Tag Archive for 'San Cristóbal de las Casas'

Merry Christmas from Mexico!

Well, it’s been a long time, and a lot of things have happened, but first of all, Merry Christmas from San Cristóbal de las Casas.

So, let’s see, on the 15th, after two days of beautiful relaxation on the beach at Puerto Escondido, we packed up all of our things in the Osa Mariposa and headed down to the bus station where we packed our bikes into the storage hold of a coach bus bound for Salina Cruz. As this was our first time putting the bikes on a bus, we were a little concerned about how it would go, but the baggage professionals of the Omnibus Cristobal Colon company had no worries. A’s bike went in first, chain up, and then a’s bike laid down on top of it, facing the other way. We loaded the bikes ourselves and then packed the bags in around them, locking the frames and wheels together just out of precaution. Of course, they were in the rear compartment that wasn’t opened the whole way to our destination, 5 hours and 250km of twisting, turning, hilly coast road, so of course the bikes arrived safely, as did we (OCC wouldn’t have it any other way, trust us).

However, the nauseating bus ride gave Aran’s tummy bugs a chance to knock her out for a while, so we spent two days in a HORRIBLE hotel room in Salina Cruz (there are nicer prison cells) while she shivered with a fever and got to know the bathroom way too well. To make up for lost time and allow a to reach full strength, we took another bus, this time a local along the flat roads through Mexico’s wind farm (it’s windy there) to the state of Chiapas and the city of Arriaga.

Upon arrival, after changing our first flat (A’s front) we rode into town to look for hotels. On our way around the zócalo, we asked a local if he knew of any hotels in town, and he offered to walk us to the cheap hotels. We chatted a bit in the few blocks, and when we were standing in the street between the two rather run down looking hotels, our “friend” told us to wait there while he went to check prices for us. Hmm, we thought, is he helping us or himself, hoping to take a cut perhaps? The $250 (MXN) he quoted us seemed a little steep after our stay in the prison cell for $200/night, and he offered to check the one across the street. While he was in there, a helpful Arriagan stopped by us on a bicycle and let us know that a new hotel had opened up that was quite nice and reasonably priced. Since the second hotel was (predictably) also “$250″, we asked our “friend” to take us over to Hotel Chiapas. When he went to check the price there, it was only $215, and who’s ever heard of a hotel for $215 pesos? However, he pointed out that the other hotels were cheaper, as they were only $180, and was ready to take us back. “Wait, what? You mean they’re $250, right?” “Oh yeah, $250, so this one is cheaper, I’ll take care of the money while you guys get the bikes inside.” So, not wanting to cause a fuss, and seeing that Hotel Chiapas was far nicer than the other two, A handed him $220 and we dragged the bikes through the lobby into the courtyard. Our friend appeared with the $5 change, took care of checking us in, and then helped carry some bags to the room, which turned out to be the nicest we’ve seen in Mexico. Just for kicks, we checked the price as we left for dinner, expecting that our buddy had indeed swindled us out of a few pesos. It turns out, the room actually did cost $215, and since it was a welcome change from the hole in Salina Cruz, we felt pretty good about the outcome. We also didn’t feel too chagrinned that we had given the guy $20 pesos extra when he asked for a little change for a soda in exchange for his help. We’re still not sure if he forgot his game after the first two hotels, or if he realized how very likable we are, or was afraid we’d catch him because the prices were posted on the wall. All told, it’s a good story, and the hotel was worth the extra pesos. (Sorry, we didn’t think to take pictures of the nicest hotel, even after the worst one!)

After some pastor tacos with a gibbering old man, a mirimba concert and the impressively friendly atmosphere of the Arriaga zocalo, and a good night sleep, we loaded up the bikes and headed out on the free road toward Tuxtla. In Mexico, there are two types of Federal funded roads, much like US Interstates and US routes. The interstates here, called autopistas or super carreterras, are often toll roads, and although they have lots more traffic, they all have big wide shoulders where you can bike without trouble. These roads are shaped and graded for heavy truck traffic with gentle curves and 6% grade max, and they don’t go through any little towns. Of course, the free roads are opposite on all of the counts mentioned. Have a look at the roads out of Arriaga for a comparison.

First, upon entering the Reserva de la Biosfera La Sepultura, we came across a pretty little stream full of whahooing locals, so we took a rest in the shade to take some pictures. Turns out it was a church group from Arriaga, and a precosious teenage girl came to say hi. Pretty soon, the whole group ventured up to the road to meet us. They invited us under the bridge to see the waterfall, and we witnessed a few brave men jumping into the pool at the bottom while we talked. They invited us for fish soup, but unfortunately we felt the afternoon and the climb weighing us down, so we took a raincheck. On up the road, the grade hit 13 or 15% (that’s steep) while the wind gusted to 40-50mph making the riding dicey. We got over the hump at 800 meters (we started from sea level) not long before dark, and began to look for a place to camp that was out of the wind. Thankfully, the police in Tierra y Libertad were happy to have us camp out behind their station, and even urged us to move closer to the building to stay out of the wind.

Monday, we rode about 65 kilometers, finding our way to a campsite down by the beach on a river under the road a bit before sunset. Awakened from time to time by horses in the night, and harassed by the barbed plant life, we didn’t have our best night ever, but we were rested enough the next day to take the toll road the whole way through Tuxtla Gutierrez to a dirty hotel in Chiapa de Corzo. There, we took a day off to tour the Sumidero Canyon, an impressive cleft in the earth that can be seen by boat. Unfortunately for the world, the canyon is not being protected well by Mexican authorities — the air is permanently hazy because it is full of exhaust from big, powerful tour boats, and the water is covered with floating plastic bottles. But, if you manage to focus on the more natural surroundings, you get to see crocodiles, monkeys, pelicans, cool plant life, and some really impressive rocks!

From Chiapa de Corzo, all that was left was a 1700 meter climb over 50 km to arrive in San Cristóbal de las Casas. It took us a day and a half on the toll road, but we came right up, and are settled in a mostly french speaking hostel for a few more days. We spent Christmas Eve with local french and spanish bike mechanics at a non-traditional party involving a piñata and a machete, and skin tight leopard print. There are lots of foreigners living in San Cristóbal, which accounts for the belgian chocolatier, french bakeries, and gourmet cheese shops. But not for the bagel cafe. What? There’s also plenty of mexican flavor, as the fireworks haven’t stopped for 3 days. Also, the indigenous culture is more prevalent here, although in the city most of it is just aggressively hawking kitsch. It is really cool to hear indigenous languages in the streets, though. We had a great Christmas. We stuffed some wool socks with oranges, pistachios, and belgian chocolates. We skyped with our families. We miss all of you enormously, and wish we could simultaneously enjoy our amazing adventures and be in the company of everyone we love. We’ll be here, though, if anyone wants to visit. Just tell us a time or a place, and we’ll tell you the other one.