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Days 151-154 – Tuesday-Friday September 18-21, 2007 – Huehuetenango, Guatemala to San Cristobal de Las Casas, Mexico
After nearly two months in Guatemala it was time to move on to Mexico and the Mayan trail. We woke up early on Tuesday morning and caught a bus from Huehuetenango to the border town of La Mesilla. The scenery on this two hour trip was just as beautiful as elsewhere in Guatemala, if not more. Before long, the bus arrived and we made our way to the Guatemalan immigration office to get our exit stamp. Much to our surprise, they didn’t try to extort any money from us and quickly stamped our passports and sent us on our way.
The Mexican immigration office sits 3km down the road from its Guatemalan counterpart, so we decided to take a taxi. Since things went so well over on the Guatemalan side, we were sure the Mexican official would give us problems. (Not really, but it adds to the drama!) To be serious, this border is a notoriously hard one to cross, given that they regularly extort money from travelers, but we didn’t have any problems at all. Not only was the Mexican official not a crook, but he was actually friendly and helpful. After filling out the necessary paperwork, our new friend stamped our passports and wished us a safe trip. (Buen Viaje!)
When we finally finished crossing the border, it was around noon. The bus terminal in Ciudad Cuauhtemoc is right across the street from immigration, making a trip further into Mexico very easy. At the bus terminal, we were delighted to see that the next bus to San Cristobal de Las Casas was at 12:50pm. This gave us just enough time to get some lunch before getting on the bus for the four hour drive north. All throughout the day we were excited at the prospect of taking this particular bus, as it was 1st class. After riding Guatemala’s camionetas for two months, an air conditioned bus with plush seats was a welcomed change, even though it cost about five times more.
The drive from the border to San Cristobal de Las Casas was another beautiful one. When we arrived in the five hundred year old colonial city, the first order of business was finding a hotel. Our first observation while walking around the city was just how many churches there are in San Cristobal. It seems that almost every block has its own church, with the most elaborate one being on the main plaza (Zocalo). While walking around the plaza, we also noticed a plethora of decorations for Mexican Independence Day, which had just passed. Red, green and white seemed to be covering everything in the Zocalo and surrounding areas.
San Cristobal is known by some as the home of the very bloody Zapatista revolution of the 1990’s. While the Zapatistas are still around, the government has all but destroyed them with a strong military presence in the area. On the bus from the border to San Cristobal, we went through three military checkpoints and were asked to furnish our passports twice. While this was a bit of an inconvenience, the soldiers were polite and the process very quick.
Our second day in San Cristobal involved more walking around in order to explore the city. It was clearly evident after a couple of days, just how much cleaner San Cristobal was than the cities in Guatemala. I don’t believe the Mexicans are any cleaner by practice, but in San Cristobal they actually have workers who clean the sidewalks. From what we could see, it makes a huge difference.
During our first couple of days of exploring, we found ourselves often on a certain street just off of the Zocalo. Avenida Hidalgo is closed off to traffic, making it a pedestrian haven. While these types of streets exist in several places that we have visited, this street seemed to cater as much to locals as it did to tourists. Instead of finding only high end shops and restaurants, we found a good collection of local places, which just added to the charm. Also, we found a Burger King on this street, which isn’t important other than it was the only place we have seen in two months with refillable fountain drinks. It wasn’t long before we were sitting down inside, enjoying our Coca Cola Light. (Diet Coke)
On Wednesday afternoon we were bloated from the Diet Coke and decided to check out the Maya Medicine Development Center which was a thirty minute walk from the central district. This museum turned out to be very interesting as it explained a few different aspects of ancient Mayan medicine, including their birthing practice. They also had an herb garden where each herb was labeled, explaining how it is used to heal certain ailments. I found the museum among the best we have visited so far on this part of the trip. In fact, we were so interested in the traditions, that we hired an elder to perform a ceremony on Shawn Reece to prevent him from having nightmares and for him to have a happy life.
The ten minute ceremony consisted primarily of praying, however the shaman also used herbs and broke an egg. Shawn Reece was a little taken back as the man waved green onions at several different statues of Christian saints, but the whole thing was fascinating. In the end, we were glad that we had decided to partake in the ceremony. The elder even indulged us when we asked him if we could take a photo. (Although, he didn’t look happy about it!)
After another morning of visiting even more churches, Thursday afternoon brought us to the Na Bolom Mayan Museum. The Boloms were advocates of the Mayan culture and have set up a foundation and museum dedicated to preserving this culture. In the museum, which sits in their former colonial house, we saw typical Mayan figurines, clothing and a wonderful collection of photographs that were taken between seventy and forty years ago, before tourism corrupted some of the culture and watered it down. This museum focused mostly on the Lacandonian Mayans, but other tribes were also represented here. It turned out to be a very interesting museum and we all seemed to learn a lot.
Friday morning, before departing San Cristobal, we set out to visit a church that sits high above the city on the top of a hill. After a twenty minute walk from our hotel, we finally reached the church and were treated with a beautiful view of the entire city. San Cristobal sits in a valley, with small Mayan villages dotting the surrounding hills. Looking back, I think that San Cristobal was the nicest colonial city we have seen thus far. After climbing down from the church, we headed for the terminal to catch our bus to the city of Palenque, home of the first major set of Mayan ruins on our agenda!
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The Coomer Family
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