Mayans, Monkeys and Micheladas: A Central American Adventure travel blog

San Cristobel de las Casas

Saturday 26.03.05

The weekend, normally the domain of parties and such, saw intensive frugal rationing of food for the Mexicans i was hanging out with. As with most of the students from Puebla and Cholula, they had come down for Semana Santa (Holy Week), usually celebrated the week before Good Friday and ending a day or two after Easter Sunday. People decorate their cars with pictures of the Virgin or Jesus and arrangements of flowers or rubbish are burned in the street. My friends had spent all their money on the first couple of nights getting drunk and were down to their last pesos.

Renee arrived with Nicola and i farewelled them along with the Mexicans, because they had to be back for University. I was heading in the other direction to San Cristobel de las Casas, a town in Chiapas state in the east of the country. With a touch of sadness i boarded the touring bus away from the beach.

We alighted the bus midway through the 14-hour journey well past midnight, presented with a dingy diner in the dead centre of god-knows-where. A flickering neon sign on a cinder block building nearby advertised a hotel, though the reason for staying here could be anyone's guess.

The refrigerator in the diner was stocked with soft drink and Gatorade, though not a bottle of water was to be found. Greasy food lay in greasy tubs behind the greasy glass with a hint of bacteria, and the promise of several trips later to the back of the bus. A blackened fish carcass lay on a plate, its insides opened out for the world to see. But there was not much to see any more - it had already been torn asunder and hungrily gobbled by another traveller.

Perhaps the workers here may see a thousand people or more during their shift, but no probably not a familiar face save for the white-shirted bus drivers. Outside the landscape was bleak, air thick with fumes, punctuated by the arrival and departure of buses and trucks. Everyone was lonely here - not a comforting face nor friendly banter in a land of unfinished business, wayfarers and go-betweens. And soon enough our bus, like everyone else aside from the workers in this miserable place, moved on again.

When I arrived in the morning i was presented with an unfamiliar sensation for my holiday so far - cold, grey weather. I settled into a hostel, and made a few new friends - Rolf and Maike, from the Netherlands and Germany respectively. From there, we hit the bars, first to Revolution, where a three-piece jazz band wearing matching moustaches were playing amidst pictures of such heroes from Central America as Guevara and Castro from Cuba and Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa from the Mexican Revolution. We kicked on to Madre Tierra, (Mother Earth) where a 7 piece Reggae/Ska band named La Celestina played until late.

San Cristobel is a gorgeous town, nestled in mountains, and painted in bright colonial colours. It has a distinctly laid-back feel, almost bohemian in nature, but this belies the events here in 1994 when a group of freedom fighters, calling themselves the Zapatistas (EZLN) clashed with the army to fight for indigenous rights in Chiapas and protest against the newly-signed North American Free Trade Agreement. Soldiers are still posted at the main intersections in the town, wearing flak jackets and wielding M16's.

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