After reading Lonely Planet and the Footprint guide, both of which gave San Cristobal glowing reviews, I was well excited ya'll. I arrived in San Cristobal at about 7am, after an 11 hour overnight journey from Oaxaca...all I wanted was a massive, healthy breakfast. I had read about a cool cafe with good breakfast in the Lonely Planet, and was keen on sampling some famous Chiapas coffee. It seems as though I totally forgot, despite being reminded every day, that Mexico is lazy and wakes up later then the rest of the world; meaning the cafe was closed. So I settled for an expensive and wierd place with sour eggs and shit coffee.
Being challenged on the sense of direction front, almost retardedly so, it took me about an hour to find my hostel, even with the help of Google Maps. At first I was a bit put off by my accomodation in San Cris, it was small and therefore a bit ronery. But it really grew on me and by the end I loved it. Fucken great breakfast and an awesome Golden Labrador which made me miss my dogs at home heaps. Any place where I can talk Mexican politics in Spanish is a plus, which is what happened with a Swiss girl working at the hostel. After asking her why she thinks people voted for Pina Nieto, she let fly in a tirade of rapid Spanish. Apparently Nietos (apologies to grammar nazis reading this, I cant find the apostrophy on this Mexican keyboard) wife is a star in one of the most watched telenovelas in Mexico, which are extremely popular here, overacted and corny...like latinos like it, and this fact significantly helped Nieto get over the line in the election, plus the fact that he is a mad hottie. She talked of revolution as the only possible answer to the country's fucked political system, as Mexico's intitutions are filled with the corrupt, hell bent on maintaining power. Che would be proud, speaking of which...I also saw a dude wearing a Che t-shirt eating burger king. I dont know how the spelling of douchebag could be so wrong, but there it was.
San Cristobal itself wasnt that much of a highlight. There was awesome coffee and a pretty cool cafe scene, but besides that there isnt too much going on. I did stumble across a coffee museum however, which was pretty cool. To my amazement, the museum revealed that more than 90% of the coffee fincas in the state of Chiapas are locally owned by indigenous peoples, hugely important for their economic survival, especially considering that Chiapas is one of the poorest states in Mexico. My time in San Cristobal also comprised meeting an Italian through couch surfing to talk Spanish and English and to observe the US Elections together, as well as eating a shitload of amazing churros.
Of great interest to me and many others in the state of Chiapas is the Zapatista movement, el Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional, or the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, a guerilla movement whose ideology is a fusion of Mayan beliefs with rural liberal socialism. Its name is derived from one of the rural heroes of the 1910 Mexican Revolution, Emiliano Zapata. His Plan of Ayala, distributed during the revolution, is the bedrock of his ideological legacy. Overall the plan advocated land reform, returning ownership of rural Mexico from large hacendados, or land owners, to the indigenous people who originally inhabited it. The movement, founded in 1994, sees itself as a part of the larger worldwide anti-globalisation and anti neoliberalism movements, with a belief in localisation of resources. From its inception, the movement cemented itself as a part of the above worldwide movements, its date of foundation being the same day NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) came into effect. On this date came their first Declaration, one of war against the mexican government, whom they see as out of touch with campesinos and hence illegitimate. Around 3000 Zapatistas, already armed, stormed various cities in Chiapas, setting fire to police buildings and army bases. An armed conflict endured for 12 days before a ceacefire was brokered by the Catholic diocese of San Cristobal de Las Casas, with some of the territory seized by the movement being retained untill a breach of the ceasefire by Mexican federal forces about a year later. Villages were abandoned, and the Zapatistas fled deeper into the jungle. Since then the Mexican government has advocated a policy of negotiation, but conflicts have endured, despite ex-President Vincente Foxs assurance that he could end the conflict in fifteen minutes...sounds like a Mexican Putin to me. Ironically, the movements anti-globalisation message has been spread by communicational globalisation, creating a worldwide awareness of the organisation, its aims and ideology.
