The Journal  

8 December 2005

San Cristobal de las Casas

Author: Jeremiah

Photographer: Holly


San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

November 27-28

The road from Tehuantepec to San Cristobal de las Casas took us from the ocean to the mountain tops. We passed within 10 miles of the Pacific Ocean , something that neither Holly nor I have ever seen, but decided for the sake of time to leave it for later in our trip. After we skirted the industrial city of Tuxtla , we made a 50 mile ascent from 500 feet above sea level to 8,500 feet. After spending a sweltering night in Tehuantepec, we could see our breath in the nearly freezing San Cristobal night as we used an outside computer to check our e-mail. The hostel we stayed at advertised parking. Parking meant bringing the motorcycle in through their wooden doors that led to their courtyard and winding up a narrow stone walkway and around a tree to park under a stairwell.

  Riding up the winding mountain roads to San Cristobal de las Casas we got behind many vehicles struggling up the steep grade. Passing other vehicles at any time is the norm whether or not a passing zone is posted.

  Easy does it as Jeremiah squeezes the Guzzi down a narrow walkway at the hostel we stayed at in San Cristobal.

Walking the streets of San Cristobal de las Casas, it's hard to imagine the city was the center of the 1994 Zapatista rebellion. The restaurant in which we ate supper featured walls covered with pictures of Mexican revolutionaries, from Zapata and Villa to the masked leader of the Zapatistas, Subcomandante Marcos.

San Cristobal has slowly changed from the capital of anti-globalism to a tourist capital. But besides the pictures, there was little to betray San Cristobal 's rebellious heritage except the military presence. The highway to and from the city had the occasional Army check point, with sandbagged bunker and camouflage netting. Soldiers and security personnel patrolled the street, either packed into the back of pick-up trucks or walking alone, an M-16 slung casually over their shoulder.

Throughout the Chiapas state we felt the presence of Mexico 's indigenous population strongest. They walked the roads and worked the fields along our route of entrance and exit. They sold their handicrafts or begged for money in San Cristobal 's streets. The indigenous children looked like Medieval paintings, not innocent, growing youngsters but miniature adults. One approached us in the town square and offered a shoe shine. He acted like a businessman, from our haggling on a price to his outstretched hand demanding payment when the job was finished.

  This woman was trying to sell handmade dolls to tourists in the square. We were approached twice in a restaurant by two people asking for money. One woman waited patiently by our table until we ordered then held out her weathered hand for pesos. Another man came while we were waiting for our food and wanted money for a drink. After we politely told him no, he grabbed the bottle of hot sauce from our table and left.

  Jeremiah bargained with this shoeshine boy to get our boots cleaned. He was quick to open his little case and get to work as another boy came over to try and take away his clientele and demanded to know how much he was getting paid for the job. After he was finished the shoeshine boy then wanted, "Cinco pesos para la photo." We thanked him again for his shining work and walked away not wanting to enter into the issue of paying for photos.

The cathedral in the town square.

  The streets of San Cristobal were crowded Sunday evening with people shopping and eating at street vendors.

It was in San Cristobal that we ran into our first large tourist/backpacker crowds. The guests at the hostel we stayed at were exclusively Americans and Europeans. During the day, tour group crowds wandered the streets in packs. For the first time on a trip, Holly and I didn't get a second glance from the locals.

  At the Backpackers Hostel several cats had found refuge in the courtyard. This friendly black one followed us up to our room and invited herself in. Jeremiah tucked her in a bed before we checked out the next morning.
All photographs © Holly Marcus / Page design by Robin Marcus