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January 21st, 2010
January 21st, 2010

Chiapas, Mexico and Guatelmala

Cathedral in San Cristobal de las Casas
Cathedral in San Cristobal de las Casas
Having seen in the New Year in Guadelajara, we travelled by bus to Mexico City and cuaught a plane to Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of Chiapas.

For many years, travel in Chiapas became problematic due to the separatist activities in that state, but things seem to have returned to an even keel and we encountered no more that the usual number of Federales brandishing weapons at check points along the highways.  Flying to Tuxtla, we spent a day catching up on correspondence at a greatly discounted Holiday Inn, visited a remarkable zoo and then took an hour bus ride to the colonial city of San Crisobal de las Casas.  Here, electic cables have been largely hidden underground and the colonial buildings, churches and town squares hark back to an earlier, quainter era.  Discovered by American, Canadian and European ex-pats, the place is teeming with mostly counter-culture foreigners, book stores, coffee houses, wine bistros and strolling musicians alongside the brightly dressed Mayan women and children.

We took a side trip (6 hours there; 6 hours back!) to Palenque to see the cataracts at Aqua Verde, the waterfall at Misol-Ha and the Aztec ruins in Palenque.  Unfortunately, a persistent drizzle, a windng road with 200 topes (speed bumps) and a crowded minivan packed to the brim with Italians, Canadians, Mexicans and a very large Korean - coughing and sneezing the while - rendered this experience not one of the top ten thus far!

Except for San Cristobal and the Palenque ruins, tourism is little developed in Chiapas, and so we wanted to explore the coastal towns and beaches on the Pacific side of this southernmost state of Mexico.

With daughter Rachel and son-in-law Roy´s help (and that of their friends Natcho and Caro) we managed to secure a clean, fairly new hotel on the coast in Puerto Arista.  Black sand beaches stretch for miles although the surf made swimming impractical.

While we were there a Tehuantepecer blew with some force, and though the wind made life ashore very pleasant we shuddered at the thought of any poor yachties travelling south to Costa Rica.  The local tourist office provided a van and driver (no charge except for the gas) and we were taken to an area of extensive mangrove swamps where we rented a boat to explore the backwaters, encountering some sizable crocodiles and hundreds of protesting waterfowl en route.

Then it was on by bus again to the city of Tapachula, 27 km. from the Guatemalan border.

Having been warned by other travellers of armed robbery on the roads of Guatemala we hired a private shuttle to take us across the border and directly to our hotel in the colonial city of Antugua. Secreting credit cards in shoes and elsewhere we arrived without mishap to discover a beautiful little city, seemingly surrounded by volcanoes, and warmer and brighter than San Cristobal.  Once again, a lot of wiring has been placed underground and the cobble streets and ancient buildings provide a very attractive background for many foreigners who come to study Spanish or volunteer for the many NGO´s that are based here.

Never wanting to be far from the sea, we took a two-hour shuttle to the beach at Monterrico.  Plenty of black sand and a horde of mosquitoes awaited us at the Pez do Oro Hotel, not to mention cold, salt water showers. Despite drenching ourselves with mosquito repellant and climbing under a mosquito net at night, we didn´t escape the onslaught of bites and bugs, including one cockroach-sized creepy-crawly that overcame the obstacle of the netting to join us in bed on two consecutive nights!

Now back in Antigua we leave tomorrow by plane for Costa Rica.  Initially planning to bus through El Salvador and Nicaragua, the latest Lonely Planet Guide for shoestring travellers was not encouraging about an ovenight stay in the environs of the bus stations at San Salvador and Managua.  With 3596 murders in 2006 and rising, never mind muggings and extortion, tiny El Salvador takes the cake for crime in Central America.

Chicken? Perhaps; but we´ll live to crow another day.

More Images

Martyn and the Black Panther at the Tuxtla Zoo
Martyn and the Black Panther at the Tuxtla Zoo
Even the Holiday Inn in San Cristobal is a colonial building!
Even the Holiday Inn in San Cristobal is a colonial building!
Waterfall at Misol-Ha
Waterfall at Misol-Ha
Aztec ruins at Palenque
Aztec ruins at Palenque
Marg´s are the only footprints on the beach at Puerto Arista
Marg´s are the only footprints on the beach at Puerto Arista
In the heart of Antigua
In the heart of Antigua
Handiwork of the Mayan women, Antigua
Handiwork of the Mayan women, Antigua

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