Ok so I left San Cristobal on 21st but I´m a bit behind on this blog malarkey! Bear (grrr) with me, I´ve got some catching up to do…
So, I left Angangueo and the butterflies with a day of bus travel up ahead… 20 hours or there abouts… I didn´t sleep a great deal! I was in a very different place to where I am now, geographically and emotionally! I was west of Mexico City (the opposite direction to the rest of my journey), suffering with girl hormones and feeling quite lonely. I was worrying about money… I was spending too much and I needed to make some friends. I thought it was likely that San Cristobal would be the place.
After a sleepless night on the bus I arrived in San Cristobal. I got in a cab and asked for the Backpackers Hostel. My guidebook gave this one the liveliest description. That´s what I needed! My friendly taxi driver dropped me off and lead me into the hostel. He helped me with my Spanish at the front desk which was perfect ´cause I was delirious with lack of sleep. I was loving Chiapas already. What I had seen of the state looked beautiful and so far it was dirt cheap… less that £1 for a cab ride and £2 for a place to stay! Made a nice change from the butterfly town and Mexico City. It was early so I had to wait in the garden for people to check out before I could go to my dorm. I sat in the garden and looked around. It was pretty. There were the remains of a bonfire from the night before and friendly cats running around. I could tell I was going to like it here! I was shown to my dorm where I flopped immediately and fell straight to sleep. After a couple of hours I awoke to the sound of a familiar voice next door… My annoying roommate from Mexico City who I thought I´d seen the last of! The traveling clichés begin! Still he was nice enough and there were plenty of new people to meet…
So I freshened up and went out to see what San Cristobal was all about. The guys on reception told me it was carnival time in the neighbouring villages so I hopped in a colectivo bound for Zinacantán, a Mayan village about ten minutes drive outside of San Cris. I arrived to find very little going on… just some kids dressed in animal costumes begging for money and a local basketball tournament… plus coach loads of tourists there to see I couldn´t work out what. It was pretty enough but not too exciting. Lots of begging kids. A girl of about 7 invited me to her house to see some of her weavings… presumably to sell me some… I didn´t know. I thought it was a little strange so I declined but agreed to take a photo of her and her friends in exchange for a few pesos. I hopped back in a colectivo and headed back to San Cristobal. I was dropped off in the market which is the coolest I´ve been to in Mexico so far. Endless narrow alley ways bursting with colour and life. Stalls selling fruit, veg, knock off DVDs, tacos, meat, quesos, shoes, haberdashery, crates of live chickens, dried fish… I loved it! Parts of it smelled like chicken s*** but mostly it was fantastic! Endless people watching… a 3 foot Mayan lady with a box twice her size tied to her back with nylon rope… a lady with two kids and a pig on a string… a grubby boy with no shoes singing badly for change... I got myself a snack and headed back to my hostel. I pottered around for a while, chatted to my roommates and waited for the fire to be lit. The hostel allowed nightly bonfires in the garden. San Cristobal is quite high in the mountains so it´s chilly at night…. Not Toronto mid Feb cold but still a bit parky! Anyway, it makes for agreat social gathering and more often than not a warm up to a night on the town! I bought myself a couple of beers from the local shop and joined the circle. I found myself a spot next to Guillaume from Montreal and Mia from Israel. Mia, also a girl traveling solo, told me that if I ever felt homesick I should look up at the stars ´cause they remind you we´re all under the same sky… or something like that. More traveling clichés perhaps but I still quite liked it. Guillaume, who I took to straight away, introduced me to his friends who were entertaining the crowds with some good music. The four of them from Montreal were hitching and camping their way around Mexico. A tight budget doesn´t seem to rob the traveling experience of any riches… in fact quite the opposite. You see a different, often more interesting side of things. I´d totally do it if I wasn´t alone. Anyway, the hostel had allowed them to camp up in the attic at a reduced rate. Their place was wicked. It was like they had their own apartment… I was jealous! I called the night a day when the fire was put out and declined the invite out from Mia and various others. I was going to spend a few nights here and had plenty of time to party. I had to catch up on sleep and wanted adventure in the morning not a hangover! The next day I got up and met with Guillaume again in the garden… he told me that a group of them were going to hitch to a nearby village to see some carnival… following my lack of success in Zinacantán I decided to give it a go. I´d heard reports of strange goings on in this town and also wanted to check it out. I´d had nothing but fun with the Canadians I´d met so far. We walked to the edge of town and stuck our thumbs out. Within minutes a truck stopped to pick us up. The 5 of us (Kas and Guillaume from Montreal, 2 aussie girls and me) jumped in the back, stood up and enjoyed the view as we made our way around the mountains. I felt fantastic. This was the day I found my traveling feet! We arrived in San Juan Chemula and were immediately hit by begging kids. There were more of them that in Zinacantán and they were more persistent. As we made our way past market