By chance, I also ran into some Germans I had met in Oaxaca, and we started hanging out, doing tours together and travelling to Palenque. The first tour we took was to a cave near San Cris and a Pine forest surrounded by picturesque lakes, which felt more like Canada than Mexico. Our guide to the caves was a master bullshitter, Im sure far superior than camrades of his age; he was about 8. Just about every hole in the cave was the mouth of some animal, and apparently all of them were extremely hungry. Ive discovered that Mexicans love their stories (aka are bullshit artists) about the same as Italians. The lake was nice, but a bit boring...being verbally raped by Mexican women trying to flog food was a highlight. Whats that? You dont have change for 50 pesos when a coke costs 15? What a surprise, every one else in this country has change (sarcastic face). The tour to the Canyon the next day was pretty amazing. One event sticks out in particular...my German friend didnt recieve a wristband for entry into the National Park, meaning that a full of boat of about 30 gringos had to turn around so he could get one. Special thanks to the German chicks behind who said, "thanks a lot," in that characteristic German voice, you may be utter bitches, but you make for a good story.
At six a.m. the next day we departed for Palenque via Agua Azul and Misol Ha. After visiting Agua Azul, I wanted to change the word paradise to Agua Azul...but such is the beauty of this part of Mexico, I now know there are more beautiful swimming places, but still, Agua Azul was fucking incrediballs. Our time in the Palenque ruins was a bit rushed, but I took solace in the knowledge that I was staying there at least for one night and would return the next day.
We settled in our humble jungle lodgings and chilled out, trying to duplicate the sound of the howler monkeys. Luckily I bumped into some friends I had met in Oaxaca in Palenque, and we ended up travelling together. We settled in El Panchan, which is situated within a twenty minute walk to the ruins, rather than lodging in the seedy, sweaty, dusty town. Of course, the place was filled with hippies...which was cool, but I did want to slap some of them; when people adopt another culture as their own it kinda annoys me. Plus there is always the romanticism that comes when hippies describe indigenous cultures, conveniently sweeping any unkind or frankly fucked up practices under the rug, take child sacrifice for example.
But enough bitching...onto the ruins. The sights were visually spectacular, meticulously build pyramids amidst lush jungle, but it was only after I spoke to the Germans about it that I really began to appreciate its history. They had decided to hire a guide to explain the significance of the ruins and their history, something I shrugged off as really touristy, what I dick move that was. I thought I could just wikipedia the info later...but of course its not as detailed than at the site. The guide told the Germans that there was evidence of Chinese, Thai and Middle Eastern influence in some of the artifacts, but they have no idea why, how or when the Mayans came into contact with these other cultures.
The Mayan city of Palenque dates back to 226 BC and collapsed around 1100 AD, and was at its height in the 7th century. Such is the magnitude of the ancient city that the ruins open to the public, which require about three hours to explore, make up only 2% of the total area of the ancient city...most of it undiscovered by archaeologists.
For our last day in Palenque, I decided to go back to Agua Azul...the enticing clear blue water being too much to resist, but my journey encountered a few roadblocks. I jumped on a collectivo headed for the site, and took great lengths to tell the driver when we arrived; the collectivo was to drop us off at the highway, before the turn off. After a while, I started to panic, and turned to someone behind me, and asked, "wheres Agua Azul." After they pointed behind us, my heart sunk. The driver dropped me off, and said he was sorry he forgot to tell me we had arrived, thanks buddy. I was now walking along a winding road that hugged the mountains of the Chiapas jungle, aimlessly trying to hitch. After walking for an hour, I started asking why...why would no one pick me up? Why would anyone ever refuse a hitch hiker? I look like Jesus, not Ivan Milat...right? I finally flagged down a collectivo who dropped me off at the turn off, then jumped in a cab, only to have the cab driver kick me out, because after I got in a group of four approached and said they wanted a ride. I jumped out furious, slammed the door and said fuck your mother, and he laughed. A bit of an overexaggeration by me, but Id had enough. It all turned out ok though, and despite a trip that should have taken one hour taking four hours, I still had time to explore Agua Azul.
Such is the strength of my bond with my new friends, they talked me into going to Tulum with them, which means Im going to have to work backwards from here...