Learning Spanish in San Cristobal de Las Casas By sv Prairie SeaShell on 22 Nov, 2012 9:49 PM
After spending 10 days in Cozumel, we boarded the ADO bus for an 18 hour trip to San Cristobal de las Casas. During the daylight portion of the trip, we did enjoy the sights along the Highway.
November 2012 – Yucatan & Chiapas
After spending 10 days in Cozumel, reminiscing and diving, we took the ferry back to Playa del Carmen, then we boarded the ADO bus for an 18 hour trip to San Cristobal de las Casas. On long trips, we have found it best to travel at night, hopefully sleeping most of the night away and arriving at our destination mid day. We didn’t get as much sleep as we would have liked, the ADO Premiere Class bus is not quite as deluxe as the Tufesa that we take from Phoenix to Guaymas. In any case, during the daylight portion of the trip, we did enjoy the sights along the Pan American Highway.
It appears that the Mexican portion of the Pan Am Highway is better maintained than that in Guatemala, although just as windy. They have however, started repairing some of the areas with rock cages, similar to that which we have seen along the Trans Canada in the mountains. The scenery was quite impressive, as we climbed from sea level to over 6000 ft in San Cristobal.
We passed through several small towns, with no shortage of satellite dishes on the “rustic” homes. Industrious folk living here, selling their goods from roadside stands and drying coffee and chilis in the sun.
We arrived in San Cristobal around 1:00 PM and took a taxi (unlike Cozumel taxi’s, this one was very reasonably priced) to the school where Silvi met us and called our homestay lady who would come and pick us up. Coincidentaly, her name is Sonia, the same as our homestay mum in Guatemala, and she lives with her Mum, Sonia in Guatemala lived with her Dad.
However, this Sonia is actually an American who has been living in Mexico for the past 4 years, first in Merida, now in San Cristobal. She prepared us a delicious lunch, then we went for a walk into town, sat on a bench on the Andandor (the Walking Street) and enjoyed a Chiappas coffee as we people watched.
Lots of tourists here, but Mexican or European, very few Americans or Canadians. Seems to be a location of choice to the backpacking tourists, and particularly to young girls travelliing together. There are street vendors here, selling everything from candy, belts, shirts etc, but they are much more polite then the ones in Cozumel who are accustomed to hollering at the Cruise Ship passengers.
After breakfast the next day, Sonia walked us part way to our school so that we didn’t get lost on our first day of school – it’s about a 25 minute walk. It appears we are the only students, so no group classes. We have 2 hours with maestra Laura, then two hours with maestro Diego. The lessons were much more relaxed and informal than in Xela, and definitely tailored to our interests. We had lots of discussions about travelling around Mexico, the history, geography and politics of the region.
We did meet a couple from Toronto on their last day of class. They are returning to their home away from home in Lake Chapala (near Guadalajara). We met with them for dinner that night, as we had lots of stories to share as they were also previous sailboat owners.
Day two of class, both of our teachers speak English, so it is easier to get explanations and translations. Lunch of chuleta ahumada with tamales, Puerto Rican style, made in a pot, not in a leaf, like mashed potatoes with gravy with grilled calabeza and ensalada with chayote. In the afternoon, we went shopping at the Mercado de dulces y artisanias, good prices, no crowds, and no high pressure sales people. Then on to the Museo del Ambar. Interesting museum, although because it’s all in Spanish, it would have taken us all day to get through, but when we were thru, a lady approached us and asked us, in perfect English, if we understood it all. She proceeded to explain the difference between real amber and the fake, and she explained the process of collecting the amber and showed us the tree that the sap comes from that creates the amber.
The building that houses the museum is actually the Convent de La Merced which is presently under major renovation. It was originally built by the Spaniards in the late 1500’s used for about 100 years as a Convent, then it was used as a military fort for another 100 years, and then as a prison. The church was used continuously, and is still in use today, but most of the building was left derelict for many years, until about 10 years ago when a volunteer group of local citizens took over ownership. They are in the process of restoring it. Since we visited at dusk, got too dark for many good photo op’s, but did manage to capture the original floor of the convent done in stone mosaic.