stalls into the village I had the feeling that we were in for an interesting day... this place had the feeling of a crazy town! There were men in traditional dress walking in procession playing music up the main street into the town sqaure and the church. We decided to hang back for a while, bought ourselves some breakfast of a watermelon and some roasted nuts and had a picnic on a grass verge. These people are used to seeing tourists but we were still the source of great amusement, especially to the kids. We shared our melon with some passing children. It felt better to share food than give money... They were hesitant but curious as we offered them food. They took a piece of melon each and jumped away from us giggling! One boy turned and said `gracias´so i responded `de nada´... they looked at eachother and burst out laughing, mimicking me as they walked away! I laughed at them laughing at me and realised that this was likely to be a theme for the day. I also started to notice some booze casualties. There was a man face down on the pavement in front of us and a tanked up guy sat down and told us about the bull riding that was to take place tomorrow... this place seemed crazy enough already, I couldn`t imagine throwing a herd of raging bulls into the equation! It reminded me a little of the third morning of glastonbury festival or some such when you`ve got people strewn with litter, unconscious from the night before, the muffled sound of music in the distance, stalls selling tat you wouldn`t ever wear or use in any other situation and intoxicated men stopping to tell you tales you suspect might not be entirely based in reality... only these were crazy mexicans and not flaky hippies!
We got up and made our way into town. The main street was busy with processions. The square was bustling with people, stalls and men firing home made rockets into the sky! We hung around for a while to take it all in. It was pretty hot by now and the girls went off to buy hats. I stayed with Kas and Guillaume. Kas had brought his drum with him... we started to notice that it was attracting some unexpected attention. Men kept gesturing to Kas to start playing. We were in front of the church at this point and Kas was reluctant to play as he didn`t want to be disrespectful or disturb the celebrations in any way. I can understand how he felt, we were witnessing something we didn`t fully understand, we were outsiders and it felt wrong to make ourselves the centre of attention. But it became clear that they had different ideas and were insistant that Kas play. By now a small group of boys had gathered around us and were all looking curiously at Kas`drum. Kas reluctantly drummed for about a minute then stopped, concerned that it may not have been the right thing to do. Immediately a crowd of boys and men formed around us clamoring to see Kas play. He played a little more and the gawping crowd poushed further forward still. Kas seemed quite nervous about it but Guillaume and I could tell that this was quite a special moment. Probably because we weren`t the focus of it, it made it easier for us to observe how fascinated the people were. Kas offered the drum up for the kids to have a go. He`d hit it to demonstrate to them what to do. They were all squealing and daring each other to hit it like it was the naughtiest thing in the world! You could tell the men further back would have done the same had they been closer! Kas played a bit more and was attempting to teach the kids a few simple rhythms, I think mainly to take the focus of him a little. We were pinned up against a wall by a group of about 30 men and boys. It was clearly stressing Kas a little to be the focus of such fascination. He eventually said no more and the group backed off... but only a little. Boys would still sneak up and dare each other to hit it! It was quite interesting to watch.
We met up with the girls again and got tickets to enter the church. I waited outside with Kas while the girls used the bathrooms. Guys stopped to chat to us. I didn`t understand what this one guy was saying to me but I have since realised that he was calling me a b****! He then tried to grab my t***. Luckily I managed to catch his hands in time to deflect his attempted grope. I felt glad I hadn`t visited this place alone. Although to be honest it seemed to just be the behaviour of a tanked up chancer having a laugh at the silly gringa than anything more serious. Still, we took it as our cue to move away from the public baños and make our way to the church.
I had heard reports of strange rituals. I knew that chicken sacrafices and coca cola were involved. I was intrigued... The church floor was covered in a carpet of pine tree branches. The surrounding walls had idols of christian saints in glass cabinets. In front of them people prayed and lit candles. The air was filled with incense and the sound of music and fire works outside. People sat all around lighting rows of candles. Between every praying person and their lit candles sat a bottle of coca cola...not diet or pepsi, full fat coke! It was very peculiar! Apparently they believe that coke has healing powers so they drink it down after their prayers and burp up their sins! That breast grabbing man had some serious burping to do I reckon! So that`s animal sacrifices, saint worship and the soul cleansing powers of Coca Cola! (Jody it makes cheese cake day seem pretty tame! ;-) )
So we sat for some time and took it all in. People didn`t seem to mind us just sitting their and observing. People were even trying to get Kas to drum again. This time he declined and wasn`t open to persuasion. This was definitely not something we wanted to be the focus of.
