Climbing into the hills outside Tuxtla Guiterrez I sense my long desire to wander the villages of Chiapas coming to realization. Women of all ages dressed in simple single colored garments with basic designs walk along the roadside carrying massive bundles of sticks on their backs. Using a similarly colored cloth the brunt of the weight is supported by their foreheads with the cloth wrapped tight here. Men wander the road side carrying two-foot long machetes. The road climbs to nearly 9,000 feet. Tight turns every couple hundred feet means once behind a diesel spewing asphyxiating truck you’re stuck. That is, unless you play roulette with a hundred yard dash pass; banking the odds that another doesn’t come winding around the corner. Harbinger Soon I’m behind s string of 10 or more cars and trucks. The bottle neck is a 30 year old truck hauling ten times more load than it should. It’s cat and mouse as I take one car at a time until freedom at last. My loaded 650 still has a tad of torque, but the steep incline challenges Doc.
I wait at the corner of the zocolo in San Cristobal. Sacha had sped past me an hour or so before Tuxtla. I thought for sure he’d be here before me. But no sign of him. I check email and find he stopped in Tuxtila for lunch. But there was no sign of him as I made the turn toward San Cristobal. The traveler’s creed states if you stop leave the bike in a highly visible location. But there was no sign of him in Tuxtla. I’m sure he missed the turn. Seems often he misses sights or things on the road. Guess he rides just a bit too fast.
Standing on the corner two guys on BMW’s greet me. It’s Hernon and Pancho, two brothers. Hernon is riding a F650GS and Pancho is sporting a fine yellow K1200RS. I ask for advice on a hotel room and in seconds Pancho is on the phone and has negotiated a deep discount at a nearby hotel, Hotel Diego de Mazariegos. The hotel is a top-end exquisitely decorated property. Rooms surround a beautiful courtyard. Fine local artwork graces the walls and for the first time in Mexico we have a room that has two double beds. Most rooms in Mexico, called matrimonial, feature a double bed and a single twin. One for the kid and one for the mom and dad. Of course, by the time Sacha shows up he’s still a bit hot because the room, even with our discount, is more than he wants to pay and threatens to move the next morning to find something cheaper. Oh well. Though it turns out that Hernon and Pancho’s mother owns this hotel and we end up spending the evening at their friend Roger’s cafe drinking beer and tequila. Sacha hits the sack at 2am. These guys won’t let me leave until 4:30am – a record for my WorldRider journey. I don’t think I’ll surpass that anytime soon.
Most people visiting San Cristobal de Las Casas use it as a center point to visit traditional Mayan villages in the hills surrounding the city, many Mayan ruins including Palenque and caves and beautiful rivers and lakes. It’s unfortunate that Hurricane Stan ripped through the western part of Chiapas leaving in its wake road and bridges in ruins, peoples homes and entire villages destroyed. I’m sure just a blip on the news in the States but throughout my tour of Mexico I spotted Red Cross and other aid organizations collecting clothing, food and money for these people. But San Cristobal was only affected by torrential rains and while I spot workers fixing roads, I’m not sure if this is a result of the hurricane.
The next morning our new friends guide us through a motorcycle tour riding through a several villages surrounding San Cristobal. The first is San Juan Chamula. Nearly 4 million people call Chiapas home. Of these, about a million are indigenous Mayan groups of which many speak one of 9 or so languages derived from the Mayans. Around San Cristobal de las Casas most of the people living in the highland villages are Tzotziles. It was these and many other groups living in the Chiapan highlands that participated in the 1994 Zapatista uprising.
In Chamula we visited the ceremonial church where photographs are strictly forbidden. We pay a nominal fee to walk in and once past the doors of the Templo de San Juan I notice no chairs or pews. The concrete floor is covered with dried pine needles and many people have their heads buried in them while others murmur a low frequency chant. One woman with three children surrounding her rubs eggs together. Hundreds of candles combined with the chanting makes for an eerie and hypnotic vibe. Several men hobble on their hands and knees scraping melted wax from the concrete floor. Effigies of Catholic saints line the walls. Many with mirrors attached to their garments so that evil spirits won’t violate the souls of the saints.
Sacha tries to pull a fast one and discreetly whips out his camera. It isn’t seconds before three men try to grab his camera. He refuses to let go of it, and he must show the men all the photos to prove he didn’t snap one before the men caught him. Outside the church we have a couple minutes to wander through the market before the sky opens up and unleashes the hardest rain I’d experienced since leaving my home in July. But soon we’re heading to the next village, San Lorenzo Zinacantán, where we sample “poosh” an alcoholic beverage made by these native people from corn. They make it in a number of flavors, including one with cinnamon.
It’s too bad my stay in Chiapas must end sooner than I’d like. Pancho and Hernon make us feel like we’re part of the family and Chiapas our home. But with 47 or more countries ahead of me, I gotta make a move. The plan is an early start tomorrow. Hernon, Pancho, Roger and another SCDLC friend, Chato, will ride with us toward the border. We’ll visit a lake and waterfall where we will toast goodbye to Mexico and our new friends while bathing our bodies in the lake and under a powerful waterfall.