Oaxaca is a beautiful city and a favorite of most Mexico visitors. We parked our camper in a campground that has seen better days, but is close enough to the historic center so you can reach it by foot. The campground was empty except for one VW bus which turned out to be from Switzerland and that’s how we met Martin and Claudia, we really enjoyed their company. The three of us walked to town the next day and strolled through the market, visited the museum and ate a nice meal.
It was my birthday and Günter asked to band to play “Besame mucho” for me, how sweet. Since we have no room for “things” I did not buy anything at the market, but boy, it was hard. The villagers from the outlying areas bring their handicrafts to market, colorful clothing, rugs and blankets, jewelry and pottery.
After visiting Monte Alban, the famous ruins above the city, we headed out of town and up to the hills again.
The road to Hierve de Agua is a good graded dirt road and leads over a pass down the other side to a remote valley. Basically, there are several springs that carry mineral rich water and over the years, the constant running water has turned into what looks like petrified waterfalls. There are some pools on top of some of them where you can go for a swim or just sit relax. The air was fresh and cool, the views were beautiful and we woke up to birdsong in the morning. So we stayed for a few days, went for short hikes and swam in the pools. In the valley across you could see the corn and agave fields, people moving about on foot or donkeys. I loved it there.
The last part of Mexico was Chiapas and the Yucatan. San Cristobal de las Casas is a nice colonial town in the highlands of Chiapas, it is popular with international tourists. The campground is close to town and a 20 minute walk brings you downtown where you can watch Totzil women try to sell their weavings. They wear thick wool skirts (it is winter remember), held together at the waist by colorful wide belts and beautiful blouses, always with a shawl for warmth or to carry a baby or … You can also get a latte, join a yoga class and eat sushi in this town. You can also go to the dentist, which I did, while eating nuts I chipped a tooth. Dr Flores spoke good English, fixed my tooth and told me about regional dishes, quite interesting. We went to one of the restaurants he recommended and ate fried plantains stuffed with sweet refried beans. Delicious!
At this camp ground we met several overlanders, mostly Europeans, a fun group of travelers going both ways, north to south and south to north. We learned a lot from their stories and are looking forward to what’s ahead of us. Central America, South America.
The Tzotzil and Tzelzal people living in the mountains around St Cristobal are shy and really do not want to deal with all the foreigners coming to the area. I don’t blame them, ever since the Spaniards came and conquered their land; the arrival of white people was not to their advantage. We really felt it when we went to the little town of Chamula and after visiting their “church” and eating at the market we took a bus back to San Cristobal.
To visit the church in Chamula you have to pay a few pesos. When you enter you are greeted by the smell of pine needles (the floor is covered with them) and the light of hundreds of candles. Except for the mumblings of the worshippers, who kneel on the pine needles, it is quiet. This used to be a catholic church, but the altar is gone, the priest is gone and the only catholic ritual they still practice is the baptismal.
The Tzozils and Tzeltals have combined their own ancient Mayan religion with some catholic aspects and so you see the statue of St John the Baptist looking down at worshippers that pray to ancient gods.
We watched a man and his family praying on their knees, lighting candles, taking gulps of Coca Cola and cane liquor to promote burping (out the evil stuff inside). He swung a basket over his candles and we saw that there was a live chicken inside.
A large area of Chiapas consist of jungle, the Lacandon Rainforest, and hidden in the jungle are many ruins, some excavated, some not yet touched or found. Most people have heard of the famous Maya ruins like Chichen Itza, Palenque or Tulum. We decided to drive along the border to Guatemala and visit the lesser known ruins of Yaxchilan and Bonampak. On the way there are great rivers, many lakes and waterfalls. So we took our time, hiked up waterfalls, swam in crystal clear lakes and rivers coming from the jungle.
San Cristobal is situated in the highlands and as we slowly descended down it got warmer every day. We packed up our down blanket and brought out the “Endless Breeze” fan. Most of the time it is too hot to go for walks during the day, early mornings are perfect, after that we try to move as little as possible, stay in the shade and cool off in the river or lake. Food spoils rapidly and the bugs turn you into food. I don’t like to start the stove and know now why all the homes have outdoor kitchens. Luckily children come by around lunchtime and sell freshly made empanadas or tamales, for a few pesos you can have a delicious lunch and the children are happy. With the last pound of whole wheat flour a made a loaf of bread in the Cobb grill and grilled veggies to go with the delicous ham we bought in San Cristobal at a Jamoneria.
The Chiapas rainforest is the second largest rainforest in the Americas. The jungle is the last stronghold of the scarlet macaw and we were lucky enough to see them in the wild.
We saw them flying over our camper in pairs when we camped at the Lacandon river at Guacamaya, we saw them near Bonampak and we saw them on a boat ride deeper into the jungle, there were of course many other birds like Toucans, hummingbirds, king fishers. Beautiful flowers and plants grow under and in the trees. At the campsite the howler monkeys woke us every morning as they came through on their way up the river. The spider monkeys were right behind, so much fun to watch. In the evenings we had fireflies all around us and the stars above.
Barbara and Uwe as well as Veronika and Michael, both couples from Germany and seasoned world travelers took the same route. We camped near the Usumacinta River; it is the border between Guatemala and Mexico (under some trees near the Jaguar hotel) and made arrangements for a boat for the six of us the next morning to take us 22 km downriver, to Yaxchilan. 7 am was nice and cool and the boat ride was pleasant, the ruins and the setting were amazing.
We climbed jungle covered hills to find hilltop pyramids, tunnels with bats and panels with Mayan inscriptions.
Bonampak was another site we enjoyed, the town we stayed in was a Lacandon village, the lancandones are quite different from the Mayans we saw in other areas. Gone are the colorful dresses, some people wear modern clothing, but some of them still wear their traditional white long tunics, especially men and boys. The boys in the house next to where we were camping were playing and bike riding in their white outfits all day. They also have thick long black hair and look more like their relatives in the Amazon rainforest.
The Chiapas rainforest is very interesting and the jungle and its inhabitants so amazing, deforestation is an ongoing problem and I hope it can be halted and the area preserved for future generations.