I was sat quietly next to a group of teenage girls, one of which had a daughter of about 18 months. The sat the kid up, faced her towards me and pointed, telling her to look at me... they giggled at me too! I smiled back at them which made them laugh more! The kid was transfixed. I felt like an exhibit but I didn`t really mind. I was there to look at them after all. Our cultures just behave differently when faced with someone unusual. We were there trying to blend in and make out that this was nothing unusual when really we were fascinated. They sat there saying ha ha look at that funny girl! It didn`t actually seem rude and in a strange way it felt kind of good to be seen as something unusual or funny. Their reaction is just a little more honest! So anyway, the baby stared at me, I stared back and smiled. I pulled a funny face, the baby gurgled and the girls laughed! I did it again, the same happened. The baby was full on chuckling now and a game of peek-a-boo ensued! I was loving it! Peek-a-boo is clearly an intercultural passport to childish amusement! The older girls were loving it too although I noticed they were still a bit shy of staring at me if I looked straight at them. I started to be a little bit concerned that I was distracting them from their prayers but then carried on as no one seemed to mind. This wasn`t exactly the most orderly place of worship after all! The could always burp and be obsolved of their misbehaviour later!
We left the church and by this time it was later in the afternoon. The atmosphere was decidedly more intoxicated. The men seemed to spend all day drinking Posh, a potent traditional drink which sends you loopy if you`re not there already! We headed towards where we arrived. We wanted to find a high spot to see the craziness from above. We had a brief encounter with a drunk crazy man who seemed to take a shine to me. I feared from the safety of my breasts from groping hands once more! He lurched in towards me and his boozy breath and chapped lips made a beeline for my face! I ducked backwards and Kas stepped in to spare me his advances followed my Guillaume. It was good to have some boys around! Why was i getting all the sleazers! We steered ourselves away and found a pathway up the hill and took it. It lead to a clearing at the top of the hill and from their we had the birds eye view we were after. It was a cool place but definitely quite mental. I was ready to go...
We said goodbye to crazy town and once again were picked up within minutes of hitting the road. The ride back was equality beautiful and exciting. Today was definitely the day I found my travelling feet!
Back in San Cristobal Guillaume and I hit the market and stocked up on supplies. Fresh tasty food and beer! We sat up in their makeshift roof top apartment at the hostel, ate our food and chatted about this and that... the subject of childhood games came up. I told them what me and my little sister Jess like to play. First up: Bundle! (someone shouts bundle and you all pile on top of your unsuspecting victim!) The Canadians were new to this simple but endlessly entertaining concept! Number 2: building dens! After some quick transatlantic translation they agreed that they liked building dens too although they called it a fort. So we jumped to it and set about building a fort with random bits of furniture and blankets! After some furniture shuffling, blanket draping, a touch of british pessimism from me (oh this den`s gonna be rubbish!) the Canadian optimism came through and we had ourselves a mighty fort... although I begrudged calling it that! Fort to me suggests impenitrable structure and blankets hanging from rafters over a couple of benches and a mattress does not fit that description! Still we all loved the den/fort and got in to claim our places. We ended up spending the night here, shunning the bonfire party. I felt quite at home but wished that Jess had been there... I thought about instigating a bundle just to round it off nicely but I didn`t think the flimsy fort would stand up to it! We all fell asleep in the den... it was bloody cold and I started to regret my childish suggestions! Another problem was that it`s not just over grown kids who enjoy a good den... they`re also cat heaven and I was kept awake by a fidgety kitten who spent the nigth clawing me with glee!
The next morning I was knackered and felt like a do nothing day. Some of the guys who`d missed crazy town the day before went to see the bull riding... I gave it a wide berth! I enjoyed it but that town belonged in yesterday.
I spent the day hanging around San Cris and contemplating my next move. I had chatted to an aussie guy named Trent who was going the same way as me. He wanted to visit this remote lake in the jungle in chiapas followed by Palenque ruins. I had read about this lake but it was not an adventure I was going to be able to do alone. Trent seemed nice and laid back and he was after some company so it worked out for both of us. We decided to take the trip the following day.
That evening we all went out an partied in town. We saw some live music and danced. It was fun and a great farewell to San Cristobal and the friends that I had made.
The next morning Trent and I wearily said our goodbyes and made our way to the bus station for the next chapter in our adventure...