Winding around the mountain top roads, frigid air blowing up my shorts and causing my jaw to lock into position while Sarah clung to my back like a scene out of Dumb and Dumber. I was forced to accept that the sunny beaches of Playa del Carmen were indeed behind us, and the sun going down while we became increasingly unsure as to where the hell we actually were, meant that frostbite was a new and distinct possibility in the cold southern climes of San Cristobel.
On the road again
Leaving Playa Del Carmen was tough, it had become our new home, in fact one of the best I’ve had! In our travels, including pre-blog days, we have been in places and found ourselves saying “I could live here”. Shortly after leaving these places however, the desire wore off, reality set in, and we would acknowledge how although a place might be great for holidays, it seldom would be desirable to live in for an extended period.
Playa is different, it has everything we wanted, beaches close by, shops and cinema should the urge arise, great food, cenotes and many a cultural and natural wonder within easy reach.
Oh, and internet, satellite TV, and a really great apartment.
It was however time to move on, at least for now (I will be back!). Our chosen destination? San Cristobal, Chiapas. If like me you are a little bit ignorant of some cultures and places, and get most of your info from action movies. You would think that Mexico is made up of beautiful beaches, and expansive cactus strewn deserts. Well it’s not, at least not the parts I have seen.
San Cristobal is an old Spanish mountain town at about 2000 meters near the border of Guatemala, and it’s a foresty, cold as hell, but pretty, place. On first arrival I wasn’t hugely impressed, partly from missing Playa, and partly from the contrasting frigid air, there was one saving grace though, they have amazing coffee! It’s everywhere, you walk down the streets and the smell of roasting coffee beans emanating from the little cafes intoxicates your senses and tickles your nose hairs. Heaven to a smoker with a raging coffee addiction.
A day in we both felt a bit low and decided to do something cool, rather than jump on a tour bus and be led around by the nose, we hired a scooter from a place off the main street. $35 got us a little 125cc scooter, a free tank of gas, and a basic map to find our way around, bring it on!
Scooters and Churches
Almost immediately the jadedness dissipated, we cautiously made our way over the many one way cobblestone streets, wobbling precariously every time we had to slow down behind another collectivo. Within ten minutes we had made tracks out of the colonial town and were weaving our way down little roads, through little villages, and past numerous little blue and white churches.
The roads were surprisingly good for most of the journey (aside from the ridiculous number of speed bumps ubiquitous throughout Mexico, each one gouging another chunk from the scooters underside), which meant actually seeing some of the scenery rather than just trying not to crash and burn.
Within an hour we were in the little town of Chamula, its main attraction the old church with a unique version of Catholicism practiced within its colonial Spanish walls (what the hell were the Spanish doing out here in the middle of nowhere?). We parked up the bike, and strolled into the church.
The floor was strewn with a grassy pine needleish type covering, and a natural incense filled the air. A small band played traditional Mexican music (the kind you actually hear in movies like Nacho Libre!), as people sat in small groups around skinny candles, passing around glasses of coke and making the shape of the cross between shoulders and forehead. Large barbie style dolls in religious dress peered down at them from glass cages as an old lady pulled out her chicken (not a euphemism), clutched its legs in one hand, its head in the other, and began wringing its neck until the twitching subsided.
Cool, weird, but cool.
After the “show”, we sat in the square, and drunk a small coke while the locals downed huge bottles of the sugary goodness, watching people go about their lives in this tiny out of the way part of the world.
Off the Grid
Our journey from here was not on the map, and done on a whim, we picked a direction, revved the engine, and were soon out of the main square, driving through remote towns being looked at by local people wondering what a couple of gringos were doing out here, and where they were going.
“Chamula is the other way!”, I imagined them thinking.
We climbed mountain passes and stared out at beautiful vistas, occasionally checking the phone GPS, only to find out we had missed yet another turning to get back to San Cristobal. We stopped at a little restaurant and a fork in the road, noshed down ok-ish tacos (while watching ridiculously good looking food being served to the locals who obviously knew what to choose on the menu, shouldn’t have played it safe with the tacos!), and made the decision that rather than follow the signs home, and probably cover ground we had already covered, we would take the barely marked route on my offline phone map and see something different. It was the right choice, but occasionally seemed like it might end with us driving through the dark and freezing cold in search of another road home.
We drove through less and less developed roadways, eventually struggling on our little scooter across rocky gravel roads, Sarah having to get off the bike because the wheels kept rolling around, nearly pitching us from its seat. Fortunately the roads eventually improved, and we drove past a few work gangs responsible for the pleasant drive of future journeymen, laughing at/with us as we struggled through and around their workmanship.
We eventually made it back to San Cristobel after about 5 hours of scootering, we had enjoyed ups, downs, back roads, forward roads, dirt roads, gravel roads, smiling people, questioning people, traditional dress, overalls, mud houses, modern houses, hills, valleys, freezing cold, cloudy skies, dead chickens, live dogs, lots of churches, and a sore ass.
Most of all, we got to experience the real San Cristobel and surrounds, away from the tourists and street sellers (although this is arguably the real San Cristobel these days), and to see the modern lives of local people play themselves out away from prying eyes, we got to have an adventure, and we got to do it in our own time, and our own way.
I still miss Playa, but this was pretty cool to 🙂
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