The proceeds from the museum and museum store go towards restoration, so instead of buying my amber souvenir at any of the many local shops, we returned to the museum store to be sure we got the “real thing”. My “souvenir” turned out to be a beautiful piece of amber set in a silver cartucho (peace lily) locket. Since Don was the one who spotted the piece, I guess this qualifies as his Christmas shopping is done ! After our shopping spree, we stopped at one of our favorite eating places “Tacos del Pastor” and one of the servers graciously agreed to have his picture taken.
After lunch the next day we ventured to the Municipal Mercado, much of it is outside under tarps, but the portion of it which is inside a building, similar to that in Mazatlan, is definetly not someplace that the tourists regularly visit. Most of the stalls are selling fruits, veggies, chicken, duck feet, sausage and various other “edibles”.
Then it was off to the Museo del Jade (Jade Museum), and fortunately there was a guide book available in English, although the video on the processing and polishing of the jade was in Spanish, but done so that even us “gringo’s” could understand. For centuries, the prehispanic cultures of Latin America considered jade to be a treasured stone of the kings. The kings would commission an entire family to create his burial mask, and this would provide lifetime employment for the family.
Jade is still mined in Chiapas and in neighbouring Guatemala, and this museum had a very extensive collection of replicas and jade jewelry from many of the ancient civilizations, the Olmeca, Zapoteca, Tolteca, Aztecs and Mayas etc.
The next place on our ToDo list was a trip to the Casa de Sergio Castro Cervantes. He has an extensive collection of suits & dresses of the many indigenous peoples of Chiapas that he has been collecting for over 40 years. Sergio is a very interesting man who speaks many languages, including several of the indigenous languages and is renowned for his work with local people. He started by helping to provide fresh drinking water and farming techniques and, combined with his veterinary skills has helped many people with minor medical problems, and has worked extensively with burn victims in the small barrios.
He gave us a private tour of his Museo de Traje Indigenous, I wish I had been able to record him, as he provided so much information about the local people and district, that I can’t remember half of what he told us.
Friday already and a week of classes with Laura & Diego are finished. No museums to visit this afternoon, just a little shopping, a trip to the bank and then we booked a couple of tours for our next two days. First tour was to Chiflon Falls and Montebello Lakes, and the caves at Rancho Nuevo. The caves reminded us a little of the caves we visited at Semuc Champay in Guatemala minus the water. Although they have made a boardwalk throughout the caves and have wired in lights, there were many places that we could have used a candle.
Back into our 16 passenger van, we travelled along a potholes road thru many fields of sugar cane. Some fields had already been harvested, and some were in the process of being burned, and yet other fields still had flower heads on the plants. We passed many trucks loaded with canes and many more loaded Guatelmala style with workers. Arrived at the Cascadas Chiflon and hiked up to the highest falls and watched kids zip line across the falls.
Next stop was at Lago Montebello, where the scenery looked very much like any lake in the mountains in Alberta or B.C. We could have got on a balsa raft and paddled across the lake. Looked to me like it would be cold and wet (we were at an altitude similar to that of Lake Louise) so we passed and instead joined a family from Guadalajara for lunch so they could practice their English and we could practice our Spanish. Should have just visited with them instead of eating, because, although we asked if their tortillas were all corn, think they must have had a little wheat flour in them as Don’s stomach growled all night.
Next morning we were off to the Canon del Sumidero where we boarded a lancha for a two and a half hour trip down the Rio Grijalva. The temperature was much warmer than in the mountains yesterday and the scenery was spectacular, the canyon walls extending almost a mile high,straight up, and cactus growing out of the rock. Saw lots of grebs, pelicans, vultures, a couple of crocodiles and even a quick glimpse of a monkey.
After the cruise, went into the town of Chiapa de Corzo, one of the oldest pueblos in the state of Chiapas. It must be a popular week-end destination for neighbouring cities as there were about 7 tour busses lined up along the square, and all the passengers must have been enjoying a leisurely lunch in the many restaurants along the waterfront.
We didn’t have time for a sit down meal and couldn’t find a taco stand anywhere, only stands selling the biggest, thinnest hamburgers ever, about 8” across, but of course on buns that Don couldn’t eat, so we settled for an ice cream bar for lunch before we headed back to San Cristobal. This was our last day in San Cristobal and Sonia was going to drive us to the bus station for our early morning bus to Palenque.
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