are leaving for Tikal. Scoring on the first couple of German girls, I managed to get almost the same rate as the moneychangers were offering on the other side, and they in return received some advice from you-know-who on just about every place they were travelling to that I had visited. I feel so, well, experienced!
We had inquired before catching the taxi at a collectivo site about collectivo trips to San Cristobal de Las Casas, and they apparently left at 5 and 6am respectively. Well, Jay and I woke up at 5am, and packed quickly and were out on the road to catch a bus into town at 5:30. Unfortunately, because the ruins don't open until 6, no vans began travelling until five minutes to. Jay and I were a little concerned since we were a few kilometers from the collectivos with heavy backpacks on and didn't know about this nonservice. We were more than a little concerned when we finally caught the 5:55am van to town. We arrived at the collectivos at 6:05, and luckily they had not left yet, and as soon as we got into the van they left for Ocosingo, halfway to San Cristobal. When we got to Ocosingo, we got on another collectivo and by 11:30 we were back once again.
Jay and I have been staying in the Posada Mexico this time around, a HI international hostel. It's a beautiful Hostel, with gardens, a full breakfast included, free internet for 1/2 hour a day, hammocks, libraries, a kitchen, and many spaces and beanbag chairs to chill on. Did we chill, though? Maybe Jay for a bit, but not me. I shopped!
Shopping is so much fun in San Cristobal de Las Casas. Not only do they have many funky and interesting shops to peruse, but there's a covered artisans market (with sweets, too!) and the absolutely fantastic outdoors handicraft market, with Indigenas and dreadlocked hippies selling hammocks, stone daggers, handwoven tapestries, all sorts of clothing, jewelry, baskets, pottery, stuffed animals, leather briefcases, wooden masks, ceramic figures, woven dolls, and paintings, just to name a few. Everyday I would peruse the aisles of stalls and wares and sometimes I'd buy things, and other times I'd compare work and prices. Everything was open to haggling, but I didn't want to haggle too toughly - sometimes an item that took 10 hours to weave is worth the 5$CDN that they´re asking for. In any case, I had a purpose this time, to buy gifts for all my friends and family, as well as pick up any items I meant to have when I returned.
Sometimes I didn't even need to go to the markets - yesterday, as I was admiring Jay's packing abilities (he has bought some nice presents for his friends but needs to take good care of them since they will be in our checked luggage - I am NOT saying what he got!), and a Chamulan woman carrying loads of belts and bags entered our hostel and approached us, selling some adorable items at a price I couldn't refuse. I bought out almost her entire stock of the one item (not revealing what they are!), and had a nice conversation with the elderly lady, whose name was Maria. Unfortunately, I ran into her again today, and she said she didn't recognize me. I believe she may have a touch of the senility bug.
I could say that all I have done is shop (Jay may attest to that, he himself did a lot of reading, finishing his book, and sometimes he shopped too), but that would be lying. On Thursday Jay and I took a morning jaunt to the indigenous village of Tenejapa, where the women wear colourful ribbons in their braids and men wear long sheepskin tunics, and men of power also have a ribboned sombrero, a long rosary necklace adorned with coins, and a staff of power, in addition to hiking boots. All of them also wear a woven red purse worn diagonally across their bodies, and in the market I found a very nice one and picked up one for myself, of course. Jay found half a rotiserri chicken, and we found a spot to sit and let him eat it. As we were sitting, an amazingly skinny dog came up to us, no doubt lured by the smell of the chicken. It was very scared, deathly skinny, and had a thick wire tied tightly around its neck. It ate a small piece of chicken Jay passed to it, and we figured it wasn't starving because it was sick, but because it couldn't swallow food properly. Jay sacrificed half of his food trying to encourage the pretty faced dog to let him remove the wire. Finally, as I fed the pup small amounts, Jay was able to convince the dog to let him work on the wire and after some manipulating got it off the dog's neck. We hope that may have saved the dog's life, and Karma points to Jay!
Although the pickings other than the purse at the Tenejapa market were slim, we were very happy we had travelled there, as we were not only the only tourists in the area but had a chance to view the amazing outfits worn. Unfortunately, indigenas do not like to have their photos taken (they believe it steals their soul), and the one group of men who I asked to take their photo agreed only if I paid them 200 pesos, which was far too much. So I took no photos, but I did find an appropriate postcard to show when I arrive home.
This morning, Jay and I took another tour, this time an organized one to the Cañon de Sumidero, which is a large, deep canyon home to many birds and animals, including vultures, herons, monkeys and crocodiles. We set off in a lancha boat and the driver pointed out many and more of these creatures, including some of the largest crocs I have ever seen! There was a particular cliff face over a kilometer high, and a waterfall location where the rocks and lichens have formed the shape of a 'Christmas Tree', or spruce, a cave that contained a shrine to the Virgen of Guadalupe, and a large hydroelectric dam that supplies 25% of Mexico's power. Impressive. After the boat ride we stopped for lunch in Chiapa de Corzo, which features not only amazing heat (overwhelming, actually, it was probably 36 degrees out there compared to the comfortable 25 of the highland San Cristobal), but a unique moorish town square that contains a brick structure that looks like the crown of a castle, and a brick clocktower. We had a great lunch of beef stew in the market, and returned to San Cristobal tired. But, I was ready for more shopping, and that I did!
So, tomorrow at noon we are leaving San Cristobal for the Tuxtla Airport, to fly to Tijuana. We were going to sleep in San Diego, but it's half the price in TJ, so we'll remain there until Monday morning and cross the border then, saving us 25$ or so. Then it's home, and with that comes new jobs, a new apartment, and wedding planning! We will be more than a little busy!
And, perhaps the next post will be the last post. Or, maybe I'll post an epilogue. We'll see!
Much love, Tess (Please revisit the last few posts to see our photos, finally posted!)