Let’s hope! They certainly got a taste of the global hostel scene last week…
Updated on December 6, 2017
We could have spent the week at the marina, waiting for our engine parts to arrive. We could have gotten more and more upset, sweltering in the heat, cursing all things mechanical and hexing FedEx. We could have descended into petty sniping and anger, until the family collapsed. Instead, we went to the mountains. We figured that even if all we managed to do was eat really well, we’d still come out ahead.
Fortunately, we managed to do more than that. San Cristobal de las Casas is an old Spanish town, and one of the big tourism draws in Chiapas. Filled with pedestrian-friendly streets and good restaurants, it seemed like a good place to head for a break.
Being water-based, and considering the area we’ve been traveling, our kids have mostly escaped the requisite Gazing At Churches required in so many countries. Time to fix that deficit!
The effects of the September 7 earthquake are still being felt in San Cristobal; most of the churches we visited were not open to the public as they were being repaired. Many of the buildings we did enter had posted signs assuring us that the damage we saw was superficial, and the structure had been declared safe. Still, even being able to see the exterior of some of these buildings was impressive—the ornate facades are nothing like the Catholic churches and cathedrals of Europe.
The area surrounding San Cristobal is filled with things to do, but we found enough going on in the city to occupy us. The Textile Museum had amazing example of traditional Mayan textile art—weaving and embroidery—in a tradition that has continued for thousands of years. F was fascinated. T was more interested in the Amber Museum; the pine forests that have surrounded the San Cristobal area for millennia have yielded huge amounts of amber, and both kids took home a piece as a souvenir. (Side note: we’ve studiously avoided most souvenirs on this trip, as we have not much money and even less space. As we come to the end of our trip, though, we seem to be loosening up some of those restrictions…)
We’d been excited to find an affordable and well-reviewed hostel in the center of the city that had yoga classes twice a day. Yoga and good food fitted in perfectly with our idea of a relaxing getaway. What we hadn’t counted on was the cold weather! Even more chilly than Xela, San Cristobal required all of our warm gear, and the hostel had no heat. We found ourselves unable to pry back the warm covers in favor of some Hatha yoga.
After a couple of days in San Cristobal, and a few emails back and forth with our friends at Trans Atlantic Diesel, we realized our parts were going to take longer to ship than originally anticipated. Things were out of stock, people were out of the office; we had more time than we thought. So why go back? We debated finding a hotel with heat in San Cristobal and sticking around for a few more days, but in the end, we decided to head even further inland and explore the Mayan ruins of Palenque.
On the advice of some fellow hostel-dwellers, we found a room at Margarita and Ed’s in Panchan, right on the edge of the park containing the ruins. Isolated from the main town of Palenque, this was a serious hippy backpacker spot, with different cabanas and hostels surrounding the social hub and main food source of Don Mucho’s restaurant. Despite the low-budget vibe, we were much more comfortable than in San Cristobal, with a private bathroom and the heat of the jungle to keep us from shivering. From there, it was an easy walk to the ruins.
I’d been scheming to get to these ruins for months, ever since we’d picked up a Lonely Planet Mexico guide from the bookshelves in Shelter Bay, but logistically, I didn’t think we could make it up there. From the coast, it was about a 16-hour bus ride, and I wouldn’t call the whole expedition cheap; but with so much time on our hands, there was no reason not to make the effort. And our effort was absolutely rewarded!
Guides to the ruins were a little variable in quality—there didn’t seem to be a system for official, trained guides, and we overheard some pretty idiosyncratic theories from tours as we explored the ruins. (Viking visitors? Hindu religious influences? Really?) Fortunately, things were very well-marked, and most signs explained things in English as well as Spanish. The excavated part of the ruins at Palenque comprise only about five percent of the total site, but that five percent is enough.
Waterfalls are a big draw in Chiapas, and the most common tourist plan is a van trip between San Cristobal and Palenque, with a stop at the Agua Azul waterfalls. The ride is much faster than taking the bus, but it takes you through an area of civil unrest where motorists are stopped and asked to pay a fee to pass through Ocosingo. Normally, the driver pays and the car or bus goes on it’s way; but occasionally, there’s a massive delay or even violence. Friends from San Cristobal had run into trouble on that road, so we decided to take the long way around and do a waterfall expedition to Roberto Barrios instead.
The waterfalls at Roberto Barrios are a little less dramatic than some of the other falls; there is no one massive 500-foot cascade. Instead, there are five separate groups of falls, and visitors can climb up any of them. The pools are all open for swimming, and there are plenty of great spots for jumping; Michu even found the cave at the bottom that you have to swim underwater to access.
The water was dramatically colder than those nice hot springs in Costa Rica, but we were all still game for some serious swimming, and everyone except T jumped off a waterfall into the pool below.
We split up the bus ride back, declining the 16-hour return trip in favor of a quick overnight in Tuxtla. By the time we got back to the marina, our parts were waiting at Memo’s house, and the project on the motor could finally move forward again.
Holy smokes, what a fabulous detour!! Love these photos, Deb. By now your kids are intrepid travelers